Nocturnal Activity: Living with Night Terrors

There are many things that keep me up at night (reading, writing, twitter, the cat) but none more so than Bam Bam.

Until recently it was predominantly due to night terrors.

We have lived through night terrors before but the Wilful One grew out of them quickly. Bam Bam’s have gone on for a much longer period of time. In general, his episodes have been longer and more violent. The onset of asthma also added a scary new dimension when he was unwell.

Most nights between 9.30pm-11.30pm the beginning of an episode would be signified by a high-pitched wail and a thump as he kicked the wall. He would cry and toss around for 5-15minutes (on a few occasions much longer) before either stopping suddenly and going back to sleep or waking with a coughing fit.

At times his thrashing around was quite scary, like something out of Paranormal Activity. It was a shock to us as the Wilful One only ever sat bolt upright in bed and cried.

There are lots of great resources on the net about night terrors and sleep disorders which helped us a lot. Experts claim it can be more distressing for the child if u try to wake them, as they normally have no recollection of what occurs. However, occasionally we had no option as he was in very real danger of hurting himself and sometimes us.

Sometimes a cold drink of water snapped him out of it and he immediately went back to sleep. Other times any physical contact at all made it worse.

Causes and triggers for night terrors are thought to include over tiredness, stress and illness, all of which is very consistent with our experience. I would also be inclined to add sugar overload to the list of suspects, although my guys do not eat many lollies or sugary drinks unless at a party so at times when I’m blaming the sugar it could be due to being over tired/over stimulated.

Night terrors have also been linked to other genetic sleeping disorders like teeth grinding, sleep walking, sleep paralysis and chronic snoring. All of which The Man suffers from to varying degrees. With a strong likelihood that the boys will follow in his sleepy footsteps, it’s rather lucky I’m a light sleeper.  Well lucky for them, perhaps not so much for me!

Fortunately, Bam Bam seems to have grown out of his night terrors in the last month *touch wood*.  He has graduated to waking and demanding various things – water, this teddy, that pillow, stay, go or a very adamant “No more plee-ping now!” which is very cute but rather frustrating at 1am.

I fear he’s gone from having night terrors to being a night terror!

Have your children suffered night terrors? I’d love to hear about your experience. 

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  1. Gosh Nee that sounds awful for you all. Thankfully I have been lucky enough not to experience anything like that though at the moment DD1 (10yrs old) wakes up at 2 am every night. Sometimes she goes back to sleep without a fuss sometimes there is lots of fuss.

    • That sort of wake up is tough, isn’t it? Have you tried the sneaky trick of resetting her sleep cycle? Bam Bam goes through similar stages of waking at the same time each night & I find if I go in before I go to bed & shift him – not enough to wake him right up but rouse him a little, it seems to break the pattern & usually he’ll then sleep through. Till next time at least!!

  2. Wow I had almost forgotten that my now 8year old used to have them just as you described. (so thankfully even those that have them bad grow out of them). I was also interested to read about some of the causes. He was also my only child to suffer asthma, still has sinus and snoring issues, probably ate the most sugar of all my boys and he also went through a period of teeth grinding which has also thankfully stopped. I guess it must have all been related.

  3. My oldest is almost 5 and has been suffering from them since around 6mo. For him they are sort of cyclic and we will have periods of a terror every night or a few times a week and then periods of none at all. I’ve noticed his also come around times of physical or emotional stress, so illness, growth spurts, travel, sleep deprivation, big milestones, after a really tirering day, etc. They are pretty typical as far as terrors go, lots of possessed screaming, crying and thrashing. As he gets bigger it’s getting harder for me to control him though, so hubby usually handles them as we have to hold him on our lap otherwise he’s at risk of injury. Luckily he doesn’t really try and fight us, he’s more thrashing around or trying to run. I guess the bad ones last about 10 minutes and they usually happen before 11:30pm while we’re still awake, though the other night he had one at 2am! That freaked us out a bit as you can imagine! When he was younger and napped he would also occasionally have one then too. These days they don’t really bother me as they are such a regular occurrence and we have easily sat through at least 100 of them, though I’m sure it could be more as it’s been 5 years worth. The only time I worry about them is when we have someone babysitting him or he’s at a sleepover at his aunt’s place as they don’t really know how to handle them like we do.

    • Wow that must be really exhausting! My sturdy little 2.5yr old puts up enough of a fight. I can’t imagine going through the same with my 5yr old! Is there a family history of sleep conditions?

  4. That sounds so scary! I have never had any experience with night terrors- I didn’t even really know what they were. Thanks for the info though. Hope your little ones terrors stay away now 🙂

  5. We have only had a very limited experience with them. Ava had them at about 6 weeks of age, till about 3-4 months, it was awful.
    She is better now, though every now and then she wakes up quite upset. I never knew the difference between night terrors and bad dreams until then; they are quite terrifying.
    Hope your little Bam Bam has outgrown them, and let’s you all sleep in peace.

  6. Sounds awful, Nee!
    No night terrors here, but I do have a sleepwalker and an insomniac.

  7. Mine have never had night terrors, but they also might be a bit young for it? They sound awful!!! I’m glad he’s grown out of it, but I’m not sure how much I’d like the “no more plee-ping” either!

    • They are common in kids up to 6 I believe (adults can suffer them too) but I hope you remain terror-free. We had another episode tonight so we obviously aren’t out of the woods yet!

  8. You have my sympathies. My eldest only had a handful of night terrors, but we had no clue what they were – had never been told they were possible – and the terror in his eyes as we tried to pick him up out of his cot and console him broke out hearts. He seemed terrified of us, his adoring parents. We wondered what we’d done wrong. Physical contact definitely made it worse for him, but sometimes, as you say, it seemed the safest option. We found sitting him in front of the tv with the sound turned off helped him – something about the flicker of the lights.

    Our other children have all had night terrors, our 6 years night terrors have morphed into a milder not quite waking up from a bad dream kind of episode where he can hear us but he can’t make sense of what we’re saying. They happen frequently when he’s had a stimulating day. It helps to bring him out to the lounge room until he’s fully aware and sometimes something sweet also helps (maybe it’s a hypoglycaemic thing with him???).

    I hope Bam Bam’s night terrors start to subside soon.

    • Interesting about the sweet stuff. I know exactly what you mean about the semi-dream state, we have seen a bit of that as well. I can also relate to the terrified new parent scenario. So much they don’t tell you in antenatal class hey?!

  9. Ya my girl suffers from bad dreams sometimes.. not sure of what exactly but she will suddenly cry & scream very badly at night. Luckily it doesn’t happen very often. I hope BamBam continues to not have any more night terrors..

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

  10. Nee – 2 of my boys suffered from night terrors. One in particular would walk around upstairs and laugh hysterically but with really blank eyes. It totally freaked us out. We found that by age 6 it stopped thank Goodness.
    The only thing that really worked for us was turning on the light and not touching them or talking to them, as it confused them more. Just being there with them and the light on seemed to help and eventually they would like back down and go to sleep. Of course in the morning they did not remember a thing.
    Good luck hun xx

    • Hysterical laughter would be very unnerving! Six seems the age of growing out of it. We’ve got a way to go til then so hoping he grows out of it sooner.

  11. We’ve had a couple of episodes with each child, but not sure if they were night terrors. CrashGirls tells us about her dreams or nightmares but they don’t seem to bother her too much. She knows they’re not real and she’s not even 4! I still get freaked out by nightmares!

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