The Night Terrors Continue

I’m writing today in search of a little company and maybe some answers. Em has been having night terrors again, at least that’s what we think they are. They take place at the same time every night, between the hours of 11 and midnight and start 3 hours after he falls asleep. It usually takes anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to calm him down (ie. wake him up fully). And he doesn’t really remember them in the morning.

They come and go in intervals. Meaning, we go months without one and then BAM! They’re on and take place for weeks. This one has been going on for about a week and a half. He usually always stirs about 3 hours after going to bed at night, but the night terrors are very different from that.

This particular interval seems to have coincided with him coming down with a cold. The cold wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, he was still able to go to school. I reckon that’s irrelevant but I did want to bring it up.

There have been a few personality changes over the last couple of months as well. Em is now very much into his “babies”. He has three small stuffed animals (a cardinal, a baby duck and a baby bear) that he refers to as his babies. They need to be with him at night at all times. Sometimes he wakes up screaming about them. He brings the bear to school with him for naps and if we forget the bear, we simply must go back. He’s very attached to his babies. He likes to carry them in his winter coat hood or up his shirt and scoot to school. He introduces them to people on the street, at stores. It’s cute.

I know what you’re thinking! Pending new arrival = stuffed animal/baby attachment. But I’m not so sure this wouldn’t have taken place had I gotten pregnant or not. People probably say this a lot, but Em is a very sensitive child. He loves animals. He pets them (usually dogs) even though we’ve told him repeatedly he should ask first. It’s like he can’t help himself. He needs to touch furry things. (Like mother, like son!) He loves babies, and has for a long while. You should see him with his best friend’s baby sister. It’s heartwarming to say the least. It could have to do with my being pregnant, but I’m thinking, given his personality, it would have happened this way no matter what.

Anyway, why? Why is this happening? Is it a crash? Is this related to sugar? He has very little of it, but I’m not ruling anything out. (For example, last night I gave him half a homemade cookie an hour or so before bed.) He doesn’t drink juice anymore at all. Is this related to growing? He’s in school 3 days a week and loves it, but maybe it’s due to school?

Do your children have night terrors? Do they wake up this way? Agitated and impossible to sooth? Do they eventually go away? When?

Any or all information welcome. We’re getting desperate as we approach the arrival of number two when every minute of sleep will become a commodity.



  1. This has no basis in child-rearing wisdom but, since no one else seems to have commented, I feel I should share my own experience.

    I’ve had nightmares ever since I can remember. I can still recall, in color, one I had when we were camping when I was three. I actually just blogged about it happening to me this weekend.

    Stress is a factor but physical illness also plays into it. The year I lived in the UK when I was 6 my whole family got hellish flu for weeks and I had vivid, sleepwalking nightmares about snakes for many weeks after. These days I can sometimes catch the triggers (I’m almost 42) but, like this weekend, rarely do. I still use nightlights, TV or radio playing and reading to help stave off the terror or get myself back to sleep but once I start getting them it takes a few weeks to wean myself off the crutches, just like you describe with Em. I think worrying that I might fall asleep and have a nightmare sometimes makes for one of those vicious cycles.

    Sorry he feels like that. I know exactly how he feels. He’s welcome to come over and watch Real Genius or Ironman with me from midnight to 2 or so every night for the next couple of weeks.


    1. Thanks for replying, Kizz. It does help. I too have suffered from horrible nightmares since I was a little guy. So I wonder if he’s just destined to have such a thing? But I don’t recall having terrors like what he has or what you’ve described. They are just vivid, sometimes horrible nightmares that sit with me for years sometimes.

      Thank you! I am growing weary! I hope we can figure it out.


  2. Emily has these too. She’s 3, going to be 4 in March & she has a brother who is going to be 1 in six days. I think she has what you are talking about. I’ve always thought it was probably sugar/over-active mind/ I realized I was sleeping and that ticks me off kind of stuff going on. She will “wake” and just start “cry talking” about whatever…It could be her favorite show characters, her babies, she may want a certain stuffed animal or just ramble. She’ll lay back down but whimper, whine and half yell about stuff. We finally have to wake her up almost fully and tell her to stop.


    1. Oh, that makes me feel so much better—reading that, Courtney. Do you really think it’s sugar though? I am just so hesitant to believe that since he really doesn’t eat that much sugar ESPECIALLY compared to many other children. Just so odd—the whole situation. And very frustrating that sometimes it’s impossible to wake them up fully.


  3. A friend of a friend has a son who is going on 9 and still suffers really bad from night terrors. That probably didn’t help you, but it might prepare you.

    Another friend took her daughter in to have a sleep study done because she is having night terrors/nightmares as well. They won’t have any answers for awhile, but if it’s interesting then I’ll pass on the information to you.

    My brother suffered with night terrors and still sleepwalks and he’s 22 now. His was/is definitely related to stress. We always knew he was going to have a bad night’s sleep by how he behaved during the day. And like Em, my brother is very sensitive, loves animals and is just an emotional guy.

    My 19 month old sometimes starts screaming for no apparent reason in the middle of the night. The only way he stops is if we hold him directly under the lamp and turn it on. I think the sudden bright light wakes him up and then he’s all “oh, what’s going on here? can we watch cars now?”

