Night Terrors

Monday, October 12, 2009
Last night something really scary happened with Luke; Mom and I think he had a night terror.  About an hour after we put Luke to bed he pierced the quiet of the house with a blood curdling scream.  I was two floors away in the basement and I could hear him.  Mom immediately looked in on him as this wasn't his normal I'm awake and unhappy cry.  Luke's eyes were closed, he wasn't making tears, his body was trembling, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs.  Mom came down to get me and the both of us consoled him and when that didn't work we even tried to wake him up.  I picked Luke up and walked him around the room and that made it worse.  We had an idea that Luke was having a night terror and that the only thing we could do for him would be to let him work his way out of it; so we put him back into his crib, told him we loved him, and left the room.  About 45 minutes later Luke's cries finally subsided and he drifted back off into peaceful sleep.  Thinking about the past this isn't the first time it has happened. 

A week or so ago he had the same sort of behavior but upon picking him up he let loose with a loud burp and we thought we had found the culprit.  It still took him a while for his cries to subside and for Luke to go back to sleep so the symptoms seemed the same but less severe in comparison.

A night terror, sleep terror, or pavor nocturnus is a sleep disruption similar to a nightmare however a terror occurs later in the sleep cycle when making the transition from REM sleep to non REM sleep.  Unlike nightmares (which occur during REM sleep), a night terror is not technically a dream, but more like a sudden reaction of fear that happens during the transition from one sleep phase to another (KidsHealth.org).  The following are symptoms of a night terror.
  • Screaming
  • Thrashing
  • Not aware of their surroundings
  • Unable to talk to, comfort, or fully awaken the child
  • Sweating, breathing fast, fast heart rate, and dilated pupils.
The cause of night terrors is an over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep. This may happen because the CNS (which regulates sleep and waking brain activity) is still maturing. Some kids may inherit a tendency for this over-arousal — about 80% who have night terrors have a family member who also experienced them or sleepwalking (a similar type of sleep disturbance) (KidsHealth.org).  While a night terror is dramatic and alarming for the parents they aren't the symptom of another deeper underlying issue; just something that will have to be endured until it is grown out of.  The lone bright spot with these as compared to a nightmare is that the person having the terror will have no recollection of the event ever taking place.

If Luke wasn't going to have a checkup this coming Wednesday Mom and I would be taking him to the doctor to make sure our diagnosis was correct.  Once we hear from the doctor about what this is / could be I think Mom and I will be less panicked if / when we have a repeat of last night.

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