What's with the prolonged night wakeful periods?
January 12, 2012 11:57 AM   Subscribe

My 16-month old has 2.5 hour night awakenings at least 3 nights a week. This has to stop. Please tell me it can stop...

This will be disjointed because my brain is not working. I want to know why this is happening and what I can do. Conjecture, anecdotes, witchcraft spells - I'll take anything. I just started school, I'm walking around on 5 hours of sleep for the nth day and I'm going to lose my shit.

She just started daycare and is now on: bed 7 or 8pm, wake 6 or 7am, nap 2 hours from 12-2. Her wake up times and nap time are not negotiable. The variability here is because she's still getting used to daycare, sometimes sleeps there, sometimes doesn't, comes home extra tired, and I'm trying to figure out what the best times are for her to go to sleep. But if you think this is the cause, she's been doing this schtick for months.

During these awakenings, she's always up for 2.5 hours. It's always 6-8 hours into her sleep, and almost always at exactly 4am. She wakes up quite upset, won't take the bottle I bring her, and eventually has to be picked up.

This has been going on for almost 3 months, and there have been stretches where she's done it 5 days in a row, but most often it's more like an every second day sort of thing. It can go away for 4 or 5 days, but always comes back.

Things we've tried:

1. Rock her back to sleep (we always rock her to sleep anyways, so you'd think this would work). She tolerates it for a while - an hour, even - but eventually wriggles herself out of my desperate grasp and starts babbling happily - ie. "I'm awake! Let's do stuff!"
2. Let her cry it out. I've tried up to an hour of crying. Even if I leave her and she eventually stops, she plays in her crib in the dark for whatever's left of the 2.5 hours. The crying and the playing alone in the dark break my heart.

I've concluded from these attempts, repeated countless times, that (as per Ferber's book) she is physically incapable of sleep during these periods.

Also tried:

3. Waking her earlier as per Ferber, who suggests these awakenings happen when a child is getting more sleep than she needs. I thought it was working because they subsided a bit, but then they just came back. These awakenings have persisted through these attempted changes to her routines:
bed 8pm, wake 8pm, 2 hour nap at noon
bed 9pm, wake 8pm, 2 hour nap at one
bed 8pm, wake 7pm, 2 hour nap at one

It's not because she's hungry. When she wakes up hungry (which she does as well at least once a night, even though I try to stuff food into her AND put rice cereal in the last bottle of the night), I give her a bottle without picking her up and she's fine with it (yes i know this is ill-advised).

I don't know what to do next, if anything. Please help me. Please...
posted by kitcat to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh - I also have tried bringing her into bed with me, but like I said, she simply cannot fall asleep no matter what the conditions.
posted by kitcat at 11:59 AM on January 12, 2012

Why is the afternoon nap non-negotiable?
posted by Anonymous at 12:02 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Because it's at daycare.
posted by kitcat at 12:03 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Well, could I ask them not to make her nap? I don't think that will go over very well. But aside from that, she seems absolutely exhausted when she doesn't get a nap. I did try taking away her nap in the past to solve this. Results inconclusive.
posted by kitcat at 12:04 PM on January 12, 2012

Well this might sound strange, but does the heater kick on at 4am or anything regular like that? External noise source? Our 15 month old is basically doing this too, same reactions, nearly the same methodology, our answer is to pump up the white noise and hope we don't get stuck with a 90 minute to 3 hour awake stretch.

For us it seems to be whenever she has or is getting a cold or whenever she seems to be teething again. If we've noticed her biting on things a lot before bed we have been known to give her a dose of motrin, with varying success.
posted by iamabot at 12:07 PM on January 12, 2012

Both of our kids were horrible sleepers, and we have tried many different books/programs with varying success and results. We came to the conclusion that you just have to wait until the kids grow out of it. I firmly believe that every child is different so what might work for someone else will not necessarily work for you. You just have to wait until the phase passes.

My daughter would wake up at least once a night for over an hour until she was older than two years. Now, at six, she sleeps like a rock and has since she was three years old. This only happened when we stopped trying to make her sleep and let her figure it out on her own.

It sucks, but so be it. No one said parenting was easy.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:07 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

How long is she in daycare? Does she get to see you a decent amount at the beginning and end of the day? I am NOT NOT NOT judging how your family deals with childcare, but I've heard from many parents who put their kids in daycare for long (7-10 hour) periods that their kids start night waking in order to cram in some time with mom and dad.

What are you generally doing when she wakes up? Are you letting her play/hang out/get lots of attention like these parents were? Because that will give her extra incentive to wake up more.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you say you've tried waking her earlier -- do you mean in the morning? Or just before her 4am wake up?

If I were desperate, I might try waking her a 3:45 and walking around with her or rocking her. It might just disrupt her body's expectations enough to make it do something different, like stay asleep.

