Young toddler bedtime: doin' it wrong?
March 16, 2014 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Bedtime has always been a production with our now 13 month old, and unfortunately I don't know many parents of similarly-aged kids to calibrate against. Does this routine seem normal/okay to you for this age? Snowflake details inside.

The kid: 13 months old, not walking but crawling/cruising/climbing furniture. He is a perfectly happy and energetic child who is also deep in a must-discover-everything-about-the-world phase. Naps happen on a schedule with no drama at all and he sleeps a total of about 2 hours during the day.

The bedtime: Generally we shoot for 7:30pm, after much experimentation revealed he was not going to bed any earlier than that (not ever, nuh-uh). We eat dinner around 6:30 when dad comes home, then at 7 or so the bedtime process starts. He gets about 15 minutes of reading and then 15 minutes of snuggling/bottle feeding, then (in theory) bed.

The problem: If he doesn't fall asleep on the bottle (which he rarely does these days), then when he's done he sits right back up and starts playing. We've tried just leaving him in his crib, but that results in HUGE tantrums and hours of crying. What works is laying down with him and playing some DS games where he can see them, which seems to keep him on his back long enough that he eventually sleeps (usually about 30 minutes later).

Most nights he is asleep by 8pm and that's actually not bad, but two things concern me: a) he's not falling asleep by himself, in his bed and b) the process takes at least an hour and sometimes both parents, leaving us pretty exhausted and cutting into that precious few hours of alone time that we have.

However, I'm willing to believe that this is actually pretty normal and fine for this age and lots of parents do a similar song-and-dance to get their overly energetic toddlers to sleep at night. If you have or had kids of this age, does this read as normal to you or do you think we have an opportunity to be a little more hard-line about bedtime/going in the crib? (Or maybe we're just missing something obvious here, as we're first-time parents and dunno wtf we are doing.)
posted by annekate to Human Relations (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Keep him up til 8 and give him a hug and a half-bottle if the first one didn't do the trick, keeping the light off.

Then let him scream blue murder. It's way rougher on you then it is on him.
posted by codswallop at 8:58 PM on March 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe he's ready for one day sleep instead? Then when it's time to go to sleep at night, he may go down easier. Can't hurt to try.
posted by Jubey at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

He may want to spend more time with his father. The 2 hour nap during the day may be too long.

He may want to spend more time with you. Our kids never went to sleep by themselves until about age 7 (!)
posted by KokuRyu at 9:14 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

FWIW, our now-16-month-old was going down way easier than that starting at about 8 months. We may have lucked out though; I have no idea what is typical.

The times we've found that he does have difficulty, it's generally because he slept too much during the day, or got up from his last nap too late. What time is he waking up from the last nap? You might have to shorten it a bit, or shorten the first one and make the second one start earlier.

If he does go down with no drama for naps, you know he can put himself to sleep... so something is just not quite right at night. Good news is, you can probably fix this if you can figure out what it is. It sounds to me like he just might not be tired enough.
posted by forza at 9:31 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

you know, we opted not to do the cio method, but I did find the SCHEDULES in Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child to be right on for us.
But, I think at that age bed time involved my husband taking her for an hour long ergo walk, so maybe I'm not one to talk....
posted by munichmaiden at 9:39 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't think your experiences are anywhere out of the ordinary. Just searching the ask mefi archives will reveal plenty of questions similar to this. I certainly remember feeling that way! The advice you will get will differ wildly depending on each person's parenting philosophies in terms of cry-it-out and sleeping.

I'm going to assume you don't want to cry it out, so here's my advice based on what you described. Don't play DS games with him watching - firstly because it means there's a bright screen in front of his eyes, which isn't really very sleep inducing (IMHO), but also because whatever things form your routine at bedtime will become cues in his mind for sleep. I assume you don't want to end up in a situation where he demands a DS gaming session in order to fall asleep, or really associate videogames and sleep. I am not anti-videogame at all btw (very far from it), I just think this sounds like two things that don't go together. I used to lie and talk with my little guys after having snuggled and read a book together, then stop the talking and just lie there quietly. I also think eating dinner one hour before bedtime might be too short a gap?

