Night Terrors or Nighttime Seperation Anxiety

Updated on January 17, 2010
T.C. asks from Miami Beach, FL
10 answers

My almost 12 month daughter has basically slept through the night since she was 2 months old. For the past few nights she wakes up hysterically crying about 3 hours after I put her down. The first sounds she makes sound as if she has had a nightmare (screaming cry) and then she continues to cry hysterically. She is inconsolable. My husband and I don't know what to do. Ususally we soothe her while she is in her crib, as we know not to take her out but she cannot calm down and for 2 nights in a row, we have brought her into bed with us. I really don't want to get into this habit! Also, she takes 2 naps a day and recently she has had a tough time going down, it was never a problem before. She cries and cries. So I'm confused as to whether the nap situation is due to seperation anxiety and the nighttime is night terrors and seperation anxiety? I don't know! Help please:)

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So What Happened?

Thank you ALL so much for your advice and suggestions! I truly appreciate it!
As for my beautiful daughter, she is sleeping through the night again! As someone stated, we used to play, "I'm gonna get you" after bathtime and I think that stimulated her way to much right before bed. Now after bathtime, my husband I started making everything really calm and relaxing...turned the lights down, classical music and continued reading her a lot of books. For the first few nights she woke up crying in the middle of the night but it wasn't the hysterical crying as before. It was more of a wimpering and I could tell from her cry that she was still asleep. I would go into her room and lay her back down in her crib and that was it. Now she is sleeping from 7p until 630a or 7a.
Thank you all again! This website is a blessing!

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answers from Washington DC on

I would try getting her down to 1 nap/day , I would say an early PM nap for 1-2 hrs may be best , then have you noticed that she wakes at the same time every night? If so you could try about 10 or 15 mins before just moving her to wake her slightly so that she doesn't have the night terror , that may break the cycle.

Good luck


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answers from Washington DC on

Hi T.. I am in the same boat. Our son, 2.5 years old, has these nights where he wakes up crying and screaming. The episodes can last a few minutes or a couple hours. But they almost always happen a couple hours after his bedtime. We noticed, too, he's not responsive to our voices or any sort of stimulation to wake him...not even ice on his feet! It's almost as if he's still sleeping, like sleepwalking without the walking part. This has been going on now for about a year, on and off (sometimes, once a week, sometimes a few times a month.) We asked our child's doc, as well as our OT. They both suggested keeping a log to see any trends...and they almost always occur on a day our son doesn't get a good nap and/or is very overtired. Their suggestions are on the days we think he'll have a night terror (and after a while, you'll most certainly know when she's likely to have one given how tired/cranky she is) wake her up about an hour after going to slep. Walk her around the house once, just for about a minute or two. Then let her go back to sleep. Every time we have done this, he has ceased to have a bad night terror. if he does at all that night, they have been less severe and much shorter. And we have noticed, too, he is having less of them as he gets older (as the doc said, this is yet another phase.) Hope this helps! Good luck. :)

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answers from Lynchburg on

With both of my kids, this happened a few times (and still occasionally occurs with my daughter)well after they had been sleeping well on their own. You said you know not to take her out of her crib. I would like to challenge that thinking. While you don't want to make a habit of it so the child needs it every night, with neither child of mine did taking them out of their bed during these screaming episodes hurt their sleeping habits. With my son, I just pulled him up and hugged him close and told him it was okay and not to worry and just kind of snuggled with him for about 5 mins and he was fine and would lay down without being asleep with no problem. I think for him it's happened a total of maybe 5 times, and he's 4 and it hasn't happened for a year or so. For my daughter, it's happened 3 times so far, and I take her out of her bed and rock her to sleep (takes about 20 mins) and then she's fine. The whole time I'm softly telling her that I love her and Daddy loves her and she's safe and she doesn't need to worry about anything. I keep saying "It's okay" and "You're fine" over and over. It really helps soothe her, and I was worried that it might start a pattern, but it hasn't affected her sleep at all. She didn't sleep through the night until she was 12 or 13 months old or something-maybe it was 14 or 15 mo, it's all kind of fuzzy now, and I was SO afraid of getting her back into waking up several times at night, but I hated those screams and she wasn't calming down on her own. If I put her in bed awake, she'd start those screams again. So I rock her for 20 mins and then she's fast asleep and we're all able to have a good night's rest. For me it was worth trying, and it worked out fine in the long run. You kind of have to decide if it's worth it for you though, b/c some kids (from what I've read-and I do trust that, just didn't experience it) start making a routine of it, or needing it all the time and get off their sleep schedules, and that can be really hard for everyone-parents and child. Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

