Why does my son suddenly hate bedtime and will not sleep through the night?
January 5, 2013 6:47 PM   Subscribe

My son (12 months) has been sleeping through the night since he was 3 months old, but now...he hates bedtime (but naps are fine) and wakes up screaming and wanting to play (usually around 1 or 2 am). What's going on?

I have read the other questions on baby sleep and found some good advice there, but none of it is working just yet, so I hope I can raise the issue again. Here's the situation:

My son has been a prodigy when it comes to sleeping through the night. He started sleeping 10 - 12 hrs/night since the third month. We could literally count the number of times he woke up in the middle of the night on one hand until about a month ago. To say he is an excellent sleeper is an understatement. But in the past few weeks, this has changed.

This has varied a bit, but he is essentially on the following schedule:

Wake up around 8 - 8:30am. Two naps a day (~11am and 4 or 5pm). Asleep by 7:30 or 8pm.

But now at the 12 month stage, we have run into two problems:

1) He goes down for his naps quite easily and is asleep within a minute or so. We have never let him "cry it out" before, but we found this week that it is necessary sometimes -- he howls for a bit, then lays down and falls asleep peacefully. But bedtime is a different story -- we've had some success letting him cry for a minute or two, but there are nights when he just keeps crying to the point of coughing/choking and we rush in to pick him up. I walk him around in my arms to soothe him and try to put him down -- this usually requires a few attempts.

I've tried to be consistent with his bedtime routine and he is perfectly happy up until I put him in his crib (or even get near it; he knows what's up).

2) Once he is asleep (around 8 or 9pm), he tends to wake up very upset between 12 - 1:30 am. It's quite consistent. Again, we've had some limited success in letting him cry and stand up for a minute. He will sometimes just go down to sleep again. But more often than not, he will scream until I get up. At this point he is wide awake and will not go to sleep until 3 or 4am. He's quite happy to play and laugh and snack a bit with Daddy, but God forbid I try to put him back to bed.

I almost feel like I shouldn't complain -- we are truly blessed with an "easy" child in this department. I hear horror stories about parents who haven't slept in years, whereas we have enjoyed a full night's rest since March. But something has changed for him when it comes to sleeping.

Any tips on what's going wrong here?
posted by The Hyacinth Girl to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is it possible that he is ready to go down to one nap a day? I would try to see if you can put him down around 12:30-1 p.m. and see if he naps well, and how that affects his nighttime sleep.
posted by sutel at 6:55 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

He may also possibly be teething some molars, which can disrupt sleep - are his in yet? If not you might consider some baby pain relief one night and see if it soothes him.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:07 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Any tips on what's going wrong here?

He's growing up. Developmental milestones often mean a change in sleep patterns - this could be a sign that something new is on the way. Most likely, he's reached the point where when he comes out of sleep at night, he knows to check for Mommy/Daddy and when he doesn't find you there, he gets scared. He doesn't want to go to bed at night because he knows that means Mommy and Daddy won't be there - naps are different because they are short.

Do you have nightlights? A twilight turtle? Our son still loves his turtle and it's a good way to reset him when he wakes up in a panic. We play a bit of "where's the moon?" until he calms down, gets some rocks, then goes back to bed. He still tries to avoid going to bed, so Mom or I have to stay in his room for awhile (she reads on her Fire, I'll listen to a podcast) until he nods off.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:13 PM on January 5, 2013

I'm guessing teeth or some other kind of ailment. Whatever you do, try to be consistent with how you deal with him in the night. Very dark, limited interaction, etc.

For teething pain, the best relief I found for our daughter was a dose of baby Advil at bedtime.

I also think it was about a year when she went from three naps a day to just one. And this is when she started walking and all kinds of stuff was going on. Hang in there!
posted by amanda at 7:15 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest going down to one nap a day and making his bedtime a bit earlier to compensate. They get more willful at this age (not a bad thing) so you also ought to cut out the hanging with daddy stuff--no need to punish, but what we do for inappropriate PARTY TIME wakings is simply lie on the couch in a babyproofed and dark or dimly lit room and do absolutely nothing interesting. Our little guy wanders around with nothing to do and eventually realizes that waking up in the middle of the night is lametastic.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:16 PM on January 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's also probably worth reading one or more of the sleep books you didn't have to read earlier, just to get an understanding of how sleep works for kids. I like Dr Harvey Karp's new book. Lots of useful techniques and advice rather than one particular sleep method.
posted by judith at 7:34 PM on January 5, 2013

Lots of good suggestions here, but I wanted to add that a white noise machine helped significantly with my daughter at around the same age.
posted by Happydaz at 7:45 PM on January 5, 2013

My daughter started waking in the middle of the night for a few weeks around that same time. Then three weeks later, without me changing anything, she stopped. It's pretty normal, especially because around this age they are reaching milestones (which somehow messes up their sleep--awesome).

