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On Night “Wakings” That Actually…Aren’t

Jun10

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Hi Amy,

I know you have answered a million questions about infant sleep before, but you seem to be privy to some special info that the rest of us mere mortals cannot find.

Anyway, this is about my (just turned) 1 year old. He sleeps like a newborn at night! He is up every 2 hours (sometimes more frequently). This has been happening since he was 4 months old, although it has gotten progressively worse.

At 4 months, he had his sleep regression at the same time as my return to work and his first daycare cold. The only way most (but not all) of the time to get him back down is to nurse him. Daddy usually doesn’t help out at night because he is in school and working and can’t miss out on too much sleep. I left my job when my son was about 6 months old, so I get the nighttime duties because I’m home with him all day. The problem is, I haven’t gotten more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep in almost 8 months now!

I’m exhausted and not interested in weaning (and he is teething, so if he honestly needs nursing for comfort, I don’t want to deprive him of that). I’ve read the The No-Cry Sleep Solution, but a lot of the stuff either doesn’t apply or didn’t work. He falls asleep without issue, it is just the waking up. We’ve tried earlier bedtime – he actually sleeps longer if we put him to bed later (ie: if he goes to sleep at 8, he’s up by 9, but if he goes to sleep at 9:30, he’s not up until after midnight… and forget about 7pm!). He is also a good napper when given the opportunity (sometimes he misses or has a shortened one if we are out somewhere, but he’s good about sleeping in the car at least). I’ve even seen him wake up and go back to sleep on his own for naps, so I know he can put himself to sleep.

He never wants to wake up – he’s very angry when it happens and his eyes are usually still closed. I give him an opportunity to go back himself, but usually it doesn’t work. If I go in and just try to pat him or rub his belly or something, he gets mad and pushes my hand away and cries until I pick him up. We tried CIO once; after 3 minutes, he was screaming bloody murder, so my husband went in, which caused him to get even angrier. By the time I went in at 5 minutes, he was hysterical and about ready to throw up. He was so wound up the rest of the night he had to come into bed with us.

He starts out the night in his crib, but usually by 3am or so, he ends up in bed with us if he keeps waking up more frequently than every hour or won’t go back to sleep. He still cries in bed with us, so it isn’t separation anxiety. Even though I’m a believer in co-sleeping, it really isn’t feasible in our tiny queen sized bed with my 23-pounder that likes to kick me in the stomach and poke daddy in the eyes. My back is in so much pain from accommodating him in our bed. I wouldn’t care as much if it solved the problem and he slept, but it doesn’t. I just get too tired to walk down the hall to get to him.

We’ve tried white noise, lullabies, light projector, sleeping in the pack ‘n play (where he takes his naps), sleeping with a soft blanket (also what he does for naps), introducing a lovey, tiring him out before bed (riles him up more), bath time, reading a book, warmer pajamas, cooler pajamas, and any other advice I’ve probably heard. What am I missing? The sleep deprivation is really starting to affect me.

(Also, we just found out that he is anemic, so I have no idea how this kid isn’t tired! I remember how it felt to have low iron – I couldn’t stay awake!)

Thank you Amy,
Sleepless in South Florida (sorry, that was pretty cheesy)

Okay. So. Imma write a column here, but be forewarned that it’s almost 100% culled from the book I am going to recommend you get ahold of. In fact, if you want to skip my blabberings altogether and just go straight to the bookstore or library right this instant, my feelings will not be hurt. Go buy/borrow a copy of Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.

“But wait!” you say. “Isn’t Ferber and Ferberizing just a cry-it-out (CIO) system? Which we tried already? With disastrous results? Did you not READ my question, woman?”

I did! I promise I did. And it’s kind of a shame Ferber and his book have gotten so pigeonholed as being All CIO, All The Time. I mean, my copy is 440 pages long, and I assure you, there’s SO MUCH MORE to it than simply: List sleep problem. Solution: Cry. The End.

There’s a chapter in this book that describes what your son is going through to a tee. It’s called a “confusional arousal.” He’s not waking up completely — and like you said, he’s pissed as hell that he’s not still fully asleep — but it just keeps happening. He’s on the verge of moving from Stage IV (deep sleep) to Stage V (REM sleep). He’s waking up partially in a confusional event and since he’s young and still kind of figuring this whole “sleep” thing out, he’s unable to balance out the drive to sleep with the drive to wake, and the entire sleep cycle (and yours, too) is getting derailed from there. Ferber’s book actually plots these “partial wakings” on a spectrum, and what’s happening to your son is basically one step below a night terror.

