Sleeping FAQ: 24+ Months – Night Waking

My 2.5-year-old son has begun to wake every night after a recent illness.

I have followed the routine from birth for both of my children and have been a huge fan of Gina Ford’s routine for the last 2 1/2 years. I employ 10 woman; there are 5 mothers between us and I have bought the book for all of them. My baby girl is 6 months old and has slept through the night from 11 weeks and is a dream baby. Her brother has always been more spirited but benefited largely from the routine and, up until now, has been a good sleeper. He suffers from eczema and caught chicken pox three weeks ago. During this time he was waking in the night scratching like crazy and making his skin bleed. We took him into our bed for a few nights as this was the only way to get him back to sleep. He has returned to his own bed for over a week now and he continues to wake up at any time between 11pm and 2 am. He is starting school in September; school time is 12.45pm so we are cutting right back on his lunch time sleep; now he only has half an hour. At night time we have tried several things after he has woken: going to his room calming him down, then switching the light off; this sometimes works and other times we have to repeat the process several times before he has dropped off to sleep. I don’t believe it is night terrors as when he wakes he is not complaining of monsters or anything like that. We have tried not going to him at all he has cried on and off for over an hour and then we have gone to him. When my husband went in to him after this long time last night my son lashed out and was a like a frightened animal. At this age I really did not think we would be having this problem as we had been so strict about not going to him when he was a baby in order that he would learn to put himself back to sleep. Regardless of the kind of night he has had he is normally awake by 6.45/7am.

The business I run is a very busy one and I am really finding the tiredness getting to me. I very much hope you can me us some advice as everything the book has suggested in the past has worked.

Your son has got into the habit of waking at this time and he needs to learn how to settle back to sleep without help from you now. Try dropping his lunchtime nap altogether. Let him have a quiet time after lunch; perhaps reading stories together or putting a jigsaw together.

You could also try letting him spend the half an hour in his room playing quietly with cars or what ever he is interested in. This will give him a chance to recharge for the afternoon but means he is ready for bed at 8pm and should sleep well in the night.

If he continues to wake at night and need you to go in, draw up a star chart to encourage him to settle himself back without fuss. The incentive of a new book or treat, after 3 or 4 consecutive nights when he manages to do this, may help. Remind him when he goes to bed that he will get a star in the morning if he can stay in bed and settle back to sleep without crying. Make sure that the videos and stories he may hear before bedtime are not setting off any bad dreams.

If this chart does not help him you will have to consider putting some controlled crying into place to help him learn how to get back to sleep. Rather than leaving him for a long period and then going in begin to lengthen time gradually, 10-15 minutes the first night then progressively lengthening the time over the next few nights. In this way he wont feel angry or afraid which maybe the cause of his lashing out as he waited do long for someone to reassure him. Controlled crying lets him learn the skill he has lost of being able to settle again without someone near to him. As he was such a good sleeper it should not take many nights before he is more settled again.

Sleeping FAQ: 24+ Months – Night Waking

Since moving to a bed my 3 year old wakes several times in the night.

I have followed the Contented Baby routines since my son’s birth and he has always been very happy and content.

But all this has now changed at night time. Since arriving back from our 4 week summer holiday in the UK, I have not had a full nights sleep. He has slept through since 3 months old but is now waking 2 or 3 times in the night. I work full time so disturbed nights are making me exhausted.

He moved into a bed two weeks ago which does not help matters as he just climbs out and wanders round the house. He eats well and is a happy child in the day.

He settles to sleep at 7.30pm. He may wake at 2am, 4am and then starts his day at 6.30am.

Now that your son is 3 years old and in a bed he must learn that night time is for sleeping. Although he is physically able to get out of bed he needs to know that he only does so if he really needs you in the night or because it is time to get up for a new day.

Placing a stair gate across the door of his room will prevent him from coming to any harm if he should stumble in a darkened house. It will also help you to teach him about staying in bed.

This may take some nights of controlled crying possibly to put in place. Every time he wakes up and climbs out of bed he must be led straight back to bed with very few words spoken. Use the same ones every night: “it’s night time now, time for sleeping”. Once you have placed a gate on his door he should soon see there is no point in getting out of bed.

As a further incentive for him to stay in bed until morning you could make him a star chart which has a small prize after 3 or 4 nights of not getting out of bed. Something such as an ice cream after tea. His waking appears to be more from habit rather than anything else and his knowledge that he is now free to roam. Although you are desperate for a good nights sleep again you must be consistent in the way you deal with each waking and persistent in taking him back each time.