If you have a car, I'd strap her in and start driving.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:16 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Daycare - 7 hours average. My school schedule varies. Does she get to see you a decent amount at the beginning and end of the day? I don't know.We basically eat breakfast and rush out the door, but I talk to her all the way through and sing songs on the bus, ets.What are you generally doing when she wakes up? When I give up on trying to put her back to sleep, it's tv and sit on couch with mom or be in playpen.
posted by kitcat at 12:17 PM on January 12, 2012

It will be of no consolation to hear that this is actually a natural sleep pattern called Segmented Sleep, will it?

It has to do with circadian rhythms. Cutting out the nap may or may not be the solution, though shortening it could be. I have a few more questions though - what is your routine after pick-up from daycare? When does she have her dinner and then snack, and what does she normally eat at that time of day? What do you do for activities after dinner? And then, how is she at settling herself down to sleep (either the first time or the second) and is she either teething or potty-training?
posted by peagood at 12:18 PM on January 12, 2012

Paradoxically, sometimes an early bedtime can fix problems with sleep. You might try bumping her bedtime to a half-hour earlier and see what happens.
posted by goggie at 12:18 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: vita - I mean earlier in the morning, not before 4am.
posted by kitcat at 12:18 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: peagod: yes, that is a consolation.

After daycare we take the bus home (30 min), and immediately have a snack (say, at 5pm, but it depends on the day). Then we would read or color or play and eat a larger supper at, say, 6:15. Sometimes the tv goes on for a little bit, but I make sure to turn it off at least half an hour before bed. We read books, brush teeth, go to bed between 7 and 8.
posted by kitcat at 12:22 PM on January 12, 2012

To me it sounds like she has decided that she wakes for the day at 4am. You might not be able to convince her to do otherwise. Maybe all you can do is go to bed yourself at 8pm so you get enough sleep.
posted by slightlybewildered at 12:27 PM on January 12, 2012

(I should disclose that I work as a technical reviewer on a series of parenting books, including one that focused on sleep.)

(And I should offer some consolation, and empathy - my child has a few sleep issues as do I, and I've been working my butt off to figure them out for years.)

Okay, I'm getting an idea - a few more questions: Is it a private/in-home daycare or a centre-based program? What is the schedule at the daycare? How much light is in her room? And again - how does she settle herself?
posted by peagood at 12:29 PM on January 12, 2012

She probably wants/needs more one-on-one time with you, which is why she's waking up at these times.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:35 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Peagod: Centre-based daycare. The kids nap 12-2pm. They serve 5 meals. Breakfast at 8 if the child is there, lunch 11:15. Don't know when the other 3 are; still new at this. I know she's not eating well there because she's a bit picky. Blinds on her windows, but there's a street lamp outside her window. She settles just fine at daycare, but here we rock her to sleep with a bottle (we haven't found the strength to break her of this habit yet).
posted by kitcat at 12:45 PM on January 12, 2012

Have you heard of the book the wonder weeks? I found it incredibly interesting and useful and logical. Basically, it says that at certain weeks in development, kids are likely to go through a period of bad sleep/crankiness/whatever because something about the way they understand or interact with the world is changing. Maybe they're starting to walk, or they are starting to talk, or they are starting to understand that things go away and come back, whatever. I seem to recall that there's generally a leap at 14 weeks maybe? You might look into that.

I also agree that strategies that worked for us included going to bed earlier (which was hard, because we didn't get to spend much time with her then) and checking to see what exactly was happening at 4 am that might cause noise. In our case, it turned out to be a train, which we could not silence. What worked instead was for us to make sure she was not in a part of her sleep cycle where she was likely to wake from noise. To do that, we would nudge her gently - enough that she looked at us, but not enough that she woke all the way up - some point before that 4 am. Either around 1 when my spouse came to bed, or at some point when we woke up during the night. For whatever reason, that seemed to reset the 'sleep clock" and she would sleep through that time. If that doesn't work, maybe a fan would help.

The other thing that helped was deciding in advance which one of us would get up with her, and trading off. That way, someone gets some sleep some of the time.

Hang in there. It gets better eventually. (Says the mother of a 32 month old who is currently waking up at 5 am every other day - I think because of a new molar. Why is it that toddlers need teeth again? Is she getting teeth? I hate teeth).
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:48 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: KokurRyu: this may be true right now, but it can't be the only reason or she wouldn't have done it during the 2 and a half months before daycare, when I was with her 90% of her waking hours.
posted by kitcat at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2012

Also: at that age my daughter's daycare had naps that lasted three hours, not too - is it possible she needs longer naps? Do you know if they are waking her or letting her wake naturally? Is it possible that its the urge to urinate or have BM that is waking her?
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2012

I have a child who has somewhat similar sleep issues. He's now five. Dunno, if this is helpful for you, but my suggestions are:

- we ultimately solved this during the toddler years by co-sleeping, which we still do on a modified basis. (All night, not just when he woke up.) Having him in bed with me all night seemed to resolve the night waking, for whatever reason. He still woke up, but would go immediately back to sleep.

