Night Terrors!

Updated on September 13, 2008
J.M. asks from Rathdrum, ID
28 answers

My 6yr. old (turning 7 the end of the month) has been having what the doctor described as "Night Terrors". He did not give me a way to help her, only that they usually grow out of it. She will wake up in the middle of the night crying, wringing or shaking her hands, and be very afraid of something. When we ask her any questions she gives us short answers that don't make any sense, or she does unusual things such as trying to climb the walls. Sometimes she does it a couple times a night, once a night, or we could go weeks without an episode. Has anyone ever been through this with their children, and what do I do to help her?

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for the great advice! I have tried to make sure our dinners aren't too late so she doesn't go to bed on a full stomach, however sometimes that is impossible with our schedules (as you all are probably familiar with). She does not go to bed with footies or socks on, and we spend at least 10 minutes each night before bed with a nice relaxing story. Then we turn on Kenny Loggins Back to Pooh Corner and lights out. So far since then we haven't had any episodes!
Thanks!!!!!

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S.L.

answers from Seattle on

my 13yr old still has them from time to time.I know hers is stress related. The one I remember the most was just before I had my 4yr old she actually made it outside, she put her blanket on the car went in her room and went back to bed. I asked her what she was doing and she said we have to cover the cars so the engines dont get her. I thought she was awake, but 5 mins later she was screaming in terror because the engine got free.

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D.D.

answers from Portland on

I was wondering if you are still having troubles? My oldest son had night terrors has a toddler and we were able to contribute them to having "nitrate overload" aka... too many processed foods. The child care provider was giving him nothing but processed cheese, hot dogs, bologna and speghettios... even if I took something else for him to eat. We took him out of her care and things went back to normal almost instantly.

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D.O.

answers from Spokane on

Well, it's been a long time, and you've gotten a few responses, and I haven't read through them but... this was my daughter around that age, and younger. She'd really creep us out. Anyway, we found that she didn't do it if we put her to bed at eight. When she stayed up later than eight, that's when she started doing it. What kind of schedule does she have?

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T.C.

answers from Seattle on

My son is alomst 2 1/2 and we have been going through this for about a year now. They were very frequent at first but now usually only when he is overly tired or sick. When he first had one & we figured out what it was, he would have them very frequently, I was amazed to find that most doctors don't know much about them, there doesn't appear to be much research out there. The most helpful thing to me was to read message boards to get tips & help from others.

Here are two websites that helped me.

http://www.nightterrors.org/

http://pediatrics.about.com/cs/sleep/a/night_terrors.htm

Other then that the things that helped limit the night terrors were:
1.) making sure he got his naps & a very consistant bedtime routine. Lavendar bubble bath (Lavendar has been proven to help induce a deeper sleep) but esecially consistant on the time.

2.) be sure he isn't going to get too hot during the night, I read a lot of people posting that when their children were too warm or had a warm vaparizor in thier room they would trigger them & at the time my son started getting them he had a combination of being overly tired & he was getting over a cold so we had a vaparizor in his room.

3.) classical music, we started playing it for him when he went to sleep (it shuts off automatically after a half hour). Then if he wakes with a terror, I play the music for him while I attmept to hold him (he sometimes just wants to run around the room & he's getting too big to control too much).

4.) during the terrors I try to stay pretty quiet, I will ask him simple questions he would definatly know the answer to. I just keep asking him questions every few mins during the NT to see if he has come out of it yet. Once he starts answering me, I know he is waking up so I try to wind him down. Until he answers me I just pretty much hold him & kiss him & tell hm I'm there. After he starts responding then I give him some comfort for about 10 more mins and then I will attempt to put him back to bed.