There are clocks on the market which allow a child who is too young to tell the time that he may get out of bed in the morning. With one of these and a stair gate your son can play quietly in his room until you fetch him in the morning.

Sleeping FAQ: 24+ Months – Night Waking

My 2-year-old son is waking at night and crying out. What should I do?

After being a perfect sleeper for well over a year, my son now wakes up once or twice a night screaming for mummy or daddy. This has been going on for a couple of months (but it does not coincide with the birth of our new baby).
It wakes us up, and I always go to him – he settles back down very quickly.

It happens on most nights but not every one, and he settles quickly so I don’t think it is attention seeking. It is not his baby sister waking him.

We are shattered because of this and his sister is waking us very early every morning – I am starting to suffer from cold sores, ulcers and am being horrid to my kids.

What should I do? Should I let him cry?

He has a lunchtime nap from 1.30-3pm and is settled in bed at 7pm.

As your son settles back to sleep quickly these night wakings are probably due to a “partial night-waking” which happens as he is moving from one sleep cycle to another. Instead of moving from deep sleep to REM smoothly he gets caught between the stages. His body may be active but his mind is not. Although it may mean you have disturbed sleep yourself, it is much better to go into him and reassure him.

Most experts agree that the cause of these wakings in young children is often due to overtiredness. A typical two year old is “on the go” from the moment he wakes until he is asleep. Getting him to rest, apart from his nap during the day can be difficult. Try to build one or two times into his day where he “rests” perhaps whilst enjoying a puzzle or looking at a book with you. You may have to bring bath and bedtime forward so the time after tea is calm and quiet. Be very aware of any videos of stories which may be too exciting for this time of day and discourage any kind of running around or games after he is out of the bath. Having a relaxing and gentle time before bed will help him settle down quietly to sleep.

Another reason for this partial waking could be muscle spasms again linked to excessive activity by day. This again is not always easy to contain in a two year old but just be aware that he does need quieter times as well as plenty of physical exercise.

Handled in the way you are doing, with a quick reassurance and an eye kept on not letting him get too overtired or stimulated before bedtime, should see this phase soon pass.

Sleeping FAQ: 24+ Months – Night Waking

My 29 month old has begun to wake and cry in the night after illness.

My daughter has always slept well and we’ve followed Gina’s routines from six weeks. From 16 weeks she regularly slept through the night and from six months always slept 7pm-7am. Three months ago this abruptly stopped after a cold and a sinusitis-type virus. She has woken every night since then at least twice and regularly stays awake for 1-3 hours. I’m coping with this alone as my husband leaves for work at 5am every day and isn’t back before 7.30pm. She dropped her lunchtime sleep at 20 months. We put her into a bed at 24 months (my brother-in-law needed the cot for his first baby). We don’t have any other children.

To stop her wandering around at night she has a stair gate across the doorway. When she wakes up she wedges herself between the door and the gate and yells for me until I come in. I try not to say anything but the first time it happens I take her to the toilet (she’s been dry at night for roughly three months). I then return her to her room tuck her in, tell her: “it’s still night time” and walk away. This is normally between 10.30 and 11.30pm. She then wakes up again about 2-3 hours later at which time I go into her and tell her: “it’s night time and time to sleep”. She will try and engage me in conversation but I try not to respond. She’ll try anything not to get me to leave: “I need the toilet”; “there are monsters (tell them to go away – this works); “I don’t want you to go”, etc. She will then drift off for about 20 mins and then wake up crying for me again (same routine – wedging herself between the door and stair gate). This can regularly go on for 1-3 hours. She eventually wakes up ready for the day at 6am which is far too early!

During the day I try to keep her stimulated mentally and physically (although I’m finding walking for 2 miles each day almost impossible with the lack of sleep). She’s a very bright child with advanced vocabulary and needs the stimulation of company to keep her happy. We go out and see friends when I’m not working (2 days a week) and my childminder who has her one day a week has other children so she gets to be amongst other children.

She has always eaten very well and I ensure she has the right amount of vegetables, protein, carbohydrates etc. She’s allowed chocolate after lunch but no other sweets with E-numbers as they make her hyperactive! She has three good-sized meals a day and is on the 50th weight percentile and 75th height percentile for her age.

Her daytime behaviour is amazingly good, bearing in mind the lack of sleep. However, I do notice that from about 6pm onwards she gets totally hyperactive which is a sure sign she’s getting tired. She’s in the bath by 6.30pm and normally in bed by 7-7.30pm. I’ve always followed the same bedtime routine but for the last few nights we’ve had trouble settling her.

