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Toddler post-nap storminess
July 7, 2014 11:56 PM   Subscribe

I know that asking "Why is my toddler doing X?" is like shouting into the void, but perhaps you have some insight into why my toddler is suddenly having a hard time with waking up from a nap...

I have an utterly delightful 22 month old who is in almost every way an easy-going and pleasant little human. We've been lucky - he's happy and healthy, very active, very verbal, and a lot of fun. We have a very solid routine, he eats well, and he sleeps solidly through the night (7:30pm - 6:30am). He's never had much interest in naps, unfortunately, and on most days we get between 40 and 45 minutes - for context, many toddlers at his age nap 2-3 hours/day.

For the past month or so, he's been waking up utterly furious from midday naps. It's clear that he doesn't know what's wrong. In all other things, he's very articulate, and has always been both very decisive and very clear about communicating his needs. In this instance, he genuinely doesn't know what's wrong or what might help make things better. The storm cloud usually lasts 15-20 minutes and then passes.

Things I've tried: going to him right away before he has the chance to wake up fully and start screaming, not going to him right away so he might go back to sleep, letting him cry it out in hopes he'll work through whatever it is on his own, cuddling, reading books, offering water/milk/frozen yogurt (a special treat), offering a favorite toy, offering a change of scenery (going upstairs/outside), putting on music, holding him while modeling deep breathing and talking about breathing and relaxing. Nothing works.

My main theory at this point is that he's just not getting enough rest from his too-short nap and his brain & body need some kind of release around that. After the storm passes, he's fine to go play and generally has a vigorous afternoon, a happy dinnertime and bath, and goes to bed easily and quickly.

Additional info:
+ The nap storm happens with whoever is around (myself or a childcare provider).
+ This never happens with morning wakeups - he reads books and/or chatters to himself in the crib until I come down.
+ He's very active physically - we get plenty of exercise every day with long walks and playground time.
+ He's not a particularly moody or sensitive little guy. He's definitely a toddler and testing boundaries and such, but he's not as dramatic as other toddlers we know, and he wasn't a particularly fussy baby, either.
+ We eat healthy, mostly organic food. Mostly protein and vegetables with some fruit, very little processed food. This does not seem to be a food sensitivity.

Any advice you can share would be most welcome, as it's hard to see my happy boy so miserable with no obvious way to help him through it.
posted by judith to Human Relations (22 answers total)
 
I believe they start dreaming at about this age and I always thought mine had to work out how to accommodate this new kind of mental processing, as if it unsettled them a bit. Just a thought but it is what came to mind as I read your question.
posted by Anitanola at 12:41 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Oooo. Yeah. My son is three now, but I remember when he started dreaming. Yep. Sounds plausible!

Here's the thing: your Little One is going to go through heaps of changes for this next little while. Hormonal changes, growing issues - you'll worry about something, and before you can solve it the next new weirdness happens and that other things fades into the memory hole.

It's so upsetting when they wake up crying. I swear to you this will fade. It's a pretty small phase, overall.

Enjoy every minute. Love your guy like crazy. It all flows into the next milestone.
posted by jbenben at 1:31 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


My son does this when his nap is too short. He really needs 2 hours and if he wakes after the first 45 min sleep cycle, he's a bear. We helped him through it by laying next to him for his naps for a while, using a white noise machine and blackout curtains taped over the windows so it was DARK in his room. He needed no excuses to not fall back asleep.
posted by saradarlin at 1:44 AM on July 8


Oh, forgot to mention that we have blackout shades. White noise hasn't worked since he was much younger.

And yes, I'm well aware that babies and toddlers go through phases and things pass. This has been going on for a while and my kid is struggling with it, and I'm asking for practical advice.
posted by judith at 1:54 AM on July 8


I've often wondered if it's a blood sugar dip...my kid went though it. Horribly. To the point it wasn't worth pushing the day nap. And at that age, lots of kids in my mother's group were starting to give up day naps but going to bed much, much earlier at night.