    I don’t know if sugar plays a role in night terrors/nightmares but I really think stress and personality do. Declan can be quite sensitive. Whereas, my oldest, Ryan, is sensitive, but he is so easy going nothing really ever bothers him for long periods and we’ve never had any problems like that with him. Declan has always behaved like he has the world’s worries on his shoulders. I can imagine with all of that worry, it would be quite stressful :P

    My brother grew out of his night terrors into sleepwalking…maybe Em will grow out of his. I remember my mom sitting with him in his bed, holding him while he thrashed around, screaming, so he wouldn’t hurt himself. It’s so hard and each person is different.


  4. my 2 and a half year old has these when he doesn’t nap during the day. we’ve concluded, with the help of some insight from others, that it is linked to overtiredness and, oddly enough, chocolate. we don’t let him have chocolate at night at all now and haven’t had a problem even when he doesn’t nap. my brother used to have them and the doctor told her to not let him have chocolate at night and my mother swore it helped. we always kind of rolled our eyes at this because it sounds so absurd and man, no chocolate dessert that just seems wrong, hehe.. nevertheless we noticed our little guy, if he’d not napped and had chocolate anything for dessert, he invariably had a night terror. i think it may be linked to overtiredness and caffeine–always been a bad combo for me it makes sense that these little guys would react negatively. i hope that helps, i know how hard that is and there’s nothing you can do for the poor little guys!


  5. My 4.5 year old son has had many night terrors. I think they started when he was around 2 years old, but he hasn’t had any for a long time. Maybe almost a year? I hope they are all finished. He wakes up screaming and crying, but he’s not really awake. His eyes are open, but he doesn’t respond to us talking or holding him at all. After getting punched and kicked repeatedly from holding him, now I just sit in a chair by his bed and make sure he doesn’t thrash himself out of bed and hurt himself. He doesn’t seem to want to be consoled, and it isn’t possible to wake him up. I feel too bad to just ignore the night terrors, so I have to go and witness them, but nothing I can do can stop them. For us, his trigger is exhaustion. When he was in the napping stage, if he skipped his nap, that was a guarantee of sleep terrors that night. Or if he was up a lot the night before.

    He doesn’t seem to remember them when he wakes up, it is just traumatic for us! I am hoping he has outgrown them now.


    1. OK, you’re all making me feel better. Misery does love company! And he does thrash around and we hold onto him to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. Sometimes he hits his head! That sucks.

      He doesn’t eat much chocolate at all. Maybe once every two weeks? It’s not that, because he has them days and days after chocolate has been had.

      I do wonder if it’s stress related. Like many of you have said, he’s sensitive and tends to let things go during the day. I wonder if these feelings resurface whenever he’s sleeping. For example, he was trying to build houses with blocks yesterday while Toby and he were at school in the morning. A little girl kept walking over and knocking the houses over. This happened a few times before Toby put his foot down, literally blocked her from destroying Em’s house. Her mom was watching the whole time! I am not judging them, by any means. I know how kids are. Believe me. But I do wonder how often things like this happen and how he might internalize it to some degree.

      I’m rambling. And please don’t think I’m making it out to be my son is angel and all the other kids are bullying him. He’s just sensitive and tends to avoid conflict for the most part. But I do wonder if it sits with him somehow.


  6. My daughter has had on and off night terrors, as well (at least that’s what we think they are based on talking with other people). She’s 14 months old and has had them since about 9 or 10 months. She, too, wakes about 3 hours after being put to bed no matter what and the night terrors usually happen around that time, as well. She wakes suddenly with a very distinct, halted type of repetitive screaming. Usually she is sitting straight up and pointing at the door. When we go in to hold her, she thrashes and pushes us away. Most of the advice we got was to not try and wake her, as the process would further disorient her. What I’ve found to work the best is to just hold her tightly and rub her back…and if that doesn’t work, I sit on the floor of her room with her with a pile of books (because books tend to soothe and relax her) until she comes back to reality.

    I’ve never associated these with sugar or stress. They do, however, tend to occur before various cognitive leaps, as if, perhaps, the brain is struggling to sort out something.


  7. I don’t know if this will help- but quite a few people are able to “control” their dreams. It takes some practice- it is kind of like walking through the scary story but having lots of choices. The dream becomes like “Choose Your Own Adventure” (not sure if you ever read those stories). The idea behind is that he knows in the dream he can find what he needs to get out of the situation (ie can make a tiger who is chasing him get distract by a steak he tosses to him). Just an idea. I know this works for some and not for others.


  8. The only experience I have with night terrors is from watching my youngest cousin, who’s 2 1/2 now. He used to have them every now and then, but from what I can tell now, they seemed to have stopped. I don’t know if that’s any consolation, except that the terrors eventually stop.


  9. Emily hit her head when we were on vacation last week. Actually she thrashed herself off the bed and slammed into the hotel desk.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s sugar alone because we try to not do a lot of sugar…but we have to make sure she does not eat too close to bed. (She loves to eat all the time, she’s not a 3 meals a day fan.) I think it’s all the new ideas they get in their head during the day and they can’t stop thinking. Sometimes she’ll recite things from the day when she half wakes up like this.