- I would avoid any tv/screen time at all while she's awake in the night. It's not helping, and it might extend the awake time.

- As he got older, we also had some success in readjusting his sleep segments by simply not letting him go back to sleep after his 330 am waking. My husband had to get up for work at 5 anyhow, so we just were up for the day at 330 (this did mean that I went to sleep when he went to sleep, which we still do to a certain extent). Of course, with little kids it's hard to keep them awake in car/bus situations, but we did our best. After a week or so we were able to at least make him tired enough that he slept the whole night through. Then we started bumping his bedtime a bit later (in ten minute increments) until we got to a place where he was waking up at a reasonable time.

- During all this, we learned that my son sleeps ten hours on the nose, and not a second more. If I put him to bed at 7, he's now up at 5. That means he now (at 5) has a 9 pm bedtime, which freaks people out, but it ensures that his sleep patterns are being accommodated. No matter what the books say, not all kids need or want 14 hours of sleep a day.

- I would talk with the daycare and see what you can do about the daytime nap. Maybe move it to the morning (esp. if you manage to keep her awake in the morning)? If they can't accommodate this, I'd seriously start to look for a different care situation.

- Whatever else you do, please try to sort out some kind of situation where you are getting more than 5 hours sleep. If you can get some respite care so you can spend a couple of nights with unbroken sleep, that would be best, but failing that just spend some time going to bed when she goes to bed.

As an aside, I feel like you keep apologizing for not being harder on her (haven't found the strength, etc.). You don't need to apologize for giving your child things that comfort her. You're a good mom, and you're doing a good job. Be proud of the job you're doing. You don't need to defend yourself to anyone.
posted by anastasiav at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Okay! I'm going to look up a few things, and I've got to compose my thoughts - sorry to leave you hanging, but I'll be back as soon as I can to offer some suggestions. Back to a few questions (and I appreciate your checking in and answering, and know how bone-tired feels) - what does she normally eat at daycare and for dinner; and is she either teething or potty-training? And, I think dpx.mfx and anastasiav are thinking along the lines I'm thinking...

Also, looking to yourself - Is there any way you can have a power nap for yourself during the day? They can work wonders. How is your own sleep hygiene?
posted by peagood at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2012

Also (I'll stop now) helpful was: Ask Moxie. That's where I learned about the wonder weeks; also, you can find lots of comments, posts, and things to try there if you search for "sleep regression".
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:59 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for some very good suggestions here. I will try white noise machine, finding out what happens at 4am. And maybe she can stay up at 4am. My husband (away for work right now) usually gets up at 4:45 anyways. I really doubt the daycare can swing an early nap for just one child (where? and what't the child to do when everyone else is asleep?). Maybe she can last the 8 hours till nap time.
posted by kitcat at 1:00 PM on January 12, 2012

(that up there should say 14 months, not weeks. Really, I do pay attention).

Re: where the kid naps - when my daughter moved to the two-year-old room, where naps were cut to two hours, and she still needed longer, I worked with them to figure out a place in the room where it was still sort of quiet. They nap on cots, so they moved her cot from the center of the room (where she was waking up basically as soon as the first kid woke up) to the corner (where she could make it to the end of nap time). As for what she does when the other kids are napping: quiet time with the teachers, probably. That's how it worked in our daycare, but it probably depends largely on the other ages she is with. Sometimes this age is hard because of all the different stages kids are at - is she walking?
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:04 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Peagod: daycare - don't know exactly but can report back later. Definitely meatballs and rice, cherrios, soup, goldfish crackers, juice. At home for dinner and snack I pretty consistently give her the stuff she loves: a cheesestick, puffed wheat, offer fruit which she doesn't always eat (banana, orange, cherries, grapes), and then either avocado mixed with cottage cheese or whatever beef and pasta based commercial baby food. Also, she's on formula and not milk for now because milk gave her horrible constipation.
posted by kitcat at 1:06 PM on January 12, 2012

My daughter was a horrible sleeper as a baby and toddler, literally drove me to the ER thinking I was losing my mind because of the sleep deprivation. The day we converted her crib to a full-sized bed was the day she began sleeping 10 hours straight through the night, virtually instantly, and has done so to this day. 16 months is probably too young for that, she was 2.5 maybe? but honestly it was like a switch.
posted by KathrynT at 1:07 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: walking, yes. I know what once when she woke up from a nap early they put her in the highchair with toys and she was fairly content.
posted by kitcat at 1:08 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry to be so talky here, just desperate for answers and want to give as much info as possible. I'm going to take a nap now before picking her up (I only had the one class today, would have got her early but too tired...)
posted by kitcat at 1:16 PM on January 12, 2012

man, i feel for you. CIO is not something that would've worked for us even if we'd tried it, but: my daughter (who turns 2 today!) went through this truly awful night-waking phase between maybe 11 mos & 18 mos where she'd wake up multiple times for over an hour each time. enraged. she's (mostly) grown out of it, but seriously, nothing we tried worked to get her to either (a) stay asleep or (b) go back to sleep easily. i have no idea what helped her start sleeping through the night, but i kind of suspect she started doing it when she was ready to start doing it.

