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.