If you want any further advice or have any questions feel free to contact me. It's a very frusterating thing, you definatly feel helpless a lot. I could go on & on about this :)

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M.P.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi! I understand completely what you are going through. My daughter has had night terrors since she was 2 1/2 years old. The way we help our daughter is we gave her 1 special item that made her feel safe. Like a special toy, blanket, pillow. We also placed her on seditives because they got so bad she became in danger of herself and other. she became violent really bad while in her sleep. Give her own safety zone. Designate 1 special area where she could go to relax and be safe. We call it a quiet zone.
My daughters night terrors were a result of getting type 1 diabetes at 2 1/2. She had a very bad trauma as a result of it. Discuss with your doctor about giving her anxiety meds only at bedtime and see if that helps. It may takes years to get over night terrors. My daughter is now 7 and still has them 1-3 times a week. Instead of all night long and fighting nobody in her sleep. Let me know if any of this helps. M. Petersen Cotati, Ca

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A.R.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi,
My son is 6 and 1/2 and has had night terrors for a couple of years. One afternoon I went to check on my son during his nap when I heard him calling me. He seemed to be awake but was looking straight at me and calling my name, later I realized that he had gotten down from his bed and opened the balcony door and put a piece of clothing out on the roof next to the balcony. I was also unable to wake him or reason with him. The last time he had a night terror was new years day. He had stayed up very late the night before and I heard him call me, when I went to his room he was pulling his blanket from the oposite side of the room. After this episode I went straight to the internet. Night terrors are totally normal and thought to be inherited (like sleep walking), they happen more offten when the child is very tired. "Experts" recomend locking doors and windows that lead outside, don't want to scare you but there have been cases of people trying to "escape" through windows and doors. They say that the child should grow out of them. Also not to wake the child, gently put the child to bed or let them ride it through, be there to protect them. It's scary but there is nothing wrong with your child. I think the best thing is to make sure that your child get to sleep before they are too tired. Good luck.

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E.G.

answers from Los Angeles on

My 9 year old son has gone through this for years. We have tried everything but the truth is they are dreaming but cannot be woken up. We have found that nothing wakes them up from this state and even when you are able to wake them they end up more scared and confused because they have no memory of the incident. We now just literally ignore it. Unless he comes to us or calls for us - and even then we often end up just walking away from it because he is calling out in his sleep. He never remembers the incident in the morning so we are always more traumatized than he is! My brother is a doctor and from a medical standpoint says the same as your doctor - but truth be told when he has witnessed the events he is totally disturbed by them too! The bottom line is that we have tried everything and the best thing we have found is to let him go through it and go back to sleep on his own. I have found that intense tv or extreme exhaustion tend to aggravate the problem. If you are worried about her safety you can stand and watch till it's over but I don't really have any other advise for you - sorry. Hang in there!

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T.L.

answers from Bakersfield on

hi J.....my sister actually suffered through this. what a pisser huh? it was horrible and like you said, her doctor couldn't do anything about it! the only way we got through it was to be patient! it was so hard...and a few times she scared us silly too. she would see things in the T.V. after she fell asleep with it on. we got her a nightlight to put outside her room, and it was kind of bright. she then started seeing things in the shadow created by the lights...you see all kind of scary movies describing this night terrors, but it definatly isn't the sane is it? and your poor daughter. she REALLY believes what she sees. my sister came over to my house alot...it seemed like i could take care of her better..maybe because I suffered from them too when i was little. wow! i want to cry writing this. i know what it feels like...and my sister had it worse then me! i would just hold her and have her describe her dreams...i swear someone else just posted a request called "nightmares." maybe you could get in toucb with her too. anyway, it seems to be easier to rest and calm down when you tell someone about your dreams. just hold her as long as she wants!! love her and comfort her...that's al you can really do for her. if you get her nightlight, make sure it is bright! and put it inside her room. try to keep your head. i know it gets frustrating waking up so much during the night. my prayers are with you cause i know how awful this can be. Best Wishes and good luck, T.

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M.M.

answers from Richland on

I had the same problem with my son, except he start at 6 months old. He would wake up every night screaming and no amount of coddling or talking would calm him down. I recieved the same answer from the doctor that he would just grow out of it. It wasn't until he was old enough to communicate with me that I realized that every night when he woke up screaming that he was never really awake. He would grunt and talk in little pieces that never really made sense. Whenever we would touch him he would freak out like I was the devil coming to get him. His eyes would be open, but he was still in his nightmare! From then on I began to try anything to make sure he was actualy awake, tickling, shaking(softly), giving a short bath, little water, anything. He would wake up and then would easily settle down. He did finaly stop recently(mid last year), but still has one every once in a while. With everything new thing a child sees everyday, I don't think there is really a way to curb their fears, but it helps to know Mom/Dad are right there. Hang in there! It does get better.

