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Bedtime Rebellion

Bedtime Rebellion

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ve been a loyal reader and general fan of All Things Amalah for several years now. I started reading right after your oldest was born, and over the years (and through my own struggles with fertility and child bearing) I’ve always counted on your blog to give me a good laugh or cry at the right time! Now I have my own beautiful 2 year old son, and though he is generally a mystery to me on all fronts, I have finally hit That Thing for which I must get advice, because oh, I am so confused. And oh, I am so tired.

My boy has been a decent sleeper his whole life. He started sleeping through the night consistently at about 10 weeks and he has generally been sleeping through ever since. My husband works part time as a church organist, so rehearsals and other activities keep us away from home many evenings. The boy settled easily into a schedule of sleeping at night from 9:30/10pm-7am, and taking a 3 hour nap during the day. Considering our lifestyle, and considering that he is in full time daycare, I was really happy with this schedule as it allowed us so many waking hours together.

Our bedtime routine has been consistent since the beginning – books, songs, and then bed (baths are way! too! exciting! for bedtime). He still sleeps in a crib so when it’s time for bed we give kisses goodnight, cover him with the blanket and leave the room. He has always stayed awake for a little while, talking to toys and singing, but in general he would be asleep within 15 minutes.

All of that changed this summer, leading up to his second birthday. It began with inconsolable sadness when we left the room. We were able to work through that to some degree by making a slower exit and a longer transition, but now the issue is that he just will not stop talking and go to bed.

My son is not particularly verbal (a separate mystery all together) so he alternates between complete babble and loudly singing a few of his favorite songs. All in all, he seems happy in there (and thank goodness he hasn’t tried to climb out of the crib yet) but he isn’t getting very much sleep at all. Whatever time we put him to bed, he will keep himself awake for HOURS and occasionally wake up super early (like, 4:30 am) to start it all again. I’ve asked our daycare provider about his naps and she reports that he is taking a normal 2 hours in the early afternoon. That means that most days a week he is getting maybe 8 or 9 hours of sleep and, while I hate to Google myself into a frenzy, that just doesn’t seem like enough. He would happily sleep the morning away after his late night escapades, but alas, morning comes at the same time every day and at 6:30 I have to pry his sleepy self out of the crib. You would think that would mean a BIG nap is coming, or an early bedtime that evening, but no dice. Every time he senses that he is getting tired or falling asleep, he kicks up a rousing chorus of Old MacDonald and gets himself all riled up again. We don’t go get him when he does this – at night or early morning – because everything I’ve heard/read indicates that wouldn’t be a good idea. I’m ready to throw everything I “know” out the window though, because nothing seems to work.

Though our evenings change quite a bit, bedtime has the same routine every night. I have tried putting him in bed earlier, but he just plays longer. I have tried to wear him out with long walks and games at the playground in the evening. I have tried to calm him down with books and quiet play. I’ve tried watching TV, and banning TV. Evening snacks and no evening snacks. Going in to try and settle him down always has the opposite effect. Playing soft music for him in his room helped at first, but now he just sings over it. It’s terribly cute, but I just can’t help but feel like there will ultimately be consequences to his determination to sleep like a college student.

So, am I crazy? Should I really be this worried? Will he eventually crash and sleep like Rip Van Winkle for a week or two and get back to normal? Is it possible that he just doesn’t need the sleep? Should I just buy a white noise machine for him and crank it to 11? He is really a very happy and bright little boy, but I feel like I am seeing the effects of sleep deprivation on his mood and I am at a loss for how to help him turn off that tiny brain so that both of us can get some sleep.

Thank you for any and all suggestions!!

EE- AYE-EE-AYE-OH, I am so tired.

Okay, take a deep breath and recite the following Mantra Of Toddlerhood: You cannot make a child eat, sleep or poop. In these three areas, alas, your kid is firmly, totally in charge.

Reading your email was like playing a mental game of dominoes — I’d think of a possible solution/suggestion (EARLIER BEDTIME! NO EVENING TV! SOFT MUSIC!) and then realize that yeah, you already tried that, never mind. In fact, I’m pretty sure you have tried everything that gets tossed around when trying to diagnose a toddler’s sleep problem.

But how big of a “problem” is this, actually? According to the charts I’ve seen, the “average” number of hours for a two-year-old to sleep is between 10 and 13. So on most days, he’s still coming within an hour or two of that. And let’s not forget that there is a TON of variation in what we consider “average.” Technically we grown-ups are supposed to get at least eight hours, but we ALL know people who need more like nine or 10 (raises hand), or people who manage to completely recharge in three or four (points at husband).

