8 month old wakes crying after 40 mins and seems wide awake

by Cindyr - Answer by Heidi Holvoet, PhD
(Calgary, Alberta Canada)

Question: My 8 month old has never been a great sleeper but it seems to be getting worse - she wakes 30-60 minutes after going to bed at nite - sometimes crying hysterically and will even cry after being picked up for 10 minutes.

If I nurse her she may calm down and go back to sleep but Ii don’t want her to rely on the boob to go to sleep. Sometimes nursing doesn’t help and she’s wide awake.

Sometimes rocking/distracting her makes her stop crying but then she’s wide awake and wanting to play. If I let her play for a half hour or so it’s 9pm or 9.30pm and we’ve tried a later bedtime but that’s no guarantee that she will sleep through.

She is napping 2-3 times a day which can vary from 40mins -1.5 hrs each but the third nap is usually 30-40 mins waking by 5. Bedtime is between 7 and 7.30pm sometimes earlier if she only has 2 naps.

I think the routine is good. We play the sleep sheep for naps and a soothing cd for bedtime and I rock her a bit and try to put her down sleepy but awake – I’m trying to transition her away from the boob but will let her eat first then take it away when she’s not eating. I always give her warning and say "you’re tired, go sleepy. Momma’s gonna put you in your crib and you go sleepy." Then lay her in the crib. We have tried the cry it out and sometimes she will fall asleep 6-7 minutes other times she will fall asleep talking to herself. Other times she is stubborn and takes 15 mins or I go in, pick her up and try to put her down again. Most nights she will wake around 3 and again at 5 and then again between 7-7.30am for the day - other nites she may sleep 6 hrs – rarely she sleeps 8-9 hrs without waking.

Heidi's Answer: Hi Cindy, First of all allow me to say I think you are doing a good job! Your routine is indeed good – quiet, soothing and simple – and your gentle transitioning towards self soothing is excellent. Not counting the early one where she wakes up screaming, you’re down to 2 night awakenings and sometimes stretches of 6 hours, which is better than the average baby does at 5 months. Yes, there are babies who sleep for 12 hours straight at that age but that is rarer than most people will admit.

Keep up the good bedtime routine and the self soothing practice. You may benefit from keeping the night time bedtime schedule (and the naps) strict(er). Try avoiding to skip a nap in the first place, and if she does skip one anyway do try to stretch until she goes to bed at her usual time (7-7.30pm).

Then about her waking up screaming: at first sight that sounds very much like she is having night terrors. These are not bad dreams but a state of being half awake half asleep, usually occurring shortly after going to sleep at night, when they reach their first deep sleep.

It’s more common in older children but young babies can have them too. They scream, look wide awake but are not, for all baby knows, she sleeps. However, when she does wake up from it – often because we try to calm them down – it may indeed be difficult to get her back to sleep.

Work with the following – her reaction to it will also tell us whether it’s indeed night terrors, or something else:

1) Check her health. Does she have any discomfort during the day, where she may scream in the same way? Teething, a digestion problem, blocked nose, … can all cause discomfort when sleeping, even when you see no obvious signs during the day. It does not seem very likely since from your message she seems to be quite OK the rest of the time but it is always worth having her checked by her doctor if you haven’t recently.

2) When she does wake up screaming as you describe, go to her but interact as little as possible, don’t switch on the light. Above all make sure she does not hurt herself because she may be moving frantically. But if at all possible, don’t pick her up and do no more than put your hand on her belly or gently stroke her head. Do not talk to her.

It may be a bit scary for you, but if it is a true night terror, it isn’t to her. I know it can be very difficult, because you want to comfort her, but by interfering as little as possible, you avoid really waking her up. Your presence is the main thing. After 5-15 minutes she’ll go on sleeping as if nothing happened.

3) There are two ways to try and prevent the night terrors from happening:

- A little while before she usually wakes up screaming, go to her, and gently stroke her head or put your hand and her shoulders or belly – whatever you usually do to comfort her. The idea is to take her through it, or even if she does have a night terror like that, you are there straight away to do as above.
- If the above does not help, you can try to wake her about 10-15 minutes before she usually starts screaming. Pick her up, talk to her gently, even change or feed her. Then put her back to sleep. This is often effective to get rid of night terrors after a few nights.

As I said above, it is not absolutely sure that what you are experiencing is night terrors. It can be some discomfort or also a twist in her sleep patterns. The two tips in point 3) above can also help with the latter so worth a try in any case.

Let me know in a week or so (simply post comment below) if you see no progress. We’ll then take it from there.