so i guess what i'm saying is that maybe it'll turn out there's nothing you can do but it'll solve itself eventually.
posted by oh really at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2012

I'm putting some things together, and will be back later - thanks, you've given me some good information to make suggestions. I am not an expert - I've just spent a lot of time reading books and studies about the "sciencey" aspect of kids' sleep. I am working on an overview and need to remember some stuff and check that what I remember is true - but the picture you've painted gives me more of an idea of what you might do. I just looked to see where you are, and that's another puzzle piece!
posted by peagood at 1:28 PM on January 12, 2012

We get this occasionally with our 14 month old (he always has a waking between 4 and 6 and gets back to sleep about 85% of the time). In our case I think he wakes up because the cat has Noisy Cat Fun at that time.)

Our way of dealing with it has been to make getting up at 4-6am as boring as possible. We've made our guest room as safe as we can such that he can toddle around with very minimal supervision when the door is closed. When it's clear that he's not going back to sleep, we go into the guest room, turn on a low light, and the parent in charge lays down on the guest bed. We don't actually get to sleep, but it's more restful than getting up for real. He is surprisingly happy to putter around and look at books for a half hour or so, which is usually enough time for us to feel human.

I guess I feel like, I can't force him to sleep. His dad has similar wakeful periods during the night. He's small enough that he can't get up and play unsupervised. But we can make it clear that it's night time and that everyone in the house who is tired lays down with their eyes closed until the morning. It sucks, but doing it this way has been much better than trying to fight him into sleep for 2 hours. Once he's definitely awake, he NEVER goes back to sleep.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:40 PM on January 12, 2012

The letting her take the bottle at night without picking her up is a red flag for me. I think that you and your partner need to take alternating nights for feedings so that at least one of you can sleep through that each night, and the other needs to pick her up to feed her. I'm sorry, I know you are exhausted!

She could be gassy from lying down while drinking her bottle instead of sitting up, and the gas gets to bothering her, so she wakes up and starts crying. Since you aren't picking her up to feed and change her, when she wakes up she might have a wet diaper, and won't go back to sleep because she's uncomfortable (note: if you change her every time you feed her, you won't have to worry about diaper rash, either).

I imagine those are contributing factors, and the light outside her window might be what is actually getting her up at 4 or so. Kids tend to wake naturally at the first light of dawn; you could try some room-darkening shades to keep it a little darker a little longer.
posted by misha at 2:46 PM on January 12, 2012

I'm thinking she might be overtired. You would think that they would sleep right through if that were the case, but kids are crazy.

For a 16 month old, she should still be getting about 11 - 13 hours of sleep a day. From your information, it sounds like she's getting max 10 - 11, if she sleeps at day care. If not, then it's more like 8-9.

I'm a follower of Dr. Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits), and I'm pretty confident he would say that she needs an earlier bed time. I know you said it wasn't negotiable, but this may be the only way to really get her back on track, especially if she has crappy naps at day care.

Best of luck.
posted by Leezie at 2:53 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does she need to pee, or if she's not potty trained, is that when she pees?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:08 PM on January 12, 2012

I think I saw something in one of the sleep books I read (either Ferber or the Sleep Lady) about how after kids no longer need night-time feedings, getting food in the middle of the night disrupts sleep cycles. A 16-month-old is DEFINITELY past the age of needing to eat in the middle of the night. Maybe try weaning her off the nighttime bottle will help, and also not giving a bedtime bottle? Dinner should be sufficient at that age to hold her till morning.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:39 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel for you. It is so hard to have interrupted sleep. I hope you find a solution for everyone in your house soon. The good news is that at that age and for the next couple years sleep patterns are going to change so it will change soon regardless! Every child is so different.

My question: Is the dear child getting too much sleep? My own anecdotes: Both my children stopped napping before 2 yo. My son stopped napping entirely at 18 months. Yes, he was tired at 4 PM and would try to nap if we were in the car but I prevented this if at all possible because he would nap for 15 minutes and stay up until midnight! Still getting up in the morning at 8. So if I kept him up until 8 PM he would sleep until 8 AM with - dear god please - NO nap. Everyone told us that my children didn't sleep enough but uh ... at 6 and 9 yo they don't sleep much longer than I do. The 9 yo sleeps the same as I and the 6 yo a little longer - maybe 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer.