I suffer from depression although have been off medication for almost a year but can feel symptoms coming back due to continued lack of sleep. This is also affecting our marriage.

Your daughter’s night-time waking seems to have happened after illness and around the time she was dry at night, so she is now presumably out of nappies. At her age she is very young to be out of nappies at night, and if she is waking on a nightly basis needing to go to the loo she may possibly be not quite ready for this step yet. If she is also needing the loo at her second waking it may be sensible to put her back into nappies to see if this stops her waking so much.

As she also moved to a bed at quite a young age you will need to make it clear to her that getting out of bed is not an option at night. Fixing a bed rail may help. But as she is now used to calling for you and seeing you in the night you may need to put some sleep training into place as well.
When you hear her calling in the night you need to take her back to bed with very few words, tuck her up and leave. Use the same words every night: “it’s night time, time to sleep”. Don’t engage in any other conversation at all. She will probably begin to cry and possibly scream.

Leave her for 3-5 mins before returning and telling her the same thing again. Remaining calm and consistent in the middle of the night when you are exhausted is difficult to do but this is the only way your daughter will learn that night time is not when you get to chat or stay awake. As soon as you are aware she is out of bed again then repeat the procedure. It may mean many trips back to bed in the first few nights but being firm and consistent is the way she will learn that she must stay in bed. If she stays in bed but continues to cry then use the controlled crying method as explained in detail in Gina’s Complete Sleep Guide p45.

Her tiredness is beginning to affect her settling at bedtime. Move everything forward by at least half an hour so she is in the bath by 6pm. Have her dressed and in bed by 6.40pm at the latest. Make sure her bath and bed routine are low key and quiet. Use the routine for settling in the same way you always have, not letting her prolong it with requests for “one more story, one more drink.” As you leave make a point of saying “sleep tight, see you in the morning”. Tell her a special or well-loved toy is with her to help her sleep well.

Getting her to settle back to sleep without so much fuss will take time and persistence. Once you see that she is beginning to accept that there is no point in calling or trying to engage you in conversation at night you could begin a star chart to encourage her to stay in bed and go back to sleep should she stir. Have a small incentive which she can have after 3-4 nights of no crying or disturbance. A comic or treat she does not normally receive is adequate. The chart is used as a visual aid to show her that she is capable of staying in bed. Use stars in the morning to chart how well she is doing. This is why you will need to address the issue of if she is really ready to be “dry” at night. If she is genuinely waking needing the loo you will have a far more difficult job on your hands of getting her to stay in bed. At her age she is too young to cope with getting onto a potty in her room. You would need to leave a night light on for her to see which may further encourage night time waking and wandering in her room.

Deal with the 6am waking in the same way. Lead her back to bed and tell her it is not morning yet. Some children benefit from having a “bunny alarm“ clock which comes awake when it is time to get up, or at least to get out of bed and play quietly until you come in to start the day. Again, if she is used to your attention at this time of day she may resist the change in routine at first but if you remain firm in your approach and resolve she will become used to staying in her bed until “morning time”.

Have a look at Gina’s Contented Baby to Confident Child which deals in depth with night wakings and early starts in toddlerhood.

Sleeping FAQ: 24+ Months – Lunchtime Nap

My 29 month son does not sleep well by day which affects his night time sleep.

I have trouble getting my 29-month-old to settle down for his day nap; sometimes he does a poo after I put him down and treats it like a game because I have to go back and change his nappy. I feel he doesn’t have a restorative sleep and appears fretful and tired by 4pm. He takes ages to go to sleep so instead of putting him down at 7pm, I find myself getting him in bed by 6:15pm, and he still takes an hour to fall asleep. On days when he misses a nap, he goes into a deep sleep at 6:15 pm and wakes extremely early, but if I keep him up until 7pm, we still get the early wake-up, so that is why I try for an extra hour between 6 and 7pm. Is this wrong, or should I force him to go till 7pm in a hope that he will eventually sleep in later? My other problem is that he has a drenched nappy at 5am, even though I am limiting the water and milk at tea time. His sleep is precious at the moment and I’ve heard of lifting at 10:30pm, but I do not want to disrupt his sleep, as once he is awake he is fully awake!

My son sleeps in a blacked-out room in his bed in a grobag, and has 3 meals a day, but I have to stay away from juice, sweets etc as they change his behaviour.

