Sleep Challenges

Things have been crazy lately.

Hula Girl is 23 months old tomorrow, and her sleep wackiness has rarely been so frustrating.There are a few notable times in her life when her sleep has been just so downright icky that it’s brought me to tears and nervous breakdowns.

When she was just a teeny newborn, she developed the dreaded 45-minute naps, which we did not conquer until she was 21 weeks old… that’s a LONG time. They were not vanquished without many tears (ours), tantrums (mine), and desperate attempts at… well, anything that was recommended to me by experienced moms from all over the parenting spectrum. Nothing, I mean nothing, worked: CIO, rocking, swing, stroller rides, car rides, pacifier, bouncing, singing, patting, PU/PD, wake-to-sleep, etc. Nothing. We just had to wait it out.

Then when she turned 15.5 months old, her sleep went berserk. She started takinghours to fall asleep for her afternoon naps, or sometimes she just wouldn’t fall asleep at that time, period. I stuck to my schedule, though, because I could tell by her cranky crabby ways that she just plain needed more sleep. We lived on early bedtimes for a month. Then her sleep improved, and she was back to normal for a month.

Cue 17.5 months, when she got a major cold; we hit daylight savings time; we had an impromptu weekend trip including flying, hotels, and weird hours; and then we had family visiting for Christmas. Lo and behold, kid wouldn’t nap in the afternoon again. So we dropped the pm nap, and went to one nap per day. It took a goodtwo months for the 2-1 nap transition to shake out, but once it did and we hit our groove in February, things were great.

And then we hit 22 months old. The last two weeks have been even more torturous on my heart than any of the other times of sleep disturbances. One reason: she can talk. Now, when she’s crying herself to sleep, it’s not just cries. It’s, “Mommy, Daddy, [Hula Girl] wants you!” It’s, “One more kiss, Mommy? Please?” It’s, “Mommy come in [Hula Girl]’s room? Now? Please?”

It started innocently enough- she started taking shorter and shorter naps. She was taking 3+ hour naps every day, and I was loving the extra time during which I got to nap. Napping is wonderful on a pregnant body. But then the naps dropped down to 2 hours, 45 minutes. And then 2.5 hours. And then 2 hours. During this time, I handled the shorter naps by providing earlier bedtimes so that she could make up lost sleep. But then she started waking earlier in the mornings…

I stuck to our schedule as best as I could, but nothing seemed to help. I moved naptime and bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes, but that only resulted in earlier waketimes. So, it sounds like she just needs less sleep now, right?Wrong.

Have you met my kid when she is sleeping, well, on schedule? Happiest child on earth. Have you met my kid when she is sleeping, well,not on schedule? Whiny drama queen girl. This, my friends, is how I know she is not getting enough sleep. (Also, if you do the math, she was sleeping 15+ hours daily whereas now she’s getting about 12-13 hours total, which is a huge drop. Toddlersdo start needing less sleep, but not that much less, that quickly.)

Monday of last week, she surprised me with sleeping in and taking a 3.5 hour nap. But that was because she had been up crying in the night on Sunday night/Monday morning for an hour or so (see my previous post to read about that ordeal). Then all sleep went berserk.

She has not taken a nap longer than 1.5 hours in a week. She has not woken from a nap without screaming in that entire time. She has taken no less than 40 minutes to fall asleep each night. Last night she cried and screamed for an hour before she finally fell asleep. She has woken no less than 45 minutes early each morning. And most mornings she has cried off an on until it’s time to start the day.

Jonathan and I have been wracking our brains trying to think of anything we could try to tweak or modify in order to help her sleep better (and more). Our best option right now looks like we’ll have to stick with earlier bedtimes (and possibly shifting her schedule 30 minutes early to deal with the sun rising earlier), and just let her cry it out at sleep times.

See, we’re pretty sure that (even though she’s developed a slight cold), she’s learning to exert her independence and she’s trying to gain control over us in this area of her life. We’ve seen it in several other areas throughout the day, so we’re chalking it up to full-blast boundary testing behavior.

Some of the other things she’s doing to test boundaries:

  • She has learned to unbuckle her booster seat buckle. She has been wanting to decide when she gets to come down from her chair, thereby ending her meal. We have been firmly enforcing the rule that she is not allowed to leave the table until she is excused. However, it has takenwork and not just one reminder per meal.
  • Related to the above, she has been trying to stand up in her seat. The established consequence for this behavior is that the meal is over. We have to think of a new consequence: if she tries to leave her chair (she wants the meal to be over) and we say no, she stands up, which means the meal is over. She wins. Sigh. (I am considering setting up the pack’n’play downstairs so that I have a convenient place to put her for time out; carrying a toddler up and down the stairs while in my third trimester is not the best idea for us.)
  • Choosing her own clothes- no big deal on this one. She can wear whatever the heck she wants to wear (within reason). “Sure, you can wear your pajamas all day long. We’re not going anywhere, anyway! And Mommy has set that example all your life! You learned from the best!”
  • Potty. We started having some battles around the potty a few weeks ago. I just backed waayyy off and let that girl do her thing (or not). It resulted in a few accidents, but she didn’t like those. Plus she realized she wasn’t getting a rise out of me, so she’s back to perfect potty behavior (with the exception of begging to get out of her crib at sleep times to use the potty- another power ploy).

