Help A Reader Out: Toddler Crying Mid-Nap

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Melissa Hunt said…

My son, 21 months, is a BW success story. We’ve never had any problems. That is, until last week when he started waking up 40 minutes into his nap screaming. He falls asleep with no trouble, but wakes too soon in total hysteria. He doesn’t seem to be teething and wakes with a clean diaper. We’ve employed CIO for over a week now and seen no change in behavior. Can you suggest possible causes. The problem does not present at bedtime. His daily schedule is up at 8:30, nap at 1:30, bed at 7:00.
April 8, 2010 3:05 PM
Plowmanators said…

Melissa, is he verbal enough to talk to about it? I would have to wonder if he is having bad dreams, though it would be strange to have that at naps and not night, I don’t think it would be impossible.
If you like, I can pose this as a help a reader out question. There might be people out there who have experienced something similar. Let me know if you would like me to do that.
April 12, 2010 12:40 PM
Melissa Hunt said…

Please do pose it as a help a reader out question. Bad dreams are a possibility, but he’s still not speaking, so it’s hard to know. My other thought is to try moving his nap up a bit, but it’s already pretty early in the day.
As a side note, the new behavior did start about 5 weeks after the birth of our second son.

April 14, 2010 11:54 AM

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Anonymous
    April 17, 2010 / 2:36 PM

    My daughter is currently going through a phase of separation anxiety. As I have been reading about it, I discovered that it usually happens in the second half of the first year then possibly again in the second half of the second year. It hasn't yet affected her sleep but I've read that it can. Do you think this might be the problem? If so, I would go in, comfort your son just until he's not so upset, then quickly leave. I think it is fine to use CIO in this situation but I would go in and comfort him so that he gets the idea that even though you left for a little while, you will come back. I'm sure it's a phase that will pass as quickly as it came. Good luck!

  2. The Greenfields
    April 17, 2010 / 3:28 PM

    My 23 month old just started doing this in the last few weeks as well. We also have a newborn in the house, 8 weeks this week. It doesn't happen every nap, but when it does, I go in and comfort him. He is calmed down and back asleep in minutes. His 2 year molars are starting to come though at the same time as his canines, so I assumed it was a teething thing. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's bad dreams, or separation anxiety, or something with the baby (although I don't think it has to do with the baby because he was responded really well to her arrival and hasn't acted out at all). I am interested to see what people suggest.

  3. The Greenfields
    April 17, 2010 / 3:31 PM

    Oh guess I should say that he then goes on to finish out his 3 hour nap. So, for us, comforting him for 1 minute should he wake up out of his sleep is worth it. He usually wakes up around 7:15 am, nap 12:30-3:30. It seems your son has the right amount of wake time and shouldn't be overly tired.

  4. Michael and Natalie
    April 17, 2010 / 5:34 PM

    I don't know if you have a video monitor or two lap top computers each equipped with webcams, but it would be really helpful for you to watch your son and see what happens right before he wakes up. Is he flipping around and looking distressed right before waking, or do his eyes just pop open. I now have my laptop in my daughter's room and turn on the webcam connected to my husband's computer so I can watch my daughter during independent playtime and other times that have been presenting problems.

  5. Becca
    April 17, 2010 / 6:37 PM

    Caleb did this for awhile. He was obviously still tired when I went in to check and did not want to leave the room to play. I would hold him a bit and either he would fall immediately back to sleep on my shoulders or if he didn't I sang out bedtime song and left him to fall asleep on his own. He was fine then going back to sleep. I think a couple times he stood up wanting me to hold him some more, so I sang one more song and he was always ok to be left alone then. I honestly don't know if it was bad dreams, heard a loud sound outside that scared him, or even some premolar pain (you couldn't see them coming in, but not too long after he stopped waking like this the area started to swell and the molars started popping through). The cry was definitely not a usual kind of cry though. I used to watch him napping on the video monitor around the time it happened and he would start moving around a lot, fussing in his sleep, like he couldn't get comfortable or maybe the bad dream idea. Either way, me going in didn't create a bad habit and after a little while he didn't have the problem anymore.

