Full-on nighttime screaming possessed child - night terrors?

Katherine - posted on 08/23/2009 ( 24 moms have responded )

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I don't know what to make of my son's nighttime screaming like-a-banshee wakeups. He is 20 months old and usually goes down in his crib at the start of the night just fine, without fuss; this, after his first 16 months co-sleeping while breastfeeding). He will wake up and be madly screaming at the top of his lungs for about 20-30 minutes; I can do nothing to comfort him it seems...ignoring it doesn't work, holding him doesn't work, talking to him doesn't either. One night a neighbor called the cops on us because of it (they ask me 'one of those nights, eh?').
A couple of times it seems he just conks out after the screaming, or in the case of last night, my partner came in and I think scared Roman out of his screaming.
Every other weekend, the stepkids come over and my boy is ousted from his room and his crib, and is back in bed with me (at which point, Daddy goes to the couch) - we will be moving this week, so Roman will finally have his own room, so that nonsense will be stopped. He also often will come into our bed in the middle of the night and since I have MS, (I have extreme issues with pain and fatigue) I take medicine before I sleep that makes me very groggy, so I allow this - my partner is of no help and would rather sleep and give up his spot in the bed, than work to find solutions to these nighttime issues. So it's all on me (I of course hear a lot of complaining "I've never heard a child scream so loudly" and "my other 2 weren't like this" blah blah blah)
I spent months and months hearing 'can't you just stick a boob in his mouth' when Roman would wake in the middle of the night and I was still breastfeeding, which I think prolonged a reliance on being pacified by the breast...
But this latest middle of the night screaming is less about wanting something from me; it's as though Roman is mad at being 'wakened' suddenly and seems totally beside himself...pulling at his hair, thrashing about, it's awful. Many people have suggested night terrors - has anyone else had experienced them??
I'm afraid my boy may have been set up to be a horrible sleeper forever. I don't know what to think and do anymore. And yes, he has a great routine at bedtime and is currently not having issues with ear infections like he has had in the past (that was horrible for sleeping). I think moving stress i affecting all of us, and I'm also worried that the transition will disrupt everything further or differently. Any words of advice? I know this may just be a phase too, but right now I feel quite helpless.

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Shahala - posted on 08/27/2009

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Quoting Samantha:

My 2 1/2 daughter has the same thing... i have no idea what it is or when it will stop but when she has them its not just once a night it happens over and over and over all night till finally she will come and get in bed with us. A preacher was telling us that his boys had the same problem... with the first one he would run and jump and go tend to the baby. but with the second one they stopped getting up not because they didnt care but if it was bad enough or they were truly scared the baby would come to them. And the boy did... only when he was scared... i honestly dont think they are night terrors... i think they wake up in the dark alone and they dont like it. and they have learned when they scream at the top of their lungs it scares us to death so they know that will get our attention. But thats just what i think



Then youve never seen a kid having a night terror, it is heartbreaking. My daughter shakes uncontrollably with her eyes wide open, she speaks but all that comes out are broken words. She has a glazed look in her eyes like shes lost. I have seen her look at something and scream and back away terrified as if there were a monster right in front of her.

Carly - posted on 06/23/2011

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My son was screaming and everyone (even the doctors) kept saying it was night terrors but I figured out it was leg cramps. He was getting terrible terrible charlie horses while sleeping, probably from all the running around during the day. Anyone who's been pregnant knows how bad those can be, and with MS, I'm sure you totally understand that pain (I have nerve damage myself and get terrible leg cramps). I just happened to give him a banana close to bedtime and he slept through and it took me a few days to realize that maybe the banana made the difference. They always tell adults to eat some potassium before bed if they get leg cramps, so thats what I did. I gave him either OJ or a banana close to bedtime and voila! The nighttime waking stopped. Give him anything potassium rich close to bedtime and see if it helps at all. Can't hurt to try!

Bronwyn - posted on 10/24/2013

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After 4 years of being told my son had 'night terrors' my son finally got a proper diagnosis. He has Panayiotopolous Syndrome. It's a type of epilepsy.
My son too use to wake and wail this horrible sound for 20-30 minutes and he could not be comforted. He would be unaware of us or only partially conscious of us sometimes (somewhat like a sleepwalker)
Sometimes he would vomit too and then fall back into a deep sleep after.
It is terrifying and I often described it as he looks and acts possessed.

Sarah - posted on 08/27/2009

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For ANY sleep problem, including night terrors, night wakings, etc, I STRONGLY recommend Dr. Ferber's book, SOLVE YOUR CHILD'S SLEEP PROBLEMS. This book saved my sanity and his approach is kind, logical, and WORKS! Get it from the library, but you'll end up buying it. Check half.com for cheap copies. Good luck!