A night terror will feature screaming and panic, a child who is literally standing up or jumping out of bed while still asleep and who will have no memory of the event once it passes. These can be terrifying to witness the first time, and the temptation to fully wake the child up is strong…but it’s best to let the event run its course (as long as the child isn’t in danger of hurting him or herself). A confusional arousal is an extended period of crying, fussing, yelling, kicking, rolling around and general upset. It’s at this stage in the sleep cycle that older kids will sleepwalk, or talk in their sleep. Your son is basically going through something similar — and getting stuck there, and then fully interrupted by you. Like a night terror, a child experiencing confusional arousals is not fully awake and the event will pass on its own, provided we parents mind our own business and resist going in there and waking them up the rest of way, thus pulling them completely out of the night’s sleep cycle and dooming them to zero REM sleep.

Because your son is likely not actually “waking up every night.” He doesn’t really need or even want you. (You mentioned even going in to pat his back seems to make him angry.) It is very, very likely that if given proper time and space, the event will pass and he will go back to sleep. As in, longer than three minutes. I wonder if, that time he was screaming bloody murder if he was even awake, or if he had simply moved a step down the spectrum and was having a night terror? Once again, by going in and waking him up fully, you’ve interrupted the sleep cycle EVEN MORE and then yes, he’s then going to be awake and confused and tired and be COMPLETELY incapable of resuming his night’s rest.

So why do these partial wakings happen? Well, the number-one reason is usually that the child is overtired. An overtired toddler will wake up more and have more difficulty getting back to sleep. This would make sense given the anemia — possibly once you get his iron levels up the problem will pass on it’s own. You mentioned that he is a good napper but occasionally does miss a full nap, and his bedtime is definitely a tad on the late side. I understand you’re trying to do a ballet of “if he goes to bed at X, he wakes up by Y, but if we try Z” and we’ve ALL BEEN THERE.

But just spitballing here: Experimentation with the “right” bedtime has led to a feeling (for him) of inconsistency. You do an early bedtime on a day he missed a nap, but then push it back to 9:30 the next night…not realizing that thanks to a partial waking the night before he’s STILL behind in sleep from the missed nap, compounded with shaving an hour or so off his night’s sleep — confusional events happen pre-REM, which only comes at night, hence his ability to put himself back to sleep during a nap’s day sleep cycle — and well, you get the idea. A super overtired, anemic kid who is behind in his sleep, screaming at the sleep gods multiple times a night because he’s struggling to make it through the sleep cycle hump. Multiple nights in a row without ever entering REM sleep, and BAM. That’s a toddler who is going to keep having the same sleep issues every night.

So. Get his iron levels back up. Pick a bedtime once and for all and stick with it — for kids with sleep issues, it should be one that is just late enough to allow him to fall asleep QUICKLY but not so late that he’s yawning, putting his head down, etc. Try to get him through a solid week or so with full, real naps in the crib and no car-snoozing and see if you notice a decrease in the night wakings.

The other big reason for confusional events (according to Ferber) is the idea of the child having a “job” to do. Basically some external factor that he’s come to depend on to get back to sleep, like a pacifier, musical toy or even just looking for your presence in the room. (Even though he doesn’t necessarily WANT you there during the midnight freak out.) You nurse him back to sleep (not all the time, but most nights), so his brain thinks it “needs” you (even though he’s not waking from hunger) and the needle is getting stuck. “Uh oh, waking up, where’s boob where’s boob I DON’T WANT BOOB, I WANT TO SLEEP, aaaarrrrrrgggghhhh Hulk Smash.”

You certainly don’t need to wean him completely, but closing the boobs after bedtime might be a wise choice at this juncture. Don’t let him fall asleep while nursing, brush his teeth afterward and/or read a story so he’s fully awake when you put him in the crib. Resist swapping night nursing with another “job” like waiting for a butt pat or to be picked up. (Which, as you’ve obviously noticed, HE DOESN’T EVEN WANT.) You can do this as gradually as you feel comfortable with, but focus on eliminating anything external that his brain might be feeling like it “needs” before it can go back to sleep — especially something that he can’t provide for himself (like rolling over, grabbing a blankie, etc.) and requires YOU to provide. We all do that when they’re tiny, obviously, but at some point it’s OKAY to admit that you’re tired and are done being the Human Nighttime Pacifier.

