“Mommy, don’t let them catch me! They are coming to take me away!” screams the little boy as he jumps off his bed from his sleep, trembling in fear, dashing left and right in total confusion. His mother comforts him but he continues his loud screams, hyperventilating as he fixes his gaze on a corner of his room as if someone was waiting there to get him.
Does that sound like something out of a horror story? Except it’s not. That episode was one of the many experienced by a mother who had to deal with her 6-year-old son’s night terrors for 2 whole months.
Claire (not her real name), a mother of 3 children, had no idea how to deal with her youngest son’s sudden change in nocturnal behaviour, something she never encountered with her older children.
It all started 3 days after Joshua underwent ear surgery. She assumed that her son was just having a nightmare, but as nights went by, the magnitude of his night terrors became more dramatic. She even began to fear for her son’s safety, as he would nod off and then freak out at public places, making her worry that he would injure himself or other people.
She also discovered that Joshua had absolutely no recollection of his acts, until she showed him a video recording of him experiencing his nightmares.
Her elders insisted that Joshua might be possessed, and Claire should seek traditional healers to help her son. Claire, however, refused to entertain the possibility and went online in an attempt at finding the answer to her son’s problem. Her search led her to a condition with which she wasn’t familiar in all her 13 years as a mother: night terrors.
Claire spoke to many mothers in her community, even brought it to social media but no one in her circle could relate to it. However, there were many outside of Malaysia who discussed night terrors in parenting forums. Their experiences seemed to be related closely to Joshua’s condition and this realisation comforted her, letting her know that she wasn’t the only mother facing this problem.
“I did everything I could to get him to come out of this – I stopped him from playing on his devices, even forbade my older kids from playing on theirs around him,” says Claire. She explains that the last move was because Joshua occasionally screamed out that he was being attacked by characters in his video games during his night terror episodes. “I consulted the surgeon who did his ear operation, as I had read of some children developing night terrors after an ENT surgery, probably due to the anaesthetic. But, his surgeon had not heard of any such cases.”
She continues to tell us, “I eventually obeyed my elders – prayed and blessed him with sacred oils and water, but nothing brought it to stop until one night when he slept through peacefully.”
Startled by the unexpected development, Claire began evaluating the events that could have led to it. “Since the start of Joshua’s night terrors, I had gone back to sleeping with him, to protect him from injuring himself from his episodes. I recalled what I had done differently that day and realised he took an afternoon nap.”
It seemed so simple a solution that it was almost unbelievable, but to Claire’s joy, it worked. “Ever since then, I had made a point to making him sleep in the afternoon, no matter how busy my schedule is, and things have been under control since then!”
What could have made this difference? “Experts have said that exhaustion can trigger night terrors. I never realised until then that my son was lacking sleep. Now, even he reminds me to take him to bed in the afternoon because he does not want to have us endure another night of his terror! This is a wake-up call I guess. I was so habituated in our daily routine, waking up at 6 and rushing the kids to school and work that I did not realise I had neglected my preschooler’s crucial need – SLEEP!”
For more insights on night terrors and its differences from nightmares, visit The University of Chicago’s Pediatrics Clerkship website at this link: https://pedclerk.bsd.uchicago.edu/page/night-terrors-and-nightmares or Mayo Clinic at www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/night-terrors/basics/definition/con-20032552