Updated December 2017
Night terrors are the absolute worst.
My oldest daughter Lucie never had them, so when 2-year-old Alice started experiencing bizarre episodes of waking shortly after going to bed and demanding strange things and complaining of phantom injuries, I knew we were dealing with a different beast.
There were nights when she woke up screaming about pain in her knee (or elbow, or… you name it) when I almost took her to the ER. I later learned this is a very typical manifestation of a night terror (i.e., phantom pain). Doctors describe how many parents end up bringing kids to the ER, not knowing it’s just a night terror and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the child.
Another manifestation is waking up (ahem, “waking up”) and demanding strange things. One night while traveling in Salt Lake City, she woke up and demanded her snow boots because she wanted to play in the snow (RIGHT! NOW!). This resulted in an hour-long night terror when I actually thought someone was going to call hotel security. There was nothing I could do for her and it made me feel very helpless and, well, terrorized.
Shortly afterward, Dr. Andy Rink of Stanford University got in touch with me to see if I was interested in reviewing his product, the Lully Sleep System. After talking to him a bit about Alice’s episodes, I decided to give it a shot.
Lully is a simple device that goes under your child’s mattress and vibrates fairly vigorously around the time your child should be entering into the unhealthy deep sleep that occurs before night terrors, typically 1-3 hours after the child goes to bed. Yes, it’s a bit of a guessing game, but it’s usually spot on.
This does require mom or dad to log the child’s bedtime, then activate Lully when the app tells them it’s time (though the Lully Sleep Guardian 2 can do this automatically). Note that this can sometimes be later in the night, so if you go to bed shortly after your child (e.g., you work an early shift or whatnot), the regular Lully Sleep Guardian probably won’t work very well for you because you’ll be sleeping during the time you need to flip the switch.
My daughter Alice tends to stay up ridiculously late on the days she has preschool because they give her a marathon nap. On those nights, it wouldn’t be practical for me to stay up an hour and a half after she goes to bed to activate Lully, but fortunately, these are not the nights she tends to have night terrors.
As a practical matter, I only use it on the nights she’s not in school and doesn’t nap. Her night terrors are also very likely to occur when we’re traveling and jet lagged. For her, they’re also more likely to occur when she’s ill and coughing a lot – or otherwise uncomfortable at night (these are her triggers; your child’s triggers may differ).
Night terrors are especially tough because there’s NOTHING you can do to wake your child from the state they’re in. As Dr. Andy explains it, 90% of their brain is still asleep; it’s only the primary motor cortex (the part of the brain that controls movement and vocalization) that’s awake. This also explains why your child may still feel well rested after one of these nights and will probably have no recollection of it the next morning. I joke that parents are the only ones being terrorized here (and I’m only partially kidding!).
During a regular nightmare (which usually occurs later in the night), your child will wake up and understand that they are no longer dreaming. In a night terror, waking them up is ill-advised, and (for me at least) only makes the problem worse.
For me, the less I interfere, the better. I usually take her to use the potty (trying not to talk and without turning the lights on), then put her back down in bed (again, no talking). Putting her back in bed afterward usually hits the magical reset switch that snaps her out of the state she’s in.
I know someone else whose child demands a sandwich during his night terrors. And only when mom makes the sandwich and he holds it in his hand (no, he doesn’t eat it), will he snap out of it and fall back asleep.
It’s so weird.
We don’t get many night terrors anymore, thanks to Lully. When we do, it’s because I’ve failed to use it. Yes, there is a bit of discipline involved here, but if you’re suffering enough, it’s well worth the effort.
The Lully Sleep Guardian system costs about $129, so I would recommend it for those with frequent night terrors or if the night terrors become too traumatic for the parents to endure, which is very common. Those who have less frequent and intense night terrors should weigh the cost against the benefit. To learn more about night terrors, go to Lully’s blog.
Their new product, the Lully Sleep Guardian 2, costs $199. The new system has all the bells and whistles. It turns its vibrations on and off automatically so you don’t have to activate it yourself. It allows you to track sleep using multiple devices, and most importantly, you have access to sleep experts 24/7.
*I received a free sample of this product to conduct the review.