Monday, September 23, 2013

Advice We've Received On How To Combat Night Terrors

I recently promised a list of all the advice we've received in regards to our son's night terrors.  I told you I would post it the next day, then got sidetracked by the suggestion of getting Atticus a stuffed Jesus doll (raise your hand if just the mention of a stuffed Jesus doll buoys your mood) and the fact that our other son's birthday went into stealth-mode and crept up on me this year.  So instead of night terrors, I rambled on about Jesus toys and extravagant birthday parties.  Whoops.

So without further ado, here is:

Advice (Both Solicited and Unsolicited) We've Received on How to Combat Our Son's Night Terrors.

Man.  I can't even summarize titles.  Anyway, onward!

  • "Leave the hall light on."  It is on.  Every night.

  • "Get a night light."  Done.  Doesn't help, except perhaps to keep us from killing ourselves by tripping over Lincoln Logs when stumbling in to comfort him in the middle of the night.

  • "Use something brighter than a night light."  They have a small purple Christmas tree in their room in December, and I've left its strand of lights on at times.  While it does lend his screams a certain festive feel, it does not actually stop or alleviate them.

  • "Let him cry it out."  Tried it.  Those were a long few nights for the whole family.

  • "Pray over him."  Oh, believe you-me,  there's a lot of nighttime praying in this house.  Sometimes I think this helps, but whether it's more Atticus or Derek and me, I'm not sure.  Still, I don't know when prayer is a bad idea, so this one is certainly a part of the regular rotation.

  • "Pick verses of the Bible that speak to the idea of God's protection, his love for us, his omnipresence, etc, and say those with him on a regular basis, especially before bedtime."  This is a pretty new one; I have yet to try it, but I'm excited about it whether it works or not.

  • "Give him a flashlight to sleep with; then when he gets scared, he can use his flashlight to find out just what's lurking in the dark and will discover there's nothing to be afraid of, thus empowering him."  We got this advice from a pediatrician.  It sounded promising in her office, and we quickly got him a flash light.  Within a week we had one screaming boy and one thoroughly dismantled flash light.  

  • "Spank 'im!"  Have you ever noticed how enthusiastic spankers are?  It always makes me laugh.  Anyway, we've tried it.  It's excellent if you want a side of screaming with your screams.

  • "Don't let him watch tv!"  Television haters are also a little on the shouty side.  He gets about 30 minutes of screen time a week.  This is actually up from the standard 0 he enjoyed for the first three years of his life.  Sorry, tv haters.  It's not the tv, convenient scapegoat it may be.

  • "Have him watch a funny tv show right before he goes to bed."  This was from an adult who apparently suffered from pretty terrible nightmares as a child.  At some point his parents started letting him watch comedies before bedtime, and it worked for him.  To be honest, we haven't tried this one.  I hate the way our children look when they watch tv: like their brains are being sucked out right before my eyes.  Maybe we'll try it someday.

  • "Make sure his nighttime routine is consistent, his bedtime is consistent, and his entire life revolves around consistency.  It'll clear it right up."  This is about the time I want to start waving my sassy finger in someone's face.  I may not be good at a lot of things, but let me tell you what, I'm not a mere queen of consistency, I am the Czar, the Emperor, the Supreme Ruler of Consistency.  If you want spontaneity, call someone else, because homey don't play that game.  Our children have the same bedtime every night.  They have the same bedtime rituals every night.  Same, same, same.  We are able to do this because our children are small, we're very protective of family time, and I'm a bit of a hermit.  Trust me when I say consistency is not the problem.  

