Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Terrors at Night

Before I had kids, I had never heard of night terrors. Or if I had, I probably assumed it was really bad dreams. But unfortunately, I've learned all about them now, as Katy is one of the 5% of kids who have them. There is some evidence that they are hereditary, which might explain why my boys have had a handful of them as well. But Katy has had them, off and on in phases, since she was 9 months old.

The most defining characteristics of a night terror are that the child is actually asleep while it is happening, he/she does not respond to you when you try to comfort them, and he/she does not remember it in the morning. They also always happen in the first few hours of sleep, which fortunately means that I'm usually still awake.  Even when Katy was 9 months old, I could tell the difference between a night terror and just waking up upset. When she woke up, she's stand up in the crib, crying, and when I walked in, she would reach out for me, calm down, be comforted. But during a night terror, she would scream and scream, very suddenly, often still laying down in the crib, eyes closed, and if I picked her up, she'd be stiff as a board, not cuddling to my shoulder, and not calming down. In fact, I eventually discovered that the fastest way to get through it was to let her go without trying to comfort her, as difficult as that was. The terror would last anywhere from 5 minutes-45 minutes.

Now that she's almost 6, night terrors look a little different. She hadn't had any for awhile, but for the past month they've been happening about 3 times a week, and it's quite upsetting. Here's how they appear now:

She bolts out of bed, screaming and pacing in her room, shouting nonsense, almost always including "Mommy!" An example might be, "No! I don't want to! It's backwards! Mommy! Close the door!! MOMMY, NOODLES! Why doesn't he answer the question?" It's funny in the morning, but at the time, it's scary.

I enter the room, and she acts like she doesn't even see me. In fact, to look in her eyes, they seem to look past me. She continues to yell and cry and thrash. If I touch her, she either resists or she might be comforted for a second and then lash at me. I usually try to get her to lay back down. She will do it, but she continues to lay in bed yelling nonsense, screaming in spurts, and thrashing around in her bed. Sometimes I lay down with her, but honestly, it really doesn't help her and it's upsetting for me. Usually she falls back asleep within about 10 minutes, but last night it lasted almost an hour. She never remembers it in the morning. Once in awhile, right as she falls back asleep, she will wake up (really truly wake up) and it's like a light switch: she isn't crying, she asks for me to fill her her water bottle and says that her throat is dry and gives me a kiss good night. It's very strange.

A good visual image of what it's like is how demon-possession is portrayed in movies. That's what it looks like, as if she isn't in control of her body. And please let me clarify that I am NOT in any way suggesting that this is some form of possession. This is textbook night terror, if you google it.

The biggest mercy in all of this is that even though she shares a room, David NEVER WAKES UP. Once in awhile he rolls over, but I've never seen him even open his eyes while Katy is doing all of this in the very same room. Oh, that kid. So laid back.

So what to do about it? The only known cause of night terrors is being overtired. I know that was true when she was a toddler. We got to where we could predict night terrors as we were putting her to bed. Short nap today? Been running at the zoo with grandparents and getting to bed late? Night terror.

Some articles suggest that if it gets really bad, we could try waking her up 2 hours into her sleep cycle in order to break up the cycle. But I'd rather not have to do that long?

The only thing I know to try is to put her to bed earlier? Right now she's supposed to go to bed at 8, but it ends up being 8:30 most nights. She can sleep as long as she wants to in the mornings, which is usually between 7 and 7:30. That SEEMS like enough sleep to me, but we have been busy lately, so...I guess we should start bedtime routine at 7:30 so she's asleep by 8? It's just hard when the weather is nice and you just want to enjoy your evening rather than rushing to bed shortly after dinner.

But I guess we'll give it a try, because all of this screaming in the evenings? It's wearing me out.


Weed said...

Why have we not talked about this? I didn't realize Katy has night terrors. Rachel does, too. They, too, happen mostly when she's over tired, and most of what you said about Katy is true for Rachel, too. Her doctor told me a few years ago that her daughter has them, too, and the best thing to do is to just listen from outside the door, as hard as it is. So I mostly just listen, and if she fully wakes up and needs me, she comes and gets me, but mostly she stops crying just as abruptly as she started and goes back to sleep (and doesn't remember it in the morning). It's scary, you're right, but funny in the morning when I tell her what she said. I hope you can get her to bed earlier, though I know it's hard.

Oma said...

David sleeps like I did; lightining once hit the house and it didn't wake me.

I suppose it is good that Katy doesn't remember in the morning; but it doesn't help you. Her busy little mind is working overtime. Do kids usually outgrow this?

Pam said...

I was going to ask the same question that your mum did. Will she outgrow it? I can only imagine how hard it is for you Emily. At least she doesn't remember it.

Emily said...

Yes, I meant to say that. She will most likely outgrow it. The articles vary about when - anywhere from 8 years old to adolescence.

bluedaisy said...

oh, this is so hard! Michael has this type of experience from time to time. I don't know if it's considered a true night terror in his case but it is in that general category. He is definitely in that limbo state of consciousness. And he is usually upset and babbling- not always screaming/thrashing but sometimes.
It was worse when he was younger, I used to be so freaked out. I usually just stay in the room and if it appears he is coming out of it, I might ask him a question that will ground him in reality- does he want a drink/to go to the bathroom, etc. It doesn't always work but I still try.
No great advice here but I feel for you because night terrors are no fun :(

Jen said...

Jacob outgrew his night terrors when he was 7. He had them off and on for a couple of years. We finally figured out that they were triggered by him becoming overheated while he slept. Once we moved his bed so it wasn't over the heating vent in his room, the night terrors stopped. Hugs to you and Katy because I remember how scary those can be!