Toddlers and Night Terrors

I wish I could catch everyone up on the last three days but I’m having trouble holding my head up right now, let alone composing a decent sentence. Quickly, Em started having night terrors last week and we don’t know why. We just want to put an end to them and have no idea how to go about doing so. Last night was horrific. 

Are you familiar with night terrors? I need to start doing some research and that’s going to require that I consume a lot more coffee.


  1. Hopefully it passes quickly! During some night terrors kids don’t wake all the way up, making it difficult for them to feel reassured in your presence. Lots of love and peaceful sleeping for Em and lots of coffee for you! (Why didn’t anyone tell us that having a child means not having a normal night’s sleep again?)


  2. I keep feeling like it’s just us. I talk to other parents around us with kids Em’s age and many of them sleep through the night and soundly. Em doesn’t. Never has. And now he wakes up every 2 – three hours screaming as if he’s being tortured. I have no idea what to do for him. We thought at first it was from another earache, but that’s been ruled out. (He has one, but he’s not in pain any longer, long story as to how we know it’s not that, but it’s not.)

    I don’t know what to do.

    I am only hoping that this is happening because we messed with his routine this past week by going away and having him sleep in another bed. Or maybe from the sporadic nap schedule? Or maybe it’s school? I have no idea.

    We were totally unable to console him last night. He’d calm for a minute and then freak out again. It also kept bringing on small asthma attacks.

    Obviously, due to the nature of this here comment, I am beat down and feeling really badly for my boy.


  3. How scary! I’m not sure what can be done, but I know my little brother had them. My mother said he stopped having them after a little bit of time.


  4. I’m certainly no expert, but I have to reiterate what an earlier post mentioned about how kids don’t always fully wake up after/during a night terror. Luckily, our son hasn’t had much experience with these, but on the few occasions when they did happen, the only thing that worked was to pick him up out of his crib and take him into another room, a completely different environment. Once we did that, he stopped screaming and looked around for his pacifier (also hear that favorite blankies or stuffed animals or whatever work). With pacifier firmly planted in mouth, we put him back in his crib and he immediately rolled over and was back to sleep.


  5. My son, 16 months, has these in spurts. At first we couldn’t figure anything to calm him and he screamed uncontrollably for what seemed like hours. But alas I’m afraid to say that what finally worked was the television – and it worked immediately. Now when it happens we bring him into our bedroom, turn it on and he stops crying. He generally just lies down and falls back asleep and I move him back to his crib. I wish I could say I had a more creative solution, but hey, at 3:00 in the morning I’ll do anything.


  6. Oh, I’m right there with you. My 20 month old has NEVER slept through the night. He will occasionally have night terrors and they are so sad and scary. He is generally easy to console but not with these. We take turns holding him while he freaks out and usually bring him back to our bed eventually. No advice for you, but I totally understand. Who are these toddlers who sleep through the night??


  7. When I came to comment my first question was going to be did you change routine. Our son would have occasional night terrors when he was overtired or out of his routine, both of which would happen when we visited grandma & papa. Sometimes I would be able to calm him with tight hugs, rocking motion, and skin on skin contact, but I think more often he would calm himself eventually. Other than that I can’t offer much advice but can tell you that you aren’t alone.


  8. My stepdaughter has had night terrors since she was a toddler. She is now 15 and still has them occasionally. I agree with what some other people had suggested, taking her into another room, such as the living room or our bedroom, usually worked. These are different than the run of the mill bad dreams, which can usually be soothed in a few minutes. With night terrors it’s like the child doesn’t even know that you’re there. Very scary. I hope this phase passes soon.


  9. My son (now 14) had night terrors as a toddler. We just did what we could to comfort him, and he would settle down after a few minutes. He eventually outgrew it. He never seemed to remember it the next morning, and he doesn’t remember it now.

    From what I read kids don’t remember them, and there don’t seem to be any ill effects. For the kids that is. For parents it’s very disturbing!


  10. Am I seeing a trend here? Coincidence that it seems to be a boy thing? Anyone reading this have little girls whom have had night terrors?


  11. My 7 month old daughter sometimes starts wailing in her sleep, not really waking up fully…I’m not sure if that’s what you’re talking about, but it’s the saddest sound ever! Thankfully,she doesn’t do it often!It’s happened occasionally since she was a newborn, but I can usually calm her down without too much trouble, after I’ve woken her up all the way.


  12. Just letting you know that I’ve been reading your blog voraciously, and I’ve backpedaled all the way to you at your 39th week pregnancy… where I am now. It’s comforting to know that I am feeling the same way you felt. You and Murray have been an immense help these last few days. I just want to say ‘thank you’.


  13. My son had them quite often for a few months..maybe 6 months? maybe 12 months? I can’t remember exactly. For a while it was every night..then got less frequent, but they would come back every so often. We could never pinpoint a reason why, occasionally it was because he was overtired, but it just happened. Shit happens.
    At first, I was terrified, and tried and tried to soothe him, make him stop crying, take him into lit rooms etc. But after a while, I realized that he wasn’t really awake, and wasn’t comforted at all by being held (as opposed to being awake, he LOVES to be held), it was only for my sake. So now I just sit beside his bed and make sure he doesn’t thrash around and smash himself against the wall. He eventually stops and goes back to sleep without ever waking up. Sometimes if I hold his hand, it does calm him a bit, but usually he is not aware I am there.

    It is so traumatic to witness though, I feel for you. I wish I remember how long he had them, but he’s 33 months now, and I’m sure it has been at least 6 months since he had a night terror.


  14. I have three boys, My youngest is about three weeks older than Emory, and every one of them has had night terrors about this age. It’ll pass. Sadly, I don’t think there’s much you can do about it. Sometimes a glass of milk seems to help if I can get him to wake up enough to drink it. Good luck, sleep when you can. One day, I’m sure, we’ll look back at these sleepless nights with something like nostalgia.


