sad teddy bear in bed

My five-year-old son Charlie started having night terrors.

The Honest Company

A few hours after going to bed he will wake up shaking and crying.

It almost looks like he might be having a seizure.

His eyes are open but he’s not awake.

He is inconsolable.

We ask him what he needs; we ask him what he wants. He has no response. He snaps out of it after 10-20 minutes of us holding him and letting him know he’s safe. He never remembers the spell the next day.

Researching Night Terrors

After doing some research I discovered that night terrors tend to run in families – they are genetic. My husband recalls having them as a kid and his brother has been known to sleep-walk so it’s possible that Charlie inherited this from his dad’s side of the family.

Night terrors typically occur between ages 3.5 and 12.

Charlie is almost 5 and a half and this is the first time he has had them to our knowledge.

According to WebMD, there are two main types of sleep:

  • rapid eye movement (REM)
  • non-rapid eye movement (non-REM).

Non-REM sleep has stages, and night terrors happen during the transition from stage 3 to stage 4. They typically occur approximately 90 minutes after the child falls asleep.

So What Are Night Terrors?

Night terrors are different from nightmares, which occur during REM sleep. Night terrors are characterized by frequent recurrent episodes of intense crying and fear during sleep, with difficulty arousing the child. Unlike nightmares, most children do not recall a night terror episode.

An estimated 1%-6% of children experience night terrors. Boys and girls are equally affected. Children of all races also seem to be affected equally.

While most of the time they have no specific cause, night terrors can sometimes result from:

  1. Stressful life events
  2. Fever
  3. Sleep deprivation
  4. Medications

Charlie is not on any medications and he has not had a fever. But our family life has been more stressful as of late. There is an impending move, my husband is going through a stressful time in his career, we have ill family members.

It’s definitely been a hard season for us. It’s not a surprise to me that Charlie would be soaking some of this in, despite our efforts to protect him from it.

We have also been a bit lax with bedtime lately. We aim for 7:30 but sometimes that stretches to 8 or 8:30. Charlie is the kind of kid who is up before 7 in the morning regardless of what time he goes to sleep.

Kindergarteners are supposed to get 10 to 13 hours of sleep a night as a general rule. If he’s in bed at 8:30 and up at 6 he’s only getting 9.5 hours. Not enough.

Here are some things we have done to manage night terrors thus far

  • First, we have implemented a strict bedtime. At 7 pm our Alexa Echo notifies us that it’s time to start brushing our teeth and story time. By 7:30 both of our kids (we have a 22-month-old who shares a room with Charlie) are lights out in their beds. This ensures that if Charlie is up at 5:30 (which is the earliest he has been known to get up) he will have had at least 10 hours of sleep.
  • Second, as soon as a night terror begins, we take Charlie to the bathroom and tell him to go pee. This seems to take him out of the night terror more quickly as it helps to wake him up. His night terror will last only a few minutes if we take this measure. He seems to be able to return to a deep sleep soon after.
  • We also make sure Charlie uses the toilet before bed and we urge him to try peeing even if he doesn’t have to. There seems to be some link between toileting and night terrors, but it is unclear.
  • Finally, we are keeping communication lines between Charlie and us open about our stressors and repeatedly letting him know he is safe and secure despite our current trials. If it appears that he is feeling the anxiety that trickles down from my husband and I more we will look into counselling for him and our whole family as directed from our family physician.

What Happens Now

Fortunately, night terror episodes are normally short-lived and occur only over a period of weeks. Almost all children outgrow them by adolescence. We want to make sure we optimize our sleep hygiene for Charlie if he continues to have an issue as we recognize sleep is so important for growing brains.

Mother helping baby sleep

If you have experienced night terrors with your children, I would love to hear any tips and tricks you have to help deal with them.

 

Featured photo by Lisa Fotios @ Pexels.com.

 

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