Night Terrors: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare
Has your child woken you screaming, shouting and thrashing around in extreme panic sometimes with their eyes open, but they are looking straight through you? If so, you know the out of control helplessness of watching your child suffer from night terrors. It affects the whole family with sleepless nights, fear, and struggling to understand, “why is this happening to my child?”.
Well, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Night terrors are very common in children aged three to eight years old, especially boys. I raised my 3 step daughters from a young age and never had a problem. My son though has suffered from night terrors off and on from two years old. I didn’t realise just how common they are until I was at a school Mums coffee morning and explained that my son had night terrors. Three other Mums said they have the same issue. That’s 4 out of ten!
Well, if you have found this article, chances are you are looking for relief because you know how disturbing it is, but don’t worry, help is here. Read on to learn about night terrors and proven ways to prevent them. I have done loads of research and will share what has worked for me and for other Mums who have used this information.
What are Night Terrors?
Technically speaking, Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep. This may happen because the CNS (which regulates sleep and waking brain activity) is still maturing. Some kids inherit a tendency for this over-arousal — about 80% who have night terrors have a family member who also experienced them or sleepwalking (a similar type of sleep disturbance), sleep talking, or bed wetting. My son would sleep so hard that at the age of five I would still carry him to the toilet in the night and back to bed and he would never wake up. I even bought a bed wetting alarm which would wake me up but he would be completely passed out, alarm sounding, in a puddle of wee. Extremely deep sleep not only increases chances of bed wetting but also of night terrors.
Night terrors seem to occur in cycles and usually occur in the early part of the night. The child doesn’t awaken (even if the eyes are open), is unable to be comforted and will not respond to the parents. They may happen every night for several weeks, then disappear for months at a time. It is said that by the age of 8 years old, half the cases will have grown out of this, but about a third will continue into adolescence. Most of the articles I have read state that night terrors simply disappear on their own as the nervous system matures, but if you have a child who has night terrors, you know that experiencing years of sleepless distressing nights waiting for your child to grow out of them is not a very comforting solution!
What triggers Night Terrors?
- Anything that increases tiredness or fatigue
- Over-active daytime activity
- Medication (if you are giving your child medication be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist for sugar-free and dye free alternatives, letting them know your child has had night terrors, and whenever possible try homeopathic remedies)
- Anything that makes your child more likely to wake from deep sleep, such as excitement, anxiety or sudden noises
- Sleeping in a new environment or away from home.
What should you do during a Night Terror?
The best thing you can do if your child is having an episode of night terrors is to try to stay calm, watching over them to make sure the child doesn’t get hurt by thrashing around. I have added a gate at the top of my stairs to be sure he doesn’t sleep walk down the stairs, as there is an 18% incidence of sleep walking and some children manage to actually leave their homes. Our son age six now sleeps in a bed in our room so we can monitor him. Night terrors can be incredibly frightening to witness, but It is recommended that you don’t attempt to wake them when they are having the episode.
Your child may not recognise you and may become more agitated if you try to comfort them. My son would scream if I tried to hold him as if he was interpreting my attempt to comfort him into his terror as someone attacking him.
Mist them with Kinder Garden by FES Flower remedy. (See tip 4 below.)
Once your child has come out of the attack, it is safe to wake them, give them an additional flower or homeopathic remedy (see full list tip 4 below) and encourage them to use the toilet before settling them back to sleep. If your child returns very quickly into deep sleep, they may have another episode. Making sure they are fully awake before they go back to sleep can break this cycle.Your child will not remember the episode the next morning and many resources suggest not trying to discuss them with the child as it can be more aggravating than helpful.
You can prevent Night Terrors.
What can I do to prevent night terrors and help my whole family get a peaceful nights sleep?
