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My 15 month old has suddenly started waking at night crying. We go into her room to try to comfort her, and sometimes bring her into bed with us, but our presence seems to make things worse. Sometimes she screams and becomes so hysterical that nothing will calm her down for 30 to 40 minutes. In between these episodes, and during the day, she is otherwise totally normal and her daytime behaviour has not changed.

Are we dealing with separation anxiety or is this closer to night terrors? She always seems awake and aware when she has a screaming jag. We haven't had trouble waking her, so I am thinking it could be separation anxiety. We recently took a 3 week vacation overseas and it was hard for her to adjust to the time change and jet-lag...could that be the reason for these outbursts?

Whatever it is, these tantrums are very scary...I am not sure now whether I should pick her up at night or not. I can't stand the thought of letting her scream alone...and when I go to her and try to comfort her while leaving her in the crib she becomes even more angry.

  • Hi, welcome to the site. This sounds like night terrors, if she's unresponsive for 30ish minutes at a time. Can you look at some of the questions on the site about those, such as this one and this one. If those don't seem to help, you might add some information; particularly, do these happen at the same time each night? And does she fully wake during them? – Joe Aug 17 '15 at 22:08
  • Do you try to comfort her in the dark - like your goal is to get her back to sleep? My girls occasionally did something like this but my response was always to turn on the lights and get them to look around. It usually took a couple minutes to get them calmed down. I don't know if it's the same thing you are experiencing, but it is common for kids to do this. If you're not trying yet, see if you can get her to wake up before trying to get her back to sleep. – Kai Qing Aug 18 '15 at 0:14
  • Could she be teething? If she doesn't have her first molars yet, they could be starting to come in and they're quite a bit more painful than the earlier teeth. This could cause pain and upset at night – MiniMum Nov 12 '15 at 21:59
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I have 5 year old triplet girls. Each and every one of them experienced what you are describing (night terrors) off & on since at least 18 months of age. All of their 'terrors' were deep & frightening, just terrible to work through and I always thought it was something a person just had to outgrow. HOWEVER, my husband did a lot of investigation and found that when we tracked them for about week, each girl had their terrors around their own same time every night. This is a big indicator that it is, in fact, a night terror (also, that they happen within 1.5 - 2 hrs after falling asleep).

solution: If we woke them up 30 minutes prior to their night terror time 3-4 nights in a row, it broke the cycle.

As long as we caught them BEFORE the terror happened, we didn't have to wake them up for long. Just enough to stand up and have a few minutes of coherent conversation to make sure they fully woke.

*Also, night terrors can be very confusing for caretakers, too, because the person having them can appear to be awake. DURING a terror, if you ask them to answer a question, or perform a task, they can almost do it. For example, most recently my husband asked one of our girls to go pick up one of her stuffed animals. She walked right to it, and made the motion of reaching out and grabbing it, but missed it by about a foot. She 100% believed she had it in her arms. Keep giving them little tasks (walk to the bathroom for a drink of water, etc.) until they fully wake.

Here's an article about what night errors are and scheduled awakening therapy. http://www.nightterrors.org

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  • Hi, Jules, and welcome to the site. This is very good advice for night terrors. A question, if I may: The OP states, " She always seems awake and aware when she has a screaming jag. We haven't had trouble waking her..." Did your daughters seem aware and wake easily? That part doesn't gel with what I've read about night terrors. I'd really like to hear about your experience on this point, since you went through it (I did not.) – anongoodnurse Feb 11 '16 at 4:17
  • As contradictory as it sounds, during a night terror, they seemed aware, but did not wake easily. When it first hits, they are absolutely hysterical & as it progresses they somewhat register that you are there, but they're caught in a dreamlike state - not awake enough to distinguish between elements of the terrors (spiders, shadows, etc.) and reality. I had terrors into my twenties, so I remember this well. The hysteria & awareness comes and goes in waves & the terror lasts up to 40 minutes. We pretty much have to ride it out & it's after that time frame that they finally, truly wake up. – Jules Maas Feb 11 '16 at 4:50
  • This does sound like what I've read (and the genetic component as well.) Very interesting, and valuable. First person experience is so helpful to the site. – anongoodnurse Feb 11 '16 at 4:56
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Perhaps she is getting her molars?

Our daughter had those nightly terrors when she was around 13 months. The only thing that calmed her down was chewing on bread / toast.

During daytime we just noticed a higher flow of saliva...

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Those are called night terrors. I suggest bringing her into your room where, when she starts, you can just put a hand on her back and reassure her back to calm. I had a grandson who would have those...they grow out of them...but you need to have something to counter whatever is "terrorizing" them during their sleep.

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  • PS: You wont have to have her in your room forever...just till yall get a handle on it.\ – Jade Stone Nov 12 '15 at 4:36
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    These are not night terrors. In night terrors, the child is not aware or responsive to the people around them. – anongoodnurse Nov 12 '15 at 16:32
  • @Anongoodnurse. Thanks for your input as well---I just want to clarify one thing. No one said anything about waking--I don't believe. Doctors I've worked for has recommended that you just reassure them with a calming voice. Not to try to wake him, not to touch him (although I disagree w/ that one) and to repeatedly say, it's okay, you are safe mommy or daddy is here. Its the calming voice and in my opinion the reassuring touch....I'm sure you will agree that we both wish this parent well in handling this very scary event. – Jade Stone Nov 13 '15 at 19:55
  • You're correct, the OP said nothing about waking. But, she does state, "She always seems awake and aware when she has a screaming jag. We haven't had trouble waking her..." This is not typical for night terrors. In any case, you're correct; we do both wish this parent well. – anongoodnurse Feb 11 '16 at 4:11

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