Sleepytime separation

sleepThis anonymous poster needs some help – and some sleep! Have you experienced this…how did you deal with it?

Our 17 month old son has for a few nights now, taken to waking up at the same time every night and crying and screaming as if in terrible fear. He calms as soon as we pick him up and cuddles us tight and won’t let go.

Is this separation anxiety?

He was removed at birth and came to us at 7.5 months and has from Day 1 slept brilliantly – 12-14 hours at night plus 2 one hour naps during the day.

This can happen up to 5 times a night after 10pm. He’ll go down no problem at bedtime and doesn’t mind the dark. It’s as if he’s having nightmares or terrors but is he too young for this?
How do we manage it? We go in and pick him up and cuddle him each time as our presence just isn’t enough; he needs the physical comfort (which we always give him).

It’s worth mentioning he’s not hungry / doesn’t need a nappy change and isn’t teething.

The only saving grace is that his sister is a heavy sleeper and doesn’t stir! We however, are shattered plus we’re worried about him.

We’ve never experienced this period of babyhood before and it’s come out of the blue. No change of routine etc.
Thank you for any replies.

6 thoughts on “Sleepytime separation

  1. Suddenly Mummy

    This sounds very similar to my son. I’ve had him since 18 weeks and he’s never been a great sleeper, waking for feeds twice in the night until he was 10 months, and often struggling to go to sleep, or waking up many times crying. However, from about one year old he began waking up screaming, covered in a cold sweat and seemingly inconsolable. This would happen several times each week, sometimes several times each night. This continued until around 3-4 months ago, although the frequency of it lessened over time (he is now 2 1/2). Sometimes I’d go in and he’d be lying in his cot with his eyes closed in a sleep position but screaming away. When other people babysat and it happened, they would be genuinely shocked at the severity of it.
    I looked up sleep terrors on the internet and the consensus seemed to be that they usually happen to older children, but I became pretty much convinced that this is what it was, or some form of it at least. It was the cold sweats and, as he got older, the sense I got that he didn’t know where he was or who I was that made me think it was some sort of night terror.
    More recently, now that he can communicate more, I have realised that some of these episodes may have been caused by wind pain. He was never a windy baby when he was bottle fed, but now sometimes when he wakes up screaming, I can hear his stomach gurgling and he seems to be in pain. Add the potential wind pain to the fact that he wakes up very grumpy from his afternoon nap anyway, and I wonder if what’s happening is that he’s waking up suddenly due to pain and then loses it because he feels so rotten at being woken up from a deep sleep.
    I don’t think this explains all of it – I still think some sort of terrors or nightmares may have been at play. He had a very unsettled first year with me (he was in foster care with me and his circumstances were very unsettled) and this may have contributed.
    As for solutions, well, this is where my very long reply is a bit lacking! I just rode it out and got my sleep where I could. As I said, it did lessen over time and now he very rarely wakes, sleeps 12 hours each night and a decent 2-hour nap in the afternoon with no trouble at all. I think you’re doing the right thing in going in to comfort him. Some might say that you’re ‘rewarding’ the screaming and so encouraging it, but you know your child and that this is not the case. I have used a modified controlled crying to establish sleeping routines in the past, but when my little one was like this, I was always straight in there to him – as a parent, you know the difference between a real distress cry and that ‘I don’t want to be in bed moaning’ that they sometimes do!

  2. Rachel

    Poor you, you must be feeling wrung out!

    We had friends to stay once whose daughter had been diagnosed with night terrors, it was truly frightening and I don’t know how they coped with it every night.

    Our youngest went through a period of waking up every night, but with him it was definitely a control issue (“go back to sleep” “NO!!!”)

    It sounds a bit more like something we experienced with our eldest, which started about 12 months after placement. He would wake suddenly at the same time, crying and whimpering, looking terrified. Sometimes he could be shushed back to sleep, but sometimes not. It seemed to be worse if he’d been upset or worried about something.

    It turned out to be a form of sleepwalking. We read that it usually starts after the first full 90 minute sleep cycle, and that we could “reboot” the natural sleep cycle by waking him at some point during his first 90 minutes of sleep. Sounded a bit fanciful, but it worked! We would wake him fully (enough to have a brief conversation) about an hour after he fell asleep, particularly if we knew he was anxious or had had a bad day. He would go straight back to sleep with no problem.

    And that was that, it hasn’t happened since. I worried initially that it was a regressive thing, but I told myself it was a phase he had to work through and perhaps it was only now that he was settled and stable that he was able to do it.

    I hope you manage to get to the bottom of this and that you all get some much needed sleep. Hang on in there xxx


    Both our kids still have occasional night terrors at 6 and 11 – hardly ever the screaming variety thankfully, but they’re awake, shouting for us and upset, or they just find their way to us. We take it in our stride now, and they never, ever remember in the morning! WE’ve had our kids since they were 4 and 9, and it happens slightly less than it used to, I once had a friend’s BC for a couple of nights at age 3 and she had night terrors every night, so I read up on it then. Apparently disturbing them a little before they would normally have their terrors can help as it resets their sleeping pattern for the night. We don’t bother with ours though, as it tends to be pre-midnight and we’re often still sort of awake. It’s supposedly an unconscious processing thing, not about something that’s on their conscious minds, but we do find it more likely if there has been an upset in the day.

  4. Alix

    I would say, yes, you’re doing the right thing in going in and calming him. Our eldest came to us at two and she did the same thing, waking and screaming. In the end the only thing we found was just to gently shush her, rub her back and stroke her hair and tell her, in true US move style, that everything was going to be alright! She never remembered it in the morning and the screaming stopped after a couple of months. She still likes her back rubbed and her hair stroked though, so something still remains of that soothing process! Good luck with it and stick with it, it will get better.

  5. Kat

    Thank you so much both. Yes, Suddenly Mummy, I think I forgot to mention he’s absolutely dripping in sweat (I know it’s hot weather) but I mean wet through.

    Much of it is the lack of communication that is frightening. His sister had night terrors for a week or so after placement but she was nearly 3 and very communicative and although awful, we could put a name to it.

    We’re doing loads of therapeutic stuff with him – theraplay games etc, eye contact and for the last two nights (touch wood) they seem to be lessening, certainly the screaming seems to have stopped, it’s ‘just’ crying now for a short period.

    Thank you – it helps to know we’re not alone xx

  6. Gem from Life with Katie

    Kat,I’m glad you’ve got some help. I was also going to,suggest night terrors. They are apparently horrible for all concerned. I’ve read about waking the child as well. We briefly looked into it with Katie a few years ago. I hope you’re able to help sort it out. It’s so hard to know with our children what the origins of things like this are.


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