When Joseph was about 9 months old, he started suffering night terrors. Most of the literature suggests night terrors don’t start until much later, however, Joseph has never been one for reading the literature.
Night terrors are part of a broader sleep condition called “confusional arousal”. Somewhere between going from deep sleep to lighter rapid eye movement sleep, something becomes disturbed, and the baby screams and cries, often sitting bolt upright, with their eyes wide open, or sometimes still closed.
It’s distressing. In our case, Joseph is a laid back, happy baby, and never has cried much, only for obvious things, and to see him so upset and inconsolable was so distressing. And I blamed myself. I started looking for answers, reading, and asking friends for their experiences.
I could not locate any studies about premature babies and night terrors, but from my casual discussions with mothers of premature babies, I have found that it is not uncommon for premature babies to suffer from night terrors, often into the later toddler years.
Joseph’s night time activity wasn’t always screaming or crying. Sometimes he would cough and cough, I would go into him and hold him, and he would start to laugh, but he would be asleep. On one occasion I put him on the floor to straighten his bed, and he crawled, at this stage he didn’t do this when awake. He got to sitting, and he started playing with a toy that when awake, he couldn’t work. It was spooky, and this went on in varying degrees for weeks. I was baffled as prior to this he’d been sleeping through.
I read widely on this topic and these are my conclusions. I focus on night time sleep but the same rules go for naps as well.
- Do not wake the child. Don’t run in to the room. Stay calm, stay quiet, talk in soothing tones. You can pick the child up, but its better not to and to sit in the room and wait for it to finish. The child is actually asleep, so is still getting refreshing sleep, and if you wake the child, he/she will become sleep deprived and may make the night terrors worse.
- Observe what happens in these instances. If they keep continuing, you may find it helpful to keep a diary of what happened during the night time routine, what time the terror or arousal occurred, how long it went for etc.
- Eliminate obvious causes first. Sometimes things like pain (teething), or a cold (post nasal drip – the snot running into the back of the throat) can cause these arousals, so its worth trying paracetamol or nurofen before bed, or saline nasal spray.
- If after trying this approach for a few weeks it doesn’t work and the night terror’s continue you can do the following. Looking at the diary of when these incidents occur, wake the child up half an hour before the usual time of an arousal. Wake the child fully, offer a drink, and then resettle. This can break the cycle, but you need to be consistent and do this for 10 days running.
- If after trying these methods, you should consult your doctor. Sometimes night terrors can be caused by sleep apnoea or not getting enough oxygen during the night. If your child has had problems with breathing in the past, or is on oxygen, obviously seek medical advice before trying the above this period of time. It could be as simple as enlarged adenoids.
- Night terrors can be genetic. My grandmother was a sufferer, and so am I.
- The most important thing to remember is, this is not distressing for the child. Its distressing for the family, for the person listening to it and I think, especially the mother, because its our job to keep them safe from harm, but the child is asleep and quite content, even though they sound like they are being chased by the Gruffalo.
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