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Reasons Why Children Cry Out During the Middle of the Night

by Sharon Perkins

If the sound of your child talking or yelling has you bolting upright in bed night after night, you might wonder what causes children to sound so upset while they're asleep. Children talk, cry out or yell during the night for several reasons, ranging from short-lived bad dreams to longer-lasting and more frightening night terrors. Physical problems, such as sleep apnea, can also cause your child to cry out. Talk to your pediatrician if your little one's middle-of-the-night communication frequently disturbs her sleep -- or yours.

Dreaming

Nightmares or particularly vivid dreams can cause children to cry out, either in their sleep or when they briefly awaken following the dream. Around 10 to 15 percent of children have nightmares severe enough to disturb their sleep, the Cleveland Clinic reports. Nightmares generally start between the ages of 3 and 6, and occur during the second half of the night. Your child may remember the details of the dream when he awakens and can recount them to you, unlike night terrors. Avoiding scary or stimulating shows, books or events right before bed and keeping bedtime stress-free can help reduce nightmares. Discussing the nightmare the next day allows your child to discuss his fears with you.

Sleep Talking

Sleep talking, also known as "somniloquy," is a variant of sleepwalking. More common in children and in males, sleep talking can occur in any sleep stage and can involve understandable conversation or complete gibberish. Sleep talkers might use a different tone of voice than they normally use, says the National Sleep Foundation. Around half of all children sleep talk at some point, but only 5 percent of adults continue to carry on nocturnal conversations, according to WebMD.com. Most conversations last 30 seconds or less but can recur many times during the night. Getting an adequate amount of sleep and maintaining a regular sleep schedule could help, but sleep talking can be a lifelong issue; it sometimes runs in families. Obstructive sleep apnea is sometimes associated with sleep talking. If your child snores or seems to have trouble breathing while sleeping, have him checked out by an ear, nose and throat doctor.

Night Terrors

Night terrors usually occur during the first part of the night, after your child has been asleep for two to three hours. Night terrors are truly terrifying to parents, but your child won't remember them the next day. During a night terror, he won't respond to you or seem to realize you're in the room. Around 3 to 6 percent of children have at least one episode of night terrors; in 80 percent of cases, another family member has also had night terrors, KidsHealth.org explains. Waking a child with night terrors isn't a good idea, as it might make him more agitated and upset.

Confusion Arousal

When your child wakes up and cries out just a few hours after going to bed, he might have confusion arousal. He might talk more slowly than normal or seem confused. Confusion arousal can, like night terrors, cause your child to appear simultaneously both awake and asleep. He may not respond to you at all, or he might act aggressively, pushing you away. Most children don't remember awakening the next day, even if they awaken more fully within the next 10 to 30 minutes. Other physical sleep issues such as sleep-disordered breathing, nocturnal asthma or restless legs syndrome can increase the risk of confusion arousal, according to The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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