So is she cranky otherwise? If not then she is getting enough sleep and is done at 4 AM. I shudder to think of how my son would have been with a 2 hour nap at 16 months.
posted by kimmae at 5:06 PM on January 12, 2012

This is going to sound icky I know, but you might want to check her for pinworms. You can google how to do that. They are very, very common in small children, especially those in school or daycare and will play havoc with sleep. If you do find evidence, your doctor can help you treat it.
posted by tamitang at 5:13 PM on January 12, 2012

Seriously, my kid was a terrible sleeper as a baby and toddler. I was so sleep deprived I was hallucinating. I tried everything. And I do mean everything. Everything! If you can think of a (non-abusive, fairly rational) thing to try, then, yep, I tried it. Nothing I tried solved the problem.

One thing that did seem to help, though, at least in terms of getting my kid to go back to sleep faster after waking up, was having his dad get up and put him back to bed at night every time, instead of me. I had nursed my son and I was his primary caregiver when he was an infant (my husband worked long hours) so my kid saw me as a living breathing security blanket, and if I showed up in the middle of the night he wanted to hang out and cuddle and he did not want me to ever ever leave. When his dad would come to comfort him instead, the kid was still comforted, but not nearly as clingy.

What eventually worked best, though, was my son getting older. So if nothing else works, remember this: eventually your kid will grow out of this.

(A side effect of the "Dad handles night wakings" policy we developed when my son was a toddler is that now years later on the rare occasions when my son has nightmares or starts to feel sick in the middle of the night, he still calls first for "Daddy" instead of me. Which means I get to sleep. BWA HA HA. But also, it means he sees his father as a primary source of comfort, which I think is cool.)
posted by BlueJae at 6:13 PM on January 12, 2012

I think the middle-of-the-night bottle may be the culprit, in that it may be causing gas or BM-ish fullness a few hours later (even if she's not actually pooping in the early morning), or even changes in blood-sugar that cause her to feel wakeful. I know a lot of babies do well with overnight feedings, but mine have never become good sleepers until I've night-weaned them (from the breast, in my case, but similar issues).
posted by palliser at 6:22 PM on January 12, 2012

My kid does this. He is 18 monts old. About half the time he wakes up between 4 and 5. On lucky nights he sleeps to 5:30 or 6.

My thoughts are: he has been sleeping for 8 hours. He is wet and hungry. He is going to need some help.

Nights he wakes up early, I bring him a warm bottle of milk and lie down with him. Often he'll go back to sleep with this help. If he can't - and he does seem to be trying - I turn the lights on low and let him get out of bed and toddle around. He looks at his books and I lie in bed and try to nap. He'll bring me books and I say 'sorry, mama night-night'. I figure this shouldn't be Fun Time.

Things that seem to help:
A slightly earlier bedtime - if we get I'm to bed overtired, the game is lost.
A longer bedtime ritual
Making sure he gets a big dinner
***bigger diapers. He was peeing through his nighttime diapers until I figured out the right size to last him overnight.

Good luck!
posted by bq at 6:26 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: No bottle at night folks: do you give them water, then, when they wake up in the night? At least to help wean off the bottle? Anyhow, I've known for months that the nighttime feedings are supposedly unnecessary, but she's a hungry girl...
posted by kitcat at 6:32 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Also, peeing? I don't know. Never in her short life has a wet or poopy diaper bothered her. And she wears nighttime diapers at night. But the act of peeing waking her? Maybe...

Cranky with no nap? Yes, and she gets crazy hyper when overtired too.
posted by kitcat at 6:38 PM on January 12, 2012

I did cold turkey with mine but I have also read that you could either put less and less in the bottle or water down more and more until it's just water. Or go straight to water is another option I guess.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:46 PM on January 12, 2012

Looking over your food list, the dinners she's getting are kinda sugary/starchy, and i'm guessing what she gets at daycare is, as well. Is there any possibility that shading toward higher-protein and -fat meals, especially at dinner, might help keep her from getting hungry in the middle of the night? Probably wouldn't work the first day, since hunger cycles are partly a bioclock thing too, but in the long term it might help you to phase out the night feedings.

I agree with everyone above that feeding thing seems like as good a place to start as any.
posted by Bardolph at 6:51 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've put some thought into this, based on what I learned through my work; what I experienced with my own child and learned from researching for my work and for my child; and what I've put together from ruminating on your answers. I apologize if I'm over-reaching anywhere, and there is some speculation in here based on what I know about daycares (Experience of a "bad" one and a "good" one; my SIL is a director of one; and I work in a school that has one and am often there most of the day to see what goes on). I'll tell you how I got there, too, as I go along. And, well, you know your kid. You're no doubt doing everything and you could take every bit of all my advice and the very good advice above offered and it would still not work for you - but if I could sit down with you over a cup of coffee, here's what I'd offer: What makes for good sleep is a combination of things that are taught, not innate.

