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Toddler Sleep Problems

To Nap or Not To Nap

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

I am a big fan of your blog and column and I really hope you and your wonderful readers can help me with a toddler nap problem.

I have an almost 2.5 year old that will only fall asleep for naps while nursing. Lately, I need to nurse her until she is completely passed out because if she is even a little bit awake when I move to leave then she wakes up and gets very upset when I tell her nursing time is over and now it’s time to sleep or have a rest.

Nothing else seems to make her go to sleep so when she does wake up after I stop nursing I have been telling her that she can just have some quiet time in her bed with some books and her soft toys while I sit in her room and read because everyone needs a break so we have lots of energy to play in the afternoon. She just cries and tantrums for the full 45 mins (we have one of those white noise machines that has a 45 minute cycle and she knows that she needs to rest until it turns off). Once it turns off, it’s like a switch in her and she is happy and fine to go about the day. I however, feel completely wiped out and have a lot of trouble resetting for the rest of the afternoon.

Currently, she will fall asleep about 4 or 5 days out of a week (on those days she’ll sleep for about 45 min-1 hour at most). I think she still needs that nap because when she misses it she is in a horrible mood by 5:00 in the evening and it’s very difficult for us to move up her bedtime. My husband gets home around 5:45pm and then between having dinner together and cleaning up we usually start her bedtime routine around 7 or 7:15pm. She does nurse in the evening but never to sleep and it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour+ for her to fall asleep – always with one of us in bed cuddling her. This is also something we would eventually like to transition her out of but it doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue as the naps for the moment.

She has never been a great sleeper and will still wake up sometime between 9 and midnight and come co-sleep with us for most of the night. She usually wakes up between 6:30 and 7 and we start the nap routine around 12:45pm just after lunch. I’m concerned that dropping her nap means she’ll only be getting about 10.5/11 hours of sleep which seems to be on the lowest end of the recommended amount.

To complicate matters even more, I am currently 35 weeks pregnant. We have been really hesitant to make any huge changes in her routine (like weaning nursing or mixing up the bedtime routine) because we know the next few months are going to be difficult enough for her and we don’t want her to feel rejected at all for the new baby.

Is there any way this nap time can be saved or is it time to just give up? If we do give up the nap, how can I transition her to an independent quiet time that would allow me a break or time with the baby or is that a wild dream that’s probably not going to happen?

Thank you!!

Your daughter is starting the toddler transition from one nap to no nap…but that doesn’t mean she’s actually ready to go cold turkey and give up on naps entirely.

Typical signs that your toddler is in nap transition include:

  1. Taking a longggg time to fall asleep at naptime, or generally fighting the afternoon nap for longer than the actual sleep time.
  2. On days when a nap does happen, not being tired at bedtime and/or taking a longggg time to settle down and fall asleep.
  3. On days when a nap doesn’t happen, making it all the way to bedtime without being a horrible whining mood monster.

Number three is usually the last thing to happen, and some toddlers stay in the transition period for months, or even a full year. They might not nap every day anymore, but they just aren’t quite ready to give it up completely. (See: horrible whining mood monster.) During the transition period, you continue to offer them the opportunity to nap, even if sleep only happens every couple days. On the other days, you aim for quiet time and a low-key afternoon, then inch their bedtime up as much as you can, even if it’s 15 minutes or so.

So basically, everything you’re already trying to do. So why isn’t it working, or at least “working” in a somewhat non-crazy-making way?

Well. It’s because you’re the sleep crutch. She’s entirely too dependent on your physical presence to sleep, both for naps and at night. You’ve got to start trying some kind of (gentle, gradual) extinction process, both for her sake, and for your soon-to-be-mom-of-two sanity. As worn out as you are now by her sleep demands, it’s going to be downright impossible for you to devote that much of your day to her nap and bedtime.

(Although given when you sent this letter, it seems likely that baby #2 has probably arrived and you’re already in the toddler/newborn juggling trenches. Ack!)

My advice would be to leave her room during naptime. You sitting there reading serves no purpose, especially since she’s already crying/tantruming anyway. For the sake of your nerves, just LEAVE!! Shut the door. Go to the other side of the house. Pop some headphones in and listen to some Beyonce.

And since the white noise machine has morphed into her naptime tantrum timer, ditch that as well. Nursing time ends, she moves to her bed with books and soft toys. She doesn’t have to sleep, but she just needs to stay there until Mama comes back. If she cries the whole time, well…not really all that different than what you’re already dealing with. But I suspect that without you there, after a few days she’ll figure out that the crying/tantrum dramatics aren’t worth it. Without the white noise machine as a reminder to howl and protest until it turns off (at which point she switches off as well), she might be more likely to use her quiet time to actually amuse herself. (I sometimes allowed crayons/coloring books or puzzles to serve as Quiet Time activities for my kids, anything to KEEP THEM IN THEIR ROOOOOM.)  Or she might possibly, maybe, learn to settle down and nap without you in the room. Which is what she really, REALLY needs to be doing at this point, someway, somehow.

I completely understand not wanting to mess with the attention-heavy bedtime routine in the wake of a new sibling, but once you feel like she’s past the initial transition I would also HIGHLY recommend you start removing yourselves from that process as well, as slowly and gently as you feel comfortable with. Cut the cuddle time off after a set amount of time, even if she’s still awake. 30 minutes to 20 to 15. If she cries after you leave, do the incremental check-ins but don’t get back in bed with her. It’s time for sleep, goodnight, I love you. Repeat as needed.

If she stays up playing but not crying, don’t even stress about it, as long as she’s in her room independently. She’ll fall asleep eventually, and will be pretty much guaranteed to nap without much fighting the next day to make up for it. Welcome to life with two kids!

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 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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Comments

  • kimm

    We take turns with our kids at night -Mom, Dad-and read, lay down with them til they sleep. It only takes 30 min, and we like doing it. Naps were tricky for a while with a new sibling, but my son pretty much gave them up early,and was content to play by himself eventually when i needed to put baby to sleep, told him it was rest time,he had to do a quiet activity whole baby rested.

  • kimm

    He was 2 plus 2 weeks when my baby girl was born.