I’m pretty sure my three year-old is trying to kill me.

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I know she looks angelic, but it’s a disguise. Beneath that cherubic gaze of adoration lies a calculated plan to dissolve my sanity, and her weapon of choice is night terrors. Do you know much about night terrors? They are not nightmares or bad dreams, but happen when there’s a disruption between the stages of sleep as a child moves through them. They are common, and are usually only a phase. My eldest daughter had them regularly for about three months when she was three years old, but hers were a lot easier to deal with: usually she would wake up with this weird, staggered cry, I would run and put her on the potty, she’d go pee and that seemed to break her out of the terror and she’d go right back to sleep, not remembering it the next day. But Karenna’s experience with them has been vastly different: after about an hour of sleeping, she will suddenly wake up in a tantrum-like state. Her heart is racing, she is often drenched in sweat, and she is MAD. M-A-D. For no good reason. I go to console her and she kicks her legs madly, swings her arms to try and hit anything in her path, and is so loud she always wakes up her sisters. It takes her a long time of crying to snap out of the terror and back to reality, but then once she’s back to reality she is still locked into the tantrum cycle and she has a hard time breaking free from that. So even once she’s fully awake she can’t stop crying. It’s awful. And it wakes up the whole house. And it always happens between 8-11 pm, the one time of day I used to call “me time” where I could unwind and watch some trashy TV on the internet or make out with my husband. It’s so emotionally draining, and every time I go to bed, my entire body is clenched tight with anxiety, wondering what sort of dreadful night we’re going to have. 
I am going to take Karenna to see a naturopath about her sleep disruptions. I know night terrors can be common, but she has always been a poor sleeper and it only seems to be getting worse. It can’t hurt to get some insight and maybe some help.
Have you dealt with night terrors? How long of a phase was it? Any tricks for making it through this trying time? Also, does anyone out there use melatonin for their kids? I am planning to ask the naturopath about it since there seems to be conflicting information about it online (shocking, I know). 
I just want to be able to sleep at night and have my kids do the same. Is that too much to ask? 
  • Megan

    Hi – Long time reader, first time commenter. :) I really appreciate you sharing about this! I have three boys similar in age to your girls and our 3 year old is also going through the exact same thing right now. So frustrating and exhausting! It’s been a few months and I do find it’s worse if he is over-tired. I also read in a sleep book that helping them not feel like they have any jobs to do in the night can help. …making sure their environment hasn’t changed since you put them to bed (like how wide the door is open, which lights are on/off, etc). And I agree with a couple other commenters that he seems to calm down faster if we don’t interact with him very much. That said, it’s not always possible to avoid when he’s having a screaming tantrum and waking up the entire family! Good luck with it and keep us posted with any solutions you find that seem to work!

  • http://sarahdzines.blogspot.com SarahD

    That sounds terrible!!! I don’t have any advice, but to me it sounds like you’re doing the best that you can. Definitely ask any kind of health professional/natural and otherwise, as it seems like it is more common than I knew of and someone must have some idea of what will help. The things they don’t warn you about when you’re entering parenthood! I hope this phase is a short one for you!!!

  • Danica

    That sucks. Dora had those. Hers were full-out screaming, and a lot of crying, and it took a lot of work to get her to snap out of it. She never had any memory of it in the morning. It was freaky. Luckily it did happen often and it didn’t last long. Hang in there.
    As for sleep, don’t worry. Your girls are getting older, and (as long as you don’t have any more babies) before you know it they’ll be giant kids who deal with their own night-time issues and who you can barely drag out of bed in the morning.
    Man, I used to hate it when people said stuff like that to me when I was going through it. Hope you get some good sleep. And some fun. Have you had some fun with your girlfriends lately? It’s the best cure for everything.

  • Toni

    My son had night terrors for about 6 months. THey were awful. He would wake up the entire house. Similar to your eldest daughter, my son would snap out of it if you gave him water, but it had to be right there waiting for him. If he had to wait he would go into crying fits and tantrums! He finally grew out of it and praise God that he did.

  • http://www.thatgirlruns.com ChrisB

    My stepson suffered from night terrors right after his parents split up. from what you describe his were probably closer to the ones Avelyn experienced. He never threw a real tantrum just screamed and sleep walked through the house.
    His pediatrician recommended breaking the sleep cycle before the terror occurred, meaning, waking him up. Since night terrors always happen around the same time it was easy to do. Once we woke him, let him go to the bathroom, have a sip of water, he slept through the night. We did this routinely for a few weeks and he eventually grew out of it.
    Good luck!

  • jen

    my daughter used to experience night terrors. much like what you are describing. when the terrors would start would we pray out loud over her and this settled her pretty quickly.

  • Christine

    We’ve treated Cuyler using naturopathy for about 7 years now. We use melatonin on the boys and I take it a few times a week.