So, I am not an expert in circadian rhythms, but: I read/learned that our internal clocks work on a cycle that ranges from 24 hour +10 minutes to 24 hour +20 minutes - everyone's is slightly different. All of our rhythms are a little out-of-sync with the time clock the world operates by, so we have to reset our internal clocks each and every day. Daylight is one of the mechanisms we use to do this. And our rhythms don't always coincide with good sleep based on a bedtime at a certain hour of the day, but based on the number of sleep hours in a cycle.

I put this together with your location. You're in a place where there's less than 8 hours daylight currently, plus she's in a daycare centre - that messes things up in a few funny ways. For one thing, when they nap, it's never truly dark or quiet, so they never get into a truly restful sleep cycle. (You know, all the sleep stages, REM etc.) Also, kids go through sleep cycles/stages every 60 minutes or so. If there are interruptions from noises or other kids or she never gets to a deeper level, she may a little off there. The thing is, "good sleep begets good sleep" and bad sleep, well... So, she may be napping for two hours, but it may not be quite the quality of sleep she needs. You probably can't do much about that.

And, it's cold where you are. I see the temperatures, and taken with the wind chill, I'm going to bet that they are only outside for a limited time - if at all - and I don't know how far to and from the bus is for you and how much she walks... The typical daycare schedule is like usually something like this:

Open – 8:45 a.m. Supervised Free play
7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Wash up for snack
8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. Clean up & Circle time
9:15 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. Gym time
9:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Free choice of planned weekly centers, may go for walks, playground, crafts, etc.
11:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Prepare for lunchtime; set table, set out lunch
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Eat lunch
12:00 p.m. – 12:15 p.m. Prepare for rest period
12:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Rest time
2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Wake up and wash up
2:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. Snack time
3:15p.m. – 4:15 p.m. Free choice of center activities
4:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Supervised free play

Okay - so, most kids in daycare get a lot of "down", unstructured play time, though they're active. But they don't get a whole lot of physical exertion. I've spent the day in daycare more than a few times over the years (and was in our school often over the winter break to see what the daycare did at times I don't usually encounter them), and I see that there is a lot of play time, but also a lot of waiting time. And it takes forever to get them all bundled up to go outside. And when they're outside, at those ages, they're in a contained area or on a walk; but right when she's about ready to be learning to run, she doesn't get a lot of chances to run. And when it gets dark at four-thirty, they don't tend to go out for the afternoon play outside. All that time indoors with electric lights messes up circadian rhythms too, especially if there's not much daylight in the room (and, they're napping through the best daylight hours!). That, and well, it's a different kind of fatigue, being around other kids in a busy environment (in terms of room arrangements and noise), and around all the sources of constant stimulation even though daycares build in quiet time. So, the amount of time indoors is probably a big factor. My daughter slept as a relief from stress at daycare, because she'd stopped napping at home.

Add food to that equation: meatballs and rice, cheerios, soup, goldfish crackers, juice - typical daycare food. Also, very starchy and sugary - there are a lot of hidden sugars in some of those foods, and it often tends to be full of carbs - which convert to sugars. For our daughter, that was what messed her up. She's a kid that needs to eat really well, or we have to peel her off the ceiling.

At home for dinner and snack I pretty consistently give her the stuff she loves: a cheesestick, puffed wheat, offer fruit which she doesn't always eat (banana, orange, cherries, grapes), and then either avocado mixed with cottage cheese or whatever beef and pasta based commercial baby food.
See, this is great! But, as I learned working on the book, it's complex carbs plus protein that lead to better sleep. Whole-grain toast and scrambled eggs or tofu or chicken or cheese...stuff like that. Mixed with vegetables like sweet potatoes (steamed and in cubes!) or whole-grain pita and hummus - muesli bread or granola with yogurt - there are so many things that will help with this (and, I worked on a food book, so I have info about that too.) Those are all things that are good for constipation too. More finger foods by now, too, because that's a good kind of mental stimulation as well as helping her to fill up with things that give great energy, but are easily digestible. (You say she's picky - did you know it can take up to sixteen introductions in a row to get a child to accept a new food?) And, she probably needs more dietary fibre in order to feel full if she's not eating the fruits. The rice in the formula, and the baby food will not provide enough bulk. By that age a good percentage of kids are past having a night time bottle. Well, by that age most are ready to move to a cup for the majority of their beverage intake. And I agree - it could be gas, or her body could be ready to stay dry for the night but she's having too much liquid then, or a number of things. And yes, check for pinworms.

