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My 17 month old has been waking up after approximately an hour after he goes to sleep frantically crying. It's been going on for about a month. Sometimes he is sitting up crying and sometimes he is still laying down.

Before this he was a good sleeper. He goes right back to bed. My husband or I just go in and cover him back up and give him his binky (he only uses it to sleep at this point).

  • He doesn't need his diaper changed, a bottle, or even comforted more than being tucked back in and told good night.
  • He has no problem for his naps.
  • He has a small fish tank light on so its not completely dark and he's always had that light so nothing has changed.
  • There is a fan running on low for white noise and he's always had that also.
  • His room is around 75-78 degrees which is where we always keep it.
  • He is teething but he's had 6 teeth come in from 6 mo old until now without these problems.
  • There are no other things going on such as someone coming home, neighbors, etc and it happens almost exactly 1 hour after bedtime no matter what time he goes to bed.

He's on a general schedule of waking between 7-8am, napping from about 12-3pm, then bedtime about 7-8pm. He sets his schedule but that's his norm.

It's not hard to put him back to sleep, but I'd like to know what is going on and fix it. I've wondered about nightmares or something else but its too predictable. Any ideas?

  • I hope you don't mind the edit. It was a single block of text which makes it largely unreadable, so I broke it up as best I could while retaining your intention. – Sylas Seabrook Nov 4 '14 at 6:18
  • Yes that's pretty much it. It doesn't even take that long to put him back to bed, 1-5 minutes usually, but the scared crying, blank stares, 60 minute timing after going to bed, etc is all the same. Is there something I can do? Its not hard having to put him back to sleep but I hate seeing/hearing him frantic like that. – S Johnson Nov 4 '14 at 12:31
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This sounds like a pretty classic case of "night terrors", named not because the baby is terrified, but because he appears to be terrified. Typically, it

  • is seen in preschoolers (as early as 5 month, but peaks at 3.5 years of age)
  • occurs at the same time after falling asleep every night in the early part of sleep
  • happens during deep non-REM sleep when transitioning from one sleep phase to another
  • eyes might be open, but child doesn't appear to be registering caregiver, rather seemes dazed
  • is similar to sleepwalking, and children usually outgrow it
  • can be worse with fever, stress, sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, sleep deprivation/tiredness (so midday nap is important), or an overfull bladder

A doctor's physical exam should be done, and if sleep-disordered breathing is suspected, a sleep study may be ordered.

Treatment involves attention to the above, plus

  • wake your child about 10-15 minutes before you expect a sleep terror episode. Keep your child awake for a few minutes to disrupt the transition, and then let him fall asleep again. Repeat x 7 nights. If sleep terrors recur, repeat cycle.
  • keep the child safe; don't try to wake the child
  • warn babysitters and tell them how to deal with them

For further reading, see Sleep Terrors at The Mayo Clinic, emidicine and Ask Dr. Sears.

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As a child, I experienced this frequently. It turned out to be night terrors which caused hyperventilating which worsened the night terrors and so on...

One thing that my mother did with me was tell me to imagine myself falling asleep in a superman cloak which was impervious to everything. Children are incredibly susceptible to suggestion. I think this increased my confidence when it came to going to sleep as the night terrors seemed to be partly induced by the very fear of them.

No sources, just experience.

UPDATE: If this persists, it's ceases to become a child having nightmares and becomes a health concern. Consider seeking medical advice.

  • Night terrors are significantly different from nightmares. Did you mean to address nightmares? That is a possibility, too. – anongoodnurse Nov 4 '14 at 23:04

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