    1. Yeah. I have noticed a rise in my son’s “mental chatter”. (That’s what Toby and I call it! When you have something stuck in your head? like a song or phrase?) Em has been doing that with lyrics. This is another thing that coincides with the rise in night terrors. His desire for singing things repeatedly. :]


  10. I think you might be on to something with the “mental chatter” and stress. My MIL went through this years ago with my husband from ages 2-7. He was always a super-bright kid and really talkative. He had a lot of energy, a lot to say, and a lot to think about. This was a kid who would read the world news at 6 and talk about Manuel Noriega at school. He was also an extremely sensitive child with a tendency towards being a wee bit anxious.

    He stopped having night terrors around age 7…possibly the age when kids start to understand what’s really going on around them and feel a little more in control? He’s still not a great sleeper and has nightmares and thrashes around, especially under periods of great stress. I hope you find a lot of support…my poor MIL is still traumatized by the terrible advice she got 30 years ago about it.


    1. MrsRoo: Thank you for your story! Seriously. Made me feel worlds better. If I have to wait until 7, that’s fine. I just want to know he’s OK. And we’ll just continue to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself during them.


  11. I purchased the Ferber book “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” because I heard it had really good information on sleep issues, including night terrors, not just for teaching infants to sleep. Luckily I haven’t had to deal with this issue (yet).

    For night terrors, he recommends not waking the child. He says to let the screaming subside, and then let the child return to sleep. Does Emory have a night light? Is the door closed? Ferber says you might need to get a night light if you don’t have one, or to leave the door open. “Be supportive in a calm and convincing way, showing that you are in control and able to keep him safe.”

    You might want to check out the book, so you can read the entire chapter on nightmares.

    Good luck, I hope you get some sleep!


  12. I’m 31 and still have them. My husband thinks this is hilarious. I’m less sure of it. I did learn to self soothe by the time I was 12,though, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel. (Ha ha.)


  13. Glad I could help, mihow. I may need the favor returned in a few years when we have our own Little Roo. I have a feeling these things tend to run in families and I see some long nights in my future!


  14. I know that sleep walking runs in families, so I think it’s safe to say that night terrors do too. I was proned to having nightmares as a kid.
    Even as an adult I had a bad spell of nightmares after my son was born. I figured it was my body’s way of trying to work through the trauma it went through (emergency c-section).

    I wonder if it has to do with personality types. Those who internalize things more? Hmm. Must research this hypothesis further.


  15. My son had these, too. We were worried that it was the stress of a difficult kindergarten class. However in the end it turned out to be a very rare side effect of his asthma medication. Is your child taking Singulair? They don’t publicise this but it does happen to a few kids. Very scary but stopping the Singulair ended it.


  16. Hi Migow
    I have a 4 year old boy that has night terrors.
    Same exact description to yours. I read up on it when it stated and the book descriptions are spot on. Tiredness brings it on and once the are 6plus they usually grow out if it. Singing a familiar song helps, but usually it just has to take its course.
    PS btw I’m addicted to making lollipops bc of you!! :)


  17. Sorry Mihow!! I might check my spelling next time b4 submitting! Haha


  18. My son has had night terrors since he was about 3 months old.

    He’s now 19 months.

    It always happens when he doesn’t get enough sleep and/or around a time of mental/physical growth. It seems directly related with information processing.

    He wakes up crying in what I can only describe as inconsolable terror. The only thing we can do is hold him close and sing to him in the dark or a dimly lit room until he finally calms down which he does and then we put him back to bed and he’s fine. It lasts between 15-30 minutes. We try not to simulate him at all during the calm down hence the dark room.

    He had one on a flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt, Germany last year. Not Fun. I had three different people offer to help because he couldn’t calm down with the lights and people. I think they thought I was pinching him or something. We ended up in the bathroom for an hour.

    My Dr. says he’s fine, just a sensitive little guy. Sounds like Em is too.

    And congrats on the new one.


  19. Sorry, I thought of one other thing over the weekend. When my daughter was having trouble going to sleep, several moms recommend the Hyland’s Calms Forte 4 Kids. The box says they also help with night terrors. It’s homeopathic; it might be worth a shot.


  20. Great! And hey, I am a SAHM 50% of the time…


  21. im 15 and i always have night terrors. it can have up to 3 times a month. its been constant . happens every month. no stop. its been going on since i was 3. i havent gone through any trama.In them im either falling, almost being killed, or have a feeling of being followed and watched. its always the same. i wake up heart pounding and crying non stop. terrified to move i lay there and try to calm down. ive had times were my night terror happens more than once a night. i dont know if its a disorder. i need to know what is wrong. i cant take them anymore. i have so many sleepless night. Anyone have any idea what is going on. Ive read that its uncommon for someone over the age of 6 to have it and i past that age long ago.i have no triggers that ive found. it could happen at anytime. i can go to sleep super happy and feeling secure than 3 hours later wake up absolutly terrified. Ideas? if you can help me, here is my e-mail:


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