  6. Kelly Owen
    April 17, 2010 / 10:29 PM

    I can't believe this is today's post! I am having the exact same problem. I have a 20 month old who is also a BW success story. We've never had any problems until last week when she too started waking up 40 minutes into her nap screaming. She falls asleep fine and we have also tried CIO all week with no change. I also tried talking to her about it. We are not having any problems at night. We also have a five week old baby and the first thing she says when I get her from her nap is always, "Baby!" as she points to his room. Is it really possible that the new baby is causing this?It's possible that she's teething. I also realized today that for the first time in a long time she has been eating everything on her plate for all three meals. Could it be possible that she's waking up due to hunger? She knows how to ask for food so I figured if she were hungry, she'd ask for food, but she also knows that I decide what and when she eats, so maybe that has deterred her from asking. And she still doesn't drink milk from a sippy cup very well. Should I go back to offering milk in a bottle? She is also learning lots of things and saying new words every day, so maybe that's causing this?Lastly, since she is only napping for 45 mins, I can barely keep her awake until 7p.m. I have been allowing her to go to bed at that time, but her normal bedtime is 8p.m. She wakes at 8a.m. and goes down for a nap at 1p.m. Should I try to keep her up past 7 or let her go to sleep?Thanks so much for the help! And it's great to see that I'm not the only one with this problem right now. I love this blog!

  7. Rachael
    April 18, 2010 / 1:32 AM

    you may want to make sure he doesn't have an ear infection. i have a friend whose daughter was doing this same thing in the middle of the night and turned out she had a double ear infection!

  8. Tony and Ally Hawkins
    April 18, 2010 / 2:26 AM

    I can't believe this post!! I just had to respond to this as we just went though this for a month with our 18 month old. He starting waking 40 minutes into the nap and screaming hysterically. It was the strangest thing! The first day, I went in becuase it was so odd, I though he must be stuck or hurting but there wasn't anything wrong and he was so tired and upset. He didn't go back to sleep and it was the same thing for the next week. I contace my BW mentor and she and I troubleshooted for the next 2 weeks to see if we could figure out the problem. I think teething could have definitely contributed to it and I made sure to give him tylenol and teething tablets before nap. Here are the two things I figured out: 1.He was hungry! I know this sounds crazy, but he's a big, growing boy and because his teeth were bothering him he wasn't eating enough food at his meals. When the teething lessened, I notice him eating more and more ast mealtimes. My friend told me to get as much food into himas possible right before nap. I also give him milk right before also.2. Since, he wasn't having any problems with night time sleep, we started doing nap routine the exact same way as bedtime routine.3. I also started running the air conditioner cooler during nap. With the temp warming up, he was getting a little hot.He soon went from 40 minutes to sleeping and hour, and then 1.5 hours and now after a crazy month he's back to 2.5-3 hours naps.They have a huge developmental leap around 18-22 months and that's another big contributer. I wish you all the best of luck, and can pretty much garantee that it will pass. I personally don't recomment going in to comfort – it only made my little guy more mad. And he never went back to sleep so I didn't let him CIO very long.Hope this is helpful! Good Luck!

  9. Val
    April 18, 2010 / 8:09 PM

    I'd have his ears and throat checked out just in case. They can have fluid backup in the ears causing pressure and pain without a fever

  10. Luv2BMommy
    April 19, 2010 / 9:40 PM

    I've got a 22 month old getting his back molars who started doing the exact same thing last week. I've been giving him a half dose of liquid tylenol before putting him in his crib for his nap and that solved the problem for us.

