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When Your Toddler Stops Sleeping

Sep14

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy,

I’ve written before and you were amazing in helping out when I had drama with my Mother-in-Law so I figured I would pitch another question your way and see what you had to say. My son is now about 17.5 months old and is driving.me.insane.

Since he was around 11 months old he’s been sleeping through the night getting about 11 hours and he dropped to one nap a day around a year old and that nap was about 2 hours. Lately that has gone all to hell. About 3 weeks ago he started waking up early in the morning, somewhere between 4am and 5:30am. He will not go back to sleep at this point even though he is clearly still tired. We’ve pretty much tried everything to get him to stay in bed longer and sometimes we’ll get an extra 30mins-1 hour, sometimes he’s just up and that’s the end of it.

Naps have also gone all to hell and are only about an hour these days. He’s cranky, over-tired and throwing temper tantrums at the drop of a hat (which I realize is age-related anyway). The thing that’s interesting about all of this is that he naps at daycare. He’ll put in at least 2 hours there if not more and doesn’t wake up after an hour, or at least that’s the report I’ve gotten from the women who are with him.    

I know he’s getting molars but those have all cut through and when he wakes up he screams bloody murder until one of us comes in. It almost sounds like he’s scared but it’s not night terrors considering how responsive he is when we go see him. I suppose my question is, do you have any insight into what’s up here? Did you go through this with either Noah or Ezra and did it pass by?

I’ve combated this on the weekends by giving him two naps if necessary getting his daytime sleep back to 2 hours and we put him to bed extra early to help manage his over tiredness. If you have any other insight or suggestions let me know because this is killing me. I kind of feel like I’m doing everything wrong all over again because of how miserable we all are right now.

Thanks in advance for your help. If you haven’t dealt with this nonsense with your kids hopefully Ike won’t be an exception.

E

Everybody! Say it with me! Let’s give a big cheer for the 18-MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION YAAAAYYYYY!

I know it’s cold comfort, but this is so, so normal. Hair-pulling, eyeball-searing, crazy-making NORMAL. I don’t know why more pediatricians don’t arm parents with information about sleep regressions, because it would be SO NICE to know that hey, yeah: Sometime around 18 months old your child’s sleep will go to absolute HELL. Both for naps and nighttime.

(For the record, I don’t think your daycare ladies are telling you the full truth. I bet he’s giving them hell too, but they’re trying to assure you that everything is fine. Because MY daycare ladies did the same thing to me during Noah’s four-month sleep regression, just INSISTING that his naps were continuing on all perfectly and peacefully there. This white-lie had the opposite effect on me, because it made me feel like a failure at home because WHY AREN’T YOU NAPPING FOR MEEEEEE. Then one day I had to drop off some extra supplies for him after lunch and caught them doing laps around the room with a howling, pissed-off Noah who was CLEARLY in no mood for a nap, oh hellll no.)

Anyway. Obviously, you want to rule out other possibilities (festering ear infection, molars, night terrors, etc.), but once you blow through that relatively short list and are STILL dealing with crazy non-sleeping patterns in the 17-19 month range, yep. 18-month sleep regression. Hello and welcome to it. Please read this entry by the great sleep-regression-whisperer Ask Moxie, because she describes it perfectly. It’s normal. It’s awful. It’s not your fault, there’s not really anything you can do to fix it, but. But! IT WILL PASS.

I wish I could remember how long it lasted for us — and oh yes, we went through it with both Noah and Ezra, and I am confident we will go through it with Ike (who just last week seemed like he was getting a head start on the four-month regression, then went back to normal the last two nights, ebb and flow and unpredictability, ahoy!). It was definitely one of the longer, more brutal regressions. A month, at least, I’d say. (I’ve blocked it out, lalalala.) The early ones tended to last under two weeks, on average.  And since the 18-month regression hit the boys’ naps just as hard, it meant day after day of dealing with a cranky, willful, overtired toddler who JUST NEEDED TO SLEEP BUT WOULDN’T.