When you say “I give him an opportunity to go back himself, but usually it doesn’t work,” how long of an opportunity are you giving him? If three minutes is the maximum you’ve let him cry, well…yeah. You’re going to hate me and I’m sure I’ll get an ear full of it from the commenters, but that might just not be enough time. Especially since I really don’t think he’s even awake and aware that he’s crying!! If you were describing a child who was standing up in the crib, eyes open, arms out, and who immediately settled down with a contented sigh when you pick him up, my advice would be completely different. (In that case, I’d probably say try the 3/5/10 minute incremental approach, and try to ease him off needing to be picked up by offering back pats or a lovey instead, then work on making yourself eventually extinct from the whole process.)

If he’s really going through a confusional arousal, he’s not fully awake. Full stop. Science! He might never be fully awake most nights, even if he’s moving around or acting possessed or pissed as all get out. It might take him five, 10 or even 15 minutes to work through it enough to lie back down and sleep. I would only recommend intervening if you can tell for SURE that he’s fully awake and crying FOR YOU and not just bleating out to the void. (Video monitor, maybe?) (Followed by ear plugs, if you do determine that you’re dealing with a shrieking-in-his-sleep/work-it-out-yourself-son kind of situation.) By not going in after three minutes I bet it will highly unlikely that he’ll be hysterical and vomiting by minute five — that probably happened because he’d been fully awakened, mid-confusional event. (Or night terror. Lots of kids experience both. Wouldn’t it just SO FIGURE that the one time you tried to let him cry would be the night he’d escalate to a full-on bloody murder terror?)

Crying sucks, ooooohhhh how I know it sucks to listen to a crying kid in the middle of the night, but remember that — if he’s truly having a Stage IV event — he’s riiiiight on the verge of crucial, super-important and healthy REM sleep. He probably needs that way, way more than a back pat or more milk.

But anyway, get a copy of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. It’ll make a lot more sense than I have here. It really taught me so much about the science behind sleep and why certain things happen at certain points in the night. And why it’s important to take our children’s sleep issues seriously and not just sort of shrug and hope it all works out because we’re fine being a martyr who doesn’t get enough sleep either.

And it’s also quick to note that children sleep problems are not because of bad parenting, or from doing things “wrong.” Some kids have these issues, others don’t. Some kids magically “fix” everything the night they cut a tooth and others require sleep training to move past it. Some kids wean from night nursing themselves and other kids don’t, and it can then only cause sleep problems for half of those kids, while the others co-sleep like rocks and never wake Mom up with their constant thrashing and gaaaaahhhhhh this isn’t going to work out I NEED TO SLEEP.  But I don’t think your son isn’t crying at night because he feels abandoned or hungry or unloved by the understandably sleep-deprived parents down the hall. He’s crying because the human brain and sleep patterns are strange and mysterious things that rule our bodies like a couple of drunk dictators.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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33 Responses to “On Night “Wakings” That Actually…Aren’t”

  1. Ellen Jun 10 at 4:48 pm Reply Reply

    We had this problem with my 3rd son. He was sleeping great, and then all of a sudden, he was waking up 8 times a night. Started when he was about 8 months old. I was at my wit’s end. I finally remembered a parenting book that I’d liked, and hunted in it for sleep suggestions. She suggested looking at the alarm clock when he started crying and waiting for a full 10 minutes before going in there. It was hard at first, and he was still crying at 10 minutes the first time. Soothed him, put him back to sleep. The second time, yes, still crying. BUT, he only woke up 4 times that night. The second night was better, and so was the 3rd. After a week, he was back to only waking up once to eat, and soon he wasn’t waking up at all. This works!

  2. Autumn Jun 10 at 6:14 pm Reply Reply

    We did the “sleep lady shuffle” starting at 14 months cause my daughter would only nurse to sleep, and she didn’t know how to put herself to sleep and after her being sick while Mr Autumn was gone for a week long work thing, I knew we couldn’t keep going like this.  I’m not saying weaning, more taking yourself out of the equation.  

    I know your husband is busy, but if he can put in 15-20 minutes it can help you a lot.  We started getting Really bedtime routine consistent with brush teeth, bath with mommy, mommy puts on jammies, and Reading stories with Daddy!  The first 2 nights were pretty tough cause she was MAD, but after 45 minutes of off and on crying, she was OUT!  down to 15 minutes the next, and 5 the following.  Now she goes down great 90% of the time, usually off if we are trying to speed things up so Daddy can watch his hockey team in the playoffs.  Sports.  Gah.  

    The waiting 5-10 minutes while the baby cries at night is hard.  We’ve been doing this since she was a newborn and it does make her a good sleeper, now that we figured out how to teach her to sleep.  

