Ask the Doctor - Answers to your Parenting Questions

Can 4 month old babies have bad dreams?

Sometimes my 4 month old daughter cries in the middle of the night really loud. I run in her room to see whats wrong.. but she's still sleeping & crying so I pick her up to calm her down, and when I do she's still sleeping holding her head up like she's sleep walking..but then she stops crying after a little bit.. so I put her back in her I'm wondering can 4 month old babies have scary dreams? or what would they be dreaming about that would make them cry?? Is there anything I can do to prevent that to happen again.????

Yes, four month olds have dreams just like the rest of us. Most of those dreams probably relate to learning and processing her experiences of that day. However, it is entirely possible that she is processing her birth experience or some other experience that felt traumatic to her that you didn't even notice, for instance waking up and crying for you but you didn't answer because you were in the shower.

Four month olds have a lot going on. As long as most of her experience is loving and her environment feels secure and nurturing, she will process whatever reasonable traumas come her way. She may need to simply cry in your arms, or she may dream it out.

What you are describing actually sounds like night terrors more than simple bad dreams, because she does not immediately wake up and respond to your comforting.

Night terrors are different than nightmares. Nightmares are upsetting dreams that happen during REM (dream) sleep. Night terrors occur during Stage 4 Deep Sleep, or during the transition from Stage 4 to REM Sleep. During a night terror, the person is actually asleep — according to his brain waves — even if his eyes are open! Most of the time the person has no recollection of them.

Night terrors can occur at any age, but small children seem to suffer them most frequently. Toddlers are famous for them but even babies apparently have them. In fact, up to 15% of kids reportedly experience at least one night terror. Scientists think night terrors may be caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system, which regulates brain activity. Most children outgrow them, probably as their brains mature, although some adults do report having night terrors when under stress.

Night terrors are not dangerous. We don’t know what causes night terrors, but some scientists attribute them to brain chemistry and there does seem to be a genetic component. There is some indication that stress can trigger night terrors in people who are prone to them.

So what can you do for your baby?

1. Do try to keep calm yourself. It is likely that your daughter is not remembering these incidents and is not being traumatized by them. That said, of course you want to offer her whatever comfort you can, and keep her safe from thrashing around. While she will probably seem inconsolable, adults who suffer from night terrors say that they have been comforted by the calm, reassuring voices of those they love.

2. Do try to minimize stress in her life. Be sure she is not exposed to parental loud voices or other emotional stressors. Minimize schedule changes and nights away from home.

3. Don’t allow your little one to get over-tired, which may make her more susceptible to night terrors. Be sure she has a regular bedtime routine and is getting sufficient sleep. One way to insure that is to move her bedtime a bit earlier each night. Moving to an earlier bedtime not only helps them fall asleep more easily at night, but also lessens the possibility of over-arousal.

4. Do adopt a comforting bedtime ritual that includes bath and snuggling, and follow it each night, so she is more relaxed when she goes to bed. I would also not advise letting your daughter cry herself to sleep, which increases the likelihood of over-arousal even in sleep.

5. Be aware that fevers can trigger night terrors in those who are prone.

6. Do make sure that your baby is not being accidentally awakened. There is some evidence that night terrors result from being awakened during Stage 4 sleep (if there is already a predisposition). If traffic or TV or telephone noises intrude on her sleep, they could be awakening her. You might invest in a white noise machine as a precaution.

7. Don’t try to force your baby to wake up from a night terror. That leaves a person extremely disoriented, sometimes to the point of temporary amnesia.

Good luck. I wish you and your daughter sweet dreams.