I have no solutions or suggestions. You’re not doing anything wrong. You just go day by day and hope for the best, and hope that maybe today is the day he’ll snap out of it and go to sleep. If not, well, maybe tomorrow.

I do have a ton of sympathy though, because oh. OH. There were days when my exhaustion and frustration would take over and I just. Couldn’t. Deal. With my child’s sleep-deprived tantrums and whining. There were days when I made multiple trips to the bathroom to count to 10. Who is this annoying, non-sleeping monster child and where did my sweet little baby go? Why did I think we were so lucky to have a good sleeper only to have it all turn to crap before his second birthday? WHY GODS OF HYPERBOLE, WHYYYYY?

And then, just like that, BAM. Done. Over. Back to sleeping through the night and waking up cheerful and well-rested and napping just as good as before.

That will happen for you too, I promise.

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

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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37 Responses to “When Your Toddler Stops Sleeping”

  1. Zoë Sep 14 at 12:15 pm Reply Reply

    I had never heard of sleep regressions when my oldest two were babies probably because they slept great. But after going through a 4 night sleep regression at 4 months with my youngest (it felt like a lot longer though), and a 10 night one at 10 months, I am not looking forward to what’s heading our way in 6 months. I might start sobbing now.

  2. I still have night terrors. Actually, even moreso now that I’m an adult.

  3. E Sep 14 at 12:30 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, thank you. Thank you so damn much. At least now I feel better because this is the one regression I feel like NO ONE talks about. 4 months and 9 months people talked about. This one, no one will cop to dealing with. Now I must just survive without killing someone (likely my husband).

    Zoe, I had the baby who didn’t sleep through until after he got through the 9 month regression. He went from growth spurts to regressions and just never slept. Then after 8 months or sleeping BAM! I will cross my fingers that you do not deal with this business too.

  4. Olivia Sep 14 at 12:52 pm Reply Reply

    Also the transition from two naps to one can go back and forth for quite a while. My daughter started daycare around 18 months, and they do one nap there, but on the weekends she still seemed to need two naps for a long time. We finally dropped to one nap on the weekend when she was over 2 yrs. And, I don’t know about daycare lieing about your kid’s naps. Mine consistently sleep 2 hrs or more at daycare, but we are lucky to get an hour at home. I chalk it up to different environment and routines.

  5. Jeannie Sep 14 at 12:57 pm Reply Reply

    I just wanted to note that my kid also went through sleep regression periodically, but would actually sleep just fine at daycare for whatever reason. More tired? Knew he couldn’t pull his crazy tactics? Who knows. But it is possible that the OP’s kid is napping just fine as the daycare people say. Mine did. :)

    And yes, my kid is now five and went through all kinds of crazy regressions for sleep and now again sleeps through the night (note: it didn’t take until now.) It all goes away … eventually … :)

    • Melissa Sep 04 at 7:01 pm Reply Reply

      what is op daycare Verbage?

  6. Susan Sep 14 at 1:22 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t have anything helpful to offer to the OP, unfortunately, but I did read this interesting article about baby and toddler sleep in the NYT today: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/health/views/13klass.html

  7. hodgepodge Sep 14 at 1:49 pm Reply Reply

    I have a small dayhome and *all* the kids nap here better than they do in their own homes. I’m not the sleep whisperer or anything – my own kids gave up naps entirely really young – but my theory is just that the other kids (many of whom are only children) just get more tired here than they do at home. We go for walks, there is lots of running and mental & physical exertion… kids get worn-out at daycare. So he *may* be sleeping at daycare better than he does at home. It wouldn’t be unusual.

  8. Hillary Sep 14 at 2:02 pm Reply Reply

    My 19 month old daughter just went through this, and right around the time I was frantically calling my mother to come and help because I couldn’t function, she started sleeping again. Just like with all of these milestones, right? About the time you think you’re DONE, voila, it is all better. I will say that in her regression, my daughter stopped sleeping through the night AND at daycare, and would completely pass out in the car going home from daycare and then be a wreck until her bedtime. Her teachers and I figured out that she would sleep at daycare if she was on the floor mat and she went to sleep well after all the other kids. She just needed a shorter nap and less of a fight about going to sleep that would leave her exhausted. Around the same time we also figured out that she needed less sleep at night. Although on the weekends she often does take 2 naps (of only around 30 mins). So weird.