Its impossible to know what will work, but anyway I wanted to reassure you that you're not experiencing anything unusual, but you have to decide how you want to cope with it according to your philosophies.
posted by Joh at 9:52 PM on March 16, 2014 [18 favorites]

My now-3.5yr old had a really hard time with sleep management for a variety of reasons. I researched the heck out of every single method I could find details on (this is a pretty good summary of the overall feeling I had at the end) and ended up using things I learned during the routine establishment discussed in No Cry Sleep Solution.

We would get in and her dinner would follow very shortly after (even if I needed to make something for myself later). We'd play for 15-30min, depending on arrival and length of meal. She'd get a warm bath, sometimes with enough time for splashing and sometimes not. Then out onto her changing pad on my bed, where the lights were dimmed and she got diaper, baby massage via lotion application, jammies, a softly-voiced story during cuddles, a last bit of nursing/bottle, then cuddled in with her soft blanket and lovey while I pet her back in the absolute pitchblack dark with a white noise machine (Sleep Sheep) nearby. Generally asleep pretty quickly with all of that, and the times she didn't it was because of something like ear infection or napping too close to dinner time.

She was still getting 2hrs of sleep during the day, sometimes split between two naps and sometimes one long one. I did have to play around with getting her to bed before she got her second wind, though - if I went past the dozy eye-rubbing point, I soon had an over-alert demon child on my hands who took twice as long to soothe asleep.

Another thing that helped a lot was making sure she got enough activity during the day. Really letting her groove and scoot and bang and yell seemed to make a huge difference, as did ensuring some time in the outdoors.

Sleep is so tricky, and it's weird that such a basic need that feels good is the root of so much turmoil and angst. I wish y'all luck, fortitude, and clarity in finding the right combination for your family.
posted by batmonkey at 9:55 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Does he stay asleep once he's down? When does he wake up in the morning and when does he nap?

He sleeps pretty well once down. He wakes up when we come to bed (we share a room with him), gets a quick snuggle and goes back to sleep. He generally will wake up again at some point but snuggles or coming to bed with us puts him right back to sleep. He wakes up at 7-7:30am without fail, no matter how late the bedtime, and the naps are every 3 hours after that (roughly 10:30am and 2:30pm). He gets woken up if he tries to sleep past 4.

No idea if dad is the issue (possible) though it's worth noting our sitter can get him down no problem if we're out for the night. Also agree that dinner is probably too close to bedtime, I just like eating as a family but maybe that's not possible unless he can come home sooner.
posted by annekate at 10:18 PM on March 16, 2014

We had an easier time than you did, so I don't know if it compares, but I think one of the reasons why our 21-month-old went to bed easier than yours is that his dinner time was 5. I'm the dad, and don't get home until 6-6:30, so it's a similar situation. I think a newly-full belly might energize your child. I would try earlier dinner. Also, any time I gave any screen time of any sort within 2 hours of bed, we had a harder time with bedtime, so that is worth trying to remove.
posted by Pacrand at 10:37 PM on March 16, 2014

Best answer: I have a 13 month old. I did sleep training with her using a Ferber-type check and console method more than 6 months ago. Ever since then we use the same bedtime routine every night (starting around 6:15pm after dinner, bath time, pajamas, bottle, lullaby singing and cuddling, then down in the crib for bed) and she goes down without a fuss. Sometimes she will play in the crib for 15-30 mins after we put her down (she has a musical bear to play with) or sing to herself in the meantime.

Initially when we started the sleep training she did cry because she didn't know how to put herself to sleep, but she quickly learned how to do it within a few days and now if she's tired enough not to play when I put her down, she just rolls over to sleep right away.

