Author: Jose G. Barr
I remember the first time my son had a night terror. It happened one evening over 2 years ago. Joseph had been asleep for about 2 hours when it happened. I had just turned out the lights when we heard our little boy screaming in fear. I rushed to his bed where he was sitting up and staring into the distance, his hair plastered in sweat, his teethe chattering uncontrollably. I spent the next 10 minutes holding him as he worked through the night terror he was having. At the time I had no idea what he was going through. I spent much of that time trying unsuccessfully to comfort and assure him he was safe. His cries for help were extremely lucid and very terrifying because of it. He would cry out over and over "Daddy, Help! Daddy, please me help!"
What was going on with my little boy? I had to find out what was happening. Like any good father I needed to know how I could help my little boy with this terrible sleep disruption. I read everything I could find and eventually found a name for what he was going through... Night Terrors.
I took comfort in what I learned about night terrors. It was comforting to know that my boy would never remember the terror he was experiencing at night. He would wake up and not remember anything about what had been terrorizing him the night before. I live with the anguish of not being able to do anything to comfort him, to take away his fear.
What is a night terror? A night terror is a sleep disruption that is similar to a nightmare. It can be distinguished from a nightmare in several ways. Night terrors tend to occur within the first few hours of sleep, while a nightmare occurs much later in what is called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Children having a night terror will appear to be awake, but are unaware of their surroundings and will not be able to acknowledge their mother and fathers efforts to comfort them. After a nightmare, a child will respond to efforts to comfort them. A child will have no memory of a night terror, but will remember the fear they felt during the nightmare.
In my sons case, the night terrors occurred more often when he was tired. He was having them almost every night during that time, until they eventually slowed down to about once every few months. Their duration is now only a few minutes. When he was having them every night we started to wake him up about an hour into his sleep cycle. This appeared to disrupt the night terror cycle and reduce the number of occurrences and allowing us to sleep through the night. Today the night terrors are a rare occurrence, the last one happening after spending an entire day at the amusement park.
Most of the websites that I found agree that children will outgrow the night terrors. Many of these sites recommend seeking medical advice if the terrors continue beyond a few months.
Take heart my dear friends in the knowledge that the night terrors are much worse for us, their parents.