While most people expect short sleep cycles with newborn babies, the resumption of night wakings in previously sound-sleeping toddlers comes as a nasty surprise for many parents. Assuming your child is healthy and teething is not especially severe, look for causes related to developmental and environmental factors. Solving the sleep mystery will help you choose the best course of action to get your family back to rest.
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Watch a 1-year-old play and you'll quickly see that her imagination is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, her ability to discriminate between fantasy and reality remains immature. Things like stories, movies or a child's own ideas can be frightening enough to cause nightmares and at 1, her language is probably not sophisticated enough for her talk to you about her fears. Additionally, your 1-year-old's sleep may be further hampered as her new fears trigger a resurgence of separation anxiety.
About 5 percent of children experience night terrors at some point, sometimes beginning as early as 9 months of age. A child with a night terror will scream and might react dramatically, but rarely actually wake up. Night terrors are not nightmares. They occur in a different part of the sleep cycle, and even if your child fully wakes from it, she will not usually be able to talk about her experience. If your child does experience a night terror, ensure that she stays safe, but do not try to wake her because that often intensifies the fear rather than being comforting. Ironically, night terrors are sometimes caused by sleep deprivation so ensuring your child gets enough rest might minimize their occurrence.
Your Child's Environment
As your child ages, she might become more sensitive to her environment. A child who once slept through parties, earthquakes and arguments might now need quiet to sleep. For example, a TV program or loud conversation in the next room that she would have previously slept through, might now awaken her. One-year-olds also tend to sleep somewhat fitfully, frequently resulting in an inability to keep under the blankets. Warmer pajamas might be all it takes to help her sleep more comfortably and soundly.
What to Do
The experts at BabyCenter.com and HealthyKids.org recommend providing gentle, but boring reassurance when your toddler wakes. As with infants, reassuring your child that she is safe and you are there is important to her developing sense of trust, but too much cuddling and interaction might reinforce the night wakings. Try to keep the lights low and refrain from talking too much. Leaving once she is calm, but not quite back to sleep, helps teach your child to put herself back to sleep even when she's woken unexpectedly. Follow your instincts. Talk to your pediatrician if night wakings seem excessive in either intensity or frequency.