Needing Advice on Possible Night Terrors

Updated on April 18, 2008
M.B. asks from Anderson, IN
30 answers

Hello ladies. My youngest daughter is almost 2 years old. Just about every night between 1:30am and 2:30am she wakes up screaming. It is a horrible scream. It sounds as though she is scared for her life. I can tell that she is still really tired and most of the time she will go back to sleep after a diaper change and a short time of being rocked on my lap. After she goes back to sleep, she is very restless. I can hear her on the monitor. Most of the time she will wake up over and over again after that first episode, but the other times it is her normal cry for mommy. I don't know what to try. I have tried sleepy time baths and reading books to her. I have tried cuddling with her, though she doesn't like to cuddle much. (only when SHE wants to) Has anyone else had this happen? Could this be "night terrors"? If so, what will help my baby girl sleep better? Thank you for listening.

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So What Happened?

First of all, I want to thank you all for your advice. In the meantime I have put in a different movie for her, I keep the TV on for noise and I realized that the movie that she loves may not be the right one for bedtime. We go through a simple bedtime ritual now and just me hanging out a couple extra minutes with her in her room, along with the new movie, has seemed to help. I know it's only been a couple nights, but change is good! Thanks again, M. B

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N.S.

answers from Dayton on

M.,
Children who have night terrors appear to be awake, but they are not. Don't try to wake them. They don't seem to recognize you and often seem to be seeing things or people in the room. It is difficult to comfort them, but eventually they lie down and get quiet again. A pediatrician I know said to slow down the "going to bed ritual." Start getting ready for bed earlier and stretch out the things you do to ease them into going to sleep. It worked for my friend's daughter who was having terrors nightly for weeks. Good luck.

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D.K.

answers from Indianapolis on

Might also try some relaxation tapes, music, etc. Those can be very helpful. Maybe some soothing sounds in the background might help. I use them all the time in my classes and use for massage. Get the book on infant massage. WONDERFUL for infants and children.

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J.M.

answers from Columbus on

My daughter went thru the same thing. At 10pm every night, she would wake up screaming and crying. Spoke to my doctor about the issue. The doctor told me I had to break her sleep cycle. She told me for 1 week to do this - and it should stop the terrors because you are changing her sleep cycle. 15 minutes before her normal terror time, I needed to wake her up (completely) for 5 minutes. Then put her back to sleep. And it worked! It changes their sleep cycle and I never had any more issues. Also, my daughter had no issues falling back to sleep which I was nervous about. I would just hold her in her room with a low light on and put her back down with no issues. Something for you to try. Good luck!

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J.R.

answers from Columbus on

Congratulations on the book, that is awesome!
My oldest has night terrors, these started when she was 4. She would scream and moan and stand on her bed or run around her room like a loon. She also couldn't be comforted, in fact, she didn't know we were in the room. I would take her to the toilet, and that's when she would wake up and look around and ask why she was there. Kept it very low-key. She'd be pretty embarrassed, and we didn't really share details. Typically, they started 1 hour after going to sleep. Very rarely happens now, and she's 9. She does sleepwalk 1 hour after bedtime, usually just to come downstairs for a kiss. We keep it very quiet and boring, give her a kiss and say back to bed, sweet dreams. We do hear her thumping, and we know it's sleepwalking because she doesn't thump when she's awake.
Talk with your pediatrician though, maybe there's a health reason. It could be teething, ear infection or ear fluid, snoring/sleep apnea, even digestive issues or a UTI. You want to rule out any health problems. They may even ask for a sleep study (we did that). For now, keep her safe and the episode as low-key and boring as possible.
Good luck.

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L.F.

answers from Indianapolis on

My son went through this for a long period of time. I went to a couple of websites to research night terrors. If I remember correctly, with night terrors they don't wake up they kick and scream and hit and talk and all sorts of things but they are usually while they are asleep. The one thing that helped a little (and I do mean a little) with my son was the lavender baths and then spraying a lavender spray on his sheets in his room and lighting a lavender candle and shutting his door an hour before bed time. I would blow the candle out when he went to bed. They are horrible to experience and I found for my son that they occured 1 hour to the minute after I would go to bed, probably because he could hear me moving around anymore. He was really mean when he was going through these night terrors.