It can be difficult to get an active child of this age to settle down for his lunchtime sleep. Give him plenty of exercise in the morning, including as much outside time as possible so he gets plenty of fresh air. Keep things as quiet as possible over lunchtime and perhaps introduce a 5 minute story before settling him for his nap so he is more relaxed and likely to drop off to sleep. Some toddlers of this age may be more ready to go down at 1pm as they are moving towards dropping the nap altogether. If you feel he could settle better at this later time then move towards it gradually. This may also help if he has a dirty nappy just after going down at 12.30pm. At his age it may be worth considering getting him to sit on a potty after lunch if you know that he often has a pooh at this time.

A slightly later lunch-time nap may help in the evenings as he would be less exhausted. At this age his daytime sleep needs will be beginning to decrease and he may only need an hour, but getting that hour at the right time of day will improve how he settles at night and also may help the early morning waking.

It is easy for a child of this age to become burnt out and exhausted. Make sure he has enough activities and play dates but beware that he also needs quiet times in his day. He may need help from you to have short rest periods throughout the day. Offer to read to him or help with a jigsaw if you feel he needs to take a break and recharge.

Having a very calm bath time and bedtime, not being rushed, even if you are aware that he is tired, will help him relax into sleep. Start to wind down after tea and keep his bath time short and peaceful. A very active child needs longer to calm down and also may need quiet but firm handling to do so. Once out of the bath don’t let him run around again. Lower the lights and close the curtains. Begin to settle him about 6.15/6.30pm if he seems tired but still keep to the same routine of enjoying a story or two and a chat about the day before leaving him to settle himself to sleep.

Sleeping FAQ: 24+ Months – Lunchtime Nap

The time of my 2 year old’s lunchtime nap will clash with his nursery slot.

My son is due to start nursery in January 2006, when he will be 2 years old. I am also due to give birth to my second son on 2.2.06.

My son goes to a crèche three times a week and loves it. He is definitely ready for nursery as he loves being and playing with other children.

My problem is that the only nursery I can get him into near me in London only have afternoon spaces available from 1.15-3.45pm.

He currently wakes at 7/7.30am and still has a lunchtime nap of two hours, at 1-3pm. He needs this or is overtired in the afternoon. He goes to bed at 7.30pm and usually lies chatting in his cot until he falls asleep around 8pm.

He has always been a good sleeper. He is happy in his cot [he still wears a grobag] until he falls asleep. When he wakes he never cries, just chats to his teddybears.

I am really worried about his nap schedule when he goes to nursery. Obviously I could do with the time when he is at nursery to do errands and to be with the baby. My son also needs the stimulation and company of other children and, in my opinion, will cope very well with going as he is an outgoing child who is very happy in the care of other people. But I cannot cope with a newborn and an over tired toddler!

Should I let my son have 2 one hour sleeps, one before nursery and one after? Or 2 hours in the morning? But then will he make it through to bedtime? I am sure that once nursery starts I will have to put him to bed earlier and he will fall asleep quicker but I do not want to be up at 6am.
I thought other mothers must have had this problem or does everyone manage to find a morning slot for their toddler?

Trying to change your son’s good sleeping patterns could well take some trial and error before you hit on the right combination. At two he will still need a sleep of sorts but with the hours you have been allocated this is probably going to have to be in two naps. It is doubtful whether he will be willing to sleep for 2 hours earlier in the morning, be woken and given lunch before speeding off to nursery.

Ask at nursery what other children of his age do? You may find he could have an hours nap when first there which would be his normal time for sleeping. Although you are keen for him to play with the other children adjusting to new people, a new baby and new sleeping times may all be a little too much at first.

You may need to build in quiet times into his mornings in the first few weeks when he is adjusting to being out in the afternoons. If you feel he would be willing to sleep before his lunch for an hour then try putting him down but most toddlers do take some time to come round after their daytime sleep. If you have to rush him through his lunch in order to make his nursery time, the whole time of day could become fraught and unpleasant.

Consider keeping a nap in at 1-2pm when he is first there, and the possible need for a short nap at 3.45pm. This could help him enjoy his time at home with you and stay roughly with his usual bedtime, perhaps making his bedtime 15mins earlier.

It is difficult to know how he is going to react to missing out on some of his sleep. Many toddlers adapt well to nursery hours and, although do not sleep for so long when there, manage to get through. As long as you are vigilant in watching his reactions and adjusting to an earlier bedtime, if needed, he should benefit from his nursery times without becoming chronically over tired and difficult.