  3. Tricia Jun 10 at 6:21 pm Reply Reply

    Such awesome advice!! I’m still working on naps but I’ll be coming back to this if it happens. Good luck!

  4. CJ Jun 10 at 6:24 pm Reply Reply

    I just wanted to mention that before you do anything else, find a good pediatrician and get your child checked out.

    We had a similar problem, and were also told about night terrors. However, our pediatrician also mentioned that night terrors don’t normally start until around 2. 1 is early, and given that it started at 4 months, it might not be that. (Our problems also started around then, but he wasn’t the best sleeper before then either.) She didn’t have a real solution, and never said it wasn’t night terrors, but she also didn’t seem convinced that it was.

    After some research, we decided to try cutting dairy. I’ll fully admit that it was a Hail Mary pass; we didn’t expect it to work, but nothing else was either. Lo and behold, after 6 weeks of no dairy for either of us, he slept. We then experimented by giving only him dairy, and he responded with a dozen night wakings for a week. We have run this experiment 4 times now (some accidentally), with the same result every time.

    If you’re as desperate as we were, you might try it. If you’re lucky, that was the problem. No dairy has been a pain, but at least we’re all sleeping again.

    There is some research on breastfed babies and dairy, but most pediatricians base their diagnosis on the more common research with formula-fed babies. It seems that those babies usually have failure to thrive early on, since their primary diet is cows-milk protein. You might find this meta-study helpful. 

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553152/

    Best of luck.

  5. Lindsay Jun 10 at 6:46 pm Reply Reply

    I really sympathize. We sleep trained (let our kid cry), but it felt like torture. But it worked, and we all slept, and I have to say we were all much happier for it. Also a note on night-weaning (not all-out weaning). My kid was no longer allowed to nurse during the night at 10 months old. But we kept some amount of daytime nursing until 21 months. These are really not the same thing, and at one year old you don’t need to worry that night weaning will necessarily lead to all-out weaning. And I believe OP said she already read Ferber, but I do think Amy’s right that it’s worth another try. Try a different number of minutes if you need to, or more or less comforting when you go in. The specifics don’t matter that much, but having a plan matters a ton. One point in favor of sticking word-for-word with the Ferber plan is how clear it is. For those of us who can be wishy-washy about these things (ME), this was tremendously helpful.  Good luck! You all deserve some sleep!

  6. Laura Jun 10 at 8:48 pm Reply Reply

    Duuuuude, thank you. I could’ve written this letter about my ten-month-old. Confusional arousal!! I had never heard of it. Now I have a strategy for dealing with this instead of playing the martyr/hoping it goes away magically, after months of NOT going away… I’m so glad you wrote this column rather than just throwing a Ferber book recommendation out there, because your reassurance that maybe three minutes isn’t enough, and baby’s not going to be traumatized by a little more, is really the kick in the rear that I needed. Thank you.

    • Laura Jun 10 at 9:00 pm Reply Reply

      PS. When she “wakes” at night, I always find my daughter sitting up Indian style in the middle of her crib, or kneeling and gripping the crib rails (pitifully sobbing either way). But eyes closed and easily soothed back to sleep by nursing–NOTHING but nursing works. Is this consistent with what Amy wrote about?

  7. Lynn Jun 10 at 8:54 pm Reply Reply

    I’m an old lady with 3 grown kids, no grandkids. When I’m asked for advice about sleeping, I always ask two questions. Does baby sleep on same floor as you? Do you use a baby monitor at night. If the answer to both is Yes, then turn it off. Trust me, you’ll be able to hear them cry if you need to. Unless you’re like my husband who sleeps through anything. I’m not sure how it would work for the original poster, but it works a lot of time!

  8. Allison Jun 10 at 9:25 pm Reply Reply

    My kid was/is like this. Except she was older and in a toddler bed and would get up and wander the house shrieking in anger. You really do have to just wait it out, and they eventually fall back asleep. If you are having to wait until he’s calm enough for the boob, like I was, then you can take the boob out of the equation.

  9. Juliet Jun 11 at 4:48 am Reply Reply

    Just to offer another perspective: my 15 month old still wakes about this often in the night, and nursing is mostly the only thing that gets him back to sleep. Personally I’m happy to keep co-sleeping, keep nursing as necessary (nursing lying down = best trick ever), and wait for him to sort it out of himself in due course. I’m already noticing that he’s sleeping longer than he used to, and that sometimes in the evenings just saying “hush” from the doorway, or his dad going in, works, where 3 months ago it wouldn’t have. So there’s progress, even if slow, and FOR ME that’s fine right now. I do try to get a super-early night two or three times a week.