  11. smalles
    April 20, 2010 / 1:52 AM

    sounds like my 20.5 month old might be going through similar things. we've done a lot of transpacific traveling over the last 4 months and we're finally staying put for a few months. during this time, he was transitioning from 2 to 1 naps. feels like i've been trouble shooting forever and realized maybe this is just how it's going to be. he goes to bed around 7:30p, wakes at 6:30a, naps around 1-1:30 for either 1 hr 15 to at most on really good days 2hrs. Even if i put him down earlier, he doesn't nap any better. he now wakes up screaming from his naps (never done that before) and will let him CIO if it's only been an hour in which he'll go back to sleep for another 30-45 mins (he'll still wakes up screaming after that). i've always thought it meant he didn't sleep long enough but i can't figure out how to get him to nap longer. i've pushed his nap earlier by intervals of 15 mins and even tweaked his bedtime (no problems at night, wakes up happy). should i just assume he's getting enough sleep? i also try to keep his routine similar to his daycare which he goes 3x/week. thanks in advance for any suggestions!

  12. Plowmanators
    May 4, 2010 / 5:41 PM

    Smalles,If you have been traveling a lot, it might just be that he isn't in a routine yet and overly tired overall. If this is the case, then a super consistent bedtime and nap start time for a couple of weeks should start to fix this.But he could also be teething on top of this. Be sure he isn't teething–those two year molars can be super painful.

  13. nicnac
    May 28, 2010 / 8:24 PM

    I found that swaddling my 6 week old helped hi sleep through his full nap time, rather than waking every 20 minutes. HUGE change and was immediate. We have always swaddled at night but I wasn't doing it during the day until a mom of 6 recommended it:)

  14. Esther
    August 16, 2010 / 7:50 PM

    We are going through this exact same thing with our 23 month old. For at least the past month he has been waking up after about 45 min to an hour into his nap crying hysterically. He is a babywise baby all the way. Great sleeper at night, and use to be an awesome napper 🙁 It might be teeth, but if it was teeth, wouldn't it wake him at night as well? He requires a lot of sleep, and now that we are down to one nap a day, waking up after an hour is bad news!! Any suggestions beside teeth?? Thanks!!

  15. Plowmanators
    August 25, 2010 / 5:28 PM

    Esther, some children sleep deeper at night so they won't wake in the night but will in the day.Have you tried giving pain killer at nap time? If you did that and he still woke, you could rule teeth out. If you did that and he slept, then you would find your answer.Also, are you positive he is falling asleep before he cries? He might just be quietly playing until then and decides he is bored.He also could be having bad dreams, though I think those are uncommon in naps.

  16. Jes
    September 9, 2010 / 8:45 PM

    UNBELIEVABLE! The connection from Toddler to new baby! I am amazed and never would have thought that this would have been a connection that would be waking my daughter. She is 23 months old and my son is 5 weeks… about 2 weeks ago she started waking as well at around an hour into her nap. Like all the other storys she too is a BW Success story… So that this was happening really had me questioning what on earth could it be! Glad I read this post and am not alone…1st thing if I go into her room she will say is "baby" and if I allow her to cio she too will periodically say "baby" in between crys. I always just assumed that she wanted her baby doll that may not have been in bed with her… As for teeth, I have asked her if her teeth are hurting her and she will always say no… and hasn;t shown signs of teething… but that could always be somthing to consider as well… I will not rule that out…If it really is that her new brother is the cause of this early waking… what are the suggestions for her to go back into a regular napping routine? If I go in to comfort her with hopes that she will go back to sleep she will only become more angry and cry harder… if I leave her she will cry and not fall back to sleep… until finally I feel its been much too long and then i go get her… I will always make sure she in her room for at least her normal 2 hour nap… so she may be crying for up to an hour. I have also tried making naps earlier, and then again later… with hopes something would be better… but the last 2 weeks she has been consistently waking…What are the thoughts?

  17. Plowmanators
    September 21, 2010 / 10:36 PM

    Jes, I would make sure she has enough time with mom and dad so she feels secure. Also make sure the timing of the nap is right. There are also normal two year old sleep issues. I have a post on that.

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