11 Tips to End Night Terrors
by Teresa Kay
1. Unwind Before Sleep. Establish and stick to a bedtime routine that’s relaxing.
Adopt a comforting bedtime ritual that includes a warm bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil, play peaceful music, snuggle up with a book before bed, and follow it each night! Making sure that your child has an hour of “wind-down” that is soothing. I set an alarm on my phone or on the oven and my son knows when he hears the alarm there’s no more TV, video games, loudness, wildness ( I had to break my husband of the habit of night-time pillow fights with our son), or anything particularly arousing, and no food, since digestion seems to be the source of night terrors for some people, and no drinks( making more dry nights too). When the alarm sounds it official wind down comfort time.
2. Think about what your child is eating and drinking during the evening. Some food and drink items act as stimulants that can interfere with or prevent sleep.
Avoid caffeine as in cola or chocolate ( hot chocolate or chocolate treats are a big No No as they contain caffeine, sugar, and preservatives). Eliminate drinks at night containing coloring or sugar. Fruit juice is natural but it is full of sugar, its water only after 6:00 in my house. Check labels and avoid foods with additives, preservatives, coloring etc.
When I collect my son from school, I bring him a lovely sweet treat. He knows that after that there are no cakes, candy or desserts. Want your child to get a great nights sleep? Eliminate dessert after dinner, period. (Not even fruit. Remember, its sugar)
3. Eliminate any scary TV. Get rid of (Delete) any good guy/bad guy, killing or violent computer games.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids younger than 24 months should not watch TV because it negatively impacts brain development, and TV has also been shown to be stressful for little ones, who think the conflicts dramatized on the screen are real. Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Dinosaurs, Batman and Zombies may seem innocent, but to our children’s little brains ghosts, bad guys, aliens, spiders and anything that “needs to be killed to protect the good guys” are scary and leave a toxic residue of issues that are resulting in night terrors. Stop allowing your child to be frightened by today’s desensitised children’s program’s and games. Violence and fear are not fun.
There are other preventative measures, says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep coach at Capio Nightingale Hospital:
Any parent who has witnessed a child’s night terror knows they have vivid imaginations. Protect your child’s brain by not letting them have access to scary TV programs and movies or play high adrenaline or scary games. Replace that time with a prolonged nighttime ritual that your child will look forward to… a warm bath, back rub, and story time. A child who goes to bed with a mindful of pleasant scenes and feelings is more likely to stay peacefully asleep.
4. Flower Remedies
Ever since I started using all 11 of these tips and using a flower remedy called Bach’s Rescue Remedy Kids liquid Natural Stress Relief, my son has not had a night terror. I put four drops on his tongue at night at least 10 minutes after brushing his teeth. We call them his happy dream drops.
Other suggestions include:
- Bach Aspen Flower Remedy
- St. John’s Wort Flower Essence
- Chaparral Flower Essence
- Kinder Garden by FES
- Homeopathic Remedies-Kali Bromatum homeopathic pellets, three pellets dissolved in the mouth before bed.
Hylands Calm Forte 4 Kids. I also use these dissolvable tablets when travelling to help combat jet lag, and to help adjust to sleeping in different time zones as well as Arnica Montana pellets.
- The homeopathic remedy Aconite
- Essential Oils- Lavender oil(Lavendula angustifolia), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) and Hops (Humulus lupulus) added to warm bath water or put a few drops on a tissue tucked under your child’s pillow case will release the relaxing aroma all night.
Serenity Calming Essential Oil blend by doTERRA, fragrances of lavender, sweet marjoram, Roman chamomile, ylang ylang, sandalwood and vanilla bean, can be massaged to the feet every night before bed.
- Energy Balancer
- Negator Shell ( Balancer/Protector) I have one in our bedroom and one by my computer in my office.
5. Prevent your child from becoming overtired by staying up too late.
One way to insure that is to move her bedtime a bit earlier each night . Night terrors are associated with a poor sleep pattern, a vicious cycle of being over tired to start with then lack of sleep from night terrors makes for a very unhappy home.
Often little ones need to be asleep by 7-8pm; when they stay up later they have to summon adrenaline and other arousal hormones to keep it together.
Moving to an earlier bedtime not only helps them fall asleep more easily at night, but also lessens the possibility of over-arousal.