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K.O.

answers from Portland on

Well it looks like you've already receive a lot of good advice so I'll keep this brief. My sons experienced these for a brief period as well. My doctor also said not to try to wake him up, even if it seems like he is awake he's really not. Just be with him to make sure he doesn't harm himself. The only other thing I read, but never actually tried, was that you should wake them up shortly before the night terror usually occurs (generally they happen 1- 2 hours into sleep) and sometimes this prevents the problem.

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H.H.

answers from San Diego on

We went through the same thing when my oldest was about 2 years old. Our experience: There is nothing you can do during these attacks. We first tried and could not wake our son up. Our doctor said the only thing we can do is to provide a safe environment for the attacks. At that time, that meant watching our child go wild in the crib. The attacks would last for 10 minutes. What helped? Our son had his adenoids removed (they blocked 90 percent of his air intake), and then his night terrors disappeared. Did he grow out of it, or was it the surgery?? We honestly don't know.

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S.G.

answers from Seattle on

Hi J.,
My name is S. and I am a mom of two great boys. When my oldest son was a year and a half he had his first night terror. I was so terrified, we loaded him up and took him to the emergency room! By the time we got there he was fine of course, and the doctors couldn't really give me any answers. As I was explaining the whole ordeal to a co-worker the next day, she said "he had a night-terror, my kids had them too." I went straight home and did some research, and learned that the only thing you can really do for them when they have these is sit close by to make sure they can not injure them selves. You don't want to try to wake them up, this will only make it last longer. They also say that children that have night-terrors are more likely to sleep walk, so watch out for that too.
My son only had a couple of night-terrors, and so far does not walk in his sleep (although he does talk in his sleep alot!) My peditrician said that the children are very much asleep, although they may look to be awake, and as scary as it is for the parents the kids don't really have any memory of the whole thing.
So, I hope this helps a little - at least to know that this a fairly normal thing, and you are not alone (although that doesn't help much when you are sleep deprived!)
S. G.

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K.G.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi J.,

My son and Daughter both had night terrors. When My oldest had them I thought it was just something that kids went through but I was still scared but too young to know any better. My daughter started having them when she was 6 months old and it was quit scary for me. After getting her back to sleep I stayed up the whole night and into the next morning researching what was "wrong" with her. I found alot of really good information and they soon stopped and havent came back since. Dont put socks on them at night and expecially not those footy PJ's, Make sure they dont go to sleep really tired or with a full tummy......It stopped them like I said and they never came back...Something about the heat on there feet and lack of a full night/nap helps to get them as well. Let me know if I can help, I'd be glad too! Also I was told not to try and wake them up cause it just scares them more.

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T.A.

answers from Seattle on

I remember all too well when my little brother went through "night terrors." When he had his first episode, my mom, dad, older brother and myself all tried to help out the little guy. In the end, it took my dad to hold him and the rest of us to rip through books looking for an answer.
When we discovered that it was called night terrors but had no way to help, we were stumped.

From lots of trial and error, it wasn't until years later we have found out what to do to help. When my daughter turned 4, she began to go through the night terror stage. We have discovered that if wake her up, it's much better for her. We use a strong sounding voice but keep from yelling as that just startles her. (Who wouldn't get startled from getting yelled at while sleeping, right?)

Instead of us trying to keep her asleep and ask her whats wrong, we wake her up. We say her name repeatedly, growing louder until she wakes up. Once she's awake, we ask her what she was dreaming about. The first couple of times we did this with her, we realized it helped her tremendously. Not only does she go back to sleep better, but almost always she doesn't flail around and cry really loud like she used to.

I've told my mom to try it with my little brother and I've told so many of my friends with children. They all have agreed with me it's really the only way to help with night terrors.

