Madison, my 17 month old, has never been a great sleeper. I put her down to sleep for the night somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00 pm and she wakes up bright and early around 5:00 am the next day. I have tried everything to putting her to bed later to putting rice cereal in her milk before bed but she will not sleep longer than 5:00 am each morning, if I am lucky, she may push it 5:30 am which is not very often. To make matters worse, the past few nights have been a little difficult. Madison has woke up in the middle of the night around 12:30 crying, but not her usual cry but a very scared-sounding cry. When I go in her room to soothe her she grabs onto my arms for dear life and won't let go or lay back down. Night terrors or a behavioural sleep issue?
What are night terrors?
Mysterious disturbances that happen during deep, non-dreaming sleep. A child in this state will cry, whimper, flail, and even bolt out of bed. Their eyes may be wide open but they are not awake and aren't aware of your presence.
Night terrors occur in 3 to 6 percent of young children. They can start as early as 18 months, but usually occur in children between the ages of 4 or 5. Night terrors are not nightmares but more of a sudden fear reaction that a child experiences while transition from one sleep phase to another. This can last several minutes or longer.
How to comfort a toddler who experiences a night terror
The only thing to do is wait it out. Don't try to shake or startle your child. Keep the lights dim and speak to them softly. The episode should pass 10 to 30 minutes and your child should calm down.
How to prevent night terrors
- Ensure child is getting enough sleep. Overtired children are more likely to experience sleep disturbances. Madison wakes up around 5 each morning and only has one 1 hour nap a day. This could definitely be the culprit
- Put your child to bed earlier at night. I have tried to put Madison to bed later but not earlier at night so this is my next experiment
- Establish a calming consistent bedtime ritual.
In Madison's situation, she clearly recognizes and responds to me when I go into her room. Although she is crying hysterically, I can eventually calm her down and she eventually looks up at me and smiles. So is Madison testing me? If this is really the situation, the more I respond to Madison's demands the more frequently she will demand it and for longer stretches. The solution - break the cycle! I may have to let Madison cry it out a bit tonight though I am not sure if my heart can take it!
Let me know if you have encountered a similar situation and how you responded.