View Older Comments

Anonymous commented on 26-Aug-2010 01:59 AM
Thank you so much for answering that woman's question. I am a new mother and my son is two and half months old and experiences the same thing as her four month old. I think my son's now might be caused by his father's yelling when he gets easily upset. I am hoping if I can get him to stop then maybe our son will stop having these night terrors. I didn't know what to think of his sleep crying because my husband's mother told me that babies could not have night terrors or bad dreams. Thank you so much, now I know what we can do to fix it.
Anonymous commented on 08-Oct-2010 11:24 PM
thank you so much for the insight!! my 4 month old daughter has also been experiencing these but i am still baffled on why. She seems to be having these night terrors about 3 or 4 times a week and its always in the early evening. it started about a month ago. maybe she is being over stimulated? she still seems completely asleep even though her eyes are open. really upsets me.
Kate commented on 15-Nov-2010 02:09 AM
Hi there, My 4.5 months old son has also suffered from night terrors on and off since he was about 3 months old. They only happen about once a fortnight and when they do, it sounds as though he is being murdered as his scream is blood curdling. He is definitely still asleep when I go in to calm him down as his eyes are still closed and he doesnt usually open them. I have found the only way to calm him down is to pick him pu and give him a cuddle and tell him that he is alright. I am then able to put him back into bed and he is fine for the rest of the night. He is a very good night sleeper and started sleeping through the night (12+ hours) from 8 weeks old while still having 4 sleeps a day so I dont think it is due to being overtired. It is really upsetting when he does this but my maternal health nurse said whilst it isnt common at such a young age, it is ok and he should grow out of it. Time will tell hey...
Anonymous commented on 10-Jan-2011 09:05 PM
my 4 month old has been experiencing this for a few weeks. I was alarmed because I was concerned that maybe she was waking up startled from not breathing or something like that. I called my pediatrician (who will be seeing her tomorrow) and she informed me that it could "just" be night terrors but we will look more into it. Poor babies! I will let you all know if I find anything interesting or helpful.
Anonymous commented on 26-Jan-2011 11:09 PM
My daughter has been having night terrors for about 3 weeks now atleast 2-3 a week. My husband ask me what she could possibly have to have a nightmare about, I told him what I know, she doesn't have anything to fear she just has a lot to process right now. If you think about it in a few short months a lot has happened. They are now in a world that is so different then the world they were in for 9 months, they are being fed by bottle or breast and not tube, there are lights and sounds all over the place. Personally I'd probably have night terrors too. Its completely normal, all 3 of my nieces and my nephew had night terrors, usually they will go away fairly quickly, kinds words and cuddles will always help. Good luck moms
Petula commented on 14-Mar-2011 05:00 AM
My daughter is 13 months old and has been facing these night terrors for about 2 months so glad to hear that we are not alone in this. In fact I was so stressed about it the past two days because she was a running a post-vaccination fever and the night terrors were at a peak....would have never thought that a fever can actually trigger them as well.
Anonymous commented on 20-Apr-2011 01:22 PM
I was wondering about this My 4 month old had to be hospitalized with a bad chest infection, and had to have nebulizer masks, chest xray (which in itself is terrible! and traumatic!)... since being home he is having nightmares and wondered if the stress
from the hospital stay was the cause. Poor guy.
Zhay commented on 23-Apr-2011 07:57 AM
My son is 13 months old and has had night terrors since he was a newborn. His occurred once a month. For the first half of his life, he'd wake up screaming with his eyes closed. The first time it happened I thought he was in some kind of pain. In recent
months, the screaming wasn't as loud and once or twice, his eyes were open. The episodes have never lasted more than 10 minutes. While most of them did seem to occur when our day was longer than usual that wasn't always the case. This past month he hasn't
had one and I'm hoping they don't come back.
Susie commented on 21-May-2011 11:04 PM
My son 6months old has also been experiencing this. He has them every so often sometimes not as bad as others. Tonight was the first time that was actually bad...He cried for a min then stopped once I went in there and rubbed his head. Then 10 min later
screamed like he was in pain, I tried once again to rub his head but that didnt work so I picked him up and just started talking to him to calm him down and it worked. It is very scary, and I also heard that babies cant have dreams but my opinion they can
and I dont have to be a doctor to figure that out. Hopefully he will grow out of them but Im glad to hear that Im not the only mother experiencing this. Thanks everyone for all your comments it sure helps when you think your the only one experiencing it. Thanks
again and SWEET DREAMS
Nikita commented on 09-Jul-2011 11:43 PM
My 6 month old son wakes up in the middle of the night as well with a rather loud screaming. My husband an I always immediatly pick him up out of his crib, and he often gives us a look like why are you waking me up. We do suggle and lay with him in our
