The first time my son exhibited night terrors, he wasn't the only terrified one. He had bolted upright in bed, was screaming uncontrollably, sweating, and shaking with fear. When I tried to comfort him, it was as if I was trying to talk to him through a sound-proof wall. There was a large part of me that wondered if maybe something supernatural was happening under my roof. For parents who have been there, I'm sure they would agree when I say there are many ways having a kid with night terrors is like living in a real life horror movie.
After that first episode, I ran to my favorite family doctor, Doctor Google, and asked her what was up. Apparently this was not an early sign of my child being haunted by an otherworldly being. This was just an old-fashioned night terror, which is described by the experts as something young children often experience within the first few hours of falling asleep and often happens during the deepest stages of sleep. The crappiest part? There is basically nothing you can do when your kid is experiencing one, short of sitting there helplessly until it passes.
Even though, intellectually, I know this is a somewhat normal thing for my son to be experiencing, each time it happens (about once a week for us) I feel like I am being dragged into a Friday the 13th type nightmare, too. The terrors can sometimes last up to 45 minutes, but when your kid is screaming at the top of his lungs and waking up the whole house, it can feel like an eternity. Come, join me as I walk you through the horror-show-type-experience of what it feels like to go through a night terror with you child:
You're Woken Up By Bloodcurdling Screams Inside Your Own House
Yes, I know I mentioned the screaming but I cannot highlight this enough. It is not just the typical, "Mom, come to my room," type screaming that is meant to get your attention. This is the screaming that you would hear if monster had suddenly appeared in your child's room and began tearing him apart limb from limb. Slowly. With relish.
Now, imagine you're sleeping soundly, and you're shocked awake by fever-pitch screams that didn't even start with a slow-build, but just went to the highest grade level of scream possible from the get-go. This is your life when your kid has night terrors.
Your Kid Says "I Want Mommy" Over & Over Again
You'll be sitting on your kid's bed — trying to comfort them, telling them that they're OK, and that you're right there — but the whole time their eyes are darting around the room in fear. "Mommy! Mommy!" they say, over and over, like they're lost in The Upside Down from the series Stranger Things. You tell them that you are mommy, and that you're sitting on their bed, in their room and that they are safe, but they keep clawing at you like you're an intruder. Or worse, like you don't even exist.
You Wonder If This Is A Night Terror Or A Demon Possession
Even after you've done your research on night terrors, and have been assured by other people that this is a normal thing that sometimes happens to children, you can't help but wonder if this is somewhat of a more severe case, and if maybe you should call a specialist. Like maybe an exorcist. Do they still have those?
The Screaming Lasts For An Excruciating Length Of Time & Then Seems To Stop For No Apparent Reason
Your kid will be sitting up straight, rigid as a board, sweating, shaking, and screaming, and the next thing you know they flop backward like limp spaghetti. The screaming stops, they stretch out like a kitten in the sun, let out a big sigh, and are off to dreamland. You look for the evil spirit leaving their body and hold your breath so that it doesn't have a chance to enter yours.
You know, just to be safe.
You Feel An Impending Sense Of Doom Every Night
Even if you haven't had a night terror situation in a couple of days, you know that one is coming soon. And since they often happen before you actually go to bed (unless you've hit the hay early) it is probably going to happen when you're home alone watching a particularly scary movie.
Your Child Exhibits Unexplained Superhuman Strength
While you attempt to comfort your child, he kicks you with superhuman force. Your impulse is to hug him and to protect him, but your child (who is maybe 45 pounds) is nearly catapulting you across the room with the brute strength of a man who has been doing leg presses at some over-priced gym for years.
Your Child Has No Memory Of Anything Having Happened The Next Morning
You wake up the next morning exhausted from the trials of the night before. Your child, however, has no memory of it whatsoever. They are as bright as the sun is shining. You don't want to harp on the bad memory, so you're not going to be like, "Hey, remember your bloodcurdling screaming last night?"
But you do ask, "Did you sleep well, honey?" and they answer, "Yeah, I slept great!" You rub your eyes, which have now each developed a unique eye twitch from stress and sleep deprivation, and pray you'll just be able to make it through another day (and survive another night).