Why Does My Baby Scream In His Sleep? Causes & Prevention

Sleep should be a time of peace and rest, but what happens when your baby screams in their sleep? This article aims to shed light on this concern. 

We’ll explain the concept of night terrors in babies, how they differ from nightmares, and discuss the possible causes of screaming during sleep. 

Additionally, we provide strategies to comfort your baby and preventative measures to minimize the occurrence of night terrors. 

Lastly, we’ll let you know when it’s time to consult with a pediatrician.

What is Night Terrors in Babies?

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are a type of sleep disorder that can occur in babies and young children. 

They involve episodes of intense crying, fear, and sometimes physical movement that occur during sleep, often in the first few hours after falling asleep during a phase known as slow-wave sleep.

Babies experiencing night terrors may seem to be awake, with their eyes open and a look of fear or confusion. 

However, they’re actually in a state of partial arousal, not fully awake, and they usually don’t respond to attempts to comfort or soothe them. 

They also typically don’t remember the episode upon fully waking.

While night terrors can be distressing for parents to witness, it’s important to know that they’re not harmful to your baby and usually aren’t a sign of a serious medical or psychological problem.

Differences between Night Terrors and Nightmares

Night terrors and nightmares are both types of sleep disturbances, but they’re different in several key ways.

Nightmares occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when most dreaming happens. 

They can cause distress and wake your baby, but unlike night terrors, babies usually can be comforted after a nightmare and may remember their dream upon waking.

Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during non-REM sleep, specifically during the phase of deep sleep. 

Babies typically don’t wake up during a night terror, and they usually don’t remember it in the morning. 

Night terrors can also be more distressing for parents to witness, as they can involve intense crying, thrashing, or even screaming.

Causes of Screaming in Sleep

There can be several reasons why a baby might scream in their sleep. Understanding these potential causes can help you address the issue more effectively. Here are some common reasons:

1. Night Terrors

As previously mentioned, night terrors can cause a baby to scream in their sleep. These episodes can be quite intense, but they usually aren’t a cause for concern.

2. Nightmares

Nightmares can cause distress and lead to screaming. They occur during REM sleep, when most dreaming takes place.

3. Teething Pain

Teething can cause significant discomfort for a baby, leading to disrupted sleep and potential screaming. This is especially common in babies between 6 and 24 months old.

4. Illness or Discomfort

If your baby is sick or uncomfortable, they might cry or scream in their sleep. This could be due to a fever, ear infection, or a wet diaper.

5. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, a condition where breathing periodically stops during sleep, can lead to disrupted sleep and crying or screaming.

6. Hunger

Babies have small stomachs and need to eat frequently. If your baby wakes up hungry, they might cry or scream.

How to Comfort a Baby Experiencing Night Terrors

It can be upsetting to witness your baby experiencing a night terror, but remember that they’re not awake or aware during the episode. 

Here are some strategies you can use to help your baby during a night terror:

Ensure safety: Your baby may move around during a night terror, so make sure their sleep environment is safe and they can’t hurt themselves. 

This might involve removing any objects they could bump into from their crib or bed.

Keep the environment calm: Keep the lights low and the environment quiet. 

A calm environment can help the night terror pass more quickly.

Be patient: It’s generally best not to try to wake your baby during a night terror, as this can cause confusion or distress. 

Instead, be patient and wait for the episode to pass.

Comfort afterwards: Once the night terror has passed, you can soothe your baby back to sleep if they’ve woken up.

Preventing Night Terrors: Dos and Don’ts

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent night terrors, certain strategies might reduce their frequency or intensity. Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to consider:

Do: Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake-up time can help regulate your baby’s sleep cycle, potentially reducing the likelihood of night terrors. This includes weekends and holidays.

Don’t: Overstimulate Before Bedtime

Avoid activities that could excite or stress your baby before bed. This could include high-energy play, scary stories, or exposure to screens. Opt for calming activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or playing soft music instead.

Do: Ensure a Comfortable Sleep Environment

A quiet, dark, and cool room can help promote better sleep. Consider using a white noise machine if there’s disruptive noise, and ensure your baby’s bed or crib is comfortable and safe.

Don’t: Wake Your Baby During a Night Terror

Trying to wake your baby during a night terror can lead to confusion and distress. Instead, ensure their safety and wait for the episode to pass.

Do: Monitor for Potential Triggers

If your baby seems to have night terrors frequently, try to identify any potential triggers. This could include certain foods or drinks, lack of sleep, or stress. Keeping a sleep diary can be helpful.

Don’t: Stress About Night Terrors

Night terrors can be distressing to witness, but they’re usually a normal part of development and not a sign of any serious issues. Stressing about them can potentially make them more frequent or intense.

Do: Consult a Healthcare Provider if Concerned

If your baby’s night terrors are frequent, intense, or causing significant disruption, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare provider. Th

When to Consult a Pediatrician

While night terrors can be a normal part of childhood development, it’s always a good idea to discuss them with your pediatrician, especially if they’re occurring frequently, leading to sleep deprivation, or causing significant distress for your baby or your family.

Your pediatrician can help rule out any potential underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to the night terrors, such as sleep apnea or a urinary tract infection. 

They can also provide advice tailored to your baby’s specific situation and help you develop strategies to manage and potentially reduce the occurrence of night terrors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs:)

Q1: Is it normal for my baby to scream or cry in their sleep?

A: It’s not uncommon for babies to cry or make noises during sleep. This could be due to a number of reasons, including dreams, sleep cycles transitions, or even discomfort. If your baby frequently screams in their sleep and seems distressed, it might be a good idea to consult with a pediatrician.

Q2: Could my baby be having nightmares?

A: It’s hard to say for sure whether babies experience nightmares, as they can’t communicate what they’re dreaming about. However, it’s thought that babies may indeed have dreams or nightmares, which could potentially cause them to cry or scream in their sleep.

Q3: How can I soothe my baby if they cry or scream in their sleep?

A: If your baby cries or screams in their sleep, try soothing them with a gentle touch or a quiet lullaby. Sometimes, simply knowing you’re there can help them settle back down. If your baby continues to cry or seems distressed, it might be necessary to pick them up and comfort them until they calm down.


To sum up, a baby screaming in their sleep can be alarming but is often due to common phenomena like night terrors or nightmares. 

Your understanding, patience, and care can greatly alleviate their distress. 

However, if the screaming persists or is causing significant disruption to your baby’s sleep, it is advisable to consult a pediatrician to rule out any underlying issues.

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