A few weeks ago, we had an interesting experience with our eldest daughter (3 years old). There have previously been occasions where we have heard her calling for us or shouting out after she has gone down to sleep. We run into the room, sometimes to find her sitting upright or just wriggling around a little in her bed. She seems oblivious to our presence, her eyes appear closed and she soon settles back down to a peaceful sleep. Our conclusion – she’s sleep talking.
Recently this sleep talking has turned into something else entirely, something much more distressing – well for us at least!
One evening, a couple of hours after putting her to sleep, we were startled awake by her ear piercing screams. Panicking and with no idea what to expect, I ran into the girls’ bedroom to see what was going on. Our 3-year-old was sitting up, wide-eyed screaming at the top of her lungs. I quickly picked her up and brought her into our bedroom. Little did I know that this was the worst thing I could have done. She proceeded to scream, cry and sob uncontrollably for the next 2.5 hours. Hitting us when we tried to cuddle her. Demanding hot milk or the iPad but flinging them across the room when we passed them to her. It was distressing and frustrating.
As the night wore on, it was getting later and later and we were increasingly concerned she was going to wake our youngest and our neighbours. Our patience was wearing thin. Desperately racking our brains, trying to come up with a way to calm her down we were at a loss. Eventually, not able to take any more, I picked her up and held her firmly repeating the words ‘stop this now’. The crying stopped. She crawled onto the floor, lay down and went to sleep – instantly. It was weird. My husband and I both exhausted looked at each other in disbelief. WTF had just happened?
She is not the only family member to partake in such nightime activity. My husband also sleep talks and has had a few episodes of night terrors whilst I’ve been next to him. On the rare occasion he has had a night terror, I wake up in panic as he has a few seconds of terrifying meltdown and then just returns to sleep. On waking the next day he is blissfully unaware of the trauma his sleeping self and wife have experienced during the night.
After some googling and discussion we agreed that what our 3-year-old had suffered with that night was a night terror.
Apparently night terrors in children tend to happen:
- About 2 hours after falling asleep – TICK
- When they are over-tired – TICK
- When it’s very hot – TICK
- If someone else in the family suffers with them – TICK
For the next 2 weeks she continued to have these night-time episodes almost every night.
Everything I read advised against waking her during a night terror, in fact it seemed the best thing to do was to leave them to get through it on their own. Each night the screaming would start, I would go and stand next to her. It was upsetting, seeing her thrashing about and hearing her screaming and sobbing uncontrollably with me left feeling helpless. A couple of times I lay down next to her and stroked her, petrified of waking her but desperate to comfort her. The advice was right, the episodes lasted much less time when she was undisturbed. Rather eerily, she would suddenly stop close her eyes and go back to sleep as though nothing had happened. On asking her about it the next day she didn’t seem to recall the incident.
One night, on waking up to the sound of her terrified screams, I ran into the room expecting it to be a night terror, but she was nowhere to be seen. I could hear her little voice screaming and sobbing yet could not see her anywhere. I continued to scan the room in confusion. The noise seemed to be coming from underneath her sister’s cot. I bent down and peered underneath and saw her frightened little eyes peering out at me. She must have slept walked/rolled all the way to the other side of the room and somehow managed to squeeze herself beneath the cot…in her sleep. As I quickly extracted her quivering little body out from underneath my heart broke as she sobbed and pleaded, “Mummy, please stay with me”. “Of course I will sweetheart” I promised. I wrapped my arms around her and considered the horror she must have experienced waking up with the wooden cot beams practically resting on her face.
We still get the odd night terror but they have reduced in frequency. Our 2 girls (and my husband) certainly like to keep me on my toes at night-time with their bedtime shenanigans, frequent waking, nightmares and night terrors – it seems to be a time of activity rather than restfulness in our house.
I wonder what new experiences the next few weeks of motherhood will bring.