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We have a 18 month old girl and for the past week she keeps waking up in middle of night (sometime between 12:30am and 3am) and screaming/crying/moaning for hours.

Nothing seems to stop her. She keeps grabbing her hands and wriggling about. This doesn't happen during the day, or when she wakes up in the morning; she is always smiling and very happy. I'm not sure if anyone has had this or not? Its the grabbing her hands that makes us think she is in pain but we can't tell..

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8 Answers 8

Our daughter has the same thing just to a lesser degree, I am definitely no expert, but the few items that I feel aggravate the situations are:

  1. Our toddler is too tired or spent when she goes to bed. The frequency that she wakes up crying normally will be higher if she is tired going to bed. We try to encourage her to go to bed before she hits the "too tired" stage by spending time reading / singing with her in bed about 30 minutes before her bed time.

  2. Overly mentally stimulating activities tend to cause her to wake up crying too. I am just guessing this could be vivid dreams that she experiences during the night because of her day time activities. There is not much usually I can do about this, but I find that an afternoon nap does help to a certain degree to lessen the edge of night dreaming.

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If its only during the night, I doubt it has to do anything with physiological pain. Or it has to do with mechanical difference like laying down for a long time that her stomach acid boils up or so.

So assuming its not physiological, I would like to share the following with you.

If you don't do so already, this might help, it certainly won't hurt:

The moment it happens is crucial to note your own feelings, especially when you enter the room. Children haven't a well established sense of language yet and so they are more sensitive to emotion than to what you say. For example. If you would say "calm my dear, its all right." but you are feeling stresses/agitated, or whatever emotion that is not radiating comfort, you might not be of any help or even make it worse. So besides telling her its all right, let her feel its all right as well. Make her feel its all right whats she is going through by giving her the feeling that you do understand, but give her the feeling that its not something she should feel stressed about. The latter should make her feel she can trust you on this one, so she can try to let it go, as you are there when 'things go wrong'. When you show you understand she can't feel 'bad' about herself. Negative self-reflection like feelings of 'i'm silly' or 'it's not good what I am doing' or 'parents do not like me when I do this' should be avoided by showing that you understand.

Crucial:

She is a individual, developing her self, and it's her responsibility to overcome this. It's a matter of INTERNAL change. Therefore, I would not recommend you visit a 'professional' so soon. As this might give here the feeling that something is wrong with her, that needs to be fixed (externally). If that idea penetrates her mind, then she has just build a mental blockage, and likely isn't able to solve the problem herself anymore. In fact there isn't anything wrong at all (probably). It most likely is just a matter of growing up and her perspective needs to be adjusted to the new things she is capable of (viewing the world, seeing certain patterns, feeling certain emotions and what not).

Have faith and confidence that she is more than capable of resolving this issue by herself. Give her at least the change to do so by being supportive.

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To give you a little comfort, my youngest daughter had exactly the same condition, at the same age. While the episodes are very disturbing to witness, the child does grow out of them. Our doctor said the likely condition was night terrors. While the site that @Mary referenced does have some inconsistency with what you describe for your child, based on personal experience, it is still the most likely explanation.

One anecdote form my experiences with my daughter, after a number of incidences of her screaming and thrashing in her sleep, with us unable to wake her for anything, in desperation we put her under a cold shower. When the cold water hit her, she started awake with a look of "what the hell are you doing". Talking to her, she had zero recollection of any nightmare of any kind, however she wasn't very happy with the cold shower.

After that incident we never tried to wake her from the nightmares again, just held her and calmed her down. The episodes gradually faded, and disappeared totally within a year or so. There was never any lasting consequence other than some sleepless nights on occasion.

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Does she wake up every night at the same time range, e.g. say between 10 and 10:30?

If that is the case then try waking her up before she starts crying e.g. at 9:50, and spend some time like that with dim lights, soft voices and let her sleep after half an hour. This works if the girl has a nightmare. My nephew had nightmares and this worked!

If she has some stomach pain or something it's best to consult a doctor.

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There is a term "aggravation", I hope you know it. Any kind of problem she is having have a aggravation time of 12.30 - 3 AM. Most of the time it's suffocation but it does not seem like she has this problem, but if she is wriggling or doubling up, it may be due to colic. It would be wise to keep an eye on her potty and review her diet but if everything seems fine then you should consult your pediatrician ASAP.

Amelioration measure: try to hold her with her belly resting on your shoulder or press her belly with your hand.

If you have more concerns to be considered let us know in comment, be descriptive if you do so.

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While this may be night terrors (a sleep disorder in which a person quickly wakes from sleep in a terrified state), there are differences in your daughter's case:

  • Night terrors CAN begin as early as 18 months, but this is very rare.
  • Night terrors usually last 15-30 minutes, not hours.

You should probably take your daughter to the doctor for a checkup. Until her appointment, keep a diary of all episodes - what time she went to sleep, what time she woke, how long she was awake, and anything unusual you notice (like hand-wringing). Detailed information will help your doctor find the right diagnosis and the right treatment. The doctors may ask you to spend a night with her in a sleep lab so they can see for themselves in order to make a proper assessment.

Don't put it off - you are both losing too much sleep!

Linked source: Medline Plus/ National Institute of Health

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My daughter has been going through something similar with nightmares at 24 months.

We've found it has helped to get a brighter night light (the one we previously had was quite dim) and now she also has a little torch next to her bed that she can use when she is scared that something is in her room.

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One of my friends daughter had the same issue. The Doctor told them to put her to sleep after 10 PM so that she sleeps.

Then, have a bed time ritual. The lights should be made dim. You can read stories and sing songs. May be she can have a toy to sleep with.

Meditation helps. You can meditate and imagine that she sleeps well daily.

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