  9. andrea Sep 14 at 2:10 pm Reply Reply

    What about at 2 1/2 years old?  She’s always been an early riser but now I just can not get her to go to bed and stay in bed though clearly she’s exhausted.

  10. Wallydraigle Sep 14 at 4:22 pm Reply Reply

    My older daughter didn’t really go through this at 18 months. She went through SOMETHING between 9 months and 14 months, where she’d previously slept twelve hours a night with no fuss for 6 months prior. I was on the verge of checking myself into the loony bin when she finally started sleeping again. But at 18 months? She was fine.
    .
    My younger (more willful, stronger, more vocal, more… MORE) daughter did do the 18-month sleep regression. And the two of them share a room. That was fantastic. We did just about everything we could think of that would not get her in the habit of screaming in order to get out of bed (I still live in fear of going back to that, and it’s been a year and a half since our older daughter went through her nightmarish sleep strike). Made sure she had enough water before bed, checked her diaper if she screamed (without getting her out of bed), made sure she had pain relief if her FOUR MOLARS were making another damn surge. On particularly bad nights, we didn’t do anything, but we did go in every half hour or so to pat her and reassure her that we didn’t disappear into the ether every time we walked out the door.
    .
    But we did NOT get her out of bed unless she needed a diaper change. Two weeks of two hours of screaming every night, and she abruptly went back to sleeping like a champ. In fact, I think she’s an even better sleeper now than she was.

  11. Liz Sep 14 at 6:48 pm Reply Reply

    I could have written this EXACT same letter a month ago.  I seriously was dying.  AND, I was uber-pregnant with our second (we just had her on Sunday!) so I was really freaking out because how in the world would I deal with a newborn AND this new crazed toddler who just needs to sleep???!!!

    And, Amy is right.  Suddenly, one day the horror just ended.  I think she started sleeping in to her normal time first (after we instituted earlier bed time) and then within a few days, her nap got back to normal.  I am so glad it is over.  So, I know that isn’t super helpful other than to know that I feel your pain! 

  12. Talia Sep 14 at 7:15 pm Reply Reply

    I was going to ask the same question as Andrea. Ours went through a sleep regression a little before she turned two and then again at 2 & 3/4. Our pediatrician just went through the list of questions about our parenting techniques (we were following all the “tried and true stuff that should have had our child sleeping on a regular basis within two or three nights of being consistent” crap) & never said a word about sleep regression. I honestly felt like I was just a terrible mom with a crazy child. Thankfully it evened out for several months and then hit again for about a month when she was 2 & 1/2. Are there more times that it’s typical for sleep regression to pop up?

  13. amber Sep 14 at 8:08 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my goodness! I am so there right now! My son is 19 months old and we have been going through this for a while, but this week it has been much worse. Lately he’s been waking up crying at various times in the late evening, usually right before we’re going to bed. This morning he woke up a little after five and screamed, “MAMA! DADA!” and whichever one of us would try to leave the room, he would cry for us until we came back. It is so weird, and frankly, getting tiresome! So, I hope it is over soon and we can return to the sweet, happy little boy who would go to bed so nicely and stay there until a decent hour in the morning. I keep telling my husband that I don’t know how we’re ever going to have a second child, because we keep jumping hurdles with this one! So, to all you mommies and daddies with more than one, I am in awe of your courage!

  14. Madhu Sep 15 at 7:13 am Reply Reply

    phase phase phase.
    my 2 yr old just SEEMS to be coming out of his crazy ‘i-refuse-to-sleep-in-the-day’ phase. it drove me nuts. up at abt 6 in the morning and then non stop activity (and crankiness towards evening) till about 6.30 in the evening…at which point he would be just-cant-stay-awake any longer.

    so breathe. my son’s phase lasted a lilttle over 2 months. but now he seems to be coming out of it (anti-jinx) . things will get better.