Amanda - posted on 08/28/2009

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nightmares and night terros are different, nightmares they wake up, nightterrors are not waking up and doing what your child is, we never have had an issues with our son sleeping through the night ever, though on exception 3 times and occasional night terrors, he would start screaming,throwing his body everywhere, and i couldnt get him to open his eyes and wake up, there is not much you can do for it, i tried doctors nothin. What i do is i make sure no one is loud when he is asleep, keep a night light in his room, no more going down watching TV with us. dont go to bed to late or to exhausted like no naps. I notice he tends to get them more when he is more tired. I just hold him and rock him while he is having one, and calmly talk to him and eventually it stops, but it takes like 20 minutes once i got the hang of it.

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Stanley - posted on 05/01/2014

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Stanley - posted on 05/01/2014

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Jay - posted on 05/01/2014

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It is possible your son is having night terrors. Most commonly, you would look for signs that he cannot be aroused during the episode and cannot remember the incident the next morning.
I am a researcher at Stanford University and I am working with a team to find a treatment for night terrors in children. As you may have seen, there is not too much clinical research on the causes and effects of night terrors. My team is conducting an investigational study for a new treatment option at the Stanford Sleep Clinic. We are recruiting patients in northern California for our study and we are also conducting a survey to try and gather more information from parents of affected children. If you think your child is experiencing night terrors, please visit www.caydian.com and help us learn more about the condition. Thanks for your help.

Jenna - posted on 10/21/2013

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yikes your life sounds like mine, the boyfriend never helps and would rather passout early on the couch insted of helping with the kids. My son had night terrors at that age.. hes now 3 and has out grown them just as his doctor said. I also have tried everything to get him to stop, from walking outside in the cold to snap him out of it, to giving him a shower (hes obsessed with water) I've even thought his dads violent angry behavior twards me during fights could cause him to wake up screaming at night :( stay strong

Trina - posted on 09/10/2013

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I have a 30 month old grand daughter that will fall a sleep the with in hour, she would wake screaming top of her lungs . my question if it a possibilities that it might be because that she inherent seizures from her parents , because when they were young they had seizures ? my grand daughter has some developmental issues like her parents ?,,,, should we check with the doctors and see if we need neurological testing done to see if it seizure ? or if it only night terrors

Sara - posted on 06/22/2011

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I have to say if your child is AWAKE and screaming it was probably a nightmare not a night terror they are different. Night terrors are when children to not wake up eyes are closed, child is screaming at the top of their lungs and nothing can be done to pacify them. I'm not sure how much your son talks but try to get him to tell you what he was dreaming about. If he sleeps in the dark try a night light. Night terrors suck both my children had them but they only lasted for the first year. My daughter is now three and she has the occasional nightmare where she will actually wake up, but I just get her to talk about it then I'll sit with her, rub her back and she goes right back to sleep.
Hope this is helpful.

Tammy - posted on 06/22/2011

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my son has night terrors and they are awful..I just wanna cry with him..He has screamed that snakes are after him for the past 5 nights and it is getting very worrisome. I am taking him to a specialist soon

Tami - posted on 08/28/2009

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I know that my son will wake up this way when he's overtired. Our pediatrician has said that overtiredness does tend to excaberate this issue. But I've also noticed that it happens more often right before my son hits a developmental leap (he's 19 months). So perhaps your child is about to hit a major developmental milestone and it's just his brain working overtime?

Liz - posted on 08/28/2009

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My 3 1/2 yr. old has had night terrors since she was about 2. It has nothing to do with nursing and everything to do with being overtired. Try keeping a journal of his sleep habits and you will probably notice that the nights her has terrors he hasn't slept enough. At his age he should be sleeping a total of 12-15 hours between night and naps. I know that with my daughter if she has had more than a night or 2 of going to bed late or no naps she will have a night terror.

Jessica - posted on 08/27/2009

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It sounds like night terrors. My son will wake up crying if he has a bad dream especially if he realizes I turned his night light off. you may want to try a night light in his room. This has helped my son sleep better at night. We use a small lighted picture that has fish on it

Shahala - posted on 08/27/2009

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My daughter has the same problem, she is now 5 and she has had them since I can remember. It has NOTHING to do with you pacifying him with a boob. You are absolutely correct in your thinking about transition. My daughter is also triggered by being overly tired and when she very active during the day. I mean going non stop all day, like shopping or any stimulating even like a carnival or something like that. She got really bad several months ago and I was so scared for her, she would freak me out sometimes. I started doing "quiet time" with her. I would light a couple of candles, turn out all the other lights in the house and turn on relaxing music, we would sit there and cuddle for several songs, rub her back....just get her into very relaxed mode. My husband is awesome at handling her when she has a night terror. When your son is freaking out, all you can do is talk quietly and comfort him. My husband will talk to her and then offer her a drink of water. It seems the motion of her arms and the act of drinking seems to have an effect on her being able to calm down. When kids or adults have night terrors they are often in a dream state and although they are seeing what it happening they are also seeing very terrifying things, such as shadow people, snakes, spiders....as for the sleeping problems of the future, all of my research indicates that children grow out of it from 6-12 years old. With all of the things I have mentioned my daughters episodes have decreased dramitically.

