Does your child wake up screaming?   February 4th, 2009

If you have a child who wakes up screaming and is inconsolable, read on…

Dear Lauri,
Would you ever consider writing a newsletter about babies’ dreams? My 4 month old has terrible nightmares; you can see they’re nightmares from watching his face asleep between screams. What are they dreaming about? How can we help them? -Mary, Chicago

Lauri: My goodness Mary. What a horrible thing for you to witness. It sounds like your baby could be having night terrors… but, I’ve never heard of a child that young experiencing a night terror. Night terrors usually begin around age 3.

None-the-less, a night terror is different than a nightmare in three ways…
1. a child doesn’t fully wake up from a night terror. They scream and scream and, despite your efforts, just don’t snap out of it easily.
2. Once awake, they can not remember what was so terrifying.
3. Night Terrors do not happen during REM sleep (when we dream), which explains why the child can’t recall the dream that was so frightening… because there usually is no dream!

Night Terrors are still a mystery, but research seems to indicate that the cause is due to
a rough transition in sleep cycles. The brain goes through many cycles while sleeping, 5
stages actually. Night terrors seem to happen in stage 4 sleep, right before entering REM,
when dreaming takes place. When these transitions do not happen smoothly, a night terror
can happen. And the reason the child is so hard to wake up, is becuase stage 4 sleep is
the deepest and most unresponsive to outside stimuli.

Here’s what you can try: Have your baby sleep with the light on, not a nig ht light but an
actual light. This has proven to prevent night terror episodes in many children. Also,
try putting a wave machine near the baby when he is sleeping, something that makes the rhythmic sound of the ocean. This seems to help balance out those precious little brain waves and will help ensure a smooth transition into each cycle, therefore preventing a night terror episode.

I would also like you to ask your pediatrician about this. He or she may be aware of other cases
of night terrors in such a young child and can better direct you on what you can do. But rest
assured, it is not harmful at all… only extremely upsetting for the parents! If he is having
night terrors, he will grow out of it and there are things you can do in the meantime, such as what I have suggested above.

One final question, did you or did anyone else in your family suffer from Night Terrors? It tends to run in the family.

Mary: Oh yeah. me. I had night terrors in college and would wake up with bleeding lips and my sheets all across the room. At the time I was away from home and my mom had cancer and my boyfriend had depression. Perfect setup for bad sleep! And at the time, I didn’t know about you or I might’ve called you and asked you to translate the dreams and help me out– it would’ve been well worth the money, that’s for sure!

I can’t believe you wrote such a detailed response to me personally! Thank you soooo much and I’ll try everything you suggested!

Lauri: Awe… you’re very kind.

I’m glad you grew out of ‘em! Now that your son seems to have inherited that lovely gift, you’ll need to work on managing it. And just remember, it’s harder on you than on him. He’s going to have no recollection of these episodes.

And if he continues to have them when he is older, I suggest trying to snap him out of it by saying something completely silly and off the wall like, “Look at the furry pink elephant in your doorway!” If that doesn’t work, for your sake, just toss some water in his face. He’ll snap out of it pretty quick! It’s not harmful, just makes him a little wet. And this could save you many many torturous minutes of trying to get him to wake up.

Good luck to you.

 

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