Sawyer's sleep calmed down after the fourth night, so I'm hoping we're through the woods with what my best guess said were night terrors. I had a few conversations about what constitutes night terrors or how they're different from nightmares, so I wanted to post a bit about what I learned.
Nightmares can occur in any stage of sleep where you dream. A person having a nightmare is easily awoken from sleep and may easily remember his or her bad dream. They occur throughout a person's lifetime.
Night terrors occur only in stage 4 sleep (see this site for description of sleep stages), usually within fifteen minutes to an hour of falling asleep, and occur only in the first couple of hours. A person having a night terror may appear to be awake, but actually is still asleep--though he or she may be screaming, crying, moving around, or have his or her eyes open. He or she will usually have no memory of this episode, and will move past the night terror into regular sleep on his or her own. Night terrors are most common in children between 2-6, but can occur at any age. Often it's a hereditary thing.
If your child has a nightmare, he may awaken crying or calling for you. Or, if you hear your child crying or screaming in his or her sleep, he will be easily awoken when you comfort him. With a night terror, you may think your child is awake because his eyes may be open or he may be moving about the room, but he will actually still be asleep, and you should not wake him. The best advice I read for night terrors is to let the child move past the night terror on his own, but anything that may harm him if he is moving about.
Here is why I think Sawyer was having night terrors. He had screaming and crying bouts during only the first few hours of sleep. There was no other cause or change that occurred in our routine, nor did he cry or scream when he was awake. When I went to comfort him, he was definitely not awake, and did not wake up when I lay next to him, rocked him, or spoke soothingly to him. The episodes seemed to pass on their own and he would move back into calm sleep. The first two nights, I thought he was just waking up, but it was unusual for him to scream--he's not a big crier. I tried gas drops one night, thinking he must be in pain, but after that, he still had a few screaming episodes.
I really do hope that this isn't a recurring thing with him, as it was so disturbing to watch him scream and writhe around in bed. I prayed for him, asking God to give him peace, and rocked him until the episode passed. We'll see if this recurs, and if so, at least I feel that I know a little more about what's going on!