Using a Lully Sleep Guardian Device to Treat Sleep Terrors in Children

Vibrating Device Interrupts Slow-Wave Sleep to Prevent Episodes

When a child wakes during the night screaming and frightened but remains unarousable, answers and solutions are quickly sought by disturbed parents. These sleep terrors, or night terrors, can affect the whole family. Scheduled awakenings in the first part of the night, but this treatment may require additional help. Learn about using the Lully Sleep Guardian smart device to treat sleep terrors in children.

Boy asleep in bed
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What Are Sleep Terrors or Night Terrors?

Sleep terrors are episodes in which a child is suddenly roused from deep sleep in a fit of screaming and confusion. To an observer, it may appear like a temper tantrum with crying associated with appearing scared or upset. Many of the common symptoms include:

  • Bolting upright
  • Eyes open
  • Fear or panic
  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Sweating
  • Breathing fast
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Lack of recall

These events are distinct from nightmares as the child is not awake and does not interact normally, despite potentially moving about. Instead, the inconsolable crying may persist until the child falls back asleep. Attempting to wake the child may make the episode worse. The events are often not remembered by the child the next day, which also helps to distinguish sleep terrors from nightmares.

Sleep terrors typically occur in the first third of the night, often 3-4 hours after the child falls asleep. This is the period of the night when most slow-wave sleep occurs. It is the deepest of all the stages of sleep and is important for the release of growth hormone. Deep sleep may make it difficult to awaken the child and be associated with the development of sleep terrors.

It may also be important to distinguish these episodes from seizures that occur at night out of sleep. There are different types of partial seizures that affect the temporal or frontal lobes of the brain that may appear similar to sleep terrors. There are some clear distinguishing features, however. Seizures are typically much briefer (often lasting 30 seconds to a few minutes). They occur in a stereotyped pattern, meaning that they look the same each time that they occur. In addition, seizures are more likely to occur in older children and adults.

How Common Are Sleep Terrors?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than four million U.S. children suffer from sleep terrors. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 will experience a sleep terror at some point.

Though sleep terrors can occur at any age, they more commonly develop in younger children, often less than 12 years of age. Most children will outgrow them as they get older. Boys may be more commonly affected.

The frequency of night terrors also varies. Some children may experience them rarely. It is also possible for a child to have frequent episodes, sometimes occurring even nightly.

Using Scheduled Awakenings

Depending on the frequency of night terrors, a doctor may advise to simply wait for them to resolve on their own. Most of the time, sleep terrors do not require treatment. It may be helpful to ensure adequate total sleep time, getting enough hours at night and preserving naps as needed. If there is an identifiable daytime stress, this should be addressed. In addition, other sleep disorders like sleep apnea should be identified with a sleep study and treated as needed.

When sleep terrors persist, despite a parent’s best efforts, it may become necessary to consider other treatments. These disruptive events can be stressful on the whole family and contribute to sleep deprivation among others in the household. This may be exacerbated by children who share a room with their siblings.

It has previously been recommended that scheduled awakenings that disrupt the pattern of slow-wave sleep early in the night may be helpful. Breaking up this sleep 15-30 minutes before sleep terrors typically occur may prevent the episodes without significant consequences, but it may be overly burdensome. Though these awakenings can gradually be discontinued, the timing of this may be difficult to determine. Fortunately, a new smart device is available that may help.

Using the Lully Sleep Guardian Device

Developed at Stanford University, the Lully Sleep Guardian device has been shown to reduce the frequency of sleep terrors among children aged 2 to 9 years. About the size of a hockey puck, the wireless blue-tooth enabled device interacts with an associated app. It is placed under a child’s mattress and it gently vibrates for 3 minutes to interrupt slow-wave sleep. This can keep the child from developing night terrors.

Research has shown that this treatment can be effective. It is estimated to reduce 80% of sleep terror episodes. These results may be seen in the first week and most benefits occur in the first 4 weeks.

Though the risk of side effects is small, one might worry about the impact on disturbing this deep sleep. It seems that children maintain healthy sleep. They are note noted to be sleepy or otherwise affected in the daytime. There are no negative impacts on long-term growth reported.

One potential drawback could be the expense: as of 2017, the basic Lully Sleep Guardian costs $129 and the Lully Sleep Guardian 2 costs $199.

If you are interested in treating your child’s sleep terrors, speak with your pediatrician about the need for further evaluation and the most effective treatment options in your situation. This support may be helpful to coordinate the use of Lully for your child and help you to decide when the therapy can be discontinued.

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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.