bed everynight before putting him in his crib. However my husband likes to sleep with the television on, all night, could this be causing his night terrors?
Denysse commented on 01-Aug-2011 11:58 AM
My 5 month old son just recently started doing this & it would bother me so much, but now that I know its rather normal, than I'm not as worried. But they are extremely horrible when they're sleeping so peacefully and all of sudden something awakens them
:( I hope this hoes away soon. I've got to admit his father and I have argued once or twice while he slept, we need to avoid doing that in the room & do it away from him. I'm hoping these night terrors go away soon though, I hate them :(
Anonymous commented on 21-Aug-2011 07:25 AM
Glad to hear were not the only one's. My 4 month old has had 2 exp. with "night terrors". The 1st exp. was when she was around 3 months she woke up screaming in the middle of her sleep like someone was hurting her ( very scary). And the 2nd was just 10
min ago now at 4 momths. This time I was just going to the bathroom and I could hear her weaping in her sleep like she was having a bad dream. I immeaditly picked her up and soothed her, but still very disturbing knowing something like that is in her head...
Could the tv on in the room cause this?
Anonymous commented on 01-Sep-2011 07:28 AM
I just experienced my three month old son waking up screaming to a nightmare. I was glad to be able to log on and see that it is a fairly common occurence and normal, especially since it can shake a parent up as well. What concerns me after reading the
other responses though, is how many people leave the tv on in the same room as their sleeping baby all night... Please don't do that to your are really hindering proper brain development and hormone production and setting your poor child up for
much larger issues than nighttime wakings from nightmares/terrors. Melatonin levels are directly affected by exposure to light while sleeping...not to mention the constant flashing from the tv is probably torturous for the poor child. Just google it...there
is loads of info on the subject.
Angie commented on 03-Sep-2011 09:35 AM
If it's a boy, could be night terrors related to circumcision.
lara stanley commented on 17-Oct-2011 09:36 AM
my baby has been having night terrors since birth! And they happen every day atleast 2 or 3 times a night or day! Im very frightened from him as he is not a good sleeper and is now 6 months old! Could there be something wrong with his brain??? As he is
always overtired but only ever sleeps for 20 mins all day even if i put him down before he is tired he wont sleep! And at night i have the bedtime routeen bath story cuddles bottle and in cot by 7:30 and he is asleep within seconds but then the hell starts
at 10:30 ish he has a nightmare still asleep eyes closed but screeming and frantic moving about! I give him his dummy then blanket and whisper to him and it stops! Then 11:30 all over again! Then 2 he wakes crying so i feed him and then about 4am he has another
nightmare and it normally wakes him up so i then have him in bed with me till he wakes naturally at 5:30 am and is then up again all day rubbing his eyes with bags as he is so tired and so am i! 6 months of this and i really dont know what to do! Dr says nothing
friends say it will get better and now at 6 months old and me being so shattered it un real i need advice or help! I can get him to sleep at bed time but cant get him to sleep during day he is constantly overtired and im sick of people telling me not to worry!
Please help me! This is every day for me! Even in the car he doesnt sleep; ive got him in his own room now and its dark and quiet and he has a comfort blanket: during day he is a very happy baby just nights are so bad!
niall commented on 19-Oct-2011 06:25 PM
My son is now 5 months and has had this problem for 2 months. All the comments above have given me and my wife some good idears as we sit up in bed again tonight with our son after another night terror. Hes still screaming as i do this and it sounds like
we are hurting him so much. I am so glad i found this is common and we are not doing somthing wrong. Good luck to all mums and dads,sweet dreams to our babies.
Lauren commented on 30-Oct-2011 05:13 AM
I have a 9 1/2 month old son whose been having night terrors since last week (10-23-11) and he got baptized that day. And he never wakes up from his night terrors.I'm not sure if it's because of that or it could be of a different reason or purpose. I was
told by several people that Jesus christ resurrected at 3:00 am back in his time and I'm thinking Mayb he's visiting my son and it's scaring him. Which I don't think he'd do such things, he's our lord and savior. He's to protect our children and ourselves.
I've had the same situation happen to me when I was pregnant with my son, I'd always wake up tho every night at 3:00 am and won't be able to sleep til 7 am. Could this be a sign of some sort???
Ryan commented on 02-Dec-2011 02:45 AM
I am glad I read this page because me and my wife have been argueing a lot lately and now I'm worried that I have affected my son to much because I to have a anger issue that I go for counceling every other week but I seem to forget about it when the argueing
starts. Is it to late to stop messing with my sons head emotionaly!? now that I know I will stop yelling I'm front of him. But will that help? Please some one help.
Laura Markham commented on 02-Dec-2011 11:03 AM