  15. Wallydraigle Sep 15 at 11:06 am Reply Reply

    Our 2.5-year-old definitely went through some kind of sleep regression. She started SCREAMING every night when we put her to bed. She’s very articulate, but was only just beginning to learn how to express her own feelings and fears, and we couldn’t figure out the source of her distress. I finally deduced that a shadow on the wall and ceiling made by her crib bars looked like giant monster teeth. This is a girl who has never seen a show or read a book that had monsters in it. Funny what their little brains can concoct all by themselves. I did some rearranging to eliminate the shadow made by the nightlight, and that helped. But she still refused to sleep. Absolutely nothing worked. In the end, we had to just ignore her screaming and wait it out. It took one night of us ignoring it. I felt like the worst mother ever, but I was starting to lose it (I, uh, don’t do well with sleep deprivation). And it only took one night, and then she was fine. So weird. So, look out for shadows or other things that might look scary in the room.

  16. Kimtoo Sep 15 at 11:28 am Reply Reply

    I love the idea that other people’s houses make them more tired, and am now wondering why that never occured to me. I just used the fact that she would take naps for babysitters as more evidence that I just didn’t know what I was doing.
    Nothing, nothing, nothing makes me more mama-stabby than a kid who won’t sleep and then fusses the rest of the afternoon. I can handle almost anything else, but dangit, kid, sleeeeeep.

  17. Hannah Sep 15 at 2:03 pm Reply Reply

    Oh thank all higher powers that you wrote this. We’re in the midst of this and I was wondering what in the world was going on. Sprout has generally been a pretty good sleeper, the obvious teeth had broken through, and yet she was waking up all the time. Or being up from 1-4 am. Or waking up at 5 and not going back to sleep. And I was dozing off at my desk and completely failing to get anything done. So it’s nice to know that it’s just part of the giant SEKRET baby conspiracy and she’ll grow out of it. Right? RIGHT???

  18. Bridget Sep 15 at 2:53 pm Reply Reply

    We went through this HARD and I was pregnant and totally lost for what to do. Maybe it would have stopped on it’s own, but my husband and I had totally reached our breaking point and so he did what every many does when he hits his limit – he called his mom.
    She took the monitor from us and stayed for a week, though we didn’t need that long. 2 or 3 nights of her getting my son in the middle of the night instead of me or daddy (which were the two people he wanted) and it was over. I should note she lived 7 hours away, so although at that age my son knew her, he didn’t have the super close fun relationship with her that he has now.
    I realize this isn’t a viable option for everyone, but if you have someone who will do this for you, then go for it!

  19. Emily Sep 16 at 2:33 pm Reply Reply

    I just have to comment.. Amalah.. you said the 18 month one was ‘the long one – lasting a month or more’. Gah. the 4month regression lasted for 3 months for me. Luckily, we skated past the 9 month regression (a couple nights and it was over – might have been teeth). I think I paid my first year dues. Not looking forward to the 18month one at all (not that anyone would).

  20. Megan Sep 17 at 12:16 am Reply Reply

    I hope that is what is happening with my little girl right now! Regression mixed with teething and now a cold to top it all off! She started sleeping through the night at 14 months, the week after I weaned her. Before that she NEVER slept through the night and woke up at least 3 times a night. At 7 months she went through a THREE MONTH period of waking up 7-10 times Every. Single. Night!!! I nearly lost my mind. My husband had just deployed for a year and it was one of the lowest points in my Mama career. She is 21 month now and I would say the regression started 6 weeks ago. I’m pregnant with #2 so she better learn to sleep and nap again soon! I can’t wait for 10 hours of sweet sleep and a 3 hour afternoon nap…..someday!