I'd also consider playing around with room temperature....maybe making the room a fair bit cooler rather than warmer, if that's possible. But yeah, I've never found a true cure. And it sucks. For all concerned. It's almost like they're still asleep but in a nightmare.
posted by taff at 2:01 AM on July 8


Taff's suggestion of blood sugar seems like it could be a possibility. Have you factored his meal/snack schedule into your quest to find out what's wrong? Maybe rather than offering treats you could whack out a banana, and/or something before the nap?
posted by mymbleth at 3:15 AM on July 8


I never figured it out either, but I'd check that he's not getting too hot (what's ok at night may be too warm in the daytime) and definitely administer food immediately on waking.
Sometimes it helped if I just plunked my kid straight down in front of the TV with a snack for a little while.
Lastly - is he well-rested in general? Maybe try an earlier bedtime as that's usually the easiest way to catch up at that age.
posted by 8k at 3:22 AM on July 8


My son was this way and actually now at age 11 just had a rare nap and woke up angry, angry, angry!

He explains it now as he felt a real sense of grief at the time lost to sleep. He has always had a very strong sense of things he needs to get done today! and naps have always seemed like a loss to him.

He used to cry and shout "I want to start the day over" whenever he would wake from an afternoon nap. He has some mild anxiety and difficulties with transitions which could have contributed as well.

So I just stopped the afternoon nap for him. Which might not work with one so young. I wish you luck with this - sleep is such a tricky thing!
posted by absences at 4:07 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


My kid did this too (and is sill grumpy when she has short naps). What worked for us was getting her immediately and then taking her to an open window. The combination of sun and breeze would help her adjust to being awake. It went away on its own.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:15 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Thanks all. He has lunch right before his nap and isn't particularly hungry on waking. His room is quite cool (we are in San Francisco, which stays pretty temperate year-round) and he doesn't seem at all overheated. It sounds like some kids just do this, and that it is, as I suspect, correlated with too-short naps.
posted by judith at 5:17 AM on July 8


How does he do with no nap at all? If he is only getting a 40 or 45 minute nap your best bet may be to put an end to naptime. Forty minutes of sleep is not worth forty minutes of crying and misery.

Have you tried completely changing his naptime? You say he naps after lunch - what happens if he naps at ten o'clock or two thirty?
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:38 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I don't know of too many toddlers that nap for 2 or 3 hours. Many toddlers don't nap every day.
I too was going to ask about the sugar drop but then I saw that you use black out curtains. That may be the problem. It can be disorienting to wake up in the middle of the day in a dark room.

Hand him juice in a sippy cup when he wakes in case it is a sugar drop. I would also get rid of the black out curtains for nap time. Nap time is different from night time sleep and does not require total darkness.
posted by myselfasme at 5:57 AM on July 8


I suspect this will not be a popular answer, but... plop him in front of the TV. A little Sesame Street will give him some transition time between waking and sleeping and may calm him down faster since he has something to pay attention to that's not very taxing.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:05 AM on July 8


It isn't just toddlers... Have you ever heard of a person getting mad at someone for something they did in a dream?
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 6:06 AM on July 8


I was your toddler. My mother described me as "morose."

Waking up and hearing laughing and activity though the rest of the house made me feel like "it's all going on without me! They're leaving me out!" (to be read in the whiniest tone possible.) It's hard to get up to speed on family doings when groggy and wearing one's underpants. The "grog" lasted most of the rest of the day, which didn't help.
I am the last person on Planet Earth to "get in touch with my inner child" but I remember this sensation so strongly that it may help in understanding your little BostonTerrier.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:25 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Mostly protein and vegetables with some fruit

There's no fat and non-fructose carbs, there. My emotions are very stable. But, if I don't eat enough carbs (rice, potatoes), I wake up INSANELY FURIOUS. And it's exacerbated if I'm not eating enough fat. It's the weirdest thing. Maybe that's what's going on, here?