  • "Put him on a gluten-free diet."  Let me tell you a little story about the Worst Month of My Life.  We have a number of friends and family members who have switched to gluten-free and seen some great results.  I was a little skeptical, but then Derek found a blog about a lady who had terrifying hallucinations every night.  Guess what cleared it right up?  That's right:  Eliminating gluten from her diet.  Turns out for a few people (like this lady and a number of people who follow her blog), gluten affects them on a neurological level, and creepy sleep disturbances are common among them.  Well, after reading that, we knew we had to try it.  I had ridiculously high hopes.  I was half-convinced that this was it, this was going to be The Cure We Had Been Looking For.  Well.  Guess who hates cooking gluten-free for anytime longer than about three days?  Me.  Guess who hates eating gluten-free for anytime longer than about two days?  Our entire family.  It's prohibitively expensive, and the thought of taking nine years' worth of meal experimentation, planning, and menu building and chucking it was completely overwhelming.  It didn't work, and the saddest part was when we finally gave up, went out to eat, and told Atticus he could get whatever he wanted on the menu.  You should have seen his little face when he looked up at us and asked in a half-hoping voice, "Really?"  In terms of sheer pathetic-ness, it rivaled Oliver with his "More gruel, please."  We kind of think he believed he was being punished that whole time, even though we had lots of long conversations about food and health and why we were trying this whole fiasco.  Fail.

  • "Put him on a sugar-free diet.  Put him on a dairy-free diet.  Stop giving him cow's milk.  Don't let him have any food dyes.  Cut out corn.  Cut out soy.  Cut out food altogether."  Listen.  We try to feed our kids well-balanced, healthful meals.  I avoid food dyes when possible.  The majority of our kids' food is prepared at home.  If I truly believed trying any of the above things would help, I would probably try them.  I don't, so I'm not going to.   

  • "Let him listen to music at night."  Sometimes we let them listen to the radio quietly in their room at night.  They enjoy it, but it doesn't seem to help Atticus's night terrors.

  • "Sing to him."  Turns out Derek sings 'Jesus Loves Me' to Atticus on a pretty regular basis.  He says it sometimes works.

  • "Give him some bourbon."  We received this particular jewel from an older person, and, well... I think they were joking.  You may know that it was once accepted practice to add bourbon to babies' bottles to soothe fussiness, and while there's a faint possibility it may also quell night terrors, I'm pretty sure administering an alcoholic beverage to a 4-year-old isn't approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Or Jesus.

  • Just tonight we met someone who says he had night terrors as a child, his symptoms closely paralleling Atticus's:  he screamed at night and was difficult to rouse, he remembered his nightmares well, his nightmares featured recurring themes.  He was able to conquer one nightmare by giving it so much thought during the day that while dreaming he was able to identify the fact that he was, in fact, dreaming, and simply transformed into a superhero and flew out of danger.  It sounds like he had to outgrow the other, scarier, species of nightmare he frequently had.  Try as Derek might to pin down the exact age of nightmare cessation ("So, you were 5, right?  Age 5 when they stopped?  5 years old?"), all he could remember was that he was elementary age.  

  • "Give him melatonin."  Not a bad idea for adults, but not recommended for children.  Try again.

  • "Give him Benadryl every once in a while, just so he can get a decent night's sleep and help break out of this cycle."  For the record, this one was doctor recommended.  But guess what?  You know that little warning caveat on the medicine label that reads something like, "May cause drowsiness.  In rare instances, excitability may occur."  Guess which one Atticus was?  (Hint:  DEFINITELY NOT DROWSY.)

  • "What about some kind of essential oil?  Lavender has really helped me sleep."  This is a relatively new suggestion, so it's currently in the early stage where I get depressingly excited that "This is the one.  It's gonna work.  IT HAS TO WORK.  *sob*"  I remember when Atticus was just a few months old, he would occasionally cry and I would run through the regular list of needs to satisfy:  feeding him, changing him, getting him to sleep, etc, but nothing would settle him down.  On these occasions, the only thing that would work was slowly massaging his arms and legs with baby lotion.  Looking back, this makes sense; Atticus is super touchy-feely.  Unlike Adelaide, who needs distance at times and has no problem telling you so, Atticus is incredibly physically affectionate.  The only reason this is a problem is that, as my sister Kelli said when he wanted to sit in her lap, "Aaaah, you're all joints!"  Kid is boney.  Anyway, I can see Atticus liking having nice-smelling oils rubbed into his skin.  We'll just have to see, and I'll prepare myself for another soul-crushing disappointment.  It'll be fun!  