Christa - posted on 08/27/2009

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Quoting laurie:

my son had the same thing i took him to a doctor and was told it was night terrors and would eventually go away i know it's very stressful not being able to comfort them when they are like this your husband should be offering you more support though it's not something you should have to deal with all the time



I have five children...two of them have what you are describing.  My first son started them when he was like 4.  The doctor did classify them as night terrors.  You cannot wake them and they do not remember them.  The cry, sweat, scream, thrash around and ramble like they are scared or hurting.  There is nothing you can do and they do grow out of them.  My second son know has them and it is heart breaking.  You don't know what to do for them.  It will get better...as long as they do not hurt themselves or others (as mine have never done).  Just be there for them when they are coming out of it and reassure them that they are safe and okay. 

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My brother, who is now 30, had the same episodes. My daughter, who is now 2, had been having these problems until she was 21 months. Who else could I turn to but my mother who went through it before me. What she did at bedtime was sit in bed with my brother, talk calmly to him for a few minutes, read him a story until he was really drowsy and then turn on his glow worm before saying good night. She even put a night light right next to his bed. I tried that with my daughter and some nights it would work, others it wouldn't. What I really found that HAS worked for her is soft music playing all night long. I couldn't really read her a bedtime story since she would sit up and want to stay up so I would cuddle with her, hum a quiet lull-a-bye, put her in her crib and start the music, making sure the whole cd would play and then repeat all over again. So far it's working so I'm not going to change anything up. You can find some really great lull-a-bye cd's out there that have nice soothing songs and they're even based on whether it's for a boy or girl.

Good luck with your little one!

Ashley - posted on 08/26/2009

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my little boy will be 2 in sept and he is doing the same thing and i dont know what to do.

Laurie - posted on 08/26/2009

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my son had the same thing i took him to a doctor and was told it was night terrors and would eventually go away i know it's very stressful not being able to comfort them when they are like this your husband should be offering you more support though it's not something you should have to deal with all the time

Samantha - posted on 08/26/2009

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My 2 1/2 daughter has the same thing... i have no idea what it is or when it will stop but when she has them its not just once a night it happens over and over and over all night till finally she will come and get in bed with us. A preacher was telling us that his boys had the same problem... with the first one he would run and jump and go tend to the baby. but with the second one they stopped getting up not because they didnt care but if it was bad enough or they were truly scared the baby would come to them. And the boy did... only when he was scared... i honestly dont think they are night terrors... i think they wake up in the dark alone and they dont like it. and they have learned when they scream at the top of their lungs it scares us to death so they know that will get our attention. But thats just what i think

Candy - posted on 08/25/2009

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my kid did the same thing. It was like he was stuck between being asleep and being awake. It lasted a few weeks. Stopped for a few months. Then started again. He just out grew it. As far as the other 2 never doing this, just tell him he was lucky, and this one does. So man up and deal with it.

Jennifer - posted on 08/23/2009

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My daughter is 16 months old and just a few months ago we had this problem. She did not co-sleep with us but some times she would wake from a dead sleep and be screaming and crying. I have a video monitor and after watching her one night discovered that when she was crying she was actually still sleeping. The doctor said not to touch her and to let her cry it out. Only go in if she is hurting her self or the crying persisted for more then 30 minutes or so. Disturbing them mid dream can disrupt their sub mind. You have to let them sort out the bad dream in their mind it is a building tool for later in life that will help them learn how to manipulate their bad dreams when they are older.

If he is awake when you check on him It is possible he is missing you because he was so used to sleeping with you for so long. You might want to gradually move him from your room. Instead of having him sleep in bed with you put him in a pack and play or some thing similar but not in your bed next to you. This way he is close to you but not next to you. Some times your room can have white noise that he has gotten used to that soothes him and his room might not have that same white noise. Try replicating it listen to the sounds that are in your room and see if they are the same in his room. A humidifier or air purifier can make a noises that you have become so used to that you do not even know it is there but he does.



If he is looking to nurse a quick trick to stop that is first start giving him a bottle filled with breast milk for the first couple of nights or weeks once he gets used to getting the bottle then switch the breast milk to water eventually he will give it up. My daughter was hooked on going to bed with her formula bottle (I could not breast feed because she was allergic) she would drink it all and wake up in the middle of the night looking for more. Unfortunately she does not take passifiers. I talked to the doctor about it and she told me that when she wakes up and is looking for a new bottle to fill it with water instead of formula. Now she just gets a bottle before bed and then once it is empty passes out. It might take a few weeks but it will work. Also don't hesitate to call the doctor and ask that is what they are there for. If your mother's intuition is telling you some thing is wrong then there probably is some thing wrong.

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