I would agree with not having screen time before bed. The AAP would say no screen time whatsoever, but I'm not prepared to take that hard a line on it - it's just not ideal to do screen time before bed because it's bad sleep hygiene.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:37 PM on March 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I can't tell exactly what sets your son off or what he feels he needs, but our son was terribly stubborn about going to sleep for a long time. We gave up on "cry it out", he's a stubborn kid, and still is. Our routine: read books (the same last book always), lights out, sing same lullaby, talk to him a few minutes about his day, what he did and what he learned, then sit with him in the dark until he fell asleep. It was 20 minutes of time that felt better than crying or fighting and was the least exhausting option for all of us, especially knowing he's super stubborn and was bad with transitions in all situations. Eventually we started a project to move closer to the door a little further each night, then the hallway, then sat in the living room (still in hearing distance). Then we were free. When he was a little older we made him a bottle of "monster spray" and got him a night light when he was scared to be by himself. So if you're looking for "normal", well, that 20 minutes in the dark waiting became normal for us for a while. There's no right or wrong, decide what works best for you and him, understand his personality, and no, you're not gonna ruin him for life. Our son now surprises me with his independence and I'm gonna want that 20 minutes spent with him back one day.
posted by girlhacker at 12:05 AM on March 17, 2014

What works is laying down with him and playing some DS games where he can see them, which seems to keep him on his back long enough that he eventually sleeps (usually about 30 minutes later).

My husband played Plants versus Zombies and Angry Birds for about two years straight, putting our daughter to bed.

Keep the ritual as-is. Have dinner yourselves at 8. Make an easy pasta, light candles, have a bottle of wine. Having dinner with a toddler is the pits.

(Our daughter is in kindergarten and reads very well and she is perfectly well-adjusted and smart and funny so far. FWIW. Which I recognize isn't much. I know our attitude about kids and dinners isn't a common attitude, but it really made our world a better place when she was very young. I think it's helpful to eat dinner with older kids but little kids at the dinner table, especially really little ones, are just a chore.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:09 AM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

The real question is whether the two of you are happy with the bedtime ritual. Do you get any time together? Does it matter? And so on. If y'all are fine with it, it ultimately works, and he seems like he's getting enough sleep, I think it's great. Just make sure that you're fine with it in the long run.

You're definitely normal, as far as any actual normal there is for parents. We have a lengthy bedtime ritual with our kiddo, and then I lay in bed with him until he gets to sleep (BIG MISTAKE TO START THAT, at least for us).

I will say that if you want things to change, do it now. Our son is 2 and a half, and at this point it is way harder to change things than it would have been at 13 months.
posted by hought20 at 4:13 AM on March 17, 2014

First and most importantly, as long as your kid seems to be getting roughly enough sleep, in a way that suits your overall family lifestyle, then you're doing OK.

Also, based on my non-expert experience, what you're describing is within the spectrum of normal behavior for that age. Some kids go to sleep more easily than yours does, some kids take more work. Some kids sleep through the night at that age, some don't.

In my particular case: by the time each of our kids was six months old, their sleep schedule had deteriorated to a point where they were miserable and so were we. As a result, it was worth it for our family to go through the tears and stress of sleep-training. Since then, they go to sleep on their own fairly easily, and (usually) put themselves back to sleep if they wake up at night.

I want to stress that this was the correct decision for our family, but it might not be for yours. Sleep training will (probably) be one to four weeks of exhausting hell for you and your kid. In exchange, you will (probably) have far easier and less stressful nightimes for years afterwards. For some families, that tradeoff is worth it; for others, it isn't.

I should warn you that sleep training will only get harder as the kids get older. So if you want to do it at some point but are putting it off, you should probably bite the bullet and do it now.

If you DO feel this is something you want to do:

We started by tracking their sleep habits in Trixie Tracker which let us figure out what their natural sleep patterns were, so we could work with them. With one of our kids, we noticed that it almost didn't matter what time she napped during the day-- she just needed a certain amount of awake time, no matter how it was distributed, and then she'd fall asleep more easily. With our other kids, it was the opposite. When he napped seemed to matter more than how much he napped.

