It’s 11:00pm and I’ve just climbed into bed to watch the news and relax before bed. The stress of the day is finally melting and then it happens. I hear a few moans on the monitor from my three year old son’s room and then those moans turn into shrieks. As I race into the room I start to put the events of the evening together. We were snowed in this weekend with 28 inches of snow. Naps were skipped and activities were flowing just to avoid anyone having an “I’m bored” meltdown. We spent time trying to climb through the snow, exhausting his tiny three year old body by playing in fluffy white stuff that went up to his chest. By Sunday we were sick of being cooped up so, once the snow was cleared, we went out to dinner. It took forever to be served and 6:45 turned into 8:00 before our dinner came (I guess others were sick of being cooped up too). By the time we got home it was nearly 9:00pm. So the days events told me exactly what was going on. My son was having another night terror.
Night terrors in our house happen every couple weeks sometimes two nights in a row. For the first few I had no idea what was going on. The phrase “night terror” wasn’t in my vocabulary and none of my friends or sisters had ever shared stories of these. So during those early nights I would attempt to wake my son, snuggle with him, try to talk to him and get him to explain about the “nightmare” I assumed he was having. I even tried to turn on the lights once to get him to wake-up and stop crying. (DON’T do this!) It seemed the harder I tried to wake him, the longer it went on. The episodes were scary. My husband would sometimes come to relieve me but he too wouldn’t know how to make it stop. It sort of feels like when you have a newborn who won’t sleep and you just start rambling or trying anything to make the crying stop. And then you have all these crazy thoughts racing through your head that something must be seriously wrong with your child. The only difference is, it doesn’t last as long as it can with an infant.
Tonight I was lucky enough to tune into a webinar hosted by Bright Horizons called “Good Nights, Great Days: How to Help the Whole Family Get Some Sleep”. Dr. Craig Canapari, a Children’s pediatric sleep specialist at Mass General Hospital, lead the webinar and shared his expertise. Dr. Canapari touched on night terrors and confirmed what I’d been reading. Don’t wake a child who is having a night terror. This came as a huge relief. This past Sunday, after I spent 5-minutes (well, what seemed like 5-minutes – could have been more or less) consoling my son, I went back to bed. My husband looked at me and asked if it was his turn to go in there. I said “we’re not supposed to wake him and listening to him scream in my ear isn’t going to make it stop. I just want to sit by the monitor a few minutes to see if he can settle back down.” And he did. Thankfully he did. I watched the video monitor carefully because he can thrash and toss and turn while having a night terror (in fact on this night he started slamming his fists at his pillow). He was safe though. He just needed to work his way through it.
At the conclusion of the webinar, I visited Dr. Canpari’s website and read an article written by his colleague, When Night Terrors Strike. My take away was that I was doing exactly what I should be. I’ll continue to monitor the frequency of night terrors he’s having and what the triggers are (I expect it will always be linked to sleep deprivation). So my advise to anyone experiencing a night terror, take a deep breath and remind yourself, this too shall pass.