My son N has terrible night terrors a couple times a month. It was worse a few months ago and The first time this happened to him J and I were sitting in the living room watching some TV before going to bed and all of the sudden our once peacefully snoozing 15 month old baby boy starts screaming.
This screaming was chilling to the bone and both J and I jumped up to go see what foul thing had attacked little N. We inspected him from head to toe, palpated him belly, checked his mouth and everything else we could think of. He had no temperature, no visible injury, no tenderness, nothing wrong with him with the exception of him sweating, screaming and shaking violently. I thought maybe he was having a seizure because of the shaking but I noticed that tremors weren’t like a seizure.
Abruptly he stopped crying and appeared to go back to sleep. Within seconds he was snoring again and sleeping quite peacefully. We were baffled. I had no idea what could be racking my son and the whole episode was strange. Neither J or I had any experiences with anything like that before.
The next morning I brought N into see our family doctor. He looked him over, palpated him as we did the night before, checked hi from head to toe and gave us a bill of clean health for him. He suggested that the occurrence may have been a night terror, and that they were quite normal in toddlers.
We researched the causes of night terrors and returned no tangible reasons. It would seem that the cause was completely unknown to the medical community and no one had any credible inclinations towards what this might be caused by. I say credible because I am discounting the sites which noted demon possession, aura displacement and need for marijuana before bedtime.
After much dissecting of the subject I cannot give you the cause of night terrors, but I can explain what we have done that have helped my son to conquer these night time horrors.
First we started putting him to bed no later than 8pm. Previously his bedtime was 8:30pm and a little later depending on the night. This may not seem like a huge difference but it make a huge impact on N’s resting ability. J and I read an article recently which stated that toddlers and preschoolers should be put to bed no later than 7:30pm. This is because most children become very tired around this time and if they aren’t put to bed in time their bodies get exhausted and start producing adrenaline to cope with their exhaustion. The adrenaline leads to an increase in Cortisols in their bodies. Cortisols are suspected to cause fitful and less restful sleep. So keeping N up later than this time period, which is what we had been doing, was actually robbing him of the rest that his growing little body needed. Sleep is also essential for good moods in children. A well rested child is more responsive, happier, and tends to be better behaved.
The second revelation we were given pertained to dinner time. We have always been sporadic eaters. After taking a nutrition class at college I learned that this practice wasn’t the best. I learned that eating too late is not good for your body because your body needs to not be actively digesting in order to rest fully. We had been eating around 7pm or so and this was a mistake. Eating so late caused N to be still digesting when he was trying to rest and thus not resting fully. So again he was lacking the rest he needed.
Third, turn out the lights! Many studies have come out in the past few years supporting the theory that light in the room, even the light from an alarm clock can cause sleep interruptions. So we removed all sources of light from his room and covered his window with a heavier drape that completely obstructed the sunlight still pouring through due to the later sunsets in the summer.
So our conclusion after implementing all of these restful sleeping techniques is that if your child is having night terrors it would be prudent to try to make them rest more fully at night time. We have seen a dramatic improvement in his night terrors. He has had only 1 since we started implementing these principles into our schedule (about a 96% decrease which is more than enough to be scientifically relevant).