Animal saturated fat and non-fructose carbs are pretty essential nutrients, for all practical purposes, even though the body has limited ability to make them.
posted by zeek321 at 6:31 AM on July 8


Thanks again for your thoughts and suggestions. We don't have a television, and he's not very interested in videos yet, so that hasn't been useful as a distraction. The ambient activity/noise in the house is very minimal, since I generally try to get some rest myself during his nap or do some other quiet activity.

As for food, I didn't mean to suggest that he doesn't get fat or carbs, just that he's not eating a lot of sugar and processed food (to head off people suggesting that might be the issue). He eats roughly one million pieces of cheese per day.

The suggestion about not using blackout curtains is interesting. We'll try that and see if it helps!
posted by judith at 8:29 AM on July 8


My son was waking up very grouchy from afternoon naps until his teacher started waking him up by putting a baby on him. He would roll over, say 'Baby!' and give her a big hug, then be happy as a clam. I don't imagine you have a spare baby around, but maybe you could try preemptively waking him up with a hug or a tickle or something positive like a music box.
posted by bq at 10:36 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I was OVER naps by the age of 3, I can relate. So what I suggest is after lunch he goes to his room for 'quiet time'. He can play quietly with stuffed animals, dolls, or sing, or listen to music, or anything else he may want to do that doesn't involve running and screaming and loud stuff. He has to stay in his room. Perhaps leave a little timer in there so he knows when it's time to wind up again.

He may drop off on his own, or he may just amuse himself for an hour.

Wake him up with something nice. A back rub, singing, kisses, etc.

Also, it's okay to be grouchy. I agree that he may have started dreaming and it's a little freaky to him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:52 AM on July 8


My toddler did this for quite a while, and it, combined with a growing resistance to napping in the first place, convinced me to jettison the daytime sleep not long after she turned two. I felt really cheated by having a non-napping toddler when all my friends with kids got glorious hour-plus naps every day, but it made a huge difference for our general quality of life. The toddler, now almost three, can be tetchy in the evenings when she gets tired, but her moods are generally much better across the day and she goes to sleep much more easily at night now.
Anyway I still don't know why she was so upset when she woke up, but I know I can be disoriented and weird after a long sleep in the day, so maybe it's the same as kids age out of their naps?
Of course, ditching the nap might not be necessary for you, and lots of kids nap until they're four or older, so this isn't a suggestion, it's just what I noticed in my own child. I guess maybe keep an eye on how your son is doing with nighttime sleep and whether he's becoming harder to put down down in general. Good luck!
posted by jasperella at 1:10 PM on July 8


My kid does this sometimes too. As near as I have figured out [pardon the TMI, but we're talking about a 22 month old, right?], it's when he's really working on a poop. Maybe he's feeling uncomfortable because he can't get out, I'm not sure. But when he wakes up like this, he usually poops within the next hour, so I think there may be a correlation. When he doesn't wake up like this, no poop.

But it may just be an unhappy coincidence, or confirmation bias, I don't know? Also, I'm not sure that thinking that has helped me much, because I can't really help with that, but it does help me feel more patient about it, at least. If it was a constant problem, I'd probably start thinking about his diet or adding probiotics, maybe?
posted by freezer cake at 4:05 PM on July 10


Late to this, but toddler has been doing this for months. We say she needs to "shake off the nap." It can take nearly an hour these days. I think that a snack and definitely something to drink often helps. But these days she primarily wants to be hugged and rocked and cuddled for nearly an hour after her naps. I have the sense that her brain feels groggy and she is having trouble transitioning to awakeness. This is particularly intense when she takes a shorter-than-normal nap. (Her normal nap these days is around 90 minutes.) Once she shakes it off, she's cheerful. We can totally bypass the cuddling period if necessary by giving her a special treat (sesame street video on the iphone - they're like 2 minutes, surprise visitor, cookie).
posted by semacd at 7:50 AM on July 30


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