Stress can bring on sleep disturbance

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 10, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara-

I am a different Mom from Dracut with a sleeping question. Our son is 21 months old and we have been home for 4 months (we adopted) and he has always been a great sleeper at night. However he hates night time diaper changes but will wake himself and us up if he poops. In the past this has not be a huge issue, we change him quickly and assume he is just cold and then he goes back into his crib and he goes right back to sleep. He loves his crib and will ask for it if he is tired.

This past week, it has gotten worse and he is just a crazy little man. Last night was just awful, he was crying so much and shaking and just seemed very very scared. It took a lot of cuddles before we could get him to a point to change the diaper and then a lot of cuddles afterwards to calm him again.

Needless to say because he was so scared it scared us as parents and we don't want a repeat of the experience. There was one other wake up non-diaper related, but after a drink which he asked for he was good to go back to sleep for the rest of the night.

What do we do if this happens again? And yes there has been a change, we changed daycare facilities and Monday (today is Thursday) was his first day. All accounts from the teachers say he is doing fine he his happy not crying and taking his nap, and drop offs are good and he waves good bye and runs off to play. Pick ups are good too.

We changed daycare locations (same small local chain) because we will have a second child arriving in 8 weeks and we wanted one location for both children. And we wanted our older son to adjust to the new daycare before his brother arrives.

Do we just wait out the next week or two and give him cuddles and reassure him?

From: Toddler Mom, Dracut, MA


Dear TM from D,

Stress can certainly be a factor in sleep disturbance and, given his history, the change in day care could certainly be a trigger. My suggestion is to maintain as much consistency and routine as you can in his life, especially in these months leading up to the arrival of his sib, which will be another stress, even if it's positive.

I also asked pediatric sleep specialist Dennis Rosen to weigh in. He's Associate Medical Director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital Boston. Here are his thoughts:

"While this certainly could be related to some of the recent changes in his life, what she describes could also be consistent with a night terror. Night terrors are a form of confusional arousal that generally occur in the first portion of the night and which present with a crying child who appears disoriented and often quite frightened. The child is usually inconsolable for the duration (often 10-20 minutes) until finally settling down and falling back to sleep, without any recollection of the event in the morning.

"If what the mother is describing is the product of stress, then yes, waiting it out to see if it resolves on its own while trying to comfort the child makes a lot of sense. If it is a night terror, then addressing things that can bring them on, such as insufficient sleep, falling asleep in one place and being transferred to another, may be helpful."

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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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