(The Mamí Chronicles) Night Terrors, Toddlers, & What you should know

toddler sleep problems

A couple of months ago I started a new section of my blog dedicated solely to my life as a wife and mother where I share some of my experiences on trying to balance the home/work life. Though not always easy, I think I’m doing a pretty good job for a first time mom (thanks to the amazing support I receive from my hubby and mom). If you haven’t checked it out yet it’s the tab on the top of the screen that says “The Mamí Chronicles: My life as a mommy and wife” and there’s already quite a few posts under that section. This post however, is about my most recent experience with night terrors in toddlers. It is the most frightening and heart breaking experience I’ve had as a mom thus far.

For the past 2 years,  I have to say that Avarie has really made it quite easy to be a mother. She’s never been fussy or a cryer.  She cries only when she is tired or hungry. She’s slept through the night since she was 3 months old often sleeping 10-12 hours a night. She’s not a finicky eater or prone to tantrums and for the most part she is a healthy and very happy little girl.  So when she suddenly started waking up during the night screaming and in tears I was caught off guard.

Not knowing what to make of it I thought she was simply having nightmares. All of the toddler articles I’d read said that around the 2yr mark children start developing fears and that random occurrences of sleep disruption could be the result of a nightmare. She was waking every night around 3 am balling and in tears, often times inconsolable. 

I’d wake from my sleep and find her in her room standing on her bed, eyes wide open and full of tears. When I’d reach out to hold her or console her the screaming and crying got worse. It was as if she’d seen a monster and I was it. It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever experienced. As her mother, my first instinct was to try and soothe her, but everything I did just made it worse. 

After about three weeks of this happening almost every night, I mentioned it to my sister who has 3 children of her own (ages 11, 9, & 7).

“Avarie is having night terrors”, she said. “Don’t you remember Danielle getting them when she was that age?” she asked.

I did. My niece would often wake in the same manner as Avarie, wide-eyed, crying, and sweating. I remember one night I spent the night and Danielle had an episode. When I went to grab her to try and console her my sister said “No! It will only make it worse.”

Up until now I’d completely forgotten that my niece had experienced night terrors when she was a toddler. 

After talking with my sister, my husband called our pediatrician and he confirmed that Avarie was indeed having night terrors. Though a night terror looks and sounds a lot like a nightmare — the wild-eyed stare, the screams, the panting, the sweaty brow — a night terror is a whole other ball game.

Her eyes would be wide open, but she was still very much asleep. And although there were times she’d scream “Mommy, mommy”, she was unable to sense my presence or be comforted by me. At first it was very heartbreaking not being able to console her, but now that I understand what’s going on I can deal with the episodes much better. I still go into her room and lay with her in the bed. I don’t touch her, but I’m there with her until the episode passes and she falls back asleep.

For those of you with young children below is some information that I’ve gathered in my research of night terrors so if your little ones suddenly start waking in the middle of the night in a zombie like state, screaming & crying don’t worry, they’re probably just having night terrors.

Night Terrors: What you should know

Night terrors are sleep disturbances in which a child may suddenly bolt upright in bed, cry, scream, moan, mumble, and thrash about with his/her eyes wide open, but without being truly awake. Because the child is caught in a sort of a twilight zone between being asleep and being awake, he/she is unaware of your presence and isn’t likely to respond to anything you say or do.

In fact, researchers think of night terrors as mysterious glitches in the usually smooth transitions we make each night between sleep stages. As many as 6 percent of children have night terrors at some point, typically beginning in the toddler and preschool years and continuing up to age 7 or even adolescence.

An episode can last anywhere from five to 45 minutes, and when it’s over your child falls back to sleep abruptly with no memory of the incident.

What should you do if your child has a night terror?

Don’t try to waking the child. And expect that your efforts to comfort him/her will be rebuffed — a child having a night terror really can’t be calmed down, and if you try to hold them it may make them wilder.

Unless the child is in danger of hurting themselves, don’t attempt to physically comfort them. Just speak calmly, put yourself between them and anything dangerous (the headboard of the bed, for instance), and wait for the storm to pass.

Before you go to bed, take the same precautions you would for a sleepwalker, since children who have night terrors might also sleepwalk or tumble out of bed in the grip of a night terror: Pick up any toys or objects on the floor that she could trip on, fasten a gate at the top of the stairs, and make sure windows and outside doors are locked.



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