DS1 has (had) clinically diagnosed night terrors. His paediatric consultant and parasomnias consultant described his as among the most severe they had ever encountered.
Here's the advice we were given. It's completely counter-intuitive, but it works. It has reduced DS1's night terrors from half a dozen per night to perhaps two or three per week.
Caveat: it only works for genuine night-terrors, and is inappropriate for nightmares. If your DD remembers her nighttime experiences the next day then you are possibly not dealing with true night terrors, but something else.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in sleep disorders, only in DS1!
Here's the advice. Do not disturb DD during a night terror, or try and stop the night terror once one has started. The o my time you should even so much as touch her is if she is in imminent danger of hurting herself e.g. falling out of bed. Don't talk to her, stroke her, make eye contact, put her cuddly toys near her - nothing. You can be in the same room as her, but don't make contact at all.
It's incredibly hard. Because they look like they're suffering so much. But, in true night terrors, the reality is that they know nothing about what is happening.
The latest sleep studies suggest that night terrors are caused when the sufferer's brain is trying to go from a deep sleep state to a light sleep state, and doesn't make it for some reason. The night terror is the physical manifestation of the brain's attempt to make the transition.
By interrupting the night terror you stop your DD's sleep transition that night (which is very confusing and upsetting for her in itself) and stop her brain having the opportunity to learn how to make the transition for itself, thus guaranteeing that she'll get night terrors the next night, and the next, and the next...
We felt terrible when we were given this advice - like you, we'd been rousing DS1, unaware we were making his problems worse.
Once we implemented the new system of letting each night terror take its course there was an immediate improvement.
Finally, we found it helpful to keep DS1 as cold as possible at night. No nightwear, sheet when you'd expect a summer duvet, etc etc. There's no scientific evidence that this helps, but it seemed to for us.
I should add - if a night terror is allowed to run its course then you shouldn't need to settle her. After however long it lasts (generally 10-20 minutes for DS1, although I think it can vary a lot) then she will lie herself down without intervention from you and fall naturally into an undisturbed sleep.
Thank you Cinna, that is more advice than what her Paed told us.
We don't disturb her, we only know she's having one when she screams and cries loudly when she wakes herself up. We have no idea if she's hurting herself and that's what's waking her up. She remembers nothing, we ask and she doesn't know what we on about. We ask her if she has bad dreams and she says no.
But yet when she wakes up; she's stiff and distant, covered in sweat but wants to be held. She genuinely looks frightened, I usually just tell her stories but it takes about an hour for her to fall asleep.
The Paed suspect she suffers from Sleep Paralysis too and that makes it hard for us (DH & I) to figure out which event is happening.
Do you think we should switch to a video monitor instead of just sound? I just hate feeling helpless.
That's the thing - if it's a night terror then she isn't awake, although she'll give every appearance of being awake I grant you.
What you've described does sound like a night terror, particularly her not remembering anything in the morning. BTW, we were told not to talk about it to DS1 - they can't make sense of it because their experience of what happens is so different to yours that they can't be reconciled in their minds, and it just makes them stressed, which can also contribute to them.
Does it happen around 3 hours after she goes to sleep? That's absolutely characteristic of night terrors. Much longer and it's more likely to be something else.
It's horrible, feeling so helpless.
Listen, I'm absolutely not an expert, but our paed consultant recommended a private sleep clinic to us when we were in despair with DS1. If you'd like I can PM you their details. They do most of their consultations by phone which is really convenient. They were quite pricey, but my goodness they were worth it.
The problem with sleep disorders in children is that there's virtually no provision to help on the NHS - everyone just shrugs and says that some kids don't sleep and you'll just have to wait for them to grow out of it.
They usually occur around 10pm (she goes to bed at 6.30pm), and then again around 1-2am the same night. She has them around 3/4 times a week. In your personal opinion, do you think us interfering thinking she's awake is making them happen more during same night etc?
We feel out of our depth and if you could PM me the details that would be great, we've never taken extra help because like you said; most shrug it off. It's definitely worth discussing with DH.
Yes, I think it's possible that you interrupting her might contribute towards additional night terrors.
The timing sounds like classic night terror territory.
It's so hard, isn't it? I completely get where you're coming from. I found it helpful to take my phone in so I could MN during DS1's night terrors - it was the only way I could detach enough to leave him be.
Whatever is happening, I really hope you get it sorted.
My dd had them for years. Usually within an hour of going to sleep so not too disruptive really. They would last less than an hour and she would run around crying upstairs. It def happened more after a movie but she did grow out of them. By about 8 years. Apparently they run in the family. I used to sleep walk a lot. They are upsetting but I think you just have to realise there is nothing you can do, just be there. Fortunately it never happened to a babysitter although we did warn them.
Interesting about movies - another thing the sleep consultant told us was to ban screen time for an hour before bedtime. Apparently the blue light emitted from any kind of screen interferes with the production of melatonin - the sleep hormone.
Have you tried wake to sleep? I did this with mine. Uf they have the night terror at the same time each night then wake them.up BEFORE they are due to have the terror. Just lightly enough that they are aware. This resets their sleep pattern and they may then not have the terror.
It worked for my boys.
I also agree with cinn that gard as it is you shpuld leave them as disturbing them makes them worse. My dd is 2.5 and gets them occasionally but if i do anythung she then takes ages to settle. She co-sleeps so i am there with her but touching, trying to cuddle etc makes it worse. Irs horrid as every instinct tells you to comfort them.
We contacted Mill pond this morning. We try waking her before and it makes no different. She also has Sleep Paralysis from a few unavoidable triggers so sometimes rousing her is hard to do. We've literally tried everything. We're at the stage of asking for specialist help.
I'm thinking of you all - I really hope the specialists can help.
BTW - I've been told (but not by the specialists who helped DS1, so big caveat there) that wake-to-sleep isn't recommended for night terrors because it stops the sufferer's brain learning how to transition. I dunno - kind of makes sense to me but I'm not an expert and certainly won't dispute evidence from people it's helped.
The sleep paralysis certainly adds a whole new dimension.
Hi, hopefully I can help a little, my 2 year old has had night terrors since he was around 1 and during this time we have found the following:
Definitely do not interrupt them. Even though their eyes are wide open they are not really seeing us. We think our little boy interprets us into his 'dream' as something bad which only makes him worse. This is the same for music etc, any stimulation makes it worse.
We just sit on the sofa opposite him to make sure he doesn't hurt himself, and eventually he will settle himself back down to sleep.
As they happen at around the same time, we think they are also related to the type of sleep pattern he is in. Once he gets through this bit of his sleep pattern he gets over them.
They also happen more frequently when he has had a particularly tiring day. So I try to tone down all exciting toys and sounds to more chilled out play in the evening.
Don't tell them what they went through the following morning as they don't know anything about the episode and it only scares them because they can't remember anything about it.
I can totally understand how scary they are, but we can take sollace in the fact that they don't have a clue about what is going on.
It's going well. We've been given advice on how to calm her during the evenings and to make her bedtime a little later so that DH coming home from work won't clash with the hour before bed. Getting her to stay awake that long is the tough part as the naps are to be phased out due to her Sleep Paralysis.
Things are improving, so that's a good start. Can't thank you enough for recommending them.