Things that go “Ahhhhh!” in the Night
When I was a teenager, I babysat for a boy who was around 7 years old. We’ll call him Christopher. I usually babysat Christopher on Friday nights and placed him in bed promptly at 9:00 pm.
Now, the first time the following incident occurred, I’m not going to play it cool and say I was the pillar of babysitting strength. Nope, not me. I freaked out. There I was on the phone, as any teenage girl would be, when suddenly, I was horrified to hear blood-curdling screams coming from Christopher’s room. My heart skipped a beat as I looked at the clock—9:30 pm. It couldn’t be Christopher, I told myself. I just placed him in bed. It must have been the TV. But, when I heard the cries again, I immediately knew it was poor Christopher.
I dropped the phone and ran up the stairs to Christopher’s room. What I saw was startling to say the least. Christopher was sitting up straight on his bed, eyes wide open, yelling bloody murder at the top of his lungs. I ran over to him, jumped on the bed, and took him in my arms hoping to stop the horrifying screams. I yelled, “Chris! Chris! Wake up! What’s wrong?” I was practically in tears ready to call 911. Then, all of a sudden, Christopher awoke from the strange ordeal. He looked slowly around the room and asked me what happened. I told him that he must have had a nightmare. Confused, he looked at me and said, “Really? I didn’t have a nightmare.” And immediately fell back to sleep. What the…?
Dazed, I ran downstairs and called his parents. I told his mother what had happened. She calmly replied, “Oh, that. That’s nothing. He always gets night terrors.”
“Night terrors?” I thought. “What the heck are night terrors? And, oh, yeah… Thanks for the warning.”
What are Night Terrors?
Let’s get one thing straight—nightmares and night terrors are not the same thing. In fact, they are very different. On a basic level, nightmares are dreams that a person can vividly remember when they awake. Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors or pavor nocturnus, are not dreams. Pavor nocturnus is a frightening sleep disorder in which a person becomes terrified during a sleep episode, then has no memory of the event after they fully awake.
During a night-terror episode, the person will partially wake up screaming, moaning, or gasping for air. Most of the time, the subject cannot be completely awoken, nor comforted. It is difficult to wake up someone during a night terror, and if left alone, most will simply settle back to sleep without waking. Either awoken or left to sleep, the person oftentimes has no recollection of the episode whatsoever.