    BUT BUT BUT if I was still co-sleeping with an adult and a wriggly 15month old in a small double I would not be saying this! We too found that around 12 months there just wasn’t enough room. Our solution is a double mattress on the floor in my son’s room, and I start off in the adult bed and then go through to him at his first “night” waking. Other solutions would be to put your mattress on the floor (gives a little extra room, though not much), to do that and put a single alongside it for lots more room for all 3 of you, or to buy a bigger bed /mattress if that works for your space (it doesn’t for ours). So if you’re happier finding solutions to make what you’re doing now more sustainable, then there’s that. (And I acknowledge that that doesn’t work for everyone.)

  10. Jimmy Jun 11 at 10:44 am Reply Reply

    We went through a very similar time with our oldest.  It sucks.  Do rest assured, however, that one day it won’t be like this and you’ll go back to sleeping through the night.  You’ll probably end up pregnant again at that point, but that’s for another post.  

    It’s probably too late this time around, but I would strongly suggest having a talk about sharing night-time duties with your husband next time around.  A simple “I can’t do every night time shift by myself again” should suffice if you say it with your “I’m not f-ing around” face.  Because, honestly, regardless of work schedules, it isn’t fair that only one person has to go sleep deprived for a year or more while the other sleeps soundly every night.  

    I’m a full time stay at home dad.  My wife works a high-stress job that never seems to have a closing hour, but she still breastfeeds our 11 month old when she wakes at night.  A dad that works outside the house during the day can handle waking up to help out.  

    There are times I feed her the bottle.  Most times my wife feeds her.  Every time our daughter wakes up, it’s my job to go bring her to my wife for side-lie feeding.  When she’s done I take our daughter back to our room.  I did this with our son when I was still “working” as a lawyer full time and my wife was on maternity leave.  

    Aside from being more fair, it can also have a practical effect in your situation.  With our older son (2.5 y/o now), the only thing that seemed to finally work at nights was switching from nursing to having me give him the bottle.  We decided around 10 months to make the switch entirely, and within a few days he started sleeping through the night.  It was like a total admission that he was only waking up to comfort nurse, and wasn’t actually hungry at all.  Having mom do it didn’t work, it had to be me.  

  11. MR Jun 11 at 11:33 am Reply Reply

    OP, ((hugs)) It gets better. Amy gave great advice, but before you do ANYTHING else, tell your dh he is on duty one night. I know, I know, school and work and all that – but he can survive missing one night of sleep. YOU haven’t gotten REM sleep in MONTHS. You need one night where you get at least a single 4 hour stretch of sleep. That will let YOU get REM sleep, and you will be amazed at how great you feel, even if you are woken every hour after that! You need at least a 4 hour stretch of sleep to feel sane. So, first, get some REMs yourself. Then you will be able to take Amy’s advice and figure out your son’s issues.
    As pp suggested, I also highly recommend turning off the baby monitor if you are on the same floor. It helps cut down on the noises that wake you. And use white noise in YOUR room. You will still hear baby if something is really wrong, but you won’t hear all the lighter noises and it will help you sleep.

  12. Jenifer Jun 11 at 12:34 pm Reply Reply

    (Hugs) from here too. Yes to all the things to try – but please take care of yourself. It’s next to impossible to try out all this stuff if YOU are as tired as you surely are. If you can afford it, treat yourself to a night in a hotel -so you can sleep as long as you need to. After that, Daddy needs to take at least one night a week OR (and this is what worked for me) “Split the nights so that each of you gets a “goodish” night’s sleep. Here’s what we did. I went to bed at 7:00 with baby. Husband took care of all wakeups till 1. I took care of things from 1-6 when we all got up. It helped immensely to have a guaranteed 6 hours sleep every night. Once I had my sleep at a reasonable place I could more easily address baby’s sleep.

  13. Anne Jun 11 at 1:25 pm Reply Reply

    I completely agree with the Ferber recommendation. And I think this sounds like it will be greatly helped by lessening the interference. In my case, I had three children who I continued to nurse in the night through the 1-year mark, and the longer I continued, the worse the wakenings got. As soon as I realized what was happening (times 3 children — you really do forget I guess!) I let them fuss/cry with increasing intervals in the night and after 1-2 nights, it stopped completely. I think Amy hit the nail on the head with her advice, as usual.