  • Elisa

    Our 8 year old starting having night terrors at about age 1, and they lasted for about 3 years. He was wild too, with the hitting, kicking, and screaming if we tried to touch him. I remember it well, along with a very memorable episode on the night crossing to Newfoundland.
    His trigger was if he was overstimulated in the evening, or off his schedule and they would last about 20 minutes or so.
    Once we knew what they were, we just took him out of bed and put him on the floor to get through it. After 20 minutes, it was like flipping a switch and he was back to the happy kid we know and went back to sleep.
    It was a very long 3 years… but he’s good now.
    Good luck with the naturopath! It’s something we never thought of.

  • Julia

    My son had them at the exact same time every night for over 2 years. One night, it just stopped.
    Everything that you described, I felt too.
    It will end and there is NOTHING that you can do.
    I had to bolt safety gates to the top of the stairs so that he wouldn’t fling himself down…awful!
    Hang in there.

  • jb

    My daughter had them. All the talking in the world did not make a difference. They cannot hear you – they are sleeping. We have learned to overcome them. Here are a few tricks. As soon as he hear her starting – get there, catching it early helps. Turn the lights on, helps to wake them up faster, even better move them to a different room again the change will help wake them faster. I finally figured out that she was hyperventilating, and that is why she was panicking and that is what would wake her up. Sometimes I would hug her, it was more of a bear hug at that time, because she was in a rage. But just holding her, her body would mimic my breathing, again calming her down faster and waking up faster. Also they say if you help them visualize a good sleep before going bed – this really helped. BTW – she did grow out of them. Best of luck.

  • Catherine

    A friend of mine’s son has them, but ONLY when he misses naptime. As long as he naps they don’t happen.

  • mrswilson

    Liliana went through a phase of them and was usually cured by using the bathroom, like you did with Avelyn. She hasn’t had them in a while. My brother had them starting when he was two. He still has them. He’s married and 23 and they’re rare, but they still happen.
    I hope the naturopath has some answers!!

  • Maria

    I am still going through this with my 8yr old son, although it is getting much much better! His started around 3 also & I agree with Jen, the less I try to comfort him the quicker it seems he gets back to sleep. Now that he’s older I don’t even go in his room right away, I listen & wait to see if he’ll go back to sleep on his own. He also started sleep walking this year, am thankful it’s only happened a couple of times so far. We have put extra locks on our doors that are too high for him to reach because I am so worried he’ll try to go outside one day. Please post what the naturopath says, I am very curious to find out!

  • Em

    Careful- night terrors go hand in hand with sleep paralysis this I know as I suffer from it and it did only start in adulthood. Mayb e your child is terrified from not being avle to move.

  • amie

    Isabelle had them and they sound just like Karenna’s, we couldn’t touch her, she was crazy. ONLY thing that worked…Dora. We would somehow drag her to our bedroom, turn on Dora and within seconds she was out of it and asking to go back to sleep. If we didn’t do the Dora thing we couldn’t break her out for a Looooooong time. It might sound like bad parenting but it worked for us. Also, my parents gave me melatonin once and I went kinda crazy. I always did hallucinate and go crazy with any sleep meds but they thoughts melatonin wouldn’t do that….for me it did, BUT the stuff the gave me had expired so maybe not a fair test.

  • AmyQ

    I have a had a few friends whose kids have done that. I say CHIROPRACTOR :)
    Can help a LOT with sleep stuff. Good luck!!

  • Jen

    Been THERE! My eldest, now 12, has always been a terrible sleeper and he had awful night terrors similar to your daughter’s. It WAS just a phase but a really, really tough one. What I found worked best was to not try and comfort him at all. I would go in an calmly say, “Don’t worry. You are OK. Mommy’s here.” But I wouldn’t get close enough to touch him or him me. I found that he often calmed down and never even woke up. He is such a great kid but sleep is still his “thing”. For a while he was having nightmares, then talking in his sleep, then sleep walking (this was so bizarre), and no he simply can not fall asleep.
    Do whatever you can to help her. Keep us posted.

  • Tracey

    Oh, ACK!! A full night’s sleep is NOT too much to ask… especially for a hard working mum such as yourself, dear Amanda. GAH!
    I don’t have much experience in this area – both my kids have been good sleepers – but I’ve heard it’s better not to wake them?! I don’t know. The naturopath sounds like a really excellent idea – a step in the right direction, anyway! Hang in there, sistah. Here’s hoping February will be a much smoother month for you, my friend! xox

  • jen

    No experience but just wanted to say I’m glad that you are going to see a naturopath! I was going to recommend a tbsp. of liquid calcium/magnesium an hour before bed. It helps with sleep quality so the girls and I take a tbsp. every night. I definitely notice if I didn’t take it. Good luck!

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