I'm looking at the timing, and I'm seeing that there's not a lot of time in the mornings for her to move around. Can you leave earlier to walk more or have some outside playtime? Get off the bus a stop or two early and walk the extra bit? An hour a day on the bus, plus daycare, is a long time of being somewhat constrained for a kid that age. And, between daycare and bed - how much exercise is she getting at the end of the day? Is she getting to really tire herself out? Your activities are quiet, and yes, close to bedtime she needs to wind down -- but at that age kids should be having at least an hour a day and preferably more like ninety minutes of physical exercise - not, of course, calisthenics - but for sixteen months, after dinner having a walk around the block and then home for some reading time would probably make a big difference. Daycare works hard to give every kid what they need, but kids with very specific needs can't often be accommodated. I learned that at my daughter's "bad" daycare, she was never allowed to go full bore. She needed to run for blocks. She likes to get loud. She needed to climb. Her "good" daycare would take them to parks with more area so they could really move. Is your daughter a more active kid? Without having asked this, based on what I see in our neighbourhood, many parents of kids at your daughter's age are using strollers for their convenience, when just a little more walking would be exactly what would be a great use of kid energy. They really need to expend it in order to rest properly.

Put this together with electronics. So, light regulates our melatonin, the sleep hormone. Exposure to electronic lights limits the production of melatonin, so we stay alert and awake. When it's dark, we get sleepy. We found for our kid, TV or computer time before bed makes her more excitable. So, TV in the middle of the night or before bed might be something to consider cutting out, though I feel your pain, because I was too tired back then to do anything more than zone out myself. Removing any stimulation or reward for waking up at night will be more painful for you, but aside from comfort and reassurance, it can just become a habit.

About habit... Good sleep doesn't come naturally - its taught. I know! Teaching something that should come naturally. Sleep is a jerk. But the world is messed up that way - we no longer sleep when we're sleepy and wake naturally. So, it's also very possible that you could be missing her sleep cues - maybe she IS tired earlier, and her bedtime is earlier, though sadly that means less quality time with her. Look up "sleep cues" and think about if you may be missing some?

Sleep hygiene is also a consideration. Check the environment. Cooler is better in her room. A drop in body temperature is also what signals the body to sleep, which is why babies are often given baths at bedtime. Now, of course, that will wake some kids right up - you have to know your kid. But a very warm bath about 90 minutes before bedtime is what is often recommended for insomniacs, and it can be part of a bedtime routine that signals her that soon it's sleepytime. Darkness is great, and white noise is great - but you don't want her in an isolation chamber. She should be able to sleep through moderate noises, like parents talking (or, for example at our house - parents tapping on computers in the next room...) Also check - is her mattress comfortable? Pajamas comfortable? My daughter immediately started sleeping better when we added a softer mattress pad and she prefers one duvet over a tangle of sheets. Feel the back of her neck when she's sleeping - is it hot and sweaty? Are her fingers and toes cool, warm or freezing? She should be at a normal, comfortable if slightly cool temperature.

And, bedtime routines - most should be under half an hour, and kids love routine, every book in the world says that. Bath, story etc. If she is not self-soothing herself to fall asleep yet, it may be time to start working on that, for your own sanity. There are a gajillion methods and every parent will espouse a favourite.

You see, I think part of the problem might also be sleep associations. You are creating the environment in which she falls asleep. If she wakes up, and that's gone, she needs you to help her again. And sleep associations (look this up for more info) can be anything - a soother, a blanket, a pillow...the bottle... It's never bad to give your kid comfort, and you love her and it's a great time together and goodness I know I love to read to my daughter and snuggle and watch her fall asleep next to me... but if they never learn to comfort themselves, there goes your sleep. Anecdote - my daughter liked it when I rubbed her cheek gently with the back of my hand. One day I had a light bulb moment (a dim light bulb, to be sure) and showed her she could do that for herself with her own hand. I can't believe I never thought of it, and she never figured it out herself. So, good sleep associations need to be taught to both parents and kids!

So, I'll leave with this (from the book I worked on) - "research has shown that 41 percent of children who were getting up at age eight months were still getting up in the night at age four years" which isn't meant to frighten - it's just to point out that this all doesn't come naturally to some kids. And it likely won't just go away on its own. I'm afraid it's going to be work. Hey, my MIL let my husband and his sisters fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV every night. Every night. It worked for her. And it all works, until it doesn't work any more. My own kid, now that she can speak, told me at one point "I just need to know I'm not alone" and so having a pet gecko or the dog in her room made a big difference in falling to sleep. Now that she can read, she's allowed to turn on her light and read if she can't sleep, because she has a hard time clearing her mind. But she still crawls into bed, and she even looks happier in her sleep when as a treat she can tuck in with us sometimes.

Really, what you want to do is more about "teaching your child about sleep as opposed to just eliminating undesirable sleep behaviours." So, don't throw all you're doing away and start fresh, but, say, start with teaching her a few self-soothing things, and maybe start making small changes to her energy, her environment and possibly her diet and you might see a difference in this particular problem.

