Back in August, Number 4 started having regular night terrors.
Before that, she had had a couple, but they were always when she was really sick and had a fever. I always thought they were more a fever delirium than a night terror. I never expected she’d have one when she was completely healthy.
But in the beginning of August, it turned into a regular thing. She was having them nightly. Sometimes more than once a night.
When your kid has a night terror, it can be extremely unsettling. Especially those first few. Because they come out of nowhere, and they are much different than nightmares.
Nightmares are really bad dreams that scare the shit out of you but you wake up from them. And you remember them when you wake up.
Night terrors are different.
People experiencing a night terror appear to be totally awake, when, in fact, they are totally asleep. And in the morning, they have absolutely no recollection of anything that happened.
Your child may be screaming and violent and crying and hysterical. She may appear to be completely coherent. Or she may seem more like she just did a whole shitload of drugs and be looking right through you.
Whatever happens, it’s fucking scary at first.
Then you get used to them.
With Number 4, her night terrors started out really intense. She’d be crying and flailing her arms around and appearing as though she feared for her life.
But the next day, she never had any recollection of them at all.
As time went on, the intensity of them lessened.
It was more sleepwalking and less terror.
One night she came downstairs asking if I was ready to pick out ice cream flavors to have the next day.
Another night she came downstairs around midnight wearing her jeans.
I got a good laugh from that one.
And eventually so, did Number 4.
Every morning she’d come downstairs and ask what she’d done the night before.
The night terrors went from being weird and scary to normal. And entertaining.
Every morning was a new episode of What did Number 4 do last night?
And then after a few months, they just kind of stopped happening. She hasn’t had one in about four months (of course, now that I say that, tonight she’ll probably have a massive one 😉 ).
But it took a while for them to subside, and when you are the parent witnessing and dealing with these things, it can be upsetting.
It’s also frustrating and annoying and tiring.
So if you are in the midst of night terrors, here are some things I learned. Maybe they’ll help you out.
1.Night terrors and sleepwalking are related.
A night terror is like sleepwalking on acid. Like on the Richter scale, sleepwalking falls in the 0 – 5.0 range, and night terrors are in the 5.0 – 10 range.
2. Night terrors are often hereditary.
If you or someone in your family has a history of sleepwalking or night terrors, that increases the likelihood your kids will experience them. (I used to sleepwalk quite a bit — when I was in my twenties I dated a guy who shared a two bedroom apartment with his roommate. One night in the middle of the night I woke up, took all my clothes off, and walked bare ass naked into the roommate’s room. I had no clue until he told me the next morning. I’m not sure he minded that too much. But my boyfriend wasn’t totally psyched about it).
3. You can’t really snap a person out of a night terror.
It is only natural to try and wake the person who is having a night terror, but no amount of shaking, reassuring, talking will snap them out of it. You can’t pull a Cher in Moonstruck, slap them in the face, and tell them to snap out of it! You can really just keep them safe and make sure they don’t hurt themselves.
4. But there are a couple things you can do that might help to wake them up: get them to drink a glass of water or go to the bathroom.
I don’t know what it is about the sensation of drinking water or peeing, but we tried that with Number 4, and the majority of the time she’d come righ out of those night terrors as she was sitting on the toilet.
5. Sometimes you can prevent them.
When night terrors are occurring consistently, they tend to happen around the same time every night.
Similar to how you wake up a kid you are potty training in the middle of the night and take them to the bathroom before they have a chance to wet the bed, if you can disrupt the sleep cycle of your child, that is sometimes enough to stop the night terrors from happening in the first place. Often just going into his room and giving him a gently nudge so that he rouses a little but doesn’t totally wake up is enough to disrupt the cycle.
6. They tend to happen during times of stress, change, exhaustion, and illness.
The chances of night terrors happening seem to increase if your child is really stressed or excited or tired. Number 4’s starting happening a couple weeks before we were going on the first family vacation we’d taken in four years. She was so excited, she could barely stand it. I’m positive that’s what brought them on.
Once we got to North Carolina on our vacation and she was in a different environment with a different routine, they continued.
And like I said earlier, whenever she has a decent fever, or she’s really tired, we are prepared for one.
7. They will pass.
Eventually, your child will grow out of this phase. Yes, it’s a phase. It will end. It could take weeks or months or years. But it will end.
Until then, just do what you need to do to keep your child safe, and remember that he/she is going to be okay. And it may not seem like it now, but so will you.
And one day, eventually, you will look back on these things and laugh.