Most five-year-olds need at least ten hours of sleep each night. Babies under a year old usually need between 13 and 14 hours of sleep a day, including two daytime naps, whilst older children may sleep nine or ten hours at night, with a one-hour nap. So that you know your child is getting enough sleep, lengthen his nap time, let him sleep a little later in the morning, or put him to bed earlier. And make sure that there’s plenty of time for calming bedtime rituals, such as bath-time, songs, stories, and lots of cuddles.
6.Think about the actual physical environment the child is in
Does it feel safe? Is it too light? Is it too dark? Is the bed comfortable? is there enough fresh air?
Give your child a peaceful sleeping environment. Sometimes it’s as simple as avoiding bright bedding, which doesn’t make bed a restful place to be. Use calm colors. Remember you are creating a tranquil and safe place to sleep, not a playroom. Remove unnecessary toys or stimulants. Or if your child feels safer and more relaxed being with you, put a mattress, futon, or stack of comfy blankets at the foot of your bed and let him sleep there for a few nights. Sometimes having his parents close by is just the reassurance and comfort a child needs to recover a healthy sleep attitude.
Keep your little one sleeping in a crib as long as possible. If they have already graduated from a crib, be aware that they could easily fall out of bed during a night terror or even start sleep walking. Move anything they could trip on out-of-the-way, be sure windows are closed and have a window guard, and use a baby gate to be sure they doesn’t run out of their room, fall down the stairs, or leave the house.
7. Is it too noisy? Do make sure that your child is not being accidentally awakened.
There is some evidence that night terrors result from being awakened during Stage 4 sleep (if there is already a predisposition). Could traffic or TV or telephone noises be awakening him? Be sure he is not exposed to parental loud voices or other emotional stressors. If adults are watching TV, shut the door and turn down the volume. You might keep a fan going for white noise or play soft classical music in their bedroom.
8. Is it too hot? Don’t let your child get over-heated while he sleeps.
Particularly, avoid footed pajamas. Many parents report that their child is more likely to have night terrors when overheated. Some parents have reported a complete cure with the radical approach of putting the child’s feet into cool (not cold) water during an episode. I haven’t tried this though.
Leave the window open a crack and give them lightweight cotton pyjamas- avoid any synthetics, acrylic, polyesters etc., as they do not breathe.
Change the bedding to 100% cotton or Dermotherapy Bedding – dermatological sheets that wipe away sweat, helping to control body temperature.
Personally I use only cotton sheets and a silk blanket. Even the lightest duvet was too hot for him. We tuck the sheets and blankets in tight ( like swaddling) to prevent my son from waking himself up tossing and turning.
9. Be aware that fevers can trigger night terrors.
Try homeopathic remedies whenever possible. If medication is necessary use sugar- free and with no colouring or dye.
If your child has allergies or a cold and her tonsils are inflamed, it can make it harder to breathe, which may also trigger night terrors. Wash or remove all soft toys to reduce allergies. Pillows and soft toys can be put in plastic bags then put in the freezer for 24 hours to kill dust mites and bacteria. Replace feather pillows and duvets with hypoallergenic substitutes and wash regularly.
10. Minimise schedule changes and nights away from home.
Schedules and rituals make children feel safe. Change can be stressful and scary. If traveling remember change of time zones, late dinners out on holiday, long days of activities and new sleep environment can trigger night terrors. Be sure to stick to the bed time ritual as much as possible. Remember to Pack your herbal remedies like Bach’s Rescue Remedy or Calm Forte for Kids.
11. Enjoy a healthy amount of exercise each day.
While peaceful days are important, so is being active. Healthy activity during the day releases neurohormones, which relax both the body and the brain, especially at night.
So, the secret to a happy sleep for you children boils down to minimizing stress and stimulants. You can eliminate night terrors with a little effort and understanding. If you use all 11 of my tips your family will have peaceful nights sleep and wake up refreshed ready to play and enjoy the day together!
Peace and Sweet Dreams,
Blogger for www.whatwouldteresado.com
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