  14. sassy Jun 11 at 3:05 pm Reply Reply

    So I would definitely suggest letting him cry it out again. But, my son is not a cry it out baby, and not all are. He has acid reflux, and he really does get himself so worked up he is throwing up, which is not good. I would talk to your pediatrician. Mine, who originally told us to use the Ferber method, gave us several helpful alternatives after I described what happened. Also, I use a”no cry” method but he still cries going down and I do have to let him sleep with us. But we close down the boob after bedtime and no leaving bed in the middle of the night. It took a couple of weeks of angry crying but now he sleeps through the night no problem.

  15. KR Jun 11 at 3:22 pm Reply Reply

    I want to heartily second the recommendation to give baby something more like 10 to 15 minutes before going in.  Set yourself a timer and make an agreement with your husband that you are not allowed to cave before it goes off.  Or, better yet, make it your husband’s responsibility to go deal with baby when the timer does go off.  Put on a tv show or do give yourself something to do other than listen to your baby cry. For my hormonal breastfeeding self, knowing that a) I’m not allowed to take any action for a set period of time and b) this crying fit is NOT my problem to deal with really helped my mental state.   
    Also, please please give yourself some credit for being a crucial contributing family member who does important things during the day and needs rest to be able to do it.  I would argue that dealing with a baby/toddler day in and day out requires even more patience and level-headedness (and therefore SLEEP) than work/school (and I say this as the working-full-time member of my family!).  I agree with the above commenters that it’s important for you to express your needs to your husband and for him to get on board with at least some of the nighttime efforts.

  16. Kat Jun 11 at 3:46 pm Reply Reply

    Hugs, hugs to the OP. This is so hard, and we went through something really similar to this (there was never great sleep, and everything went even further south after 4 months, same thing with the interruptions seeming to cause more drama and, and). We tried EVERYTHING. We did bedtime shuffles, serious routines, we even tried the increment version of Ferbers method. It didn’t click for us – not because the method doesn’t work but because I wasn’t strong enough to handle the crying. At 9 months, I weaned him at night (I did a step down method, no more nursing and decreased the milk by ounces until we were at zero). My thought was that at 9 months, he is able to get plenty of calories during the day, and sleep for at least a 6 or 7 hour stretch. We used a book called “The Sleep Easy Solution”, which was a less sciency approach but had a lot of “this is going to be tough, here’s how YOU cope with this gentle CIO method”. It is what finally got us through the first few nights of crying. After three nights, we were magically up to 6 hours of sleep. In a row. SLEEP. He was much happier during the day, naptimes were even easier! Honestly, you are going to do things that are going to temporarily displease your children (just wait until your baby is 2 and freaking out because he can’t have ice cream for every meal), but you have to stick with what you know is best. If getting a good night’s sleep is best, try to be strong enough to know that a few minutes of crying (even if it is SO heart-wrenching) at this age will not hurt them, but never getting a good night’s sleep certainly will. Be strong, Momma, and ask for Daddy’s help if you need it. Hold his hand, eat some ice cream and try not to stare at the clock.

  17. Janet Jun 11 at 4:06 pm Reply Reply

    Like CJ, my kiddo turned out to have a dairy problem and the frequent night wakings went away once it was cut out of my diet and his. Unfortunately it took me 15 months to figure out the relationship of the dairy to sleep. Getting rid of the wakings that were the result of the dairy has left us only with the ones that are “behavior” which I choose to deal with so I can continue to nurse him at night (I work in the daytime).

    I would disagree with CJ and not put a lot of stock in a pedi’s assessment. I discussed the situation with two highly regarded pedi’s and both told me that unformed stools and frequent night wakings are soooo common. Yeah, cuz so many more kids than we realize have diet sensitivities that are overlooked.

  18. Hope Jun 11 at 9:38 pm Reply Reply

    The greatest gift my SIL ever gave me (she’s a pediatrician) was when she told my husband, “your wife is too sleep deprived to think long term. she will literally do whatever it takes to get your daughter back to sleep at night. it is now *your* job to get her sleeping. your wife hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in months, it’s going to start causing her some serious health problems. you need to fix this.” We started sleep training that night, my husband took the lead, and within a week I was sleeping again.

    I think that sometimes, as moms, we tend to just give up on our own sleep, even when it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially if we’re the primary caretaker, or exclusively nursing. Your husband needs sleep because he works and goes to school, but you need sleep because *everybody* needs to sleep. Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah nap during the day blah blah. Nobody should be forced to endure months on end without a full nights sleep. Even when I was nursing our daughter back to sleep multiple times a night, my husband took at least one night a week where he slept with her elsewhere and I got a solid 7-8 hours.