I feel like I should print this list off and keep it on my person to hand to people when it becomes clear they're gearing up to impart precious night terror-related wisdom.  The only problem is this isn't an exhaustive list, I'm just sick of typing on this midget keyboard that's hooked up to our tablet because the laptop is still out of commission.  

The one thing that often does presage a quieter, less shark-infested night?  (Atticus's worst nightmares usually feature sharks.  Keep up, guys.)  A smoother day.  On days when he's calmer, we have fewer disciplinary issues, there are no meltdowns, etc, he tends to have fewer episodes that night.  Then, because he's better rested, the following day is even better (it's a lot easier to obey, maintain your cool, and share with your siblings when you're not exhausted).  The problem is, this cycle works the other way, too.  If he has a night terror-filled night, he's tired the next day, he has more trouble obeying, he gets in trouble, that night is also bad, and on and on.  Yes, this can be frustrating, but recognizing this is also excellent incentive for Derek and me to remain as calm and controlled as possible.  Do we always succeed?  Nope.  But knowing that calm= sleep has turned out to be a great motivator.  Either that or we've finally completed the transformation to complete sleep zombies.  (<------ I don't even know what that means.  I should have gone to bed a long time ago.  At this point it's "Do I try and go to bed now, even though Atticus is due to start up anytime now, or just wait for the screaming and thrashing?")

Sleep zombies.  What on earth happened to this post?  And how are you still reading?


  1. OK, so I've had no intention of offering any serious advice because I have no experience with night terrors. But since you mentioned essential oils, and you haven't tried them yet, I am going to share a facebook status from a friend of mine that made me think of you:

    OhhhhMmman. `sigh` In the past year Justus has had probably eight or ten events that he, in desperation for a way to describe them, calls "Speed Dreams". He wakes up promptly, heart pounding out of his chest, in a cold sweat, trembling, mentally freaked out ("Everything is big! My bed is the size of a valley!"), holding his hands over his ears ("It's so loud!"), a few drops of moisture escaping from his eyes (tho' he's not 'crying'), with his face alternating between flushed and green-in-the-gills. They always occur in the first few hours of his night's sleep, similar to the sleepwalking. After tonight's episode, I did the research and am positive that they are "Night Terrors", the onset of which happens most often between the ages of 2-12, and they are evidently another manifestation of the same sleep disorder that causes sleepwalking, huh! It used to take him a good 60-90 min. to calm down from them enough to get back to sleep. Of late we have added essential oils to the routine of hugs, calming breaths, and sensible words and sights! Two drops Balance, two drops Serenity, and he's calm and back to sleep in about ten minutes. What a relief!! Also notable is this: on the nights he uses either Balance OR Serenity before bed, he neither sleepwalks nor has a Night Terror. Thank You, God, for essential oils!!!!

    In her comments section, one of her friends said: We still deal with them with Clayton, as you know. Heavily diluted Vetiver on his big toe helps as does lavender and frank. His are much more calm now than they were years ago, but still confusing.

    Me again, Justus is older--probably 12ish?--and as I have no personal experience with night terrors OR essential oils, I am absolutely qualifying this advice, but would love for it to help you all out.

    "Sleep zombies" would be a positive alternative to what I'm afraid I would be with nightly terrors happening. :P

  2. It sounds as if (from much of the advice you've been given) a lot of people believe night terrors are just bad nightmares. They aren't. Everyone has the odd nightmare here and there, but for most of our dream sleep we are physically paralyzed (a safety measure I assume, so we don't act out our dreams. Those flying ones could be doozies.) But night terrors occur during a part of sleep where we are not paralyzed, and often involve flailing about as well as screaming. People who have night terrors are also more likely to sleep-walk. Any advice people are giving you based on their own experience of nightmares is not likely to help Atticus.

    However, it seems to me that we still know very little about how the things we put in our bodies can affect us. Every body seems to have its own unique chemistry, and something that helps one person may not help another (this is certainly true of drugs developed to treat mental illnesses). And we understand things like sleeping and consciousness even less than the other parts of our bodies!

    I don't imagine there really is any "cure" except for outgrowing them, which of course is not something that helps you at all.

  3. I teared up at the gluten free portion. Especially the "really?" comment from Atticus. Poor little guy.


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