Sleeping FAQ: 6-9 months – Settling/Sleep Associations

Since starting nursery my 8.5mth old is not settling or sleeping well at his daytime naps

Since staring nursery in the last couple of weeks, my 8.5mth son has become very clingy and has dreadful separation anxiety. He is unable to sleep at his naps now having previously been a great sleeper. Initially his lunchtime nap got shorter and shorter and he seemed unable to settle himself back. Now his morning and lunchtimes nap are just crying sessions. Today I read to him until he fell asleep then he woke 40 minutes later and has cried for the last hour. I don’t know if I am right or wrong in letting him cry it out at the moment until he realizes that a) I will be back and also that b) he relearns how to settle.

He still sleeps from 7pm until 7 am no bother. He has breakfast at 7.30 am, a snack about 10.30 am, lunch at midday, snack about 3.30 and meal at 5 pm.
I’m pretty confident this is mixture of separation anxiety, teething . Please help me with advice on how to get back on track!

My son is still breast fed at 7.30am, 2.30pm and 6.30pm. He is offered water through the day and eats his main protein meal at lunchtime.

His nap times are 9.15-9.35 and 12.15-2.15pm.

This is the classic age for separation anxiety to start. If it coincides with a change to a baby’s routine the anxiety can become quite acute. This is also a time when a baby’s sleep needs in the day begin to change and you may need to push his naptimes on a little, especially as he sleeps well at night. This would mean he is really tired when going down for his nap and so may not fight it so much.

Begin to push his morning nap towards 9.30am. You may need to do this by moving forward 5 minutes every few days or he may be ready to stay up until 9.30am straight away. Keep this nap to 20 minutes long so he is awake again before 10am. This slightly later time will help push his lunchtime nap on towards 12.30pm. Just putting him down 15 minutes later at this time may help him to settle back to having his two hour sleep. Again, you may need to move it forward slowly or he may already be able to stay up until this later time. Eventually the lunchtime nap may move to 1pm and last until 2.30pm/3pm depending on your child’s sleep needs.

When you are at home with him on his non-nursery days make sure you do have a good 15 minute quiet time together before you want him to start his nap. This will help his feelings of insecurity. Take him to his room and enjoy a couple of books together. Sometimes using the same few stories at this time can help a baby recognize the signals for nap time. Tuck him up with a favourite toy if he does not already have a comfort object. If your son does not have a comfort object consider finding a small toy which he can have at naptimes both at home and nursery.

If he wakes during his longer lunchtime nap allow him 10 minutes of controlled crying to see if he will settle back. Then go in to him and reassure him with your voice and stroke him so he quietens. Considering the recent changes to his daytime routine it is kinder to use some kind of checking system than leaving him to cry for long periods.

If you feel you want to try controlled crying at this nap, to get him to learn to resettle, read the full account of how it works in The Complete Sleep Guide, page 45, before you begin and also get your son checked over by your doctor.

If you do controlled crying properly, it should begin to work within three or four days. As you gradually increase the times that your son is left to settle he will not spend long periods crying without getting some reassurance from you. This is what he needs at present as he still is adjusting to you leaving him at nursery three days a week.

During the day be aware of his need to be with you. Separation anxiety can be a difficult phase to cope with but it is better to keep him close beside you during the days when you are home together. Play lots of games of Peek-a-Boo with him so he gets used to the concept of you disappearing and appearing again. Begin with staying close to him and hiding behind a cushion. Then gradually move yourself further away from him in the room, hiding behind a chair or sofa. Once he is used to this go out of the room completely and then reappear.

If you feel that he is getting too clingy and not willing to play alone for short periods during the day use the same way of gradually leaving him. After a time of sitting beside him on the floor whilst he plays, sit up on a chair or sofa near to him for a short while. Gradually extend the times you do this and he will become better at being on his own for short periods. If you need to pop out to the next room use your voice to reassure him, rather than just leaving the room. If you need to be out for any length of time then take him with you. The more sympathetic you are to this phase, the quicker it will pass. By responding to his need to be with you, but also helping him to cope with the idea that you will go away but always come back, should also help it pass.