  21. Joni Sep 21 at 8:59 am Reply Reply

    Up until three weeks ago, my daughter was sleeping 7 to 7 and then leisurely hanging out in bed for half an hour by herself after that. Now at 17.5 months, she is suddenly waking up at 5:30 crying for us to go to her immediately and having nighttime wake-ups too. I’d never heard of sleep regression but it totally fits. She had this same early morning pattern earlier this year (at 9 months I see now) and it lasted a few MONTHS but then went away. It’s miserable to be up in the dark cursing your kid to go back to bed, and worse three hours later when you’re both exhausted and sick of each other before the day’s really even started. I feel for you… hoping it’s a phase like the folks above say it is. 

  22. Amy Mar 21 at 9:16 pm Reply Reply

    It seems my daughter has been experiencing the 18 month regression. It started at about 17 1/2 months. She’s now 19 months and she’s still having one issue. We’ve made it through night wakings and right now she’s having nap issues. Prior to the regression she napped everyday like clockwork, 12:30-2:30pm. She slept every night like clockwork 7:30-7:30. Now, at exactly the one hour mark of her nap, she wakes crying. She’s never done this before the regression. It’s obvious later in the day that her nap wasn’t sufficient. Is it normal for the 18 month regression to last 2+ months? Is there anything I can do to help her stay asleep and nap longer?

  23. Audrey Jul 26 at 1:56 pm Reply Reply

    My 17 mo old is going through the 18 mo sleep regression I think. She is waking up multiple times a night and standing in her crib screaming until my husband or I go in there. When we try to lay her down she screams and screams and screams. The only thing that calms her is picking her up. Then when we try to put her down she screams more. We have ruled out ear infections, but could be teething. It has been going on for about 2.5 weeks now and I was wondering if I should just start doing sleep training again(we have done the CIO method in the past) which worked, or do I cater to this to help her get through this regression. I don’t want to start bad sleep habits since she was sleeping so well but I also don’t want to leave her crying if she really needs me.

  24. carly Sep 13 at 4:29 pm Reply Reply

    Thabk u…. as I was sobbing on the way home assuming I was earning the #worstmomoftheyear award. Oh how frustrating!

  25. Jade Sep 19 at 2:22 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you thank you thank you. I’m current sobbing at 3.30am because I think my 17 month old has broken my mind. We’ve had a month of incredibly broken sleep and to know there is a reason for it… I hope it ends soon

  26. Tasha Sep 22 at 2:37 am Reply Reply

    Thank you for this post. You have put my mind at rest. Thought I was going completely crazy and doing everything horribly wrong.. obviously not! Good luck to all you sleep deprived parents out there x

  27. Lee Oct 12 at 10:57 pm Reply Reply

    THANK YOU so much! Hit a wall today after managing tantrums and crankiness from no nap from my 17 m old. Went around in circles thinking it was a food allergy symptom, teething pain or road trip regression. Now I understand it’s not parental behavior related nor a baby health problem, but rather another toddler mystery!

  28. Danielle Dec 20 at 1:58 pm Reply Reply

    I know this an old thread,a but wandering if anyone could tell me if this sleep regression starts as early as 16 months?
    My LB refuses to nap at all in the day and going to bed is a struggle and he wakes up between 2am and 3am and can scream for up to 3 hours…….nothing works…….!
    Help me……!!!!

