Dylan has a nightmare at least once a week, often more. They used to be scary to observe—if you’ve ever read the description of what it’s like for a small child to have a night terror, that’s exactly how he would behave, and the first couple times I saw him in the throes of one I was nearly convinced he was having a seizure of some kind.

Now they seem like regular nightmares, whatever that means. He usually wakes up sometime before midnight, sitting upright in his bed and sort of squawking unhappily, and one of us goes in to check on him. We ask if he’s having a bad dream (he says yes), we ask if he can remember what it was about (he shakes his head), we tuck him back in and whisper soothing words and he falls back to sleep almost instantly.

He can never remember (or articulate) his dream the next morning, and he never mentions them or seems negatively affected in any way. I suppose it’s just a stage, his imagination lighting up like Roman candles in the middle of the night and taking his brain for an unpleasant ride.

Still, it makes me sad. He’s such a happy little guy who seems to live in a world of perpetual sunshine. If he had a soundtrack, it would be a cheery, silly Pomplamoose song. What dark unfriendly dreamscape is unraveling in his mind when the stars come out? Why should such a trusting, joyous little boy be sent somewhere like that?

Like I said, he seems no worse for wear, and I’m sure it will pass. But it’s maddening, in a way. We all want so badly to protect our children, and yet when they close their eyes, anything can happen. Anything at all.


34 Responses to “Sandman”

  1. Kate on February 17th, 2012 1:06 pm

    My super cheerful and upbeat daughter used to have bad dreams very frequently, but she’s grown out of them. She’s a little older than Dylan – turns five this summer.

  2. Sarah on February 17th, 2012 1:27 pm

    My boy has similar issues when he sleeps, except he talks in his sleep so we know exactly what it is that is freaking him out in his dreams/nightmares. Some of it just breaks my heart. He seriously works thru some sad (by 3 year old standards) stuff — being in charge, being sad about having to do stuff he doesn’t want to do, friends not being nice on the playground, being hurt. Occassionally he also laughs in his sleep and I cherish those nights because it’s so darn sweet.
    I hope both our boys grow out of it soon!

  3. sooboo on February 17th, 2012 1:36 pm

    “his imagination lighting up like Roman candles in the middle of the night and taking his brain for an unpleasant ride”. Such a beautiful turn of phrase.

  4. Deb on February 17th, 2012 1:46 pm

    I have had nightmares my whole life. I remember some of my childhood ones quite vividly. My son has never had one, but my daughter seems to have inherited my tendency for them.

    There has been a time or two when she has not wanted to go to sleep because she’s afraid the dream will come back. We’ve had many talks about how SHE is the one in charge of what she thinks, and if her brain wants to go in an upsetting direction, she needs to tell it firmly that she is not thinking about that and start thinking happier thoughts. You know, or something along those lines, supplemented by lots of cuddling and petting and stuff. I think it helps her feel a bit more empowered, and they’ve tapered off.

    But still. I know what you mean.

  5. Brooke on February 17th, 2012 2:10 pm

    Aw. That’s no fun. I hope it passes quickly. But…it sounds like a great premise for a novel. Just sayin’.

  6. Angela on February 17th, 2012 2:11 pm

    I have had night terrors since I was a very young child, and ALWAYS hoped that my children would never have to experience them. I have never been able to figure out why ( I also am a pretty upbeat person with few worries.) I can only surmise that I have them more when I am totally exhausted… almost like I am sleeping too hard to edit the dreams in my head.

    That being said, both of my 4 year old twin boys have started having them pretty frequently (several times a week) for the past few months. It breaks my heart too, and at times I feel guilty like I cursed them with this horrible ordeal.

    Anyway, I read you daily and rarely comment, but this struck a cord with me and I can relate so very much.

