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Why do toddlers start staying awake all night?

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
Why do toddlers start staying awake all night?

night terrors

This little blog came via an email I'd received from a mum with an extremely strong willed 18 month old. Here's a lovely case study with a very happy ending.

I'll give you a little background to this case study. Joshua, 19 months,  had never been an easy baby or child. He had challenged his parents every step of the way. And I'd say he is 'typical' of a lot of the children and babies that I see and help as a baby whisperer and toddler tamer extraordinaire!

He was refusing to sleep from 10pm to 5am...aaarrrggghhhh. Mum was exhausted.

My money was half on the wonder weeks and developmental changes as a reason for this extreme lack of sleep. The other half of my money was too much day sleep and maybe he had outgrown his day naps. How tough was this on mum though? I really felt for her. She works part-time in a high-powered medical position and has to be 'on the ball' all the time. Her partner works overseas for 1-2 months at a time so really it's like parenting as a single parent.

This is what she sent me...

Dear Karen, How did your visit at the surgeon go? Hope ur now pain free! (pesky wisdom teeth out but still not sorted!) Many thanks for this reassuring email. You always have a way of making people see the truth and making them feel better at the same time! I apologise for replying back so late, Joshua has been doing funny sleeping habits lately, just when we think we have mastered sleep, something new emerges! He wakes up in the middle of the night WIDE awake, not sleepy at all- he tries to self settle by himself and he can't! Different to the night terror awakenings - sometimes he giggles so much it freaks me out! These have been happening at least twice a week, the worst part is he wakes up at 10 or 11pm and doesn't end up sleeping until 4 or 5am leaving me lifeless! I didn't mention it when you came last week because I blamed the vaccine one week and a stuffy nose another but now it's a recurring pattern :( any thoughts? Desperately seeking sleep! And yes this is Joshua!

mum exhausted toddler not sleeping

My reply
Hello Suzanne, I've finally been signed off by the orthodontic surgeon. YAY!! I'm not sure who was happier - him or me?! That is classic wonder weeks/developmental changes. It's like a light bulb has been switched on. If he's not crying don't go in. Even if he's talking/giggling etc. I'm sure he will then return to normal.

Suzanne replied

I hope you are right because the last 5 days have been impossible. As you can see from my msg he hasn't slept and will probably be up for the next 5 hours. It's been like that every day and I just left the room to email you to get away from the crying! I'm going crazy. Sorry Karen!

So I rang Suzanne. This was not wonder weeks. Most definitely not.

toddler escaping cot

So we decided to cut his day naps down. There are some kids, and it's mainly the ones I see, who don't need day naps after 18 months and they are mainly boys. 6 out of 7 of the children I see for sleep issues are boys (another blog, another day). On day one, on my advice, mum woke him after 1 hour. This is what she said...

Suzanne (Joshua): I delayed his bedtime by 1.5hrs and he slept from 9pm until 7am! I don't know what to make of this honestly. This alternate night thing is so bizarre ????

Me: Interesting Suzanne. Today I'd like to reduce his day nap to 40 mins to see what he can do. I think it's the day nap that's affecting his night sleep. Let's try 40 mins for 3 days and reassess. Let's play this by ear. If he plays up I can help Sun, Mon or Tuesday night. I have a feeling though that we may have the solution. i.e. less or no day naps.

Suzanne (Joshua): Thanks Karen. Ok so instead of extending his bedtime, we make the day naps shorter? John was wondering why that's the case because he's always been doing two hours. Is it because he needs less sleep now?

Me: Yes it is. I think Joshua needs less sleep. If he has too much in the day he won't sleep at night. I think that's the problem. So we're going to cut his day nap down to 40 mins and probably remove it altogether in a few days.

Suzanne (Joshua): Ok let's follow that plan and see how we go. Thank u again.

- - - - - - - -

Me: So how was Master Joshua last night Suzanne??

Suzanne (Joshua): Oh my god I was in the middle of texting you. So I woke him up after one hour yesterday and he slept last night from 8:30pm until 630am. I'm about to put him down for a nap now and I'll wake him after an hour and see if this is a fluke or truth!

Me: Haha!! ESP working overtime. Love it. Aha master Joshua likes my plan ❤️  Liking it a lot Suzanne.

Suzanne (Joshua): ????  Ur an angel. Will keep u posted. He's refusing to nap. He's been trying for one hour to self settle. Shall I persist or skip it?

Me: Yes skip the nap. I have a feeling Joshua doesn't need day naps anymore :-( But if it gets you good night sleep it's all good.

So that's where we are at and Joshua is now sleeping all through the night once more.

baby asleep in cot

I find with children's sleep mums often keep on doing the same thing until suddenly it is so broken it's a white flag moment. Without sleep at night, life is unbearable. I'm sure many of you have been there.

If you find your little one is 18 months or older and they are taking longer to get to sleep at night or are waking up in the middle of the night and looking wired and it's getting out of hand it may well be that those day naps are time to go.

I know you love those day naps as it's a chance for you to catch up on stuff and I know you feel sad when they need to go. But when it gets like this case of Joshua, it's time... Bye day nap. Bye. And hello and welcome back a good night's sleep :-) It was time. A nice happy ever after ending.

If you're in a similar position call me, not everyone needs me overnight. Sometimes a phone or Skype consultation can be just the thing to turn things around. I am only a phone call away from you getting a good nights sleep ... 0413 054 578

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