See, she’s a boundary-pushing toddler right now. I read a great article the other day discussing toddlers and their behaviors, and how we as their parents can reinforce and support appropriately. It’s basic stuff, but it was a great reminder.

Anyway, here’s our game plan for sleep issues:

  1. Hula Girl helped me make three “sleep rules” butterflies to hang on her wall yesterday afternoon. They are 1) Lie down, 2) Close eyes, and 3) Go to sleep. Very simple. We chose pictures of babies and kids from a few different parenting magazines exemplifying each of these rules, and Hula Girl had a blast gluing the pictures onto the butterflies. Then we hung them up in her room and now we point to them and discuss them before each sleep period.
  2. We will let her “cry it out” at bedtime as long as we’re 100% positive that all her needs are met. We put her down clean, dry, watered, medicine-d, and loved. There is nothing different now than there was three months ago, except that now she can talk and is trying to win a power struggle. We choose not to engage.
  3. We will remind her at the beginning of naps that Mommy (or Daddy) is still here, and we will be back for her when naptime is over. No sooner. If she chooses to wake up, she can wait until naptime is over. No amount of crying will bring a parent back into the room until that very special time. (Don’t get me wrong- we’re not keeping her locked in her crib in the dark for a ridiculously long period of time. 2.5 hours minimum. That is perfectly reasonable for an almost-two-year-old.)

Now, for number three to be perfectly effective, I would like to get a little tool- a Gro-Clock. There are several models of toddler clocks out there similar to this one, but many many many of the moms I moderate our board with have this specific one (only available in the UK, Australia, and Canada), and love it the most. You can see why- it’s so simple, right!?! We need one ASAP.

Any other suggestions? I know there are plenty of you out there who’ve BTDT with this time in a toddler’s life. Maybe you could send some encouragement my way, at the very least…



  1. kristypowers said,

    May 9, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Ack! I feel your pain! We, too, had boundary-pushing sleep (and other) issues not too long ago. I am terrible with this age, when their calling to Mommy and Daddy sounds not only pathetic, but sometimes adorable. I’m getting better, and I’ve improved a lot with our second child. CIO works well for our almost-three-year-old right now, but I don’t think it did several months ago. At that point, the discipline of taking away his loveys until he laid down and was quiet worked. I have to admit the consequence being administered by his father’s firm voice helped a LOT. We also put a child doorknob cover on the inside of his bedroom door. He quickly learned how to open the door anyway, but somehow he eventually either lost that ability or forgot, or something. Anyway, it keeps him in there now. Also, I got really consistent during the daytime with my discipline method and how quickly it was administered after a misbehavior. I’m afraid this phase just lasts sooooooo long. Or it feels like it. It gets better gradually, not quickly, in my experience. One more thing: we have the OK to Wake clock, not the Gro-Clock. I like it as a teaching tool, but he doesn’t actually check it himself. It doesn’t help that I have to put it up high in his closet (with the closet door open) because otherwise he likes to touch it, which changes settings willy nilly. He’s great about not touching and getting into things on our living room or dining room shelves, but it’s hard to reinforce not touching in his bedroom where he has IP. Anyway, I feel for ya and I know your method will work, even if it takes a while. Not what you want to hear in your 3rd trimester, right?

    • May 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      I feel like I am fortunate in that my voice is firmer than Daddy’s. 🙂 Jonathan is more of a people-pleaser than me, so it really helps him when I show him how to be firm. Plus, she’s a Daddy’s Girl. Oh yes, this girl is going to get away with some crazy stuff in her life (not that that’s a bad thing- he won’t let her do anything wild, just maybe a bit more than what I’d do). RE: Gro-Clock… that’s another feature of it that I really like. It has a “lock” feature so that kids can jam their fingers at it all day long and it doesn’t mess up any of the settings! … Anyway, I expected that this would last a while. I was just hoping we’d hold off on it until Gelato was born and on a decent schedule. Maybe it’s best to get it out of the way now? Not sure. Either way, it’s tiring!

      • kristypowers said,

        May 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm

        I know it’s tiring! I wish you didn’t have to go through it now. Maybe she will be all done with it for a while by the time Gelato is born. And, wow, that feature really does make the Gro-Clock a better option!

  2. May 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    […] you know from yesterday’s post, we are going through major sleep wackiness right about now. Actually, we did get a fantastic […]

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