Ending the Witching Hour(s)
My 7.5-month old son is a joy – his main trait is smiling at everyone and everything all the time – and he generally sleeps and eats great. He takes solid daytime naps mostly in his crib (at home or daycare) for 1-2 hours, or snoozes in a carrier if we’re on the go. He sleeps all night, 8pm-6am ish. It’s totally manageable.
A couple of months ago, I noticed him fighting his third and shortest nap of the day – generally in the 4:30-6pm range. I thought, ok, he’s on his way to dropping this nap and I’ll just do what it takes for him to sleep for 30 minutes even if I end up holding him, or else power through cranky baby evenings. Soon we’ll find a new rhythm.
Fast forward. It’s still going on, and boy it’s not sweet anymore. He shows no signs of being capable of staying awake for the afternoon and evening, but instead screams and thrashes himself into a crazed mess from 5-6pm. I honestly don’t even know what I do after that, I just close my ears and pretend like it didn’t happen, and exhale at 8:15pm when I have no qualms about letting him cry (if needed) until he sleeps for the night.
What’s the deal? Was I wrong about him transitioning away from this third nap? Does this transition take months upon months? Is it something else?
Ahhh yes, I remember going through this EXACT THING with my third baby and being similarly thrown for a loop. (Though we didn’t have that nice solid stretch of sleep through the night that you do, so JELUS.) The answer is actually pretty simple, provided you can make it work with the rest of your family’s schedule: MOVE. THAT. BEDTIME.
And I mean drastically move it. Much, much earlier. Now that he’s dropped the late-afternoon catnap, you want to seriously shorten the stretch between his second nap and bedtime. Remember the 2-3-4 sleep schedule? Two hours after he wakes up, NAP. Three hours after he wakes up from that nap, SECOND NAP. Four after that waking, BEDTIME. You might be able to pad one or two of those stretches by an hour, but in my experience (with babies under a year, anyway) once you start pushing bedtime beyond four hours after the second nap, you’re gonna have a bad time. And you’re gonna go through what you’re seeing now. 6 p.m. hits and it’s the Witching Hour(s) of the OVERTIRED CRANKY-ASS BABY WHO NEEDS TO GO TO BED.
At this age, he needs about 15 hours of sleep every day. So even with two good 1-2 hour naps, that leaves an additional 11-12 hours of sleep at night. Currently he’s only getting 10. So I’d try to move his bedtime up by at least one hour. Probably two hours at first, until he recovers from this current sleep deficit and its accompanying orneriness. 6 a.m. waking, 6 p.m. bedtime.
I’ll be honest: He might fight you on it. You might have to employ some sleep training tactics, or at least really step up with that consistent bedtime routine (bath/book/boob-or-bottle/bed) so he “gets” that this isn’t a nap, this is the Real Deal. He might add a waking back in there — just focus on getting him back to sleep with as little interaction as possible and don’t feel like you need to add a feeding/rocking/get-up-and-party break. SLEEP is what he needs, clearly and desperately.
And yeah, it will feel really weird and annoying to be feeding your baby dinner at 4:30 in preparation for a 6 p.m. bedtime. And if you’re a working parent or have a partner who gets home late, the super-early bedtime will suck for other reasons. BUT. It sounds way, way necessary for your little guy and I can promise that it probably won’t need to continue beyond a couple months. He’ll have a growth or developmental spurt and be able to power through another hour at night so you can push bedtime back to a wild and daring 7 or 7:30. He might shift his daytime naps and his second nap might go later into the afternoon. (We were able to push Ike’s bedtime back to 7:30/8 once he dropped the morning nap and started taking a single, SERIOUS nap in the afternoon. Like four/five hours. But during the two-nap months….yeah. He was in bed by the time dinner was on the table for the rest of us. I was not a fan, but what can you do? I was less of a fan of the screamy evening demon baby and that boy needed his sleep. Now he’s starting to fight the afternoon nap and we go for a screamingly early bedtime on those days, too.)
I’ve linked to this sleep/bedtime chart before but I’m linking to it again just so you can see that I’m not spouting crazy nonsense talk about the drastically early bedtime, AND so you can see 1) that your baby perfectly, wonderfully typical in his sleep development and early bedtime needs, and 2) what’s coming up in the months ahead an what to tweak when he goes from two naps to one and one to Big Fat No Naps.