Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Night terrors and trading standards. October 2, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 12:57 pm

There are many parenting phrases that could come to serious blows under the Trades Descriptions Act. ‘Family fun time’ at the swimming pool for instance. Which should actually be known as ‘sitting waist deep in water for an hour while your daughter screams because someone splashed her in the face.’

Morning sickness is another term I take issue with. Apparently midwives have never been under so much pressure – I’m willing to bet that if we called it ’24-hours-a-day-unless-you’re-asleep-sickness,’ the pregnancy rate would drop a little.

Even ‘toddler groups’ are misnamed – giving the impression that they’re put on for the children who attend, rather than the caffeine, sleep and conversation deprived mothers who cling to them for dear life. So much of the language around parenting is softened, or sweetened. As if we’re not quite able to handle the truth.

There are, as always, a few glaring exceptions.

My current favourite: night terrors.


There’s not a lot of softening or sweetening going on there. Nobody’s getting shielded from that particular brand of nasty. Which leads me to believe that whoever named it had a child who experienced it for themselves. One of the 1-6% of children that are affected. It’s an elite little club. Unfortunately, Elvie has joined it.

In the past, we have come downstairs after dealing with a nightmare, having calmed her back to sleep, and commiserated over her terrible night terrors. Ignorance is bliss. Turns out, nightmares are just nightmares. Unpleasant, and very distressing for Elvie at the time, but nothing compared to this.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to hear your child screaming in her bed, rush in to help her and find a scene from a horror movie. Where she’s screaming your name, but can’t tell that you’re right there in front of her. When she’s dripping with sweat and completely hysterical. Eyes wide open, but looking straight through you. Flinching away if you touch her. And screaming, always screaming. At whatever imaginary threat she’s dealing with on that particular night.

Eventually she’ll stop. Of her own accord. Just stop completely, and pass out in her bed. Occasionally she’ll even open her eyes, smile and ask for a ‘tuck in’, as if nothing has happened. She doesn’t remember any of it. Not in the night, or in the morning. Which is good. I’m pretty sure she’d never go to bed otherwise.

It’s just me that’s completely traumatised by the heartbreaking sound of my daughter screaming for me and pushing me away at the same time. By the knowledge that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. And, as happened last night, by a terrified screaming baby who had been rudely awakened by his sister and decided to take all his fear and anger out on me.

Initially I thought she was just having a really bad dream. Anyone would. But now, after four separate episodes, I’m beginning to realise that this is actually ‘a thing.’ Late-night googling has confirmed it. She’s absolutely textbook. The eyes-open, not seeing. The sweating, The screaming. The sitting up and shouting. The not wanting to be touched. The suddenly going back off to sleep again. We’re in the land of night terrors and, even when it’s only once a fortnight, it’s not much fun.

The internet informs me that there’s a strong genetic link between night terrors and other sleep disorders. As usual, it’s probably my fault. Although I never had night terrors as such, I was a definite sleepwalker as a child – I’ve grown up listening to stories of the times I would wander, eyes wide open, into my parents room “looking for the light.”. During my student years there was one morning when I woke up wearing a different set of clothes than the ones I’d gone to bed in. I hadn’t even been drinking.

It would seem that there’s nothing we can do. Other than turn on the light, talk reassuringly, make sure she doesn’t fall out of bed, and wait for the storm to pass. Which is awful. I like to have a plan. Something I can do. Some way I can make it better. Waiting it out doesn’t feel very proactive. But it’s all I can do.

Apparently she’ll grow out of it as she gets older. Which is a relief. Until then, we’ll just have to deal with them as they happen. It won’t make a funny story, but at least I’ll be able to tell her I was there with her. Even when she couldn’t tell.


17 Responses to “Night terrors and trading standards.”

  1. Ceci Says:

    It sounds stupid, but have you tried all natural bedding? Anything that isn’t pure cotton (so poly cotton as a case in point) just does not breathe the same way. Add this to making the room cooler. Over-heating is somehow hard to see as we are all warmer when asleep anyway.

    • Thanks for the tip – she does tend to be quite warm generally, which is hard for me to understand as I’m pretty cold blooded.
      Definitely something to think about – thank you!

  2. Rosie Says:

    I used to have this as a child and while I can’t remember many of the episodes, I do remember being absolutely terrified. As Ceci has suggested, over-heating can play a large part in night terrors, so even leaving a window open slightly might be a good idea.