  7. Sande on February 17th, 2012 2:13 pm

    OMG…you did not just write this post…our daughter had her first one Monday night and YES…YES we too thought she was having a seizure. I didn’t think a child could thrash or scream louder than she did. I thought for sure the police would be knocking down our door thinking we were beating the shit out of her. She was unresponsive and we were unable to soothe her. It was horrible…just horrible!!! Thankfully I work in healthcare and was talking to a pediatric nurse practitioner the next morning and she told us what she thought it was and I googled it and she nailed it. At least now we know what to do and what to expect. It is a shame some kids to through this. Our daughter is also a very happy little girl and I just can’t imagine what could have scared her this bad. I’m thinking birth…who the hell wants to try and fit through that hole??? And the birth canal…don’t even get me started. I guess I would have a night terror too!

  8. Courtney on February 17th, 2012 2:17 pm

    My DH STILL has night terrors. Or, as we call it “does weird shit in his sleep.” It usually occurs when he’s overtired, and always within the first hour of going to bed. He’ll sit straight up in bed and yell, jump out of bed and peer out the blinds, or reenact something from a book he’s reading. Like the time he thought our ceiling fan was a Japanese zero bomber (WWII history book).

    Maybe see if Dylan will do an experiment by going to be earlier?

  9. Emily on February 17th, 2012 3:01 pm

    I have always had extraordinarily vivid dreams and nightmares and it appears my 7 year old inherited them. He came in crying one morning because he had a nightmare because someone was trying to take him from us. What a horrible thing for my poor boy to dream.

  10. Valerie on February 17th, 2012 4:12 pm

    I’ve suffered from horrible, awful nightmares my whole life. When I was six or seven I had the same, reaccuring one that my neighbor came on my school bus and beat me and my friend to death with a crowbar. Very weird. Especially since I’d never seen bad movies, or anything that could put this vision in my mind. I am 32 now and still have really bad dreams. My husband can tell when I’m having one (he won’t tell me how he can tell, but I’m sure I’m thrashing like a mad woman) and he’ll wake me up.

    I can only hope and pray that they go away for your little guy and that my two daughters don’t inherit this from me!

  11. Valerie on February 17th, 2012 4:15 pm

    Oh, I also forgot to mention. My co-worker was just in a bad accident and her two 4 year olds were in the car. Everyone is okay, but the twins have started having bad dreams. Her pediatrition suggested going to bath and body works (or somewhere similar) and getting the smell good stuff that sprays. Give it to them when they go to bed and if they wake up in the middle of the night they can spray the “good-dream spray”. It’s worked really well for my co-workers kids.

  12. Erin@MommyontheSpot on February 17th, 2012 4:18 pm

    Oh, that’s horrible! I hope that is passes.

  13. Jules on February 17th, 2012 4:49 pm

    My son had them too, his terror was palpable,they only lasted a couple of months, but they did pass, hang in there.

  14. Kristianna on February 17th, 2012 5:16 pm

    His brain is growing. All mine go through that at points in time when brain growth is present, and it happened to me as a child, too. Hard to watch, even when you know what it is, though,

  15. Leah on February 17th, 2012 5:50 pm

    Is he getting a solid 12 hours of sleep? My now 6 year old had horrible night terrors starting at age 3. I seriously thought she was haunted by demons. It wasnt until I became fanatical about her sleep – as close to 12 as I can get it – that they went away. Still when she goes to bed late or gets up too early, the night terrors will come back and it can take up to a week to get them to go away after just one night of non routine sleep.

  16. Suburban Snapshots on February 17th, 2012 6:25 pm

    My daughter will be 4 in April and is going through almost the exact same stage. I’ll hear her whimpering in her room and when I check on her she tells me she’s had a bad dream, but can’t elaborate. I’m sure it’s something developmental. Poor little dudes.

  17. Emily on February 17th, 2012 8:56 pm

    It could be that his young brain can’t comprehend what’s going on in his dreams and it’s freaking him out … not to mention that he doesn’t have a big enough vocabulary to articulate what the dreams are about. Fear of the unknown can be a pretty big deal, even before we’re aware of it.

