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.