    So, my recommendations would be two-fold. One: get your husband on board with your plan of action, and maybe see if he can be the one to implement it (my husband was able to handle progressive waiting just fine, I needed to hide in our attic with a white noise generator). Two: tell your husband to step up and give you a night off. Because you need it.

  19. -k- Jun 14 at 11:40 am Reply Reply

    You have to decide for yourself what your CIO comfort level is. I like the distinction Amy makes here between letting him cry when he’s awake versus not interfering with his trying-to-get-back-to-sleep crying. But if it doesn’t seem like that’s what’s going on (because who really knows with these things), here are a couple other tidbits:

    – Apparently a lot of babies who haven’t been sleeping start to do so around 15 months. So there’s that. Not a guarantee, but a glimmer of hope. (This comes from Ask Moxie, who I know Amy also reads. She also points out that there’s a 55 week sleep regression–http://www.askmoxie.org/2007/10/55-week-sleep-r.html–so this might not be the right moment to implement huge changes.)

    – Jay Gordon has a plan for nightweaning that a lot of families who need to sleep but don’t want to wean try: http://drjaygordon.com/attachment/sleeppattern.html If this worked for you, it would set you up to get your husband more involved. I am a full believer in extended breastfeeding where feasible and don’t think nursing to sleep is something to be frowned upon, but admittedly this is a downside- the holder of the boob has to do a lot of the nighttime parenting.

    – There is a “Wait It Out” group on Facebook run by the woman who writes Nurshable, which is also a resource that you may find reassuring in some ways.

    Good luck.

  20. Michele H. Jun 17 at 10:32 am Reply Reply

    Am I missing something? Did no one notice that the writer already confirmed that she’s already read Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems right in the beginning of her letter? This response was completely unhelpful. I’m a big fan of this blog, but this was way off course and frustrating! I’m also a mother of one of the worst sleepers around and not only have I read the book and tried the techniques to-the-letter, but I’ve also gone so far as to make an appointment at the famous Sleep Clinic founded by Dr. Ferber. And guess what? THEY read the damn book to me and told me all the things we were doing were exactly right. Great. That was at 8 months. And now he’s almost 2 and still wakes 3 or more times a night. And can cry for 2 hours or more using the fabulous Ferber method. For many kids, Ferber is the absolute best answer – he was for my oldest. For some kids, keep Ferber in mind and then just do what you have to in order to survive. I’d like to say we’ve found the answer, but in truth, we continue to struggle every day. Our latest is yelling at my DS to lie down already because we’re not picking up his blankie/rubbing his back/giving a sippy-cup/ or otherwise “all done” with sleeping at 1am. Then when he wakes again after 4am and we are completely beat down, he comes into bed with us so he doesn’t wake his (god bless her for being a deep sleeper) sister any longer. I’ve tried weening all of this, but that just resulted in 2 hours + of screaming night after night for 3 weeks. Every so often, we try again if we’re feeling strong. But as yet, no cure has been found. My husband is also an insomniac so I’m thinking like father like son.

    My heart truly goes out to this writer and I hope she finds the technique that works for her and her family. I also hear there you can find a night nurse to come in and help overnight. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us Mombies (mom-zombies) could all afford it…

    • Michele Jun 18 at 1:13 pm Reply Reply

      I can’t believe no one else has mentioned the fact that the OP says she read it already! I thought i was crazy.
      That said, Amy’s response could be helpful by pointing out the specific issue that may be applicable…it’s possible that the OP missed that part, or skimmed it without realizing it might help.

      • Nancy Jun 19 at 11:20 am Reply Reply

        Hi, OP here. Please note that there was an issue with the transcription of my question. I hadn’t read Ferber – I’d read Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution. So please don’t bash Amy – she wasn’t off-base with the suggestion!

        • Isabel Kallman
          Isabel Jun 19 at 11:24 am Reply Reply

          Thanks, I’ll fix it right away. Yep, it was my fault and it was a typo. Sorry about that. Will be more careful next time. :)

      • Isabel Kallman
        Isabel Jun 19 at 11:31 am Reply Reply

        It was an error on my part. Sleep deprivation is affecting me too. My apologies.