Let me know how everything works out, I know it's really scary when it happens. Not only for you, but your child as well.

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D.L.

answers from Los Angeles on

My son, now 6, was diagnosed when he was 2 with "night terrors". His doctors had me give him a cough syrup, like Robitussin, at night to relax him. I, also, started monitoring the television shows he watched and read the same book to him every night, "Arthur's Reading Race" to give him something else to think about before sleeping. He stopped having the night terrors within a month.

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E.B.

answers from Seattle on

Hi J.,

This is a long one, but here goes...

My son has had "Night Terrors" it has been at least a year and a half since the last one, he is almost 5 1/2 now. Sometimes they would happen in the middle of the day, when he used to take naps. It was so frightening to watch him go through this. Sometimes it would even last for 30 or 40 minutes, and just like your child it would sometimes happen more than once in a night, and then he would go weeks until it happened again. He is not obstrucive during his, it almost seems as though he was having a very "VERY" bad temper tamtrum, he would kick, hit, scream and cry, he would push me or my husband away if we tried to comfort him or carry him. He never would remember what had happened if we asked him about it later or the next day.
His doctor had told us to try and wake or calm him with a wet washcloth to his face and neck, but this only made him scream out more.
After researching the subject, I found it was best to just let him get through it and try to comfort him the best I could. I noticed a pattern with him, it seemed to happen mostly when he had been up late the night before or if his sleep schedule was messed up for a few days, the daytime terrors seemed to happen when he had had a very active day and was tired and his nap schedule was off.
I can remember one time when it happened, we had been out running errands all day, and he had skipped his nap. We stopped at a friends house that evening and I carried him into her house because he had fallen asleep in the car. Suddenely he had a "Night Terror." I sat him down inside the house at the bottom of my friends stairs and he just started wailing and screaming and stomping and pushin and hitting me. My girlfriend did not understand why he was doing this, nor could I really explain it at that moment, because I was tryin to comfort him. She must have thought that it was odd I try to comfort him, since it looked like he was having a very bad temper tantrum, she said, "why don't you put him in time out." I was a little upset by this comment, but how was she to know, she had never seen or experienced anything like this before.
I truely believe that sleep deprivation can be one major cause of Night Terrors, so you might want to make sure that your child goes to bed around the same time every evening. I know this was really hard with my son, he is a little night owl, and trys to get away with staying up as late as he can, whenever he can.
I found an interesting article online you would probably be interested in reading. It is one doctors explanation of "Night Terrors." I found it very helpful. The link is down below.
I believe "Night Terrors" may also be a genetic thing, I know that most say you grow out of this, but in the 12 years I have known my husband, I have seen him awake from his sleep, or so I thought he awoke, and go into somewhat of a rage, It happened twice before we had our children. The first time it happened was the same night we had found out that our friends dad disappeared at sea. My husband was home from commercial fishing and was not able to sleep well that evening. Another time it happened just a few weeks after our first son was born, I was sitting up in bed nursing the baby and he went into this rage, it was very scary, because he came at me as if he didn't know who I was, as if he thought I was an intruder trying to steal his child, he awoke before anthing bad could have happened, but god, was it scary! In my opinion, I think those incidents had to do with sleep derpivation.
My husband never rememebers the incident when he awakes. The time with the baby he awoke while coming towards me in the corner of the room, he had no idea why he was standing there. He does not have any recollection of this happening to him as a child?
Anyways, don't feel alone, this happens to some children and even adults as far as I'm concerned. My advice to you, is to do as much research as you can and to learn how you and your child can to get through these terrors or even end them. There is so much information on the internet. Also, keep talkng with your childs pediatrician about it. Furthermore, you may want to keep a log of each Night Terror, (her sleep schedule, how long it lasted, and what she did during it)because if happens all too often, her doctor might want to run some tests.
Here is the link to that article I mentioned, http://www.drgreene.com/21_155.html
I hope I was able to help at least a little bit, sorry it is such a long message, but if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me anytime.
Good luck and best regards,
E. B.
[email protected]____.com

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A.R.

answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter was having night terrors at 5mo and I too was told they would pass. After a few months her chiropractor recommended another chiropractor that uses Neuromodulation Technique (NET). This therapy basically works the entire body and resets itself so the body can function/heal properly. After 2 sessions the night terrors were gone and it has been 1 1/2 yrs. My son has eczema/allergies and we are using this therapy to help him and he is doing much better. Chiropractic care is the best preventive care for kids.