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R.

answers from Cleveland on

I wonder if you tried asking her what scares her. I know it's hard for a child her age to verbalize emotions but ask her if she sees "pictures in her head" like a "movie" and then get her to draw it. Even if it's just scribbles, at least when she puts it on paper she can describe it (even if it's in her limited vocabulary). Also try giving her a security object (like a soft toy or blanket) or a night light . Just until she grows out of that stage. Good luck!

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L.E.

answers from Columbus on

Hi M.,

My now 4 year old son started doing something similar when he was about your daughter's age. He'd have episodes like this a couple nights a week and occasionally at naptimes too. He'd "wake up" screaming, but didn't actually seem aware of what was goingon. When we'd go into his room he'd get even more agitated. If we got in the way, he'd hit and kick us. Eventually he would either go back to sleep or would wake up more completely and start to whimper.
So, as hard as it was, we learned that the best thing to do was to ignore the screaming (as long as he seemed to be having a night/nap terror, NOT if he was in pain or truly sad) and wait for him to fall back to sleep. If he got to the whimpering stage, we'd go in and comfort him.
This has happened just once in the past 6 months or so, so I think he's growing out of it. He does sleepwalk sometimes, which I think may be related to night terrors as well.
The only other suggestion that I have is to put your daughter to bed earlier than usual for a few nights. We found that when our son had an early bedtime (7:00ish) he'd be better rested and less likely to wake up screaming.
Good luck!
L.

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C.D.

answers from Cleveland on

Hi, this happened to me a few months ago with my 16 mo.old daughter. It started at night so i thought it was night terrors and then a few days later during her naps. I took her to the doctor just to make sure and it turned out she had an ear infection and pneumonia! I felt terrible that i didnt catch it but she was not acting sick at all. 1 day after the antibiotic started the terrors stopped. I also have a girlfriend with a 7 yr old boy and everytime this happens to him he has the beginnings of bronchitis.

Good luck

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M.C.

answers from Columbus on

M.,
I truely understand. My oldest did the same thing and it broke my heart to hear him. It does sound a bit like night terrors. Usually they are very hard for them to wake up out of. I did some research and one of the possible theories is that thier feet may be too warm and they feel like they are being held down. So we removed my son from the footy pjs and any socks. His night terrors stoped right away. Please let me know how things go for you.

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J.E.

answers from Indianapolis on

I am the mother of a 2 year old boy (I also have three other children 15yr, 10yr, & 3.5yr)that has been waking up screaming for the past few months. I have found that he is getting his 2 yr molars in and in alot of pain. I found that children's ibuprofen at bedtime helps him sleep better. Of course check with your child's doctor first.

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M.W.

answers from Cincinnati on

My middle child went through this when she was 3. It went on for a couple of months. She would wake up at least a few times per week screaming and crying, but nothing could get her to stop. She wouldn't remember it the next day. I finally learned something that seemed to help. Night terrors tend to happen around the same time in the sleep cycle, so just getting the child up before it usually happens (say to use the potty) helps to reset the sleep cycle. It seemed like the nights I set my alarm and got her up, she didn't wake up later with night terrors.

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A.S.

answers from Indianapolis on

Good Morning. Have you tried a night light?

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S.D.

answers from Indianapolis on

How long has it been going on? My son was doing this and, although he never showed any signs except he didn't eat dinner one night and spiked a fever all of a sudden, he had an ear infection :( Never pulled at his ears or got cranky like you'd expect. He was also teething which didn't help. Is she getting her 2-yr-old molars? Have you checked with the doc yet?
I haven't tried it, but someone recommended Bach's Sleep Rescue. That might help.
Good Luck!

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A.R.

answers from Cincinnati on

My daughter started having night terrors when she was 2 years old. She would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and she would be kicking her legs and flailing her arms. She was inconsolable and we just made sure that she didn't hurt herself and eventually she would go back to sleep. This lasted for about 3 months and then it stopped. The doctor told me that it was normal and there wasn't anything that I could do about it except to make sure she didn't hurt herself.

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J.N.

answers from Dayton on

My son has gone through these but has got better has he has got older. I would though have her look at by the doctor and maybe think about a neuro exam by a specialist, sometimes they can be seizures. I do not mean to scare you but I have a cousins that has seizures at just at night. Also getting adjusted really has made a huge difference in my kids lifes. The only reason we have gone to the doctor in the past year was for yearly check ups!