  29. Kim Jan 09 at 5:00 am Reply Reply

    I’m about ready to cry after reading this thread…I’m SO relieved to see that I’m not alone in this. I’d never heard of sleep regression until I read this post. My daughter is only 16 months, but she’s done pretty much everything a little earlier than “normal” (everyone says “every baby is different” but then they put a timeline on milestones like every baby is supposed to reach that milestone at that exact time – drives me crazy). What everyone explained in this thread is exactly what I’ve been going through. My daughter has slept through the night for the most part since she was just 3 weeks old (of course there was always the odd time she woke up from teething, being sick, or whatever but more often than not she has always slept through the night). When she would wake up in the morning she would actually play in her crib for a while before she got restless and wanted out. She went to 1 nap a day just after her 1st birthday on her own, and she was doing just fine with that. 2 weeks or so ago she stopped sleeping through the night. She would fall asleep like normal, but she would wake up screaming an hour later. The first time she woke up it would just take a couple minutes of snuggling and she was ok. She’d only stay asleep for a half hour before she was screaming again though. This time it took much longer to get her back to sleep and when I tried to put her back in bed she woke up and wouldn’t let go of me. I would take her downstairs to rock her, let her sleep on me for at least 20 minutes then I could put her back to bed. Only to be woken up again a half hour later. At this point I had no idea what to do so I gave her some milk and a few bites of dry cereal thinking maybe she was hungry. After more struggle getting her back to sleep again, she woke up a half hour later AGAIN. Especially after a week+ of this I am ready to have a nervous breakdown at this point because I haven’t had but a few minutes of sleep. I finally give up trying to get her to sleep in her bed at this point. We have a sectional sofa so I put her down on one side and I laid on the other side and we both finally got a few hours of sleep. It seems that if I’m right there next to her she just rolls over and goes back to sleep if/when she wakes up. I’ve been trying to figure out if she’s suddenly afraid of her crib or her room or being alone, or if I was doing something wrong during the day that just made her not want to sleep. I’ve also been trying to figure out how much longer this could last before someone goes missing (me running away b/c I can’t take it anymore – of course I’m being sarcastic b/c I could never run away from my family). Honestly, just knowing that this is normal, that I’m not doing something wrong, and that it will pass makes me feel like it’s already over. THANK YOU! Whew, that was long…sorry. I’m sure all of you going thru this understands that it feels good to vent to people who’ve been there too.

    Danielle, you posted a couple weeks ago…are things getting better for your LO?

  30. Elle murray Jan 18 at 9:54 pm Reply Reply

    Oh please someone help. Everything that has been described here is exactly the same as what I’m goin through. Waking up 6 times a night screaming won’t go back asleep, day time sleep ranges from 1-2 hours. Only it’s has been around 2 months now. TWO months of broken sleep and bloody screaming! The neighbours must think the worst. It’s just gettin worse not better everything I’ve read it says this regression should last 6 weeks. It’s been much longer (feels like 6 years). I don’t want to be grey before I turn 23. Someone helpppppp :( :(

  31. Alyson Jan 22 at 4:00 pm Reply Reply

    so glad I found this. My daughter is 17.5 and went from going down to sleep with no problem and waking up 11 hours later with no problem and same thing for her 2 hour nap to just being horrible for both. I literally have to pry her from my body to put her in the crib and then she stands at the crib crying until she falls asleep standing up! And then she will stay standing for a half hour, two hours, three hours until she finally lies down. And all her naps for the last week have been her standing while leaning on the crib rail. She also freaks out when I go to work and is just a mess all day because she is so tired. But I know she wants to sleep and she is just fighting it. We are all a mess and don’t know what to do until it ends. She will fall asleep on my husband or myself, but that isn’t a habit we want her to come to expect (because it isn’t like she (or her human pillow) gets much sleep that way either. Help!!! Do we just put her in the crib and wait it out?

  32. Alyssa Mar 18 at 3:12 pm Reply Reply

    So there is an end to this, and I don’t have to confine my normally peppy girl to the attic? Oh thank God! We are all so tired, only her baby sister has gotten sleep in the last week. Here I was thinking we had just gone crazy and somehow broke her ability to sleep.

  33. Moz May 31 at 7:24 pm Reply Reply

    Sleep deprivation and uncertainty can do awful things to parents.  Thank goodness for the internet!

    My wife and I are sleeping in shifts to absorb our 20 month old’s inexplicably erratic sleep patterns, and we are going slightly mad from fatigue and frustration. My guess is our own frazzled state is compounding things for our son. Kids are soooo sensitive to atmosphere.

    My heart goes out to parents trying to get through this terribly uncomfortable period by themselves.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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