When Your Toddler Has Night Terrors

When Evan was about 2 years old, he would wake up screaming in the middle of the night. At first glance, he was inconsolable. It turns out, he wasn’t even awake. He had night terrors.

The good thing about this is that he had no idea it was happening.

The bad thing? To start, they were absolutely terrifying, for me.

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What are night terrors?

Night terrors are the result of a glitch in ones natural sleep pattern. Night terrors are not nightmares, though they seem like it at first. The person experiencing night terrors is still asleep, even though they may open their eyes, or otherwise seem awake.

I remember going into Evans room to check on him one night. Thinking he was awake, I reached into the crib to pick him up. Not only did this not comfort him, it made him more upset. He screamed louder and began to call out for me. He had no idea that I was there, though he certainly knew that something was hovering above him.

When I was able to pick him up out of the crib, he thrashed and tried to hurt me in an effort to escape.  When I set him down, he ran and hid behind a recliner we kept in his room for nighttime nursing.

This happened a few times before I began researching and discovered what we were dealing with was night terrors. We had been experiencing a lot of changes, and as I read up on it, night terrors fit perfectly.

What triggers night terrors?

  • Stress
  • Over-stimulation
  • Illness
  • Being Overtired

It was like we won Night Terror BINGO. I was pregnant with our second child, which was causing small changes in every aspect of our life, he was dropping naps, and he had recently been sick.

Because we were expecting a new baby, I had already purchased The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers to work out any kinks in his sleep.

I read that book cover to cover, and while I highly recommend it, it only briefly touched specifically on night terrors.  The book covers just about every situation you can think of, so it couldn’t dive deep into every topic. However, I have used many tips from throughout the book at one time or another.

Between that book and the other research I did, I realized that we needed to revamp our nightly routine. With the pregnancy, we had already begun shifting our bedtime routine away from nursing to sleep to prepare for the new baby.

We introduced a bedtime snack of greek yogurt. The No-Cry Sleep Solution gave me the idea of offering a high protein snack before bed. After the snack, we would get him ready for bed by changing his diaper, and brushing his teeth, and then it was story time.

The night terrors continued to happen when we had an especially busy or stressful day, so we developed a routine to cope with that as well.

My husband would turn a light on and start reading again in a calm, soothing tone. This made a HUGE difference in shortening the length of Evans night terrors. What once was lasting up to an hour was only lasting a few minutes after we introduced this piece of the puzzle.

To recap:

We learned that when Evan had his night terrors, it was best not to interfere. We wouldn’t touch him, or try to wake him, because that only made it worse.

Instead, we learned the importance of a good routine. We didn’t let him go to bed hungry, and we created a routine for when the night terrors did happen.

By the time his baby brother was born, the night terrors were few and far between, and they never happen now. His sleep is far from perfect, but it is so much better than when we would wake to hear him screaming in the night.

How do you cope with night terrors?

Toddler night terrors can be scary! But these tips can help. @of Learning and Nesting

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