  18. Mariya on February 17th, 2012 10:02 pm

    Awww…poor little guy and Mama :-( I can totally imagine how awful that must feel to be so helpless to help your baby. As a child I never had night terrors but definitely nightmares and I remember my older sister played middle man to my parents and I have often heard stories from her about how I’d wake up upset and screaming for my parents but by the time she was able to get to me I was back asleep or just sitting up in my bed staring into space and she’d have to get me to cuddle back under the covers.

    I hope Mr. Dylan is just going through a stage – for both your sake.

  19. Shannon C. on February 18th, 2012 12:58 am

    He could be having night terrors. I had them as a kid and now as an adult, still have night terror episodes when I’m stressed out. They’re not at all nightmares, as they occur in the stage 2, non-REM part of the sleep cycle, so there is no actual dreaming happening. That could explain why he can’t describe any nightmare or even remember the incident in the morning–same happened with me. For me, it’s a complete sense of terror and disorientation. As a child, I used to wake up and walk around the house, crying but not being aware of it until my parents literally shook me awake. These days, I will have no idea where I am, who is in the bed next to me, where the light switch is, or even who I am. It’s like a mini existential crisis! The best way I would explain to my husband to deal with it when it was happening was to tell me who I was, who he was, where I was, and turn on a light as soon as possible. For some reason, the light jolts me back to the real world. You could try that with him next time.

  20. Em on February 18th, 2012 8:28 am

    What makes me sad is that my 5 year old often does remember his nightmares as memories. He doesn’t want to go back to sleep because he can’t understand it wasn’t real. He’ll say “remember that time there was a wolf in my room?” and there is no amount of convincing that it didn’t happen.

  21. Kiwi on February 18th, 2012 1:23 pm

    I grew up only dreaming in nightmares and actually still have the same thing going on to this day. It’s weird and I have no idea why it happens, but I don’t think I’m terribly affected by it save for waking up tired sometimes.

  22. Lydia on February 18th, 2012 2:16 pm

    I had night terrors growing up…even into my college years. Rarely did I ever remember having them…my family or friends always asked me the next morning. They say I would run around screaming and would not recognize anyone who was trying to calm me down. Probably more scary for them than it ever was for me. I was more embarrassed hearing about it the next morning and not believing I actually acted like that! I’m a VERY happy, ‘normal’ (LOL) person now, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much with Dylan. He might have it his whole childhood, but it might never really have a negative impact on his thoughts/psyche. A lot of people (and even one Doctor) said I probably did all this at night so that I could be smiley and happy and fun during the day! No one can be perfectly happy all the time :)

  23. My Kids Mom on February 18th, 2012 4:09 pm

    I know this is a long shot, but we got the book “Grandmother’s Dream-catcher” and bought a dream catcher kit to make one. My son made himself a dream catcher to catch “only the bad dreams” and well, it worked and the bad dreams significantly lessened. Placebo, I know, but if it works….

  24. Julie @ Freedom 48 on February 18th, 2012 6:16 pm

    Awww… poor Dylan (and poor you for having to deal with it!)

    I used to babysit a boy who had night terrors. His parents HADN’T warned me about it! One night after putting him to bed he got up and walked out to the living room screaming and crying… but he was still sound asleep. I consoled him, but nothing was working. Then – something magic happened. I kid you not, he FARTED – and immediately calmed down and was out cold in an instant!

    I told his parents what had happened… and his dad says “Oh, yeah, that happens sometimes. It seems that once he farts, he’s all better”

    What is up with that?!?

  25. adequatemom on February 18th, 2012 6:20 pm

    My girl has nightmares too. Not as frequent now as they used to be. I find they are often triggered by media, and stuff that you might not expect – she’s crazy about “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and has never been afraid of it, but Scooby-Doo? Nightmare fodder. You never know what their little brains are struggling to process. Glad D can go back to sleep easily … and it’s probably a blessing that he doesn’t even remember what set him off.

