toddler night terrors

Coping With Toddler Night Terrors

Anybody else ever experienced toddler night terrors? I have, and it is NOT pretty, so I got to thinking why night terrors happen and what is the best way to handle them. 

One of the gut wrenching experiences I had with my first born, was him waking up at night, screaming and thrashing around uncontrollably. So why does this happen? I did some research to find out. A night terror is an episode of extreme fear, crying and/or flailing while still asleep, generally lasting around 1-2 minutes. They happen most commonly between the ages of 3-12 and children usually grow out of them on their own. 

Just a little science, there are two types of sleep, REM and non-REM. Night terrors happen when the body transitions from one stage to the next while in non-REM sleep. If the Central Nervous System is overstimulated this transition can cause little people’s bodies to react in fear, causing them to turn into little sleep zombies. 

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So What happens during a Night Terror?

In our household, it was generally a few hours into bedtime, before I heard screaming and running down the hallway like a stampede of elephants. I also had a newborn (who wasn’t keen on sleep himself) while experiencing this, which made this an insanely tiring time for everyone. My toddler would come out of his room completely disoriented and inconsolable. I was confused by what was happening. With eyes wide open and his heart racing, he was TRULY terrified. He wouldn’t even let me, or my husband comfort him with hugs before flailing his arms and kicking and screaming in our faces. Once I realized he wasn’t even awake, I knew there was not much I could do at that point, other than sit near him and tell him it was going to be okay. After a few minutes he would stand up and calmly walk back into his bed, conk out, like nothing had ever happened. 

It seems that there are not any definitive reason why night terrors happen but some common causes might be linked to stress, overheating, change in sleep pattern and being overtired. We all know that toddlers have the tendency to fight tooth and nail to go to sleep. So in my little man’s case, I’d be willing to bet it was due to being overtired. There also can be some other more clinical reasons that are more rare, but those are best to be determined a doctor, which I definitely am not!

According to everything I researched, it didn’t seem that there is any real harm from experiencing night terrors other than some serious sleep deprivation for the child and family members, and possibly some embarrassment, if the child even remembers it happening. In my experience I did safeguard the room. This way, if he did have an episode, he wouldn’t hurt himself on anything in the room. 

So How Do You Deal With These Pesky Night Terrors?

First off, stay calm. It is heartbreaking and scary to see your baby so upset but I know from experience that getting yourself worked up does not help the situation. Make sure there’s nothing they can hurt themselves on. They most likely don’t even know this is happening so it would be awful if they tripped on a toy due to being so frantic. Maybe try to keep a set bedtime to ensure they don’t get overtired. I know first hand that can be difficult but anything is worth a shot (this one REALLY seemed to help in our situation). Also try and keep the bedroom a little cooler with a fan to prevent any overheating. Don’t try and wake them up, believe me it only makes matters worse! And If it continues to be a long term problem, start writing down the details in a journal and seek a Doctor’s professional advice. Most of all, be there for them, and let them know it’s going to be ok. Before you know it, they will have hopefully outgrown it.

I was blindly unaware that this was even a thing before experiencing it for myself. If you are reading this and down the road you happen to have an experience like mine, hopefully you will be at least somewhat knowledgeable on what the heck is going on! Or if you are currently experiencing this, then I hope this can help put your mind at ease a bit. So many thoughts ran through my mind, is my son hurt or sick? Is someone trying to break in his room? Is my son turning into a Zombie!? Just kidding on the last one, although it really was frightening.

Any who, my son took about eight months or so to fully outgrow it. Although I’m sure we’ll have plenty of new exciting obstacles to face, I can say with certainty that I am thrilled to be putting that hurdle behind us.   

If you like this post, please check out my other articles on mommin and other parenting topics.

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toddler night terrors