Night Terrors - Woodstock, GA

Updated on February 17, 2009
M. asks from Woodstock, GA
16 answers

I'm seeking advice for dealing with my 4 year old son's night terrors. He started having them about 3 months ago. At first we thought they were just nightmares but we soon realized he isn't awake and doesn't remember anything the next day. They usually start around midnight and last for anywhere from 10 - 30 minutes. He then immediately goes back to sleep after it is over. It is torture to watch! He screams, pulls at his hair and writhes around as if he is in pain. He won't let us touch him and yells louder if we try to speak to him. We've read some articles on it and have started making bedtime a more relaxed time. I added a relaxing lavender scented plug-in to his room and we've turned down the heat so he doesn't get too hot at night. He was having them about once every 1 - 2 weeks until recently. This past week he had 2 in one night. My husband and I are an emotional wreck after going through them. I'm desperate for any ideas or recommendations. Thank you!

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answers from Charleston on

I know you'll think I'm crazy but you may want to see a good family chiropractor. They can often help with sleeping issues like these especially in children. If you're in the Charleston, SC area I recommend Atlantic Coast Family Chiropractic in Summerville on Trolley Rd. She also has a website but you can also do research online about sleep and chiro, especially in kids/infants.

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answers from Albany on

A lady I know has a little boy who suffers night terrors if he eats certain foods. Maybe try eliminating things or see an allergist? You could check out her website at
Also, for relaxation, Lavender SCENT is not the same as true Lavender Essential Oil. Use the true essential oils, they can be found in our local healthfood store.

Sorry I'm not more help...just giving the little info I do have :-)



answers from Atlanta on


I'm sorry I saw your post yesterday and this is my first opportunity to respond. My son has night terrors also and I agree that they are the scariest things to witness. My son started having them when we moved to our current house (he was 5 and just started kindergarten). He is 7 1/2 now and they do not last as long as they used to and seem to be milder than before so there is promise that he will be over them before too long.

The main things we have learned is that they are triggered by stress and by being over tired. I think my son had a great deal of transition he was dealing with when they started-- new house, new friends, new school, school lasting twice as long etc...

He obviously doesn't nap anymore so we can't do that but we try to get him in bed at a reasonable time. The times he has them now he has gone to bed late. We also don't watch tv right before bed and try to have calmer routines-- reading stories, snuggling and talking about our days, telling jokes, listening to soft music before bed. Our pediatrician had even recommended recording myself reading a soft story and playing it while he fell asleep.

I've also noticed with my son that it happens within an hour or so of him going to bed so we really try to be as quiet as we can and don't disturb him during that time frame (sometimes he will sneak out of bed and falls asleep in our bed and we didn't realize that's where he is). If at all possible, we will leave him alone and move him into his bed after an hour or so-- he is still in that light stage of sleep and will more than likely have a night terror because he has been disturbed.

When it is occuring I hold my son. He doesn't seem to get any more upset when I do and I feel better that I can hold him close to me and talk soothingly to him. I keep repeating "mommy's here-- I'm always here for you.. don't be afraid I'm here". Otherwise he paces back and forth and grabs things out of the air and I'm afraid he will get hurt.
It is such a helpless feeling to know that he is experiening such fear and we can do nothing but hold him and talk soothing to him despite the screaming, sweating and shivering in fear. I just keep repeating my phrase. I have started (in a very smoothing voice) adding to my phrase.."Ben can you hear mommy's voice...I'm here...are you awake"? I am not trying to wake him because it's not possible but sometimes if it's about to end he hears his name and my voice and it will be over a little quicker. When most pediatricians say don't try to wake them up they're saying don't show the frantic, desperate fear and try to physically wake them or scream because if they do wake up they will be terrified because they have no idea why we're screaming and they will be terrified of us!!!

Like I said before, we've dealt with these things for a little over two years and they are shorter and less frequent and milder (sometimes no screaming). I'm hoping he will outgrow them soon.