  26. just words on a page on February 18th, 2012 11:21 pm

    my little guy (he’s not so little anymore) used to have night terrors and nightmares. The pediatrician and then later I talked to a psychologist both said the same thing — that with all the stimulation our kids receive daily (TV, video games, playing, life etc..) along with the brains way of working stuff out (that’s why we dream) that it’s a sign of a really smart kid.

    My kid like yours goes back to sleep — and then he’s fine the next day and never remembers even waking up.

  27. Redbecca on February 19th, 2012 9:29 am

    I’m thankful our kiddo doesn’t have them. Or least if he does, he doesn’t or can’t articulate them and goes back to sleep quickly. Every now and then he will race into our room shaking a little bit so sometimes i wonder. I never had them as a child that I know of, but I occasionally get them as an adult and unfortunately they sometimes come true (always the scary ones). Those are the ones that make you scared to dream at all (and pray your kids don’t ever get them).

  28. Amy M. on February 20th, 2012 8:39 am

    Aw, that’s terrible for Dylan and you. My 2-y-o daughter had night terrors. She’d sit up, scream & thrash for 30 mintues, and yet not fully awaken. The first one scared the heck out of me. My adrenaline was so high by the end, I couldn’t get back to sleep. As she’s gotten older (she’s almost 4 now, they’ve subsided, thank God.

  29. jupe on February 20th, 2012 11:42 am

    I passed this article along to a co-worker having similar issues with her child. I know if my room gets too warm, I don’t get a good night’s sleep.

  30. Amanda Brown on February 20th, 2012 3:15 pm

    Night terrors and nightmares are the WORST. So hard to watch your kid helplessly contend with scary things in their brain you can’t help them beat. My three year-old daughter’s night terrors were becoming more intense and regular and I finally took her to a naturopath (hippie alert!) and we gave her magnesium citrate supplements for a couple weeks which is supposed to help calm the nervous system and it seems to have helped. She has only had two terrors in the past month, wheras she was having them 5 times/week prior to that.

    I hope it’s a fast-moving stage for Dylan and he can sleep soundly soon. Poor guy.

  31. Tina G on February 20th, 2012 8:06 pm

    I think it may be a “confusional arousal” and not nightmares. We have had the whole buffet table full of sleep stuff disorders in my house so I happen to have a good link:

  32. Tina G on February 20th, 2012 8:08 pm

    Link didn’t work, but google does, here is the bit on confusional arousals:Although the terms “confusional arousal” and “night terror” are sometimes used synonymously to describe agitated partial arousals in children, some authors have suggested a distinction between the two conditions.[50,53] Confusional arousals are most commonly seen in toddlers and early school-age children. Episodes often evolve gradually, commencing with crying or calling out to parents followed by overt confusion or inconsolable agitation that may last 30 minutes or more. In contrast, night terrors are characterized by precipitous onset of screaming or extreme agitation, usually in older children or adolescents. Night terrors typically last only a few minutes, but may be accompanied by thrashing movements, running, or other potentially hazardous motor activity. Events are usually accompanied by visible signs of “sympathetic storm” including significant tachycardia or diaphoresis. Agitated arousals of all types are common in children, affecting 17.3% of children between 3 and 13 years of age in one large recent Canadian study.[52]

  33. All Adither on February 29th, 2012 6:26 pm

    “Like roman candles”… awesome.

    Everyone has light and dark, right? Even happy little boys who often don’t seem any deeper than a puddle.

    Not to say that Dylan is shallow, but it’s so hard to know with boys sometimes when things are sinking in. I guess they really are.

  34. Cheryl @ Off the Deep End on March 6th, 2012 9:10 am

    I’m teaching my 6-year-old that he can turn nightmares into dreams of being a superhero. I had a recurring nightmare as a child in which a mummy was chasing me (don’t ask where the imagery came from – I have no idea), and when I learned that I could change dreams, I would become super-girl and fly away.

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