  21. Nancy Jun 19 at 11:18 am Reply Reply

    Thank you so much everyone for your responses (especially Amy)! I am literally in tears right now. Also, for those upset about the Ferber book recommendation, please note that there was some issue in the reposting of my question – I actually read the No Cry Sleep Solution, not Ferber. So please don’t bash Amy – she really was recommending a new book!!! I’m going to share this with my husband and hopefully he won’t hate me too much…

  22. Nancy Jun 19 at 11:20 am Reply Reply

    (Sorry, should have mentioned that I’m the OP)

  23. Name (required) Jun 22 at 12:10 am Reply Reply

    Get that kid tested for food allergies or sensitivities! It saved my life, literally. I was so whacked out on PPD and sleep deprivation that I tried to commit suicide. Getting my 8 month old checked for sensitivities resulted in a happy baby who sleeps more than the recommended amount for her age these days. It also made sleep training alot easier because she wasn’t screaming in pain and could self sooth herself when she woke, finally!

  24. Elizabeth Aug 27 at 2:28 am Reply Reply

    Night terrors? Confusional events? Its a BABY! They are not confused, they are acting on the only instinct they have and know, they are not designed to sleep through the night. Its a western myth. Babies wake up, because they sense they are alone, and then they are TERRIFIED, and cry out for you. Do you know that feeling, after you’ve watched a scary movie, and you are home alone and have to turn off all the lights? That is how your baby feels at night, without you, all-the-time. It is not natural for babies, or children, for that matter to sleep alone. Not even for adults, adults members of a tribe, that all sleep together, wake up every so many hours, even engage in conversation, then fall back asleep. Sleeping a solid 12 hours in a row is NOT natural. And telling new moms that it is, is a lie. Cosleep.

  25. Kate B Sep 08 at 11:55 am Reply Reply

    I just want to say THANK YOU, OP and Amy, for this post. I recognized my 17-month-old son’s behaviors almost exactly in the OP’s description; slept great until 4 months, took to co-sleeping as the only thing that let us all sleep, but never got more than 3 consecutive hours myself due to nursing all night long. About 6 weeks ago my son hit a developmental/growth spurt that meant that nursing back to sleep didn’t work anymore, especially for those 2:00-6:00am hours. We ended up driving him around at all hours just to make sure he slept. When I found this post, I said to myself, Enough! And got the Ferber book out of the library. We started a night weaning/sleep association fixing program on Wednesday; last night (Saturday) my son slept from 9:30-7:20, with a 30ish minute flail at 3:00. We are still cosleeping, and didn’t need to help him get back to sleep at all — he just rolled around and snuggled us and put himself back down. For our family, where that hasn’t happened EVER, this has been world-changing. So thank you, thank you. We are already seeing the change in his energy level and behavior, and it’s awesome.

  26. Lydia Sep 18 at 11:59 pm Reply Reply

    Hey Amy!
    My brand-new, cute-as-a-button son is just 2 months old, and guess what?  We’re totally going through this right now!  But the exciting (because I’m a mommy and that makes this a big deal) part is that I stumbled across this article while I was pregnant, so I wasn’t freaked out!
    We’ve been sleep training gradually since my son was born.  I have five younger siblings so I know how much easier it is when your child can self-soothe.  He’s cut himself down tnightlyightly feedings right now (yay sleep!), so that’s fantastic.  But about a week or two ago, this started happening at least once a night.
    Normally he starts rooting around and grunting and quietly fussing when he’s hungry, and I generally get to him before he’s worked up a full-fledged cry.  The first time this “confusional arousal” happened, he simply screamed at the top of his lungs out of the blue.  I immediately knew what it was and that I’d messed up by picking him up, thanks to reading this, but he had startled me so badly that I scooped him up without thinking about it.  That obviously didn’t work.
    Now when this happens, I let him work it out himself, and he generally is sound asleep within a minute.
    Thank you so much for the help, and I just forwarded this to my sister-in-law whose little guy is up all night.  Hopefully you get another good report from her soon too! :)

  27. Lydia Sep 19 at 12:02 am Reply Reply

    That’s supposed to say that he’s cut himself down to two nightly feedings.  Silly smartphone.

  28. gillian Mar 22 at 2:47 pm Reply Reply

    I didn’t even know this was a thing until I read this. My one year old had her first sickness ever a couple weeks ago and as a result had trouble sleeping. Since then every night she has been waking up three or four times a night crying just like she did when she was a tiny baby. She has been such a good sleeper I assumed she was waking because she needed something. My husband thinks its something I did. 
    My kid does the same thing. Shes angry if I touch her. She doesn’t want a drink of water. My tiny angel was suddenly an uncontrollable mess and I can’t sleep at all.
    It never occurred to me that she wasn’t awake. Not even a little bit. 
    Thank you. At least now I have something else to try.

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