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A.K.

answers from South Bend on

I haven't read the other responses but, my son had a couple of night terrors when he was young. The first time that it happened...I FREAKED out! He was screaming like he was in pain, kicking, arms were flailing, his eyes were open but, he wouldn't focus on me. It was like he was staring through me and not at me. I tried holding him, rocking him, laying him on the bed, rubbing him (to try to wake him) and anything else I could think of. I finally called the paramedics. By the time they arrived, he had calmed down and seemed to be back to normal. They checked him out and there was nothing wrong with him. The next day I took him to the doctor and he explained that it was most likely a night terror. He said that the WORST thing you can do is to wake them during this. He said that what it is a HORRIFIC nightmare in the deepest sleep stage. He said that they are MUCH worse than a normal nightmare and if I was to wake him during this, that he might remember it. He said that the best thing to do is to just stand by the crib/bed and make sure that they don't injure themselves. He said that they can last anywhere from 2 - 20 min.
My understanding of what you have written doesn't sound like a night terror though. I would definitely talk to her doctor. I don't believe that night terrors occur every night but, I am not a doctor! She may even need to be checked out in a sleep lab. They may be able to diagnose her more effectively.
Good luck!

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C.B.

answers from Lafayette on

my friend just went through this with her son, his dr. put him on meds to help him get a more restful sleep. i'm don't know what the name of the meds are, but i'm sure her dr. does. good luck.

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J.

answers from South Bend on

M.,
I know you already got a lot of responses. I didn't read through them, so I might be repeating. My son went through night terrors for about a year (it seemed an eternity). The thing that really helped him was to make sure he was getting enough sleep. We HAD to have him in bed by 7 pm, or he would get night terrors. I would slowly try moving your daughter's bedtime up, until she stops having them. For my son, if he got enough sleep, he usually wouldn't have the night terrors. It became critical for us never to be out late. It wasn't worth dealing with the night terrors. I hope you work something out! Good luck, I know how horrible it is to deal with!

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L.K.

answers from Fort Wayne on

Hi M.,
I read the other responses and felt the need to offer my suggestion as well because I have a daughter who will be 5 soon and has had night terrors all her life. They started when she was an infant, although we just chalked it up to the GERD she was experiencing. Then as she continued to grow the GERD got better, the night terrors got worse. Every night, like clockwork, she would wake up and scream, kick, flail, and it was terrible! I didn't have a full nights sleep for 4 years. Thankfully, she began to outgrow it this year. Less often and less severe night terrors. Sometimes I think that she is set off when she needs to use the potty, but I've tried the foot thing (no socks, no covers) and the bath thing, and she's always had a night light. I think that all children are different and that the best thing to do is just wait it out, make sure your child doesn't hurt themselves, and offer your open arms if they recognize you in their room. Oh, and when my daughter when start a night terror I would enter her room and say the same thing to her over and over, very calmly, and the repetition would finally reach her and she would go back to sleep. I hope this is helpful, if you have any other questions let me know, I'd be happy to talk more. Peace!

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J.T.

answers from Dayton on

My son had night terrors and it is very easy to determine if this is what is happening. When my son had night terrors he never really woke up and never ever remembered them the next day. He would be scared of everything...even me as he would not recognize me...and he would have this terrified look in his eyes, but he was never really awake. He would go back to sleep on his own and there was nothing I could do for him. I always made sure his room was very safe at night and when he would have them I would get up and watch from a distance to make sure he stayed safe, but I was told to not wake him or force the issue of calming him during these terrors. Now I don't know if there is better advice out there now or not...this was years ago. If you have written a book on autism you have probably heard of weighted blankets. Maybe if you try putting a weighted blanket on your child at night it will help. You can order all types of blankets in different sizes and weights or you can make one of your own. My email is [email protected]____.com if you are interested in more information. Good luck.

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V.Z.

answers from Indianapolis on

My oldest (now 5) went through night terrors at two different ages. Unfortunately, I got conflicting advice from two different doctors - wake him up, don't wake him up. I still don't know which is right. We did put a night light in his room and he still listens to Lullabies at night.

For him, he would scream, cry out and thrash around. The scariest part for me was the fact that he looked as if he was looking right through me. He never acknowledged Mommy was there. Also, as some ladies have suggested here, I heard that waking a child up before the time it would happen seems to really work. In our case, I really couldn't find a pattern to try this. I sympathize with you. When I came out of his room one night, friends said it sounded as if I was pulling his finger nails out with pliers.