Good luck!

Comments for 8 month old wakes crying after 40 mins and seems wide awake

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What if it's not a night terror?...
by: cindyr

First of all - thanks for replying!

I will try your advice for the night terror when she wakes crying but how will i know if it really is a night terror? she's not crying hysterically like that during the day although she's teething and if they seem to be bugging her i will give her tylenol or advil before her 7 bedtime but it doesnt seem to help her sleep any better.

What if she wakes up but does not cry? what do you recommend to get her to go back to sleep and get her out of this habit? would a later bedtime be better?

If i wake her 10-15 mins before she wakes is it ok to put her to nurse her to sleep? i worry if i wake her she won't go back to sleep? should i try this trick to get her to sleep longer? thank you!

Also you mentioned not skipping naps but when do you drop the third nap? i have been cutting out the third nap when she naps longer and stretching to 7pm. should i keep her at 3 naps?

by: Heidi

Hi Cindy,

It's indeed not easy to know it is a night terror for sure. What is typical of it though is the crying hysterically, also after you've picked her up and the fact that it is in the first hours after going to bed at night. You may also notice that she is not really looking at you nor trying to interact with you ? seeming a bit "out of it"?

If she wakes but does not cry you either wait, don't go to her and she may nicely go to sleep again. Or you can go to her but keep lights dark and interact as little as possible. Tell her the exact same things as at bedtime: "you're tired, go sleepy. Momma's gonna put you in your crib and you go sleepy".

The waking her 10-15 minutes before is only to try and prevent the terror, not to make her sleep longer. If you worry that she won't go back to sleep easily, try the first option for a few nights first (sit next to her before it starts, and comfort her). If you do switch to waking her up, then to get her back to sleep do the same self soothing routine as above. But if it is really hard for her, I'd help with holding and rocking her until drowsy/half asleep/asleep but avoid nursing (since you mentioned you explicitly want to avoid that habit).

I suggest not skipping the third nap, so that you can keep a fixed night time bedtime - since you mentioned that she goes earlier than the usual 7pm if she doesn't have her third nap. So, I'd keep the third nap to avoid the need to "stretch" and risk having her overtired which will make self soothing more difficult and sleep quality lower.

A fixed bedtime will help with the terrors, and with sleeping longer stretches. So right now from what you write, I would stick to three naps and go for the 7.30pm night time bedtime.

Give it a few more months when you'll naturally evolve towards 2 naps only (you?ll know when she won't need the third one anymore, for example there will be no more "stretching" till bedtime but fun playing :) ).

8 month old wakes 5 times a night and takes short naps
by: Anonymous

My 8 month old is breastfed and eats solids. He has never been a sleeper. He also already has 8 teeth. He wakes up a million times a night the only thing that calms him down is the breast. He usually takes 2 naps but somedays they only last 20 mins. He also wakes up at 4 - 5 am every morning. I just found out that he has been waking up screaming from at least one nap and now she told me that if I can't get him to stop the freak outs that she can no longer watch him. I'm very tired and upset. I am a single parent so not working isn't an option either. Please help!

First ideas
by: Heidi

Hi there,

I would like to recommend to check these two posts (copy&paste the URL), you might find them well suited for you.



If no help for you there, please submit a full question (hit the "Ask A Question" button at the top left of the page) with as many details about your son's sleeping as you can.

Also mention if he wakes up screaming soon after going to sleep also at home. Or is it only at day care? That would be surprising, and may point to some stress when he is there?


by: hayley

I have an 8 month old who isnt a good sleeper she will nap okay through the day two or three times and goes down at 8pm no problem but after 40 mins she wakes up crying and i am adiment its because she just needs me to hold her and rock her back to sleep as she has woken and feels then need for me to get her back off. im also looking for answers to stop her doing that as she also still gets up thru the night. i think im going to start settling her back off in the cot and making sure she knows that once she is in she has to stay there its all very stressfull you doing brilliant job keep it up

we discovered 2 factors that increase our kid's night terrors
by: Anonymous

our 7 year old still suffers from occasional night terrors, but we figured out 2 things that seem to play a factor in triggering them:
1. overheating. if he has a fever, or if he is dressed too warmly, he will most likely have a night terror. i check on him an hour or two after bedtime and if he's pretty sweaty, i make sure to uncover him or cool the room down.
2. overtiredness. if he's underslept or we've had a string of packed days/weekends, he will often have a night terror.

hope that helps!

Thank you!
by: Heidi-BabySleepAdvice

Thank you Anonymous for your kind and helpful comment!

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