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K.Z.

answers from Richland on

Hi Hon,
I sure know about those night terrors! My oldest had them every night for about 8 months. They were so long and strange that one time I was convinced that something was in the corner of the room!He kept pointing and crying. It took all I had to keep from joining him in his screaming!
His doctor told me to take him off of milk right away. If I gave him milk, it was sopposed to be the powdererd milk named " Milkman Milk".
He said NO peanut butter and no chocolate. The peanut butter was a staple in the house and I was afraid the Doc was dead wrong and nothing would change.
Boy, I praise God that I was wrong! Within a week the Terrors stopped completly and never came back.
The doctor said those foods caused swelling of the throat and mouth. He said it was a drop in my sons oxygen that caused the episodes.
To this day I regret that I couldn't pack up my kids Doctor and move him to the Pacific Northwest with me.
I will always praise that man for his wisdome and care he gave my kids.
I am so glad he proved I was wrong in believing that wouldn't work. It did.
I hope you find an answer for you child. I would say that today with all the options in Soymilk, I would give my kids that before I gave them any milk at all. I think milk has alot of reactions that are hard to detect if a child is allergic.Soymilk tastes great too! But to each their own.
I would follow all of the advice in combination to find what works,
They do grow out of it. But it is hard on the family when sleep is disrupted.So I will pray for you and yours.
Goodluck and God Bless,

K. Z

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J.J.

answers from Portland on

J.,
My son has night terrors and they are not nightmares, your daughter is not awake when she is having these, which is why she gives you incoherent answers or none at all when you ask her questions. Night terrors can be dangerous for kids physically because, as you know, they can sleep walk. When they do this they are trying to get away from what they are dreaming about. Things to help include turning on the light so that shadows and things in the room don't seem as scary. Don't try to wake her because she will be confused and disoriented. You have to let these terrors run their course. You can sit with her and tell her it's okay, Mommy and Daddy are here. Another thing you can do is to wake her up about fifteen minutes after she goes to sleep (not bed, sleep), and make sure she is awake enough to realize she is awake, and then let her fall back asleep, this interrupts REM sleep and may help with the terrors. You can also try to cool her feet down by taking the blanket off of them, or take off socks. The most important thing to remember is that if these are true night terrors she will not remember them in the morning and they do not scare her at any time except when she is sleeping, even though they probably scare you. Good luck.

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J.W.

answers from Bakersfield on

J., as sorry as I am to hear this I am also sort of relieved to know that I am not alone. My son Aidan suffers fromt he same thing, not as bad though. I was told by his Dr. that there really isn't anything you can do. You are not supposed to wake them up (sort of like a nightmare) and let them go through it. You should follow them around and make sure they do not hurt themselves but let them deal with it. I have also been informed that if you wait until they go to sleep one night, tell them while they are sleeping that they are safe and that you love them. I can honestly say that since I did that, his outbursts have lessened. I hope this helps.
J.

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M.

answers from Las Vegas on

My daughter, now 7, experienced these night terrors until she was about 5 1/2. From our experience, she normally would get these night terrors when she had to go to the bathroom. She had the worst of these during the post potty training years. For a while they were almost everynight, and extremely frightening to witness. She would walk around, cry, seemingly while awake. One thing that helped was to make her use the bathroom before going to bed. We also would discuss the night terrors the next morning so she was aware of them. We also bought her dream catchers which may have made her feel better.

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A.G.

answers from Sacramento on

Seems as if everyone has great advice. Kyla started having them at about 4 years old. They would come when she was running a fever. The only thing that would help was holding her and telling her to keep her eyes closed (when she would look at us, she would see a horiffic monster, but she could hear our normal voices) and just listen to us. Every once in a while they come back, but only with a fever. Seems most peopl have different triggers. Good luck, sorry my answer may not work for you, but know that you're not alone!

