Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Night Terrors Are The Worst. No, Really. They Are.

If you've read this blog or known our family for any length of time, you know that our son Atticus suffers from night terrors.  Nightmares.  Sleep disturbances.  We don't know exactly what they are, we just know there's a lot of terror, and they occur at nighttime, so... night terrors it is.

They began sometime shortly after he turned two, and they continue to this day (night, whatever).  He's turning five next month.

That's three years of sleeplessness.

The good news:  They've gotten better.  Like, a lot better.  Whereas before he was up every fifteen minutes for several hours in a row, it's now down to a few times a night (usually).  He also calms down a heck of a lot faster (again, usually).  I don't know if this is because he's learned how to simmer down more quickly, or we've developed better coping mechanisms.  (The key:  Staying calm.  This sounds simple, but simple doesn't always equal easy, people.  Try keeping your cool in the middle of the night when your preschooler is screaming and/or crying and you're exhausted and you have two other small children you would like to stay asleep.  Oh yeah, and it's the eighth time in a row you've had to comfort him that night.)  If it's shaping up to be a rough night, I'll sometimes lie down next to him, because as long as someone's right there beside him, he seems to have fewer episodes and he's much faster to calm down.  We've also noticed that because he's completely asleep when the screaming starts, it's helpful to take him into the bathroom, turn the light on, and coax him awake.  I often do this by noisily cleaning the bathroom (this is another rough night trick- it doesn't normally come to this anymore).


Now, generally when people find out about this, they want to help.  Or they look aghast the more you talk, especially when they grasp the fact that this is every night.  Every night, friends.  (Actually, now that I think about it, I think we've had three nights this past month where we got to sleep through the night.  THIS IS HUGE.)

Back in the early days of this whole... struggle, I guess you could call it, I was not always super gracious about all this advice I was getting.  Oh, I usually acted gracious, but inside, not so much.  Anytime someone started a sentence with, "Have you tried...?" I wanted to cut in with "YES.  Whatever it is, YES WE HAVE."  Because about a year in, it felt like we really had tried everything, short of an exorcism.  (Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind; my sisters married into a big ol' Catholic family, with a priest for an eldest brother and everything.  Something could be arranged.)  

I have since come to realize that all those people, with all that advice?  They just want to help.  (Revolutionary, right?  I have no idea how this head contains all these brains.)  They are almost unanimously well-meaning.  Good intentions abound.  It's not their fault Derek and I haven't slept in three years, and this has made us by turns irrational/ quick to anger/ loopy/ impatient/ mentally incapacitated/ stressed out.  You do know sleep deprivation is a legitimate form of torture, right?

Atticus is also becoming more articulate, which means he can tell us what's going on.  Rarely does a day go by where he doesn't tell me what last night's dream was about, and let me tell you what, those things are scary.  "Last night I dreamed about sharks that were just swimming through our house and I was trying to run away from them but every time they caught me it was in the kitchen and then they would take a bite from my arm."  Ooookay.  "Last night I dreamed there was this big bug in our room and every time you camed in it would hide but when you left and turned out the light it came out and kept eating all my hair and tried to climb in my mouth to sleep on my teeth."  Um, what?  "Last night I dreamed there were bad guys that didn't have guns but they had lots of little knives and they were hiding in the backyard waiting for me to come play on the trampoline."  Kid, how do you even go outside during the day with that in your head?


If you're like practically every person I've ever talked to about this, you might have a suggestion as to what would help.  At this point, I really am curious to hear other people's suggestions, if only because it tends to be so varied (and to be honest, just plain weird sometimes), but because we've heard so many suggestions in the past, how's about you check out the handy dandy list I'll (hopefully) post tomorrow detailing all the advice we've gotten from friends, family, doctors, and complete strangers, which ones we've tried, which ones we haven't, and which ones I felt more than mildly insulted by.  It'll be fun!





This certainly isn't the first time I've blogged about night terrors; find the other posts here and here and here. There've been a bunch of other times but I really don't feel like slogging through and trying to find them all.

10 comments:

  1. I remember the first time I heard about night terrors --probably some time right before or after Emma was born, when I was reading all those "what to expect" books. The idea is horrifying --both for the child and parents. I'm sure the reality is even worse. Since I've never experienced it, or been close to any other parents who admitted experiencing it, I don't have any advice to offer. Do kids normally outgrow it at a certain age?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The answer to that varies, depending on with whom you speak. Some say around age five, some say adolescence. We don't really know.

      Delete
  2. Wow. Just... WOW.
    Those are incredibly scary dreams!

    I've not had my own kids deal with nightmares more than occasionally but I have a few experiences with other kids crying/screaming in their sleep in the middle of the night when I couldn't wake them to see reality. The only thing that worked then was to try to soothe with touch (stroking the child's head, patting the back -- or if small enough, rocking) while singing "Jesus Loves Me" over and over and over again. Each time -- and this was with different kids/families -- that song on repeat with a soft but strong voice did the trick. I've never forgotten it because it worked like magic. I don't know why. I do know that this was with young children who went to Sunday school and came from homes where this was a known song.
    That's all I've got, but if it's new to you, I hope you try it. (And yes, I prayed like crazy while I was singing!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We've certainly used prayer a lot, but I don't think I've sung Jesus Loves Me. I seem to remember singing *something*, but at that time of night, it was just as likely the Doobie Brothers as it was anything about Jesus.

      Delete
  3. I never experienced night terrors with my kids. It sounds just awful. I would be the one lamely trying to offer poor advice.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I would lose my mind.
    And the kid might have to sleep outside in a tent. Do you think that would help? Have you tried it??? ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not tried the tent idea (although it has crossed my mind!); we live in town, and it might make our neighbors hate us. And turn us in to DHS.

      Delete
  5. Don't laugh, but maybe we should get Atticus a stuffed Jesus. (Do they even make those?) Maybe when he gets scared in his sleep he can squeeze stuffed Jesus and it could hopefully calm him down? That's my suggestion.

    Stepher Beffer

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OH. MY. WORD.

      http://www.catholicchild.com/MY-LOVING-JESUS-DOLL/productinfo/20653/

      I am dying. Best idea ever.

      Delete

Studies show that that people who leave comments are kind, intelligent, generous, creative, and have really nice hair.