Good luck. I'm so sorry you're experiencing these. Try an early, calm bedtime and hopefully you will see them less frequently. R.



answers from Atlanta on

Hi, M.!
My neighbors have been dealing with this for quite some time with their 11 year old. They say that they finally figured out that they can't let him stay up late; they have to keep him on a regular bedtime schedule. And, also he has to go to the bathroom before bedtime. So, I guess they don't let him have drinks past a certain time.
They say this has worked, for the most part, for him. I've heard stories about his night terrors and I know it can be horrible.
Maybe if you can try these if you have not already done so. I think that certain things work for some and not for others.
Good luck to you!



answers from Atlanta on

Hi M.,
I have not experienced this, so I will just pass on what I have heard from others. Parents whose kids had night terrors have told me that food allergies were part of the problem (gluten was the specific) although pain is usually associated with a milk allergy. Something to consider. Lots of info on GFCF on the web. Best of luck for relief, J.



answers from Atlanta on

Hi M.,

I agree with Sarah about the chiropractor. Any principled chiropractor is familiar with any health issue and this is definitely a health issue. Also, get rid of the plug-in. It's toxic and can exacerbate the problem. I answered a lady about this a while back and I've copied the letter below:

"Most night terrors are outgrown; however, there is usually a stimulus that can cause them. Stress can cause them but environmental toxins can also be a primary culprit. Cleaning supplies and bath and body products can cause neurological problems/damage and can cause things like night terrors, nightmares, child behavioral disorders like ADD and ADHD and even memory problems. The main problem with your average product at Wal-Mart is that it has an "allowed" limit of toxin. When used in combination of other things with "allowed" limits, the limit has increased exponentially. This is not to mention the combination of toxins that outgas and contraindicate like a pharmaceutical does. Bedtime is when all of us react to the stimuli of the day, whether it was a stressful day at work or a scary TV show or exposure to synthetic chemicals. The other issue that usually causes night terrors is lack of sleep. So you have a vicious cycle here with night terrors keeping him from restful sleep.

Detoxifying your house will help a lot; especially by changing to a laundry detergent that is considered non-toxic to humans. (There are a lot of things labeled non-toxic that are only considered non-toxic to the environment.) My husband's sleep problems improved greatly after we detoxed the house.

I talk to groups about children’s issues that relate to nutrition, and lack of it, synthetic toxins, and the overuse of pharmaceuticals and how these issues have changed over the last few years. I have plenty of documentation to back up my information and am always willing to share. I feel compelled that parents should know all their options when treating their children. Detoxing can be simple and it can be inexpensive also. If you want to give it a try, I'd be glad to help. Feel free to contact me if you’d like more specifics."

God bless,




answers from Atlanta on

Dear M.,

I don't know where you are in your walk with God or even if you believe in God or the power of prayer but it sounds like you need to deal with the terror by night spoken of in Psalms 91.
What kind of bedtime stories are you reading to him before he retires for the night? Check his toys and the posters you have on the wall. Are there pictures of monsters, is he watching TV programs about monsters, are there books about monsters all around him? these things open the door for the tormentor in the lives of our impressionable young ones.

This may not be what you want to hear but try it. Read Psalms 91 to him and have him repeat some of it with you as you do before he goes to sleep and let the Lord and the angels of the LOrd watch over him. He is too young to be tormented.



answers from Spartanburg on

My almost 17 yr old went through the same thing...for years! (He's still known to sometimes yell and scream and cuss in the middle of the night!!!). It truly does scare the bee-gee-bees out of you!! It sounds like you are taking positive steps to ease it. We found that it was best to NOT try to wake him up, but to focus on keeping him from hurting himself and to calmly and gently guide him back to bed. Be thankful that he doesn't remember and does not seem to be upset by it the next day the way you and your husband are. In our case, it did not seem to signal any major emotional problems, but rather just something that he was dealing with on an unconscious level at night. It WILL get better, and you will get "use" to it (somewhat!
) Good luck to you. I think the best thing to keep in mind is that YOUR SON IS FINE!!!!



answers from Savannah on

There really isn't anything you can do but watch him to make sure he doesn't hurt himself. My daughter used to have them and would scare the life out of me! She would look at me but it was like she was looking right throuh me, she wouldn't reconize me either!! The was a time when she had 2 or more a week for a few weeks and then they stopped all together. Now she is 8 and she sleep walks and talks when she does it! Crazy things that make no sense and she doesn't remember it in the morning. Now my 2yr old (3 in May) I think had one last week. It was short lived and mild but it I'm pretty sure that's what it was. Hubby delt with him and he said it was like he wasn't even there helping him go potty and he seemed very aggitated too.

