My son is 17 months old with a regular routine in a nuclear family.

  1. 0700 awake
  2. 0745 in nursery
  3. Full day of nursery
  4. 1730 pick up from nursery
  5. 1800 relaxing time with mum and dad
  6. 1830 bath time
  7. 1900 story / quiet time
  8. 1920 bottle of warm whole milk
  9. 1930 bedtime

As a family we have the usual toddler tears you would expect with bedtime and handle them accordingly but the real reason for this question occurs between the hours of 2300 and 0500.

Randomly, for 4 to 5 minutes, he will wake up in absolute hysterics screaming for his mother. His eyes are closed and when picked up to be soothed he will not recognise us and continue the episode. He is, as far as I can tell, still asleep during these periods but the screams are deafening.

I don't know if this qualifies as a night terror?

Sometimes the episode will manifest itself with him pushing himself away from us to the floor and running into other rooms (asleep). Normally he will settle by the stair gate clutching it and shouting as if he has been abandoned and we (parents) are downstairs instead of next to him.

The only remedy we have found is to have one or two bottles of milk on hand to give to him which normally soothe his distress until he falls back asleep.


His mother is a fairly normal sleeper but I am a hypnagogic sleeper; dreaming/hallucinating as soon as I close my eyes and not waking for any amount of noise or distraction. Often my dreams are in full colour and my partner can have full, lucid conversations with me whilst I sleep which I cannot remember. However, in 32 years I have never had a nightmare that I can recall so I don't know how to approach my son to help him deal with this sleeping problem. I always found Hynagogic sleep a pleasant experience.

Do any parents or medical professionals on these forums have experience and/or advice on how to support my son?

  • 3
    Hello Venture2099, welcome to the site. Thank you for such a well structured, easy to read and clear question.
    – Stephie
    Jan 3, 2015 at 8:57
  • Does your son eat solid foods for dinner? I would assume at 17 months he does, but you don't make it clear, and eating solids definitely can have an impact on sleep. (Also, from what I recall, a full bottle of milk immediately before bed is not recommended from a dental point of view - ie, putting a bunch of sugar onto his teeth and then going to sleep.)
    – Joe
    Jan 6, 2015 at 16:01
  • @Joe - that's interesting. Why would it make any difference when sugar goes onto teeth? For example; if I give him milk at 8am on a Saturday morning, is the sugar not on his teeth for the rest of the morning also? Why does sleeping somehow concentrate the effect of sugar in milk? Feb 20, 2015 at 8:06
  • 2
    @Venture2099 From what I understand, it's because of saliva. When you're awake you have saliva moving through your mouth fairly frequently, so you clean out the sugars pretty often (and you have a drink of water or some non-sugar food, presumably, at some frequency). When you're asleep, much less saliva production occurs and much less rinsing as a result. Similar reason why many have 'morning breath' - bacteria that cause it are able to hang out longer (and their products hang around longer) while you are asleep.
    – Joe
    Feb 20, 2015 at 15:02
  • Is dreaming in full colour irregular? psychiclibrary.com/beyondBooks/color-vs-black-white-dreams claims not, and I can't remember any dream that wasn't in colour... Dec 15, 2016 at 11:32

2 Answers 2


First, how lucky you are to experience no nightmares. Most people experience nightmares commonly. When one understands some of the purposes of dreaming, it's not really a surprise.

Second, your hypnagogic sleep a disorder that is heritable. This is probably one of the reasons your child has night terrors. Luckily, these terrors aren't as bad as they sound.

It does sound like your child has 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 months, 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
  • the child has no memory of it in the morning
  • lasts only a few minutes
  • 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

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

Treatment involves attention to the above, especially in your case, making sure the child has an adequate nap in the daytime.

Prevention is possible. Keep a sleep diary and note the times your child falls asleep and when he wakes up with terrors. When you've seen a pattern, try waking 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 of sleep cycles, and then let him fall asleep again. Repeat x 7 nights. If sleep terrors recur, repeat cycle.

Things to consider:

  • keep the child safe; don't try to wake the child
  • warn babysitters and tell them how to deal with your child's sleep problem
  • can progress into sleepwalking.

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

  • 1
    Fantastic - thankyou so much @anongoodnurse Jan 6, 2015 at 13:33

I wasn't going to put this as an answer as I feel it could be better, but due to length...

If you want medical advice, then you really need to see a medical professional. I presume it was one who diagnosed you with "hypnagogic sleeping"?

As for bad dreams, I have them all of the time and always have — as well as good dreams. Sugar or a full bladder triggers some of the most colorful, awesome, vivid dreams. Perhaps moving the feeding away from just before sleeping could help? Just a guess!

For a lot of people, waking ends the dream and they rapidly forget, but for vivid dreamers... even those who are or are almost lucid dreamers... the dream does not fully end when we wake. When I dreamt, for example, that the boat we were on was burning and could feel my own skin going in the process, only time and comforting could help me get back to sleep (and the rest of those docked and sleeping... a kid screaming about fire on a boat is just bad for all.) Over 3 decades later, my mother and I were laughing about this this past weekend. — The point being not so much a point (I said this was not an answer), but a hope that any similarities in my own case with yours are helpful.

  • I never knew that about sugar or a full bladder trigger dreaming. Definitely a little gem worth exploring there. Thank you for the answer; I really appreciate it. Jan 4, 2015 at 9:42
  • 1
    Oh, that's not scientific evidence -- just a pattern I have noticed with myself over the years. They get longer and the colors richer, but again, just anecdotal evidence. :) Jan 4, 2015 at 9:44

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