Night Terrors are Terrifying

My son has always been a good sleeper, and then shortly after he turned two, he began to wake during the night.  We had transitioned him to a “big boy bed” just before his 2nd birthday, when he began to readily climb out of his crib as he pleased.  He shares a room with his sister and so began a whole new battle.  He was newly potty trained, and so I believed the new night awakenings were just a part of him getting used to this new idea.  On we pressed.

And then one night it happened.  A loud scream came from his room.  I startled myself awake and ran to his room.  I found him by his door, opening it to come find comfort.

“monnsssuuuu” his quivering voice says.

“Oh buddy, there are no monsters!  Everything is okay, mama is here!”

I hold him and curse the damn Monsters Inc movie he has fallen in love with under my breath.  I attempt to remind him that the monsters are funny.  He continues to slow his cry, attempting to catch his breath.

We take him to our room, as to not wake his sister.  He lays next to me, still for only a minute.  Then he is attempting to poke, tickle, play with his father and me.  We explain to him that if he wants to sleep with mommy and daddy, he needs to lay still, that it is still night-night time.

He tries to follow directions, but starts to toss and turn, kicking, elbowing us in the process.  My husband gives up and explains to him that he is going to take him back to his bed.  My son obliges and quietly returns to his bed and falls to sleep.

The next morning he tells me “monnssuu scary.”  I smile and remind him of the ending of his new favorite movie. “They are funny, 'member bubba?”  He smiles and laughs aloud.

He sleeps through the following night and then the next he doesn’t.  We replay the scene.  I begin to think he just wants to come into our bed, that we have created a bad habit.  Before he goes to bed, I begin to tell him “Buddy, we stay in our beds all night, okay?”  He says okay and falls asleep peacefully.  Some nights he wakes up needing to go potty, some nights just looking to crawl into bed with Daddy and me.  And some nights I am far too tired to object.

But then there are the nights that shake me to my core.  That leave me helpless and scared.  The nights that break my heart.

Again the loud scream awakes me, but this time it’s different.  He doesn’t get up and he continues to scream.  A loud, piercing, high-pitched scream.  It sounds like he is in pain.  Last night it happened and his father rushed in to comfort.  Except comfort would only make it worse.  His older sister hears the rucus, but has seen it before, so she makes no comment.  My husband brings him, kicking and still screaming into our room.  We place him on our bed and attempt to lure him back to sleep.  Instead he is trashing, flailing his hands and arms, feet and legs in every direction.  My husband attempts to hold him, I steer clear.  I remind him what I have read, that there is nothing we can do when it’s “this kind.”  My sweet little guy is now screaming and yelling the word “NO!” with a force I am not used to.  He continues as if his reality is a completely different one.  I begin to cry.  I know he will be okay, that he won’t even remember.  But I will, and I do!

I pray over him and he begins to quiet, trying to catch his breath but still moaning.  At least 10 minutes have passed and I am gripping my husbands hand.

“Fauggy” his little voice whispers.

“I’ve got him right here” daddy says as he hands his beloved stuffed froggy over.

He nuzzles into the pillows and he is quiet.  He says nothing else and there he sleeps, wedged in between the two of us.

I turn and watch him peacefully asleep again and I thank God that it’s over.  My mind is racing and I can’t sit still.  I anxiously leave him and his father, fast asleep, and go to research night terrors.  I find this:

Characteristics of night terrors: By Dr. Sears

• Your child seems frightened, but cannot be awakened or consoled.

• Your child may sit up in bed, or walk around the room, screaming or talking senselessly.

• Your child doesn’t acknowledge you, his eyes may be open but he seems to stare right through you.

• Objects or persons in the room might be mistaken for dangers.

• Episodes usually last between 10 and 30 minutes.

• Usually occur in children 1 to 8 years old.

• Your child cannot remember the episode in the morning.

• Usually happens within 2 hours of falling asleep.

• Night terrors are harmless and each episode will end on its own.

And then I read that really the only thing I can do is help him gently get back to sleep.  I have read this before.  This is not the first time it has happened.  But it was longer and more severe this time.

He woke this morning happy as can be, without a care in the world.  His smile still bright, innocent and unafraid.  I chose not to ask, knowing there was no point in recalling the episode.  But it doesn't leave me.  It becomes my real life nightmare.  My son was scared, vulnerable and confused, and there was nothing I could do.

Have your children ever experienced Nightmares or Night Terrors at a young age?  What did you do?  At what age did they grow out of them?  How did you keep it from affecting your other young children?  Would love to hear your experiences, mamas!