Just keep your son safe during them and don't try to wake him either. It's something that they out grow after a while. Some kids have them, some don't and some have them a lot compared to others.

Good luck!



answers from Atlanta on

My parents had 5 children, with the youngest arriving later in their life. When my sister arrived, I had been the baby of the family for 10 years, so as you can imagine, I was a bit jealous!
I mention the age difference to show you how much older all of us were to my sister. When she turned about 6 years old she started having these night terrors. At the time we had no idea what was going on. I remember the first one vividly as it scared my sister and I into tears.
My parents were sleeping, as was my youngest sister Maria. At some point we heard her crying in her room. My older sister and I went in to check on her and what we found, we thought was a very distraught, awake, and afraid little 6 year old little girl. Her eyes were wide open, she was partially responsive but when she would talk it wouldn't make any sense. It was nearly Christmas as we had a large Christmas Tree in our living room. My sister and I tried to sort out what was going on but when we would try and touch our sister to calm her she would become violent.
We eventually began crying and realized that we needed our parents help. My sister ran to wake up my mom while I stayed with my sister. She eventually got out of bed and headed to the living room. My mom came up and found my sister appearing to be wide awake but behaving very strange and saying things that didn't make any sense. By this time all three of us were in tears and afraid. My mom got a hold of my sister, who started struggling to get away from her and she sat on the couch with my sister in front of her. She wrapped her arms around her and upper body and her legs around my sisters so that she wouldn't be able to hurt anyone or herself and she prayed outloud while rocking my sister to try and calm her and then she started singing to her. She sang Jesus loves me over and over until my sister was calm again. I remember this event as is if it happened yesterday because it was very traumatic to all of us. My mom sat there and rocked her and tearfully sang to her until she was able to get Maria on her lap and relaxed and then my mom and my sister and I prayed over her for peaceful sleep and then we put her back to bed. We stayed in her room for about 30 minutes to make sure she would be ok and then the next morning she had no memory of what had happened.
She eventually grew out of these after a few years but they were terrifying and disturbing. Her pediatrician explained what these were to us so we finally understood what was going on.
We learned to allow her to go through what was happening and that by our praying and singing to her she would settle down quite quickly. We learned to try and not wake her and to just make sure she wasn't hurting herself. She loved the song 'Jesus Loves Me' so we would sing that to her and we say a prayer and only when she would try and get up and wander around the house or her room would we intervene and hold her. Otherwise we just watched what was going on and our singing seemed to pull her out of what was happening.

I do feel bad for what you and your husband are going through because I've been there and I know how traumatic and emotional it can be. I hope that your son too grows out of these as my sister did, but in the meantime you just have to try things to see if any of them seem to help like the praying and singing we would do for my sister. We sing in a very soft tone to her and it was her favorite song so I'm not sure if that is why it had a positive effect on her during her night terrors or not.
There were times that it seemed to agitate her but we just kept singing and she eventually settled herself.

All I can suggest is that you make sure your son isn't in a position where he can hurt himself or others and as long as he's safe all you can really do is monitor the situation and if you find peace in prayers I suggest you say a prayer outloud asking for your son's comfort and peace while he sleeps and you can try singing to him. It may work for him as it did for my young sister. I don't recommend trying to hold him until he's settled himself down unless you need to in order to protect him from himself or to protect others in your home. They can get violent if they feel threatened so this is why we learned to just let her work through it.

Good luck, and if you need any other information or have any questions you're welcome to message me privately.

Now that I am a mother of a 7 year old boy of my own I can only imagine having to go through this again but having it be my child rather then my sister. I do understand the position you are in as a parent and how desperate you feel not being able to fix this for your child but just know that most children do grow out of these.

One more thing, before we would put my sister to bed at night we would have her take a long relaxing bath and then we would pray with her before she would go to sleep and pray for peaceful dreams and for God's calming grace to stay with her throughout the night. This praying made a difference to us. It made us feel comforted and protected in a way. If you and your family pray then I suggest you pray together at night when you put your son to bed. Also ask for the strength and knowledge to help your child through these and for God's comfort and emotional strength. You will be surprised how those prayers help you through this.