Ryan- Good for you for going for counseling for your anger issue. Yes, once we get triggered we move into fight or flight mode and everyone looks like the enemy and it is hard to control. But it is VERY possible, and counseling is the first step. You don't
say how old your son is, but if you stop yelling in front of him now, it will make a huge difference. Terrific that you're using your love for your son as motivation for your own inner work and healing!
Abigale commented on 06-Dec-2011 07:17 PM
Thank god I'm not the only one. My son is 4 months old. Since he was about a month old he would start screaming as loud as he could for no reason while obviously still asleep. Every baby book I have read and every person I asked had no idea what I was
talking about. Thank you guys for sharing your stories and comforting a first time mom.
Jin commented on 06-Dec-2011 09:45 PM
I'm relieved to find this page - it seems my 5 month old is experiencing night terrors also. He has had about 3 episodes at irregular intervals, no tv in room, dark, quiet & white noise on, plus we have a regular bedtime routine. It's very alarming to
hear him scream like he does. His eyes remain closed but I stroke his hair & tell him he's ok until he calms down. Scares the tinkle out of me - at first I was worried a spider or something got him, but nothing is amiss, so I guess it's a nightmare. Hopefully
it's not an indication of any sort of processing disorder. I'll ask the Dr. To be sure & will repost if she gives any cause for concern. Best of luck to you all & here's hoping for sweet dreams.
Ellie commented on 13-Jan-2012 10:16 PM
My grandson is 5 months old and I have noticed that if we have a lot of company especially other children he will wake up in the middle of the night crying. It takes 2 days to get him back to sleeping all night. We try to keep visitors at a minimum and
it seems to work. People think I am crazy to think that too must stimuli gives him nightmares. Am I crazy?
Ix commented on 18-Feb-2012 07:54 AM
Lara Stanley- I can't imagine having to see your baby go through this. My daughter is 3 & 1/2 mos and just started to what seems of having night terrors. I usually just pick her up and cuddle her. But reading that your child would cry & sleep about 20
mins at a time reminded me of when my daughter was suffering from acid reflux. I see your posting is from Oct. 2011 so hopefully your child is doing better. But look up info about Acid reflux in babies and see if your child has any of the symptoms listed.
My daughter has been on Nexium since she was 3 wks old. Take care & God Bless.
Anonymous commented on 24-Feb-2012 06:40 PM
Hello my 5 month old daughter is doing the same thing, getting really upset even though she's asleep sehs done it every night for the past month or so she cries about 5 times before properly sleeping all night, what I've found thou is playing soothing
music ,one of her toys helps her. I hope it doesn't last to much longer cos I hate seeing my little one like that. X
Anonymous commented on 27-Feb-2012 04:02 AM
Logging on here has made me feel very relaxed knowing that I'm not the only mother going through this. I am a first time mom and I thought it was something that I was doing. My son has been having night terrors every since his father and I stopped staying
at my mom's house together. Could my son be having nightmares because he's not use to being or sleeping with me alone ? We have never been apart from his dad until now and I even catch myself having nightmares or weird dreams that I would never dream about
if my husband was with me. Could my nightmares be affecting my son ?
Calista commented on 01-Mar-2012 10:36 PM
I agree. I feel much better knowing that it is normal for infants to experience nightmares.
tam commented on 03-Mar-2012 03:46 PM
My son is 3weeks old, he screams in his sleep n kicks n crys to the point he has a cold sweat. It's so sad to c and would love to know how or Wat to do if thr is something I can do...I pick him up n cradle him n comfort him and talk to him.. it take a
minute to settle him n he wakes up then... Please any info would be great
Anonymous commented on 06-Mar-2012 03:53 PM
Thank you all for your comments, my 2 month old has been screaming in his sleep since having his injections last Friday. It really scares me as it's not his usual cry, he suffers from bad wind and is inconsolable after every feed for about 10 mins so I
know what his 'pain' cry is, but these are completely different, and quite scary. Hopefully he will stop soon, but I'm not looking forward to his next injections. He was asleep when they did them last time and it woke him up, next time I'll make sure he's
awake first. Lara Stanley - I used to really struggle getting him to sleep in the day resulting in serious overtiredness and then wouldn't sleep at bedtime, have you tried a baby swing with the Hoover switched on? Sounds crazy but works for me.
Jamie commented on 13-Mar-2012 09:35 PM
My son is 4.5 months old, he's had a lot of medical problems all around feeding. He's been to specialist and hospital stays. On top of that I went back to work when he was 8 weeks old leaving him with a babysitter during the day and now last week I got
laid off from work and am back home with him so the baby sitter hasn't been coming.He did fine with all the medical trauma and now that he is on track with eating and gaining weight he is now having sleeping issues. He has been screaming and crying in his
sleep after about 30 minutes of sleeping almost every time he goes to sleep unless we hold him. It's just like every one has explained. He sleeps on his tummy now that he can roll over and he will be up on his hands and knees just rocking back and forth screaming