TL;DR : Better nutrition, more exertion, environmental factors, self-soothing, habits formed, consider sleep associations, check sleep hygiene, take good care of yourself too.
posted by peagood at 7:15 PM on January 12, 2012 [168 favorites]

Response by poster: Sleep is a jerk. But the world is messed up that way
Maybe I have the sleep deprived sillies, but this made me laugh so hard :)

Wow, peagood. You are amazing. It's one thing to know all this stuff, but another entirely to share it with such generosity. And to analyze my own situation in such detail. I can't tell you how thankful I am. I really can't. And I think this will be helpful to so many other MeFi parents too. :)

Thank you everyone. There are definitely lots of things here that I haven't thought of or tried. I shall soldier on!
posted by kitcat at 7:56 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, Peagood's post reminded me of when my nephew was somewhere between 1 and 1&1/2...
He was a really good kid, but seemed to enjoy really active games so much, that I tried a 'game' where I sat at the end of a carpeted apartment block hallway, and proceeded to cheer and clap while he ran back and forth, while trying to 'catch' him when he got to my end.
5 minutes, and he still wasn't bored.
10 minutes and he was still going.
20 minutes and he hadn't even flagged.
30 minutes and I'm thinking he's the energiser bunny.
40 minutes and I'm thinking he might be in the olympics one day.
50 minutes and he hasn't slowed, but I'm bored of sitting, so we go back inside.

This became a semi-regular occurrence. It's weird to think just how sedentary we much be compared to our evolutionary ancestors. So yes, tiny wee ankle biters are capable and desirous of far more exercise than we give them credit for, even if they are impeccably behaved and not climbing up the walls.

Additional: I also have friends who told their child that whenever they had 'ants in their pants' they were allowed to excuse themselves from what they were doing, including dinner, and run up and down the hallway until they could sit still.
posted by Elysum at 1:22 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

My son was a bad sleeper as an infant, toddler, etc., and is still not a great sleeper as an adult. Maximizing fresh air, sunshine and activity helped some. You could go in, make sure she's warm, dry, and has a bottle of water, give her a couple of toys, tell her Mama loves you, and Mama is going back to sleep now.

It doesn't sound like you have time to get her to sleep earlier. Maybe you could get you to sleep earlier. If she goes to sleep at 7 or 8, screw the dishes, laundry, etc. Go to bed just after she does. If she's up at 4, get up (if you went to bed at 9, that's 7 hours of sleep), and be boring. Put her in her high chair while you do the dishes or fold laundry. Talk to her, listen to the radio, but be task-oriented. Then go back to sleep. It's not a sustainable lifestyle(not for me at least), but her sleep habits are likely to change again.

I mostly want to say I sympathize, esp. with "tried up to an hour of letting her cry" and that you should get whatever help you can, and be easy on yourself. You are a loving Mom. It's okay to take care of your own needs, too.
posted by theora55 at 5:32 PM on January 14, 2012

Response by poster: It's six months later and as things have changed for the better, I'll try to post some kind of helpful update. Except when she is ill with a stomach bug causing multiple vomiting sessions or with an awful ear infection, the mysterious long awakenings have stopped. They really dwindled about four months ago (that would put her at about 19 months). They stopped completely when I went back to work (more on that below). I'll say first what I'm almost positive wasn't (at least directly) causing them:

- not having eaten enough during the day, or not having eaten the right stuff (stuffing her to the hilt never made a difference, nor did making sure she had good carbs and protein at dinner)
- missing mom and dad (she spends even more time at daycare now that I'm working)
- full diaper (didn't care then, doesn't care now)
- the habit of giving her a bottle in the night (we still do this, actually)
- the habit of rocking her to sleep when she woke up (we continued to do this even after the awakenings stopped)
- middle-of-the-night noise (we started using a loud heater in her room; the white noise never helped)
- tv stimulation close to bedtime (she seems to handle this just fine when it does happen)

I can't know for certain (isn't that awful? I'm so sorry, parents in my old boat who are looking for answers), but I think that there are two things that finally put an end to the problem:

1. Daylight and exercise, as peagod suggests. Looking at the when of when it all slowed and stopped, it coincides with spring and longer daylight hours. My daycare has the kids playing outside a LOT. It seems to be really good for her.

2. Less sleep. I began a full time job three months ago, and her bed routine changed to: go to sleep at about 8pm, get up at 6:15. This is 45 minutes less sleep than she was getting on her shortest sleep days back then. If she is tired before 8, I put her to bed early without fear of crazy awakenings.

Summary: the wakings became much less frequent at the beginning of spring, and pretty much stopped when her sleep hours were reduced.

It's also possible that she just outgrew it. Kids outgrow things. They're constantly, constantly changing. She just started liking her crib, recognizes that she is tired, and can now fall sleep on her own (yay!). She is obsessed with her soother, colors on the floor and has become a picky eater (boo!). Nothing stays the same.

Being a parent is the hardest thing in the world, and there just aren't any easy answers. But if you're in dire straits and reading this now, at least know: your best is good enough. Even though you feel like your best absolutely sucks - stop. I promise, it's good enough. And this too shall pass.

If you have any questions, please memail me. I will be more than happy to try to help.
posted by kitcat at 3:52 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

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