Costa Rica: Night Terrors

Costa Rica, FAMILY

Our son Largo blissfully asleep next to his stuffed animal

Hola friends. Are you envisioning someone cutting off our fingers and torturing us all night long? Well, this post is going to be very different from what you expect.

Here goes…

We have a kid that has some serious night terrors. S.E.R.I.O.U.S!!!!! Can I tell you how hard this is when you travel and you are sharing walls, floors and ceilings with other families?

Let me start by giving you a little history on this sleeping situation. Both of our kids have been raised exactly the same, but as most of you know kids have their own personalities and innate traits. Avalon was a textbook child with her sleeping. She nursed for a year and a half, slept through the night at 13 weeks, yadda, yadda, yadda. So when Largo came along we assumed we did something right with Avalon and we would repeat and rinse with Largo. WRONG! This little guy has been a poor sleeper from the beginning. We have done it all, read every book and we even had a meeting with THE FERBER!

Until a year ago Largo’s sleeping issues were only related to the fact that he would venture into our bedroom between 2-5 am several times a week. We decided years ago that this was not the worse thing that could happen and if it got him a good night sleep then we were ok with it. Unfortunately, a year ago this sleeping situation escalated to full-blown night terrors. Our pediatrician told us that he would outgrow them and not to be too worried because this was normal for night terrors.

While in India we started to realize that these terrors were approaching the one year anniversary (no need for celebration) and they were still going strong. It was at this point that we decided to see a specialist. When we returned to the US we met with a specialist at Mass General and she gave us some suggestions. Unfortunately none of them have worked. Her main suggestion was to let him scream in terror and work through it alone. Easy to say until you have heard one of the screams and what a child says when they are in a terror. It is horrifying.

Funny thing, our first month in Costa Rica was void of any night terrors. My first thought was that we were never going to be able to leave Costa Rica, at least not until Largo went to college (sarcastic undertone). We were so optimistic that the habit had finally been kicked that we almost planned an I’m sleeping through the night (FINALLY) party for our seven-year old. My mind drifted to how we would decorate for this party, maybe throw pillows, blankets and little desserts shaped like beds. Ok, let’s get back on topic, I love to digress. I am sure most of you are wondering what we did different in Costa Rica to create this change. The only thing we can think of is that we were in tight quarters and Largo slept in a bed with us every night. Of course, this was not a situation we could continue forever, or could we? Ha. Nonetheless, he is in his own bed now and they are back big time.

What have we learned about night terrors:

  • Unlike a nightmare the child has absolutely no recollection of the incident the next day.
  • Kids usually outgrow them, unless something traumatic has happened in their life.
  • It is very common for kids to sweat immensely before and during the terror time.
  • Night terrors typically occur within the first two hours of sleep.
  • Most night terrors include screaming, crying and talking in one’s sleep.
  • There is nothing the parent can do to console or quiet down the child. They have no idea you are there.
  • They can occur as frequently as every five minutes for up to two hours. Some kids even go beyond the two-hour period.
  • Often when the child is talking in the terror they will say “stop,” “don’t,” “you’re hurting me,” and other really scary and creepy words.
  • Doctors recommend that you leave the child alone to work through the terror since they don’t even know you are there anyway. Come on, can any parent really leave their child alone when they are screaming “help me,” or “I’m scared.”
  • According to the specialist he is stuck between sleep and awake. I guess it is kind of like the purgatory for the sleep world.
  • During these terrors they appear to be awake (sometimes their eyes are open), but they are screaming, talking, thrashing, etc. In actuality they are not awake and it is recommended that you do not try to wake them. Apparently if they are woken intentionally (and not on their own) they will be even more frightened.

What have we done about the terrors:

  • There is no way in hell we are going to let our kid struggle through it alone even if he has no idea we are there. We always go to him and snuggle him close.
  • Sometimes taking him to pee during the terror will cause him to wake up on his own, but not always.
  • We wake up optimistic that one day he will outgrow these and we will be complaining about how much he sleeps now.

How has this affected the family:

  • Largo is fine. He wakes up happy and rested with no recollection of the nights escapades. You would never know this kid has had such a rough two hours. Little sidenote: He speaks in French, Spanish and Smurf (ha) while in his terror, but seldom English.
  • It scares Avalon if she is reading in her bed (she wanted me to add that is REALLY SCARES her), but if she is sleeping then she sleeps through it. This girl is a sleep champion and nothing wakes her. She is probably the only one in the neighborhood who sleeps through it.
  • Will and I, well, we are struggling. We take turns going to him between 8-10 pm. It can be once or twice or as much as every 10 minutes. Luckily, we don’t normally go to bed before 11pm and by then he is done his terrors or at least on the tail end, but he is in our bed by that point. We all start out in the same bed, but one of us usually goes to the other bed in our room to get some sleep.
  • Peanut (our dog), she is hard of hearing so she sleeps through it as well.

Today I reach out to my readers and ask if anyone else has experience with this? Do you have any suggestions for me? Also, this is an apology to anyone who has lived next to us for the past year. I assure you we are not torturing our child and this is just as difficult for us as it is for you.

There is a lot of travel on the horizon for us while we are in Costa Rica and a bunch of overnight trips. Any suggestions on how to handle this and how to avoid pissing off every one in the rooms next to us.

Hope everyone is having a fantastic Tuesday.



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