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T.W.

answers from Los Angeles on

Hi J.:

This is a sleep disorders. It usually runs in families and doesnt necessarily have to be the same as another family member's disorder. For example. Does anyone sleep walk/talk, have insomnia, or dream vividly alot? These are all forms of the disorder. Though I hate that word (disorder). I have had, at one time or another, all of these disorders. And my three children (now grown) have had one form or another themselves. Sleep is a fascinating thing. Though some things like the terrors are horrible. I have done some research on the internet and this is what I found out about dreaming. When you sleep, at one point, you go into rem sleep (rapid eye movement) some think this is deep sleep, but it is not. At this point you are fairly close to the waking world. During REM you dream. A chemical is produced that essentially paralizes your body so you dont act out what you are dreaming. Now here is when the disorder comes in.. Some people like myself and your child do not produce enough of this chemical. This inturns cause sleepwalking or movement. And when you are having a nightmare the same is true. I now it is horrible.. My daughter growing up had many many many night terrors. It appears that they are awake but they are not. They can look at you and talk but like you said it does not make sense. If you look into their eyes you can see the blank look, like they are staring right through you. How do you know when the episode is over? I would hold my daughter and caress her head and ask her "what is my name". When she ultimately called me momma. I knew it was over.

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T.S.

answers from San Francisco on

A great thing for Night Terrors is Rescue Remedy. You can buy it in spray or drop form. It is a natural Bach Remedy used for calming. I had a friend who's child had night terrors. She sprayed it in her childs mouth during the night terrors, without even waking him. After 3 nights of use the Night Terrors stopped. You can Google it on the net or find it in a health food store. Good luck!

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M.M.

answers from Los Angeles on

Your young one is lucky to have a mom who's seeking some answers for her difficulty, J..

One good resource is a book called "Trauma Through a Child's Eyes" by Dr. Peter Levine and Maggie Kline. In it they discuss how to be of support to your child while she discharges the residue of something that may have overwhelmed her nervous system. We don't always know where the shakes and screams and sweats come from, but we can be assured that allowing her to move through the terror with support will help her return to self-regulation. (Better OUT than IN my mama used to say.) When YOU stay calm, she can key off of your solidity and learn how to do that too. Best to you!

Not easy being up with distressed young one. Compassionate hug to you all.

M. M-S

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J.T.

answers from Anchorage on

hi J.,
my daughter is 6 1/2 as well. she has been having night terrors going on 2 years, i know exactly what you are going through. wall climbing, weird talking, always being scared of something. i got the same responces from doctors, "she will grow out of it" i decited to explore in the homeopathic medicine and took her to see a reiki, they work with the energy level around your child, and help with different prayers to say before bed. i noticed a huge difference immediatley. my daughter went months with out them , i also know that you shouldnt wake her up from her night terror, just try to sooth her, or read aloud, it will distract her and help her to snap out of it on her own. i hope everthing works out well, good luck to you both
J.

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M.H.

answers from Los Angeles on

J.,

This happened with my oldest daughter who is 7 about a year ago. We had 2 episodes and they scared me to pieces. She woke up in the middle of the night and just started screaming. I got up and try to calm her down or hold her but nothing help. She started throwing her body over and over on the floor. It looked almost as if she were "possessed". I had never seen or heard of anything like that and I almost called 911. It lasted about an hour. I just tried to keep her from hurting herself and continued to talk calmly to her. After the episode passed, she fell asleep on the floor. The next day I asked her about it and she didn't remember what happened.
The only advice I can give you is to remain calm so you don't upset her further and keep her safe from hurting herself on any objects. I know its hard to see. We haven't had an episode in about a year so maybe my daughter grew out of it.

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N.D.

answers from Portland on

hi J.

luckily i haven't had to deal with this however my sister told me that when she drinks orange juice before she goes to bed, she has nightmares, even at 27.

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