Inside: How to conquer sleep regression and get your toddler to sleep all night.
I thought I had nailed the mom thing.
I was on top of the world.
Really! I got my baby– who slept in 45 minute intervals– to sleep through the night by 4 months old. And once I decided to really start sleep training, it only took me a couple weeks to nail it. (BTW, here’s how I got my infant to sleep all night)
Don’t get me wrong, I know that the length of time your baby sleeps at night has nothing to do with parenting skills- but I was well rested and feeling pretty good about myself!
And then it all came crashing down.
Side note: this article is meant for the early toddler from age 1 to 2.
Sleep regression hit. It hit hard.
By the time he was 9 months old, it started going down hill again.
It wasn’t too bad, just a wake up here or there. But I had no idea what to do, I had no idea how to soothe him.
I was at a battle with myself: all the advice says not to pick them up, but what else could I do?
I was all over the place– I had no pacifier and I didn’t want to re-introduce night feedings. I’ll admit I did attempt a bottle here and there when I was out of options. However, his physician recommended I stop doing that because it could be bad for his teeth.
As the wake ups became more frequent, I became increasingly exhausted and frustrated. His doctor said that if he seemed hungry, I could give him some water.
Yeah, my kid had no interest in that.
He had no interest in anything, he just wanted to be held. Actually, he had a very specific end game.
Being a former correctional nurse, I quickly learned what he was trying to do was manipulate us. His game was:
- Exhaust all my options of getting him back to sleep (water, tylenol (for possible teething or growing pains), diaper change)
- Get me to hold him, but cry every single time that I try to put him back so that I’m forced to keep holding him (aww, right? nope.)
- Make me hold him til I’m so exhausted that I need to lay down so I bring him into bed; bingo!
Aww, but what’s wrong with co-sleeping? I mean we did it before right?
Nope. The problem was that he didn’t want to co-sleep, he didn’t want to cuddle– he wanted to PLAY.
And if he did happen to fall asleep, he wasn’t comfortable. He likes to move and stretch and turn every which way. He would end up waking up even more and I would end up having to put him back in his crib anyway.
I was desperate.
At one of his routine office visits– for which I was late to because I was so exhausted that I missed my exit and had to get back on the highway and go back– I pleaded with his doctor.
He was over a year old and I had not slept a solid night since he was 9 months. I begged for a solution, but all he could offer me was to let him cry it out and to be consistent about it.
He said the moment you give in, even if it’s just once, you are setting yourself back several steps. This is because your child will only try to see how far they can take it each time to push you to the point that you give in and toddlers have stamina that babies don’t have. They can (and will) go for hours.
There’s something about letting my child cry for hours that I just didn’t feel good about.
I went back to the basics and decided to do the modified method of crying it out that had worked when he was a baby.
I did this when he was a baby and it seemed to work, so I decided to give it another go. I did have some level of toddler comprehension on my side so I thought maybe he would catch on and follow directions.
To my surprise, he did.
Here’s how it works:
- When the toddler wakes up, go in and give them a hug without picking them up
- Quickly feel if they have leaked through their diaper (baby dry is literally the only brand my kid wouln’t leak through)- if wet, change them as fast as you can and get them back into bed
- Tell him/her that it’s not time to get up yet, they need to lay back down and go back to sleep and that you love them and will see them when it’s time to get up
- Leave the room- don’t linger
- Wait 10 minutes and repeat
My toddler will sometimes scream louder at first because he doesn’t like my answer but he will ultimately lay back down and go back to sleep. Like I said, this worked really well and very quickly for my son.
I also think it’s worth noting that I have lingered before. I have tried sitting on the floor in front of the crib, rubbing his back through the crib bars. While this does soothe him, it doesn’t seem to offer a long term solution for my child, he will wake up 99.8% of the time as soon as I stop and start walking towards the door.
Something to eat or drink
Some toddlers wake up hungry or thristy. It’s not generally advised to leave bottles or sippy cups in their cribs due to the possibility of developing bottle rot (tooth decay) but you can offer them a drink or snack if you think that it would help.
I still won’t take my son out of the crib for this, I will offer him these things in the crib and take them with me if he refuses or when he is done.
I generally try to avoid medications but if I have literally exhausted all of my options and he seems inconsolable (which is unlike him) then I will check his temperature and give him Tylenol in case of teething or growing pain.
My son is a young toddler, he is not yet able to tell me if he is in pain and I would hate for him to be uncomfortable while I’m insisting that he go back to sleep.
Quiet toys in the morning
So I finally got him sleeping through the night, but then he would wake up at 6am, sometimes even earlier. This went on for months. By now, I was quite pregnant with baby number two (did I mention I also had pregnancy-induced insomnia and restless leg syndrome?) I was in tears most mornings from waking up so early after being so uncomfortable all night long.
I needed him to sleep a little longer, I mean he used to sleep until 7– what the heck happend to that??
So I reached out to a friend of mine, Lauren from the Military Wife and Mom (who btw, has tons of awesome posts for getting your kiddos to sleep) who suggested offering him toys in the morning for them to play with quietly until it was time to get up.
It took two days. Two days!
I went in, told him it wasn’t time to get up yet, gave him one of his favorite toys and left. The first day was rough, the second day was better, the third day he laid down and played with his toy and actually fell back to sleep.
The fourth day? Well, the fourth day we didn’t have to offer him a toy because he slept until 7:30. And now he sleeps until 7-7:30 almost every day.
I told my husband that I was almost mad that the solution was so simple. I wish I had thought of it sooner!
Kids are weird
What works for one kid, won’t work for another. What works one day, won’t work the next.
Snacks honestly don’t work well for my son. I tried this a couple times because I had a lot of people tell me that it works wonders for their kids (which is why I included it in this article) but it didn’t work for mine, so I don’t usually offer it.
Other things like holding him, letting him lay in our bed– those didn’t work for him either.
I searched the internet for toddler sleep articles. Most of them were for toddlers that are older. You know, ones that can talk and reason (2 years and up). But couldn’t find anything for the age my son was.
Between baby dry diapers, the modified crying it out method, and offering quiet toys (with occasional Tylenol for teething) I was able to get my toddler (under 2) to sleep from 7:30pm to 7:30am.
No, not every day– but most days. And now that baby number 2 is here, I’ll take what I can get!
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