I would lay my daughter down with me at night (and still do on those difficult nights). Your son might be starting to develop some anxiety over you leaving, and for me, I found that even being in the same room wasn't enough. I would place my daughter in my bed with me, read to her, and just relax. When I saw she was really sleepy, but still awake, I would put her in her crib and leave. Sometimes she would cry, but most of the time she was too tired to fight at that point. I didn't have to do that every night, just on "those nights". Once every few nights, IMHO, won't cause them to become completely reliant on you to fall asleep.

For the getting up in the middle of the night part, I hear ya--if I let her "cry it out", I would be up until the sun came out. I would keep it low-key and just rock her in the dark.

I know for me, it was just keeping my sanity until it passed (and it did!). And don't underestimate the power of the molars. Even if the front teeth were no big deal, molars are notoriously painful.

Best of luck!
posted by andariel at 8:00 PM on January 5, 2013

I tend to look for the absolute most boring thing I can that's just enough to reassure the baby. Stay in the same room, rock the baby if necessary, but no food or fun or lights if at all possible. The idea being to reassure while still making it clear that it's still a quiet, boring time.

Whether that actually helps, I don't know.

Don't feel bad about complaining, not knowing when you're going to get a full night's sleep and when you're going to be kept up midnight-3am is no fun at all!
posted by bfields at 8:09 PM on January 5, 2013

Yep, it's totally normal. You really have to make it super boring for him to stay awake though. Be there for comfort but not for play.

(honestly? we did that for our one, who did wake a lot her whole first 18 months, right from the start and although she was a fairly frequent waker she did not wake for long, maybe 10 min max any given time from about 6 weeks of age. it's a thing I recommend.)
posted by gaspode at 8:13 PM on January 5, 2013

What time does he wake up from his second nap? If he's going down for a nap at 4-5pm and then you're trying to get him to sleep by 7:30-8pm, that seems way too close. Baby Bibbitt is only 8 months, but I don't let him sleep past about 5:00-5:15 for his afternoon nap so he's ready for his 7pm bedtime.
posted by bibbit at 8:20 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know [why] but it is extremely common for one-year-olds. 'Previously [relatively] sound sleeper is now a young toddler and wants to be up for extended periods sometimes' is like a sort of parenting-board meme. Lots of theories on why, but who knows.

I kicked about it a bit and sat there in the dark quite sternly at first, and then realised that there was balls all that I was doing that affected the situation -- kid was going to be up for a spell no matter what I did -- so I turned it into a thing where it was the cue for me to fix a little glass of liqueur for myself, and we spent a lot of time looking out the window, reading board books, sometimes throwing the duvet over ourselves to go out and look up at the stars. I was a more focused and doting parent in those random just-us night times than I was during the day and it was a nice, nice thing for both of us. The key was looking forward to it and not dreading it.

Of course the waking stopped, me not being a grump about it not withstanding, and of course I missed it. It did mean putting myself to bed very early many nights but it was worth it. Good liqueur, ice and maybe cream on hand... Use the advice that feels right to you, as I heard 'you have to be very boring, don't turn lights on, don't talk' -- some went so far as 'don't make eye contact' like it was some sort of wild animal you should be fearful of! -- over and over and over and I did the opposite, enjoyed it, and still the kid stopped getting up for my happy fun times of S Boynton and star-gazing.
posted by kmennie at 8:30 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

oh, let me clarify my comment then in light of what kmennie said.

Being boring doesn't mean avoiding eye contact etc. At least not for our family. We had snuggles and cuddles and all that. We just didn't get up and *play*. It was about soothing rather than stimulation.
posted by gaspode at 8:41 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nothing is really going wrong, your son is just reverting to the natural human sleep cycle, which is to have an hour or two of wakefulness in the middle of the night.
posted by AlsoMike at 9:09 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder if it's possible he's experiencing some form of "night terror" and that he's waking up from it instead of going back to sleep. I don't think people normally awake this way from night terror, but I'm not an expert on the topic. If it were night terror, the screaming would probably be fairly blood-curdling.
posted by Dansaman at 10:13 PM on January 5, 2013

Teething was my first thought. It was our sleep nemesis in a big way at that age.
posted by emjaybee at 7:19 PM on January 6, 2013

Thanks everyone!

Molars are certainly a factor and I've been giving him Tylenol as seemed necessary. The worst of it seems to have passed. It might be my imagination but I think I see the molar coming in.

He was down to one nap a day recently, but then started taking two again. He has slept through the night the past two days, and I'm hoping for a hat trick tonight! We have tried to keep him up a little later after his second nap and that seems to have helped. It still seems to be a bit of a crapshoot; his sleepy nights don't seem to correlate to much!

Thanks for all the advice. It's much appreciated! I am pretty simple when it comes to baby stuff: I just go with what my own doctor told me: "Feed them when they're hungry. Let them sleep when they're tired". Usually works pretty well...until it doesn't ;)
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 8:53 PM on January 7, 2013

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