We tried the techniques in "The No Cry Sleep Solution" and they didn't work for us, although I know some families they did work for. Lots of people recommended we read "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," but I found it horribly written and bizarrely dogmatic. For us, Ferber's "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems" was the key. We also used a technique we learned from a Baby Whisperer book: when we started sleep training, we would put our son on his side in his crib, and pat his back and shush him to sleep. That way, even though we were helping him, he was still associating his own crib with falling asleep. That seemed to make it a little easier to transition to falling asleep totally on his own. (Although we still had to do Ferber's version of CIO.)

My personal advice is: do NOT just read one book on sleep. Every author has their own particular slant, and if you just read one book, you will think it's gospel, and you'll beat yourself up if its methods don't work for your particular family. I would encourage you to read a couple books from different perspectives, and then you can put together an approach that works for you.
posted by yankeefog at 4:30 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

That was right about the age that our daughter gave up her first nap (spontaneously), and she went from being terrible at getting to sleep to dropping right off. The first week after losing the nap was kind of rocky though - we had to start bedtime around 45 minutes earlier and then gradually bring it back (otherwise she was a nightmare).

That was instigated by her, though. But it's another thing to consider.
posted by gaspode at 4:44 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something I really dislike about the huge marketing of child literature to parents is the idea that us doing something wrong will totally screw our kid up over Issue X for life. I wish I could go back to when my son was that age and take away the stress and worry that how we dealt with his terrible sleep problems would mean he'd never fall asleep on his own. My experience is limited to one very, very problematic sleeper from birth until age 2. Once he hit 2, my son kind of just... started sleeping fine. On his own, through the night. It was like a switch was turned in him. Until then, though, it was epic.

At age 13 months we were putting him to sleep in a pack & play in the living room, lights on, and my husband would lie down next to the pack & play and pretend to sleep so our son would copy him. I had to be nowhere near the room for this work. We then brought him up to our room at our bedtime and put him down in a pack & play in our room. He eventually ended up in bed with us at some point every night, and he woke up for night nursing every night until I weaned him just before he turned two. Ugh.

Once he was about a year and a half, we started putting him to bed in his crib in his own room, but I had to stay in the room reading my kindle in the dark for about half an hour until he fell asleep (I was across the room from him so he couldn't see my screen). Did that for a while, until finally he became cool with me just leaving the room after putting him down. I thought I was destroying his ability to ever sleep on his own and beat myself up a lot for that. Now, we have a 3.5 year old who likes to "read" a bunch of books in his bed after our story reading time is done, and he'll call for us to turn off his light when he's done looking at books. No fuss, no struggle, he sleeps through the night.

Couple of quick other points of anecdata- my son was napping only once a day, in the afternoon after lunch, for a couple of hours. Daycare schedule, so it wasn't something we could experiment with. I also agree with people above to try moving dinner for your kid to earlier if you can, and you can eat parent dinner later.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:49 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Dinner is too close to bedtime, he's energized from it. Also I found both my kids naturally slept for 11 hours a night. I would just move bedtime up a half hour. Good luck!
posted by katypickle at 5:57 AM on March 17, 2014

You're doing fine. You have a routine, your baby drops off to sleep before some ungodly hour. As your baby grows he will go through changes but if you stick with a regular bedtime life will be easier for all of you, even if he does object to it as his perception grows. Choose your battles by all means - if he's sick or if there's a social gathering that involves a change of routine then adjust accordingly, but on a day to day basis a routine from his age onwards is the best thing you can do, even if it does involve some crying and resistance.
posted by h00py at 6:42 AM on March 17, 2014

I agree with the folks reassuring you that this is likely not the huge deal it may seem to you right now. This stuff is not unusual...he's going to be fine. Also, yes, dinner is way too close to bed time with your current schedule.

Our son (now grown) had similar difficulties with bed time, and it was similarly stressful for all of us. Our eventual solution worked well and has also worked for two of his younger cousins and his niece...