I know this will not ease you heart yet, but if she really is suffering from night terrors, to this day my son has no idea what happened during those nights.

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J.J.

answers from Evansville on

M., Sounds like it is night terrors. My 2 year old daughter has them too. Luckily she doesn't have them every night. I talked to our pediatrician and she said if she were having them every night we could wake her up before she would have them. You would have to set the alarm. Eventually she would not have them anymore. Good luck J.(Mom of 3, 1 with asperger's)

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E.L.

answers from Fort Wayne on

My 3 year old son has had those too. He has autism and I thought he was having a seizure at one point but the pediatrician told us it was night terrors. I wish I had a solution, I just did what you are doing and rock him and sing softly til he settles down and goes back to sleep.

What is the name of your book? Can I purchase at a book store?

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T.S.

answers from Evansville on

Hi. I read everyones responses and believe you got some really good advice.

Google night terrors and read on it ... it's very interesting. I have three year old triplets and Jay consistently did this and is just now outgrowing it for the most part.

Our Pedi and what I read indicated that over tiredness can stimulate night terrors as well. We were able to pin point the nights Jay would "terror" ..

Be consistent with naps and don't let him get over tired and exhausted and wake him up after he goes to sleep to avoid the cycle he's in. Even if it's just to give him a drink of water ... keep the lights down and low tones, but get him awake, then tuck him back up.

This worked wonders for us. Funny thing is, Jay would be screaming hysterically and kicking and fighting us, before we knew what was going on, and Meg and Sam would never even wake up or hear him.

Like your son, he didn't recognize us and never remembered.

Good luck ... he will outgrow it. Just keep him safe so he doesn't himself. They also told us to try to not stimulate him during the terror.

Take Care,

T.
www.thesiekmantriplets.blogspot.com

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T.M.

answers from Terre Haute on

I was so in your shoes a few months ago. When my son would do this it was always an hour after I laid him down. After I would get him up, I would rock him and he would eventually release gas. Sooo, I started to keep a journal of his foods and drinks. This only happened on the days he ate chocolate. I took my findings with me to the doc at his last visit. She said that this is very common and that kids have more trouble with chocolate and milk. I cut out all forms of chocolate and he stopped waking up screaming. What a miracle! You might try a journal and see if anything stands out. Let me know if this helps your cause. Good luck, Shannon

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R.H.

answers from Cleveland on

My daughter had night terrors when she was a baby and it is scary and really heartbreaking to go through this. My daughter had it for like two years and I hated it!!! Let me tell you that all you really can do is wait it out. She will outgrow it. My daughter is a health 18 year old that will be a mother soon. There are things you can try like a glow warm or something she can hug. That might help a bit. Good luck to you and know that it will end!!!!

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A.G.

answers from Cleveland on

My daughter has night terrors a lot. THe thing I have found that works best is a very strict nap and bedtime schedule. When she gets over tired she always has one. If I can be consistent with her schedule they are not as often. I am not sure but I think diet may have something to do with it too. I have noticed when she gets a lot of sugar they seem to be worse. I hope this will help.

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R.T.

answers from Cincinnati on

Michele,
Congrats on the book!
This may sound really corny, but my daughter used to wake up at night too, or she'd be afraid to go to bed at all. My father-in-law got her a dreamcatcher from our local flea market and told her it would catch her bad dreams. She still moans in her sleep but no longer wakes up scared to death, and before she goes to sleep she makes sure its where she can see it. Who knows, anyway it worked. You might try that or use something else to help "catch" her bad dreams.
R.

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A.N.

answers from Cleveland on

This definately sounds like night terrors and in this case there isnt much you can do but comfprt her and let her know that your there they will eventually go away on their own

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C.C.

answers from Fort Wayne on

Hi M.! I had a former stepdaughter who would get up in the middle of the night (8-10 yrs old) and come into our bed crying. But she was not awake and this was not normal sleep walking. The whole situation with her mother, family, etc. was very dysfunctional. That was our case. Eventually she stopped, but it was very frustrating, trying to ease her to wake up, put her back to bed. Have you thought about talking with a child therapist? They may have some very good suggestions. I hope this might help some way. Take care and God bless you and your family.

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