I wish you and your family the best while you work through this.




answers from Atlanta on

I've had night terrors all of my life. My night terrors got so bad that I was afraid to go to sleep because I kept hurting myself and the dreams I had were very frightening. I finally had to take anti-seizure medicine to get rid of them. I had to quit taking the medicine once I became pregnant and I haven't had any problems since.

Just to let you know what happens....The dreams seem real at the time, whether they make sense or not. Most of the early ones I didn't remember much and people would just laugh the next day when describing what I was saying/doing in my sleep. When I turned 30 they started getting worse and I actually began remembering my dreams and they were pretty frightening. I was under a lot of stress at the time and I think that contributed some to the night terrors.

Just make sure your child isn't under extra stress (from new baby, school, etc.) and is getting enough RESTFUL sleep. If he is tired in the morning and seems to be dragging all day, then you may need to see about a prescription or try a sleep therapist. I was not getting restful sleep and was becoming an insomniac and depressed so I made the decision to take medicine.

I hope they go away--maybe it's just a growing pain. My son has experienced a few of them too usually before an illness or during a transitional stage. When I was young, I used to only get night terrors when I was getting sick.

Hope this helps!



answers from Atlanta on

Hey M.,

Yeah, night terrors can scare the parents as much as the children having them. They are terrible.

The best advice I ever got, though, and which worked very well for us was to institute naptime religiously. Every day. The night terrors ceased after our daughter started taking mid-day naps. My understanding is that if they do not nap mid-day, by nighttime, they are so exhausted and sleep so soundly, that a nightmare comes up, they are unable to wake themselves up.

Try this.

Good luck!




answers from Macon on

We had then with our 3 year old boy. It was terrible. We held/hugged him tight, rocked him, talked to him and asked him to look at us and tell us if he can see us, and most importantly we prayed over him. I have heard that is is a state of sleep where they are lost between deep sleep/dreaming/etc. I prayed over him, his room, etc. They are now gone, hopefully forever. Hope this helps.



answers from Atlanta on

you might think this is silly but I wouldn't dismiss it. Your son could actually be dealing with gas pains. I have a 19 month old that does the same. some nights are fine but others are just about how you describe your 4 yr. old. She would wake up (but not really awake)in the middle of the night yelling out, pulling her hair, sort of wiggling around; very distorted and seem to be in pain. I realized it was most likely gas pain when sometimes after a while she would actually pass it during the episode and then she's fine unless another hit. She deals terribly with gas at night. At one time it was REALLY bad; like every night. I guess its because she lying down and its easier to pass when she's up and about. Ive got her on lactaid milk and Ill avoid giving her any milk or foods that i know would cause gas after a certain time of night. I actually diagnosed this myself after going through it with her night after night. I noticed a couple others said something about food so I wouldn't rule it out, cause it could sound trivial.
God bless.



answers from Atlanta on

M., Hi I went through the same thing with my seven year old. She started having them around three and it was soooooo hard for me and my husband. She would have one almost every week. If she were coming down with a cold she would start getting them more often. We would go into her room and she would be screaming and saying she wanted to go home. Her eyes would be wide open with fear but she would see right through us as if we were not even there. After about ten mins or so she would go back to sleep and not remember anything. She too would scream louder if you touched her. Her doctor said not to worry about it that she would out grow it by school age and he was right. When she started prek she pretty much stopped. Now she is 7 and we haven't had a one in years. It was very hard to deal with. My husband would yell at her and tell her to stop screaming, he didn't have the patience to watch her do it. Good luck, there is really nothing you can do but watch to make sure he doesn't hurt himself and then tuck him back in. Don't worry it really doesn't last forever!!! I have two other children one almost 4 and one 2 yrs and so far they don't have these terrors, I'm sooo thankful. C.



answers from Atlanta on

Hi M.. My daughter is only 2 but she had them really bad as well. I am pretty sure it was contributed to lack of a solid schedule. Since I've started her on a routine, it is very rare that she cries out. There's a lot of information about night terrors on the internet. I would ask the doctor to be safe. I know what you are going through. To see my daughter (and she'd sometimes open her eyes) go through a terror and feel helpless is an awful feeling. I would start with his nighttime routine and go from there. Good luck to you and your husband.

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