Basically: I don’t think this is quite the crisis you’re worried it might be. Let me pat your hair and tell you I really think everything is gonna be all right. He’ll either snap out of this eventually…or he’ll just be a kid with a long self-soothing process and who needs a good amount of lead time to get himself to sleep. He’s always been a good sleeper who slept the right amount of hours he needed at the time, and while toddlers LOVE to completely change the rules on us, he might still be doing that, and getting the right amount of hours for him, for now.

What’s important is that he DOES get to sleep eventually. And it’s not like he’s wailing in lonely, anxiety-ridden agony or frustration or anything. (If you’ve ever struggled with even the occasional bout of insomnia, you know it’s not happy fun playtime.) He’s singing and babbling to himself and is fine and content and perfectly safe in his bed.

So…let him. Don’t go in and interrupt him with useless pleas and admonitions to go to sleep. If he’s keeping YOU up with his racket, buy some earplugs or put the white noise machine in YOUR room, so you can at least sleep through it. He doesn’t need you (or even seem to particularly want or expect you, from the sound of it), so just let him do his little quirky toddler thing and focus on getting the hours you need.

As I’m writing this I’m remembering that actually, Noah went through a very similar phase that started around two years old…and at the time I blamed the fact that he was in a big kid bed and thus more tempted to stay up and explore and play, but I’m now having hazy memories of it starting before that transition. We’d put him to bed around 8 or 8:30 and continue to hear singing and babbling and general play sounds until 9:30 or 10, or even later. Since he was still taking a nap most days (or at least being ordered to have some “quiet time” in his room), it honestly never really worried me that much. The only toys/distractions he had in his room were books, and I figured there were worse things in the world than a kid who insists on staying awake to look at books for an extra hour or two. The only thing I insisted on was that he stayed in his bed — he could get up to grab a book from the bookshelf, but no dancing or jumping or whirling around.

Whenever he was actually ready to sleep, we’d hear him humming Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. (He would also rock himself back and forth, which was kind of a sensory/stimming quirk, but one that he eventually outgrew.) Sometimes I’d hear the humming at other points in the right, indicating that he’d woken up and was trying to get back to sleep. And even now, at six years old, there are nights when we put him to bed (still at 8/8:30) and he’s out like a light in five minutes, and other nights when it takes him an extra hour or more to fall asleep. He sings or reads books or tells himself stories in the meantime, and it all seems to balance out in the end. And Ezra, too, is at that weird inbetween stage where he’s allllllmost ready to give up his afternoon nap but not quite yet, so some nights after he’s taken a long nap he’s REALLY not ready to settle down right at the stroke of bedtime, and he makes repeated fake trips to the potty or to get water or talks to himself.

I just kind of shrug and let them work it out, honestly. There’s one wall nightlight that’s bright enough to read a book by (and keeping that off actually seems to agitate them more, I’ve found), so whatever. Read books, stay in bed, and I’ll leave you alone. If you’re tired the next day, it’s your own fault, and if you’re really acting godawful, bedtime will start at 7:30 instead. (I realize this approach probably comes more from the whole HAVING THREE CHILDREN thing rather than being “correct” or “proper.” I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO. JUST STAY IN YOUR ROOM AND STOP BUGGING ME, MAMA’S TIRED.)

It can be frustrating to see sleep deprivation affecting your kid’s mood, though at this age it’s really hard to diagnose EXACTLY why your cranky, irritable two-year-old is acting like…well, a cranky, irritable two-year-old. But trust me: You cannot make him fall asleep. I would seriously just let him work through whatever this is, be it something temporary like molars or a pre-vocabulary explosion sleep regression (and oh yes, that is a Thing That Exists)…or something permanent, indicating that your kid is just one of those kids who don’t need as much sleep. Stick with the routine and feel free to stop trying all sorts of pre- and post-bedtime experiments.

(Though letting him choose a book or two to take into the crib with him might be an interesting one to try — his brain is up and active anyway so maybe letting him “read” would tire it out a little sooner than his singing/babbling alone does. And even if it doesn’t, maybe knowing that hey, he’s looking at nice, enriching BOOKS will help you stay calmer about his late-night playtime? At least, that’s how I’ve justified my kids’ bouts of bedtime rebellion.)

If letting him sleep in on the weekends is ever an option, do it — if he is actually operating on a sleep deficit, he can make up some of the hours then. But still, don’t worry so much about it. If he was really, genuinely tired, he’d SLEEP. He’d take a four-hour nap one day, or something. And if he was really, genuinely having problems falling asleep, he’d likely be sobbing in frustration in his crib instead of treating his stuffed animals to a rousing concert of classic preschool favorites. Just keep doing what you’re doing (because it all sounds great) and let him do whatever it is he does…down the hall, with the door closed and the monitor OFF, while you get some sleep of your own.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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

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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