How to solve frequent waking sleep problems with toddlers

By braniac

Most parents of young children and toddlers come across sleep issues at some time during their child's first 2 years. This sometimes occurs with children and young toddlers that have normally slept quite well through their infant months. Around the age of 12-14 months, some toddlers go through sleep problems which usually take the form of frequent waking and clinginess, or refusing to sleep and fighting sleep. This article deals with frequent waking and ways to encourage your child to sleep and restore a peaceful cycle of sound sleeping and refreshed waking.

First things first : If your child is waking frequently, make sure that he/she is :

1) Well fed and not hungry

2) Has a clean and comfortable diaper

3) Is tired but not exhausted/over tired. Contrary to what one would expect, when a child is overtired or exhausted, sleep interruptions are more likely to occur. If this is seen to be the case, then put your child to bed half an hour earlier than usual and see if this helps.

4) Has been checked by their Pediatrician to be otherwise healthy and well balanced.

Assuming that all the above has been taken care of, if your child is still waking frequently, then other measures need to be taken especially if they are waking in a distressed state.

This was the case with my 12 month old who would show the following pattern :

a) Would fall asleep with his bottle and me by his side b) 10 mins later he wakes up and cries hysterically c) I get him back to sleep with either comforting/rocking or with a bottle d) He wakes again at regular intervals through the night with the same hysterical crying

If this is the type of sleep disturbance that is seen in your child, who otherwise slept well throughout infancy then the most likely reason is that he/she is going through a normal phase of separation anxiety and is looking for the comforting scenario that got them to sleep in the first place.

For e.g. My son would fall asleep with his bottle and with his mother. when he would wake up, instead of just turning over and going back to sleep like we all do, he would look for extra comfort in the form of his bottle or mother.

If either of those things were not present, then this would cause hysterics.

The solution for us was simple. Teach him to go to sleep without the use of a bottle or rocking, but instead, replace it with a comfort item, for him, it was a soft blue baby blanket. For my daughter, it was her pacifier.

Though the idea was simple, it took us about 6 weeks for the method to begin showing results.

NOTE : I do NOT believe in letting children cry it out - this is NOT how we taught him to go back to sleep.

1) First we reduced his bottle dependency by reducing the amount of milk at bedtime slowly to zero

2) Then we began to introduce comforting stories in a dim light and repeatedly asked him to close eyes while we told him a soothing story

3) No rocking, just a little cuddling perhaps if he wished

4) Constant encouragement till he fell asleep

Now, here's when the improvement really started. We never brought him out of his room when he woke. Every time he woke, I would go into his room and soothe him IN HIS ROOM. I would repeat the same bedtime story in a soothing voice and calm him down from his sobbing and then lie him back down, rub his legs (whatever you think will help) to basically show him that its ok, nothing has changed and everyone, including mom is only a stone's throw away

After 6 weeks of slow improvement, my son really got the idea. His separation anxiety returned with full force at 18 months and again at 22 months, but as of today (26 months) he sleeps peacefully through most of the night.

He does occasionally wake up and then I just go into his room, talk to him and soothe him saying "mamma is here" and he goes right back to sleep !

In summary :

1) Wean dependency off bottles and rocking because its something they will not find when they wake up in the middle of the night and they need to learn to get back to sleep on their own

2) Encourage your child to sleep on his/her own with eyes closed, listening to a bedtime story or lullaby

3) If waking/hysterics do occur, soothe your child to the best of your ability in their own room, but do not take them into your own room or bed as this will really not help them develop the self-reassuring skills they need. You may do whatever it takes to soothe them in the environment of their own room

4) Once the child is calm, reassure and soothe them to sleep by repeating the original story/lullaby that was used at bedtime

5) Once they show signs of drifting off, leave

Remember, this takes time and patience. But I know that it can be achieved. The reason I say this is because my son was colicky and was rocked as an infant. He never really developed skill to sleep on his own and had TERRIBLE night wakings at the age of 12 months +. By sticking to this method and sticking it out, I taught him the skills to self soothe WITHOUT leaving him to cry. He is happy, well balanced and bouncing off the walls in the morning !!

Good luck to all you tired moms !