like someone is hurting him but he is still sleeping.I pick him up and talk to him and it helps a little but does not make him stop. This will go on for 30 to 40 minutes and the only way I can get him to stop is to feed him a bottle. He does not take a pacifier
and he will only suck on a bottle nipple so I make him a small bottle with a level 1 nipple and let him suck on it. The only problem his he has all the eating/tummy problems still so him eating to comfort is then making him be in pain or uncomfortable from
something else. I am calling his Ped. in the morning since he had a really bad one tonight to the point my husband and I were almost in tears trying to help our little guy out
Laura Markham commented on 13-Mar-2012 10:52 PM
Jamie- Many experts think that night terrors are a re-living of the trauma that a baby has endured. So given your son's history, that makes sense. When he starts screaming and you pick him up and speaking soothingly to him, it does help a little, but it
does not make him stop. That is like colic. The comfort is important but he still needs to cry. Please don't feed him at those times. You're teaching him that the answer to upset is food! Instead, hold him and tell him he is safe and you are there. "Listen"
to what he has to tell you. His crying is his way of telling you what he has been through, and healing himself of the pain. Once he tells you about it, it evaporates, and he can move on. I know it is VERY hard to endure your baby crying like that. But it is
not harming him. Asking him to "stuff" those feelings, on the other hand, would be harmful. Your son knows what he needs to do to heal from those hospital stays etc. And he is doing it. he just needs your support and soothing presence to remind him that you
will keep him safe. Good luck!
Eve commented on 18-Apr-2012 05:01 PM
I was really worried as my 4mth old just started crying really loud after being asleep for an hour and it wasn't his usual cry. When i went into see him his eyes were closed- his crying sounded like he was in pain and he was sweaty and thrashing about.
I picked him up to rock him and sooth him but took a good ten mins- still eyes shut. A dummy calmed him in the end. Didn't think babies could have night terrors, glad I found out it's common and hopefully it won't happen too often, bless him. Good luck to
all the other parents.
Kass commented on 21-Apr-2012 05:05 AM
So my baby experienced this for the 4th time tonight. The only difference to what most of you are posting is her eyes are shut, and its not a whimper, she is screaming bloody murder. She is 6 n 1/2 months old and she is a very very good baby. Rarely does
she even cry and has been this way since she was born. So when this happened obviously it scared me to death because it is a very loud scream over n over. Actually a very consistent cry and they last for about 30 to 45 minutes. Every time this has happened
has been on nights I've had to work late n ill be on my way home n ill get the call from my grandmother who watches her every day.... once I get there, I try and wake her up once I do she just looks around extremely confused and settles down in about 5 or
10 minutes. It is very scary. I think that she realizes she had a bad dream because of her look of confusion. My question for everyone is do these eventually go away? The first one happened about a month ago n the last 3 happened in the past week.... are they
going to continue to get worse? I know every baby is different but will you share your thoughts with me?
Nicoleluvcam commented on 22-Apr-2012 02:33 AM
I have a four month old baby and he too will be asleep crying sometimes in the middle of sleeping. On one occasion he actually woke up screaming and it made me think that he had a nightmare and it had me worried I thought that only I went through this.
Tonight he was asleep and he slept for about 45 minutes and the next thing I know he is crying loudly still asleep like someone is hurting him. Maybe it's because lately me and his father have been getting into a lot of arguments around him. We have to work
on that. I don't like seeing my baby like that. I hold him in my arms and he stops crying after a few minutes and after he knows and is assured he is safe. I just don't understand it this is all new to me. I am a first time mom so I just wondered what was
going on. Reading the responses on this message board really helped me to understand and gave me a lot of insight.
kim castillo commented on 08-May-2012 04:34 AM
I am a first time mother and my baby girl is 6mths and all of a sudden started having night terrors. It started a few days ago she was taking a nap and started screaming. I thought a bug got her or something. So I pick her up and check her and she seemed
fine but was still screaming but her eyes were close. It scared me so bad. I tried to wake her and she would not wake up. I then soothed her and she calmed down. Last night it happened again. I held her and told her its ok. She is very happy baby so I don't
know what could possibly scare her like this. The tv was on the first day it happened but last night it was not. Her father recently lefted for Turkey and its been a week that she has not saw him and he has been there every day for 6 months. Maybe that could
be it? She sees him on skype and seems confused at first but then shes happy. Maybe this change is affecting her? Thats the only thing I can think of.

Hide Older Comments

Search Q&A's