Hi. I’m Kim West, the Sleep Lady, and today I’m going to answer Carey’s question:
“My 22-month-old has just started suddenly waking up during the night screaming. She has always woken up happy before. What do I look for when my child starts to suddenly wake up during the night when they didn’t before?”
This is a great question. Thank you so much for sending this in because you’re not alone on this question. There are six things that you could look for when your child, who did sleep well, suddenly stops sleeping well:
What is going on developmentally?
Are they going through any kind of developmental, physical, or cognitive milestone? At 22 months there is separation anxiety, an emotional milestone. There is a big language milestone at this age.
Is she not well?
She may just be ill. We don’t always know when our children are sick until the next day (after they have woken up the night before).
Is she napping well?
Most 22 month olds are on one nap a day.. Think about how her nap was. Was it longer than normal or shorter than normal? Has it been a few days with a poor nap? That can have a cumulative effect. Was there too big of a wakeful window from her afternoon nap to bedtime? Were there any changes in bedtime either in starting too late or too early?
Has the room changed?
Is there something recently changed in her room? I had one mom who could not understand why she was having all these problems with her child sleeping at night. She finally figured out that it started when she put new curtains and a new valance in the room. When she took them down, the child went back to sleep. I think they were creating some kind of scary shadow in the room. Look for those kinds of things that might seem like a big change to your child.
Are there underlying medical conditions?
You also want to look for any underlying medical conditions such as allergies, asthma, reflux or enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These are things that can cause sleep disturbances and should be discussed with your pediatrician.
Consider if she has night terrors or nightmares.
Usually a night terror occurs within the first two hours of going to sleep. If your child is awakens during this time and is screaming and inconsolable, it may be a night terror. Even though she may look awake she is actually still sleeping. The less you do during a night terror, the better, so that you don’t lengthen it. Just go in and reassure them as best as possible and make sure they’re safe.
If your child had a night terror, be sure you put her to bed earlier the next night. The number one cause of night terrors is sleep deprivation. Going to bed too late and poor naps can set a child up for night terrors. If this is a factor then try to move the bedtime earlier by 20 minutes.
A nightmare, on the other hand, will wake the child. They will be frightened but awake afterwards and responsive to your questions once they are calm. Reduce TV, scary movies, video games, etc.
When your child suddenly stops sleeping well, consider what may have changed, and revisit The Shuffle to get back on track.
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