My son was doing that and it really seemed like something was wrong... like he was in pain. So, we gave him mylicon (anti-gas) which isn't easy to do with a screaming/crying baby. We just squirted it in his mouth since it has a dropper and within a few minutes he was better. For him, it was bad gas pains. It won't hurt to try it at least once to rule out gas. Good Luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

picking up fussy babies and then expecting them to sleep solo is different from consoling a child suffering from night terrors. i agree with the advice to work her down to 1 nap per day, and then use a solution that's nicely between taking her into bed with you and leaving her to scream (although i hasten to add that having her in bed with you is wonderful if indeed you are okay with a family bed, but i gather you're not.) but you can sit with her, sing to her, massage her, and if it's a night terror situation, pick her up and rock her. it can be a difficult thing to find just where the line is with your family, since it is important to simultaneously have boundaries and decide just what is and isn't acceptable in your schedule and family vision, and remain flexible enough to deal with situations like this. it does sound as if the night issues (waking screaming) and the day issues (not wanting to go down) are different, but the bottom line is that they are both sleep issues and your overall goal is for her to sleep well.
poor little sweetheart. this has got to be hard on her, and you as well. good luck!

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answers from Indianapolis on

The first advice I'd give is to get her down to just 1 nap/day.

Our daughter was about the same age when she was having night terrors. There's nothing you can do to stop them, but she will eventually start to outgrow them (though the possibility of them coming back is certainly still there).

I was driving 110-150 miles/day when she was this young, so I brought her into bed with me to get both of us back to sleep quickly. She is our good sleeper and stays in her crib most nights now. She was in bed with me every night of her first year as I was diagnosed with cancer when she was 10 weeks old, and during my treatment, it was much easier for me to tend to her. We transitioned her at a year into her crib, and she's not been clingy.

Personally, I'd rather have her soothed than to worry about forming habits at this point in time, but that's just how I approach the whole sleeping thing.

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answers from Washington DC on

Hi, it does sound like night terrors. My daughter had them and I think it started about age 1 1/2. They wake up about 3-4 hours after falling asleep and are inconsolable. It's scary, I know. All I've read says to just hold them and they will eventually stop. Research it online and learn all you can.

We learned they happen when the child is over-tired and that was true for us. Make sure she keeps on her schedule and gets her naps, along with an early bed-time. I did read something online that talks about a technique where you wake them before the time of the terrors to interrupt the sleep cycle. You do this for a week or so and they stop. (Look online for this technique).

I will say we tried it and it worked for awhile, but they came back. My best advice is to make sure she is well-rested. My daughter did grow out of it by the time she was 5 or 6 (seems like an eternity from now but night terrors don't happen every night, it seems to go in spurts). Talk with your doctor if you need to. Good luck!

PS--Someone told me night terrors happen more to those kids who are highly intelligent...I believe it! :)

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answers from Daytona Beach on

Hello, my little one almost 3 has them to. She started them a few months ago. we just talk to her untell she calms down and stops crying. Does your little on go to daycare or stay home. we found out that when our little one has them its do to the play time she has. if we are running after her and just playing tag or things in that nature. She will have them. she wakes up screaming no sissy no, our the something with her brother. Keep track of what it is she does all day and the play times. Who she is with and how they were together and if she has a nightmare then you can pin point it. See if it has anything to do with her day. and it might help. it did for us. Good Luck

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answers from Washington DC on

night terrors are not common at this age. they are also more uncommon at any age than people seem to believe. there are more common parainsomnias such as confusional awakenings. sleepwalking also falls into this category. these occur while the child is still asleep. cuddling can actually make it worse and the episodes will last longer. it is probably obvious by now that i have a sleepwalker with confusional awakenings. these are much more common when child goes to bed too tired as Rachel R noted. if you are concerned about parainsomnias google it or send me a message.

night time separation anxiety, on the other hand, is very common at this age and the approach, for me anyway, was completely different. then again, i have no problem plopping my daughter into my bed and going to back to sleep. if this is not your style i'm sure some other mommas will have good ideas for you. good luck!

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answers from Roanoke on

My son does this, too. Terrifying for parents and kids alike. Our pediatrician told us that it could be stimulants within 3 hours of bedtime and is frequently related to being over-tired. He also told us not to wake up a baby that is sleeping periodically because this prevents him/her from getting into REM sleep - which is necessary for the body to repair and rest itself adequately. I had a sleep study done on myself when i was 20 because I was always tired but couldnt sleep. I was diagnosed with insomnia and still have it - even 6 years later. My mom said she used to have to wake me through the night because I had night terrors a LOT. My mom and I wonder if this behavior as a child led me to being an insomniac as an adult - so be cautious with that. My son also experiences bad growing pains during the night, so this causes him to wake a lot too... which is something I remember happening to me as a child. Keeping ibuprofen on hand helps - because it reduces inflamation rather than just blocking the pain receptors in your brain.

Good luck - you're not alone.

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