Thursday, May 20, 2010

night terrors

For the past almost-4-years, we've been dealing with what I thought was stress-induced nightmares with Seth. Since he's almost eight, they started right around when he was 4, and it was right after my dad died. That's what made me think they were caused by stress, or emotions he wasn't processing during waking hours or whatever. But lately I've been reading about a sleep disorder called 'night terrors', and it seems to fit the bill of what we are seeing here.

Let me describe to you the scenario. It usually happens anywhere from 1-3 hours after Seth goes to bed. We will hear very loud, almost hysterical crying, and we go in to find him drenched in sweat, heart racing, and in a complete panic. While his eyes are wide open, he has a blank stare, or often a look of sheer terror, but he is totally NOT awake. He is disoriented, and usually doesn't know who we are. He tries to talk, but is incoherent, and can't really get a complete thought out. We have tried probing him, trying to get him to talk about what is scaring him, what is going on, etc. This is usually to no avail. I have tried getting him to go to the bathroom, which only seems to agitate him more. It has seemed the only thing that can bring him out of it is Todd holding him. After a few minutes, he wakes up. Even though his eyes have been open the whole time, suddenly we can just tell that he's 'in there' now. It has, on occasion when he is seemingly less scared and more just confused, been almost funny, but most of the time he seems so scared during the episode that it is just heartbreaking to watch.

After doing a bit of investigation into night terrors, it seems this is exactly what happens (with slight variations, of course) to most children with night terrors. They only happen in about 3-6% of kids (though some studies say as much as 15%), and some studies indicate, more commonly in boys than girls. They can be caused by stress, but even more commonly simply by being overtired, which happens quite easily with Seth. (Last weekend we were out late one evening and Kate had babysat the boys. When we came home she reported that he had decided to put himself to bed early, and hit the sack at 8:00 all on his own. That kid just needs a lot of sleep!) They can also simply be part of the nervous system maturing. What happens during an episode I guess could basically be described as a 'glitch' as the body passes from Stage 4 Non-REM sleep into the REM sleep phase, causing panic, confusion, etc. that is termed a night terror. Most people who experience them have zero recollection of it when they awake. This is true with Seth as well. Ironically, one of the sites I read said that basically, the best way to deal with them is just hugging them and soothing them, if they will allow you. They said it is fine to try to wake the person, but that is not always possible, which is also how it has been with Seth, until the episode ends, which normally doesn't really last that long with him, just a few minutes.

While it's good to have some explanation as to what is going on, I still am going to continue to pray that these episodes end. Just because something has a 'label' doesn't mean I just resign myself (or my kiddo) to suffering through it. I'm thankful to have found an explanation, and immediately this verse came to my mind:
Psalm 91:5 " You will not fear the terror of night..."
So, that's what I'll be more night terrors!!


Briana Almengor said...

aww.that has got to be heartbreaking to watch, though a blessing that he doesn't recall it in the morning.
Our boys deal w/ nightmares quite frequently; they'll come running to our rooms though alert and saying they had a scary dream. It is hard as a parent, but also an incredible opportunity to practically teach them so much about God...that He never sleeps or slumbers, that He commands His angels watch over them, that He returns joy in the morning, that HE is always with us and will never forsake us and on and on. It becomes so practical for them as it does for us through suffering.
Though, I say it is heart wrenching to watch them experience it.

Dan Endy said...

Jessi....Sophia has had these since we've moved here. I've tried everything to wake her which for me is the scariest part. I checked with my pediatrician and she said to make sure Sophia is getting enough sleep. I notice she only has them when she has gone a few nights with inadequate sleep. Keeping her on a fairly regular 10 hours seems to lessen them. I know exactly how you feel! love you!