Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Q & A: Why Won't My Kids Go to Sleep and Stay Asleep?

We have been having sleep issues galore, with both kids, for about a month now.  We have struggled to find solutions to these myriad of issues and every solution we have tried, so far, seemingly has not created any lasting change.

Ironically however, as I type, both kids seem to be throwing me for a loop and taking a marathon of naps. (You wouldn't believe what I have accomplished. Ok. Maybe you would.)  This is longer than they have napped in weeks.  Go figure. 

So back to the problem at hand.  I do what any rational yet exhausted parent would do. I bring in a sleep consultant.  Luckily, my own personal sleep consultant is also my co-blogger.  Very convenient for me. Yeah, she's not a real sleep consultant, but somehow she gets this sleep thing and has helped me, along with several other moms, improve their kiddos' sleep habits.
The result of staying up past bedtime?
You fall asleep in your lunch.
Here we go - I hit her with some of my finest questions. Go at it, my friend:

Sarah, let's talk about my 3 year old, CJ, first.  When we put him to bed at night, he is keeping himself awake for 60-90 minutes before falling asleep.  He's not being quiet about it either or staying in his room.  And, he's wide awake at 5:30 am.  This is not enough sleep. What can we do to help him fall asleep faster? 

Kids like to be involved in their own lives, especially CJ! I see a few things working a little better with him:

1.  Talk to him and tell him what your expectations are of him. Tell him why it's important that he get sleep and that you would like him to tell you what he needs to be a better sleeper.  You might be surprised what he comes up with.

2.  It might be time for a "sleep buddy."  The more special you can make this experience, the better it will be. On a weekend, when Daddy is home, either Mommy or Daddy bring him to the store - just him - to pick out his sleep buddy.  Ideally, it would be something soft and plushy, but hey, beggars can't be choosers.  Explain to him that his buddy is going to help him sleep.  Once said sleep buddy has been purchased and treated like royalty, it stays on the bed. It's for sleeping. It also means that CJ gets to see it whenever it's time for sleep. And, he begins to believe that sleep buddy will help him sleep better.

2.  Allow him to make as many choices as possible when it comes to bed time. Again, he likes to feel like he's "in charge," so let him - where appropriate. The red jammies or the blue jammies? Brush teeth before books or after? How many books (within reason)? Give him choices at every opportunity. Of course, you create the choices, he just gets to pick one of them.

How can we get him to stay in his room once we put him to bed?

Try a baby gate. At this point in his life, he may be developing fears to being alone in his dark room. Respect those fears by installing a baby gate that attaches with hardware to the door frame (he's clever - a tension one might not keep him!) This way, he is contained, he can hear you and he knows he's not alone. But, he also knows it's bedtime and that he needs to stay in his room.

And then there's that early wake-up time.  If he wakes up before six in the morning, we want him to stay in his room quietly until we come get him, but he is refusing this as well.  How can we help him to understand this?

Put a clock in his room.  Yeah, I know he can't tell time (yet), but it will help what you're saying to make more sense to him.  You could do something as simple as a large numbered digital clock or something like this one here. Then, take a small index card and write in marker the time that you would like for him to wake up (or at least wake you up). Tape it above the clock so he can begin to learn when the appropriate time to wake Mommy and Daddy is.  If he wakes before that, he gets to play quietly in his room as Mommy needs sleep, too.

Moving on to my youngest, 18 month old EM.  She sleeps great at night- thanks to you!  But, when I put her down for her nap lately, she is only sleeping around 60-90 minutes total.  I have tried keeping her in her crib anyway for the entire nap time but she does not fall back asleep. And, then is a cranky mess by five o'clock.  She needs to nap longer but I do not know how to get her to do that.  Please help!

First, let's talk about the length of her nap.  Most kids her age will nap anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 3 hours. So, the 90 minute nap is not as concerning as the 60 minute nap. However, if she is still cranky after a 90 minute nap, then she may absolutely need a bit longer.

My suggestion is to put her down for her nap earlier than you are now. Start with 30 minutes. See how that works. Example, my girl naps her best at 11am - completely contrary to the 12:30pm we had been doing for ages. We discovered this while on vacation, when at 10:30am she started to crumble. We continued the 11am nap even once we got home and it's worked phenomenally. So, disregard your preconceived notions about the nap is meant to be after lunch and put her down even earlier.

CJ is also having trouble falling asleep at his nap time.  We have tried keeping him up longer but he is still taking at least 60 minutes to fall asleep.  He definitely still needs a nap, however, because when he misses or refuses nap, he ends up asleep on the couch by four o'clock.  How can we get him comfortable to fall asleep for his nap?

As we talked above, CJ really needs to have his own independence when it comes to his daily routine. So, here are a few thoughts I have regarding his napping:

1. Involve him. We talked about this above. It's as easy as "CJ, we're going to take a nap soon. Would you like to go up now or would you like to go up in five minutes?" Of course, you know what he's going to say, but it gets him prepared and gives him autonomy over his own napping destiny.

2. I am inclined to think that an earlier nap time for him might help as well, especially considering his recent wake time of 5:30am. He's only 3 1/2, so it might not hurt to move up his nap time, along with E's.

3. Settle for a "rest time." Again, involve him in this decision. "It's OK if you don't sleep, but you will need to stay in your room during this time." Chances are, when given the choice, he will fall asleep, especially because that's his own choice.

From Sarah:
Although sleep issues effect the entire family, it doesn't have to be an episode of the Walking Dead every day. So much of kids and sleep relies on the gut instinct of their parents. Do what works for you and your family. Modify the suggestions to better suit your daily needs. Good luck, happy sleeping, and be sure to report back!!


  1. Love this one!!! My peanut is struggling with the nap time now as well and decided that an afternoon nap is not necessary! I have been debating going down to 1 nap but she doesn't seem to nap
    Long enough to hold her over..... Gonna push the nap time later in the am give that a try!!!!!!

    1. Thanks, Kate! She might actually be OK going down to one nap - most kiddos do it around 12 - 15 months. HOWEVER, that one nap should be around 2 - 2 1/2 hours, so we need to have some words with that little girl of yours - sounds like she thinks a nap is more like a blink! My suggestion would be to push her to an 11am or 11:30am nap time - and just one nap per day. Be consistent - it might be yucky for a few days. You might need to make it even a bit earlier! I have realized that Avery's ideal nap time is around 10:30am. She sleeps for 2 1/2 hours and that gets her through until 7pm. Do some trial and errors to see what works best! Good luck!!

  2. Great post! I really like the advice given.