  15. My son (now 5) started having them fairly frequently at 18 mo, lessening until he was about 4yrs. It seemed to coincide with when he got too hot in bed. No single thing worked every time. Mostly I just talked to him and told him I was there. He seemed to be inhabiting both his nightmare and reality at the same time, i.e. he knew who I was but still carried on screaming and fighting his demons. Sometimes, horrible to admit, shouting his name as loudly as I could shocked him into real wakefulness. Then I could soothe him back to sleep. Sorry for the long comment, but I also found it really upsetting and just wanted to say you’re not alone.


  16. I remember reading somewhere on this vast, great internet that keeping some dim light on in the bedroom helps with night terrors (something about helping the child wake up all the way).

    Poor Em. Good luck.


  17. You guys are great. Thank you so much for all the feedback. (Email too!) Em did sleep last night finally. No screaming, just the occasional fuss here and there. And we did leave a small light on for him. Not sure if it helped. We put him down earlier too—7:30 PM. And we kept the two hours leading up to bedtime as quiet and easygoing as possible. (He also had a decent nap yesterday)

    So, I am hoping things are better again. I am going to keep him on a very regimented schedule and see how that helps. We’re hoping that they are done until the next time.

    One of you suggested (via email) that this might be due to a growth spurt. I wonder if that’s the case? Because this has happened before and it does last almost a week and then goes away as quickly as it arrives.

    Either way, man, those of you who said that night terrors are scary are so very right.


  18. Michele Chaves April 14, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    It isn’t a boy thing. Annie had them too, as I’ve said before. One thing I know is that the difference between night terrors and nightmares is that if they are night terrors, the child has no recollection of it the next morning. It is like sleep walking in that they aren’t conscious of what is happening, you just want to be sure they don’t hurt themselves, fall out of a bed, etc. Annie would run around the house and hit and kick and my lovely husband would yell and me telling me it was my fault. Those were rough days. (She didn’t sleep in a crib at the time she had them, she was in a toddler bed as I recall so she was mobile. We had a basement and I was worried she run to the door and fall down the stairs.)

    I have also heard that you don’t want to try to wake them, you just need to ride it out and they’ll either end it on their own or they may wake. I also remember we did turn on Elmo videos and somehow the noise and music calmed calmed her — it also got us into a rough sleeping pattern for a while, but that, like everything else, worked itself out eventually. Late night Elmo watching is better than late night bloody murder screams!

    I’m also a very firm believer in looking at what might have changed during the days prior to these kinds of events as a way to determine what might be going on in Emory’s little mind. For me, I kept a spreadsheet detailing most every aspect of her day during those times (as they happened in bursts, a week or two then nothing for months) — I wrote down everything that happened, everything she ate, her potty routines, any sickness or meds, etc. And a pattern did emerge for us where night terrors were almost always related to minor colds when we gave her over the counter children’s cold meds. I recall it was 100% of the time, they happened on those nights. (In the past year or so, they came out and said not to give small kids those meds, but 4-5 years ago all our doctors told us they were ok). So when we cut those out, we found the night terrors ended. That’s our experience, however, and if I know nothing else it is that every kid is different.

    I kind of think moms are detectives and I have found great power and understanding for myself in looking at trends and looking for what has changed in my daughter’s life as a means of figuring out what’s going on with mysterious things like night terrors, sleep issues, poop issues, etc. When you really tap into your detective powers, it is amazing the connections you start to see. A few days before every sickness, you’ll see little signs…for example…that you may pass off at the time, but when you start keeping a log you’ll start seeing things differently and you can almost predict beforehand what is likely to happen. You will also be able to see when they are hitting developmental milestones because there is always a step back before they move forward and when you know that, it is much easier to deal with it.

    Just some thoughts from someone who has literally experienced just about every terrible kid situation… My kid has experienced it all!


  19. You aren’t alone. Dexter rarely sleeps through the night either. He usually wakes up at least once every night. It just varies on how hard it is to put him back to sleep. I’m often awakened by screams as well. Luckily, I can usually just talk to him and he’s fine, but not always. Sometimes he sleepwalks while crying and throws a tantrum about having to go back to his crib to sleep. He’s not fully awake though. It’s totally normal, but annoying. I prefer to be awakened by him laughing in his sleep. That’s much better than screams.


  20. My son has night terrors occasionally, too. His seem to be mostly when he is overtired. What I finally figured out to calm him down though, was to play along whatever he was dreaming about.
    He usually is yelling “No no no no!” so I just loudly tell ‘them’ to go away and leave my boy alone. Then I tell him that ‘they’ or ‘it’ is gone and that they can’t come back or hurt him. I usually have to stay in his room for several minutes to repeat the performance once or twice if it recurs, but it has pretty much taken a night terror that is a 1/2 hour or longer and reduced it to about 3-4 minutes.


  21. Both my children have had night terrors, and we never figured out why. And all we (meaning I) did was hold them, or not, and wait it out. Eventually, they’d lie back down and be asleep again.

    It was never any use to speak to them or calm them down because it seemed they didn’t even hear us.

    Good luck with this. Hopefully it won’t last long.


  22. My son has had night terrors off an on for about a year now (he is now 3 yrs. old). The only thing we could determine was that they seemed to happen when he was over-tired. If he went more than a couple of days without a good nap for instance, we knew a night terror was sure to come. Or if he’d had extra play dates or days at preschool. Like so many others have said, I just stay in his room to be sure he doesn’t thrash around and hit the wall, or I take him into my room until he is finished and soundly asleep again. They are definitely scarier for my husband and I than for my son. He is 3 now and incredibly verbal and still has no recollection of the night terror in the morning.


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