    My parents found the only way to calm me down slightly was to try to get me to stroke a toy (similar principle to stroking a cat which calms you down, but obviously the cat wouldn’t go anywhere near me in that state). Do you have a bear or similar that you could whip out at the right moment? Some gentle convincing might help your daughter to sit and stroke the toy which in turn might just calm her down. I can’t promise it works, but it’s something to try.

    The most important thing to remember is not to try to wake her up – the whole thing will be far worse that way. If she does sleepwalk or you can see her getting worked up before the night terrors start, the best thing to do is just lead her quietly back to bed without trying to engage her in conversation or wake her up.

    Good luck – it will eventually get better.

    • Thank you…any advice is always welcome! She does have a really soft bear that she loves…I’ll make sure it’s near the bed!
      So glad it all got better for you, and thanks for the great advice!

  3. ali Says:

    Heat and being warm was certainly a trigger for DS1, we changed his duvet to a 1 tog in summer and 3 tog in winter one and the terrors reduced significantly (He used to have his about an hour and a half after he went to bed so I used to put a blanket on him when I went to bed when it was really chilly).
    Touch wood he hasn’t had one for a few months now so I hope he has grown out of them.

  4. vickola Says:

    Just realised I liked this post – but I don’t like it. Lovely writing but horrid experience. Can’t give advice just sympathy

  5. katiek Says:

    hanna – try belladonna – homeopathic tablets, cost about a fiver, from boots or similar. i know the evidence for homeopathy is *rubbish* and i have tried lots of homeopathy that has been useless, but this is the one thing we swore by when DD was little and horribly tantrum-prone. would abolish them within a minute – uncanny. or, quite possibly, coincidence, every time. worth a try perhaps…

  6. Lisa J Says:

    Oh you poor thing. Night terrors are so distressing to deal with. My son never had them when he was supposed to, but had a handful of them when he was a baby. They started around the 3-4 month old mark, and they were textbook night terrors – eyes wide open but glassy, screaming as if he was being killed, completely unresponsive and unable to see us. He’s scream like thgat for maybe half an hour and then suddenly snap out of it, smile at us and go to sleep. Everything I read online said that they can’t possibly happen to babies that young, that they tend to start at around 18 months old, but that’s 100% what they were (and believe me, he screamed a lot the rest of the time – there was a massive difference between his normal tantrum screaming to the night terror variety). The last one happened when he was around 18 months old. He’s now 4 and hasn’t experienced any more so far. It seems that they do grow out of them.

    Lisa @ http://www.howtobeadomesticdisgrace.blogspot.com

  7. Sharon Says:

    My daughter who is now 18 still has these. She started when she was 13 and doctor told us it was hormonal and she would grow out of them. Seems to have them more when she is dog-tired. Night terrors ALWAYS happen at certain times after sleep begins. Mark the time she goes to sleep and time of night-terror. Then gently wake her half hour before expected night terror to break the pattern. My daughter will always have one 2hours after going to bed. I shake her awake and then she returns to sleep and pattern is broken. Try it, it works. Good luck with your child. The first time my 13yr old had them, her screams were so distressing to hear and the words she shouts out are horrifying to me and my family, goodness knows what they are feeling.

    • Thanks for the advice – they do always seem to happen at about the same time so I’ll have to try timing them. So sorry to hear your daughter still has them – I hope things get better very soon.

  8. Rachel W Says:

    Agree with the above poster (Sharon) – our son, now 7, has had sleep terrors since age 3 – sometimes every night, sometimes once a month. It would go through phases. We got referred to the “Sleep Clinic” locally, (an NHS service) who were really helpful and the best thing we found for us to break the cycle was to note roughly what time the terrors would occur, and then gently wake him half an hour or so before we anticipated it starting. This worked for us. He still gets them occasionally, and they are quite terrifying, as he appears to be awake, eyes open, talking gibberish, screaming, shivering; and very distressed, and once they start it seems it is not possible to “wake him up” from it – we just have to let it run its course (from 5 minutes to 20 minutes), and then the next night wake him up before it would be due to start.

  9. […] to suggest that, for us, those days are done. For now. We’re over the worst. Yes, there are night terrors every couple of weeks, but as a general rule that happens before 9.30. Even I’m not in bed by […]

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