Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Night Terrors: My First Hand Experience On A Very Scary Situation

It began right when Lily turned 4, like a right of passage welcoming her to the next stage of growing pains.

The first time it happened I was taken aback by fear of the unknown. My face was probably as pale as a ghost, or at the possibility that my daughter was seeing and talking to ghosts! I didn't know what to do and so I had no choice but to ride it out until it ended. Those 10 minutes felt like eternity until, finally, the worst was over, and Lily just went back to sleep.

Here's what happens when your child has night terrors: a look into my first experience.

It was close to 11pm, I was stretched out on the couch watching TV, Lily and Darya had been fast asleep for a few hours by then. I heard a whimpering sound--with my bionic mommy ears--and quickly ran into the girls bedroom. Lily was sitting up, flustered, whimpering and mumbling words I couldn't make out. I went to her. She seemed irritated as she reached for me yet also pushed me away. My attempt to get her to lie back down was only agitating her to a fit of loud tears. I immediately squashed that idea and instead scooped her up into my arms and carried her to the living room to keep from waking her sister Darya up.

I placed Lily on the couch in the living room, yet she was adamant about not wanting to sit. Instead she began to pace around the room, crying and speaking in half sentences, saying: "Mommy, I don't want to...Mommy, can I...Please..." To which she would then proceed to burst into tears.

I didn't know what was going on. She appeared awake and coherent, only a little distant and off. I kept asking her questions! "Lily, honey, what's wrong?" "Did you have a bad dream?" "You don't want to what?"

A few minutes into it and Lily begins looking off into the distance, putting a hand up as she exclaims in terror, "No! No! No!" At this point I am so overwhelmed I innocently believe she is seeing ghosts. My baby girl is being haunted by ghosts! I turn to where she is looking and scream with anger, "Go away!!" I thrash my arms in the air and yell, "Stay away from my baby!!"

At this point Darya is awake and sitting on the edge of the couch, watching in silence while rubbing her eyes and yawning.

"Lily, what do you see? What is it?" I just kept asking questions. After about ten or so minutes, Lily let out a yawn and became overtaken with sleep. I put her and Darya back to bed, went back to the couch and had myself a good cry.  

In the morning Lily was her usual happy self, all smiles as she attacked me with kisses during our routine 'good morning hugs.'  Still traumatized from the events that took place the night before, I began my inquiry. "Honey, did you have a bad dream last night?" She looked at me confused. "You woke up crying...were you having a bad dream?" She was clueless. She did not remember anything that had happened.

It was when it happened again, a few nights later, to the same degree of intensity that I googled it!

Turns out Lily has Night Terrors. Apparently it happens to about 10% of kids and it begins around the time they turn 4. Night Terrors also known as Sleep Terrors happens during deep non REM sleep.

Taken from Night terrors usually occur about 2 or 3 hours after a child falls asleep, when sleep transitions from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep, a stage where dreams occur. Usually this transition is a smooth one. But rarely, a child becomes agitated and frightened — and that fear reaction is a night terror.

It's been just over a year since Lily had her first Night Terror. When the Terrors first began it was almost a bi-weekly thing that slowly transgressed to weekly, then they were happening about every other week. In the last 6 months she probably has had 3 or 4 experiences total, one of them being last night.

The thing is that web-sites tell you to leave the child alone while they are going through their night terror as they are technically still asleep. To let them ride it out on their own but to monitor them closely just so they don't harm themselves. I am not able to do this. Every single time my child has had a night terror she has reached for me, she has cried out "Mommy" in between her mumbles and whimpers.  How can I stand back and watch her cry out in emotional distress--in her sleep or not.

My tactic, which seems to nip the Night Terror in the butt within a few minutes at the most is this:

*Turn the TV and all the lights off to keep it dark, to not overstimulate your child's already emotional state.

*Speak in a low, calm, soothing voice.

*Say only positive things while your child is beginning to fall apart : I love you! You were so good today. I'm so proud of you.  Hold my hand. Give me a hug.

*And finally as you continue nurturing your child invite them to cuddle with you. I always take Lily's hand and lead her to the couch as I say, "Come lay with me. Can I sleep with you?" In her awake state Lily wants nothing more than to fall asleep cuddled up in my arms, so naturally she also wants it in her state of sleep.
As I lay with her I feel her body relaxing as she sighs and even coughs a couple times. I give her space to squirm around as she gets comfortable. Within seconds her breathing is slow and deep and she is fast asleep. With no memory of having awoken in the first place.

And just like that I have successfully avoided a personally traumatizing episode of yet another Night Terror. I saved myself and my daughter from what could have been a good ten or more minutes of gut wrenching tears and incoherent screams!  

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