The past two nights Smalls (age 6) has woken up terrified. Crying, yet still sleeping. We take her to the bathroom, we comfort her, we put her back in her bed. Even though she falls back to sleep, she continues to wake up throughout the night. And she’s completely spooked when she cries out– like she’s seen the Boogeyman up-close-and-personal. We feel helpless when it happens, and nothing we do seems to help. It also disrupts her sisters sleep, with whom she shares a room. This morning, exhausted after two nights of hell, I realized I had a friend I could call: Heather Turgeon, sleep expert and co-author of the book The Happy Sleeper!
Don’t you love when you have a problem and then you realize you have a friend who’s an expert in solving that exact problem?
I described in detail what what was happening: Shortly after falling asleep, like an hour or two in, she wakes up crying. But she’s not fully awake. And it’s not regular crying. It’s like she’s stuck in purgatory. A kind of hell she can’t escape.
Heather asked me a series of questions about her sleep history. And then she announced, “This sounds like night terrors. Night terrors and nightmares are very different…”
Has your kid ever had a bad dream and woken up and come running into your bed crying and saying they never want to sleep in their bed again? Likely they’ve just had a nightmare. But the next day, Smalls doesn’t even remember that anything happened. She’s not afraid of anything when she’s awake.
Throughout the night, humans go from deep sleep to light sleep, several times. Well, night terrors are when the person is kind of stuck in between that deep sleep and light sleep. Going to the bathroom can be a trigger for it, as if their body is saying, “Hey, wake up so you don’t wet the bed!” but they are stuck in the deep sleep, trying to get to the light sleep so they can wake up and go pee.
Also, night terrors usually happen in the beginning of the sleep cycle, when we get our deepest sleep.
Here’s what Heather suggested I do for Smalls:
Be Protective of Her Sleep: A sleep debt can trigger night terrors, so tonight I’ll make sure to get her to bed on time, avoid screens, and create the bestest, darkest, sleep environment I can…At 6 years old she should be getting 11 hrs. Umm yeahhhh, that hasn’t been happening…
Hydrate During the Day: Drink liquids throughout the day, so she’s not drinking too much right before bed and then having to get up and go to the bathroom, which might trigger night terrors.
Keep her Safe: She sleeps on the top bunk but we took her down when the night terrors started and she slept in bed with me. Jonathan took her bed like the bad-ass dad and husband he is.
Remember it’s Normal: This was important for me to hear because of course, I assume the worst. There is nothing wrong with her brain. It’s a completely normal developmental phase and it will pass.
Wish me luck tonight, guys. I’m reeeeeeeeallly tired.
Is someone in your family having a sleep issue? Check out Heather’s website The Happy Sleeper– they have online classes on tons of sleep topics. They also do phone consults! Sleep issues affect the whole family. Don’t suffer. Get help!
Also, check out this video Heather and I made to help little ones transition from crib to big-bed!