Start with a reasonable schedule and make it routine (as you seem to understand). Put the child to bed at the appointed time every night. We also added the obligatory half hour or so of reading by Mom or Dad. Then lights out, kiss goodnight, leave the room. If there is crying (and there likely will be at first), let him cry for 10 minutes before reentering the room. After 10 minutes go back in and calm him down (do not pick him up out of the bed or turn on the light) until he is relaxed and breathing normally. Then kiss him good night again and leave. He will likely cry again. Wait 10 minutes...repeat until he is asleep.

It was tough for us for the first week but he was completely over it before the end of the second week...typical in our family's experience.

Good luck. You're doing fine!
posted by txmon at 7:03 AM on March 17, 2014

I agree with those saying he might be napping too late. At 14 months, I had to start waking my daughter by 2:30 in order to have bedtime happen at 7:30/8.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:08 AM on March 17, 2014

Have you considered teaching your child how to self soothe? The 'Ferber Method' was really useful to my first kid (not really needed for the second kid). It is basically a compassionate version of 'crying it out' that reassures the kid that mom and dad are still there and care for him/her but at the same time teaches the kid how to get themselves to sleep without the parents doing all the work. There is a book on this that you can get from the library (you won't need it longer than three weeks to totally change how bedtime works out!

I guess the question are you doing with the current situation? You are asking metafilter, so I guess there is an issue. I find that my wife and I have had 13 years of benefits from doing the Ferber method with kid one many years ago.
posted by BearClaw6 at 7:15 AM on March 17, 2014

I'd also be wary of using DS games in that way.

Do you have goodnight cues? We started saying goodnight to at least 10 items in the house at that age (when he was too impatient to listen to stories) and eventually switched it to 2-3 books and pjs. What worked best for me was to set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes when I set him down for bed. If he was still crying I'd check on him say goodnight and set it again. We also started giving him a bear around that age which was just his goodnight friend and he didn't play with (he has a daytime stuffed animal).
posted by typecloud at 7:29 AM on March 17, 2014

Ditto on nixing any screen games at bedtime now or in the future. Melatonin release, a sleep inducing chemical, takes place as light dims. In any case, the bonus of losing the AM nap is that it usually makes toddlers tired enough to conk out earlier. So hang in there.
posted by Elsie at 10:48 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. It sounds like this isn't the greatest situation but still in the range of normal. It's actually not terrible for us because he's otherwise a good sleeper, but I would like to eliminate the use of the DS if I can, because I agree screen time before bed isn't great.

Some things I have gotten from this thread that we'll try:
- Move bedtime a little later
- Move dinner a little earlier
- Try one nap/waking earlier in the day
posted by annekate at 1:11 PM on March 17, 2014

Our just turned one year old seems to be in a similar place (crawling, cruising, discovering, discovering, discovering), and we had a few blips where he did not want to go to sleep (there's more about our typical routine there too). But they did turn out to be blips, in part, I think because one of the suggestions from that askmefi that we experimented with was shortening his naps, and it's worked great. On nanny days she keeps him to no more than 2 hours total and up by 4 (we start dinner/bedtime at 5:30 when possible, regardless of whose there), and on other days he often gets less. There is a dramatic difference for us, though usually no where near as bad as the night that prompted me asking for help here, depending on how much he sleeps during the day. On a no nap day, it can take 10minutes or less to get him to sleep and leave the room.

We do rock him though, or usually right now bounce him, because lately he seems to have a hard time turning away from anything stimulating. So even lying in bed, he wants to crawl, climb, pull up, kick, etc. etc. In the rocking chair he kicks the arm of the chair. The exercise ball gives him the fewest options for physical play (though there's still our noses/mouths/hair/whatever but these seem to be less problematic) and so is working better at the moment.

good luck!
posted by pennypiper at 1:23 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in the process of moving the morning nap to a midday nap and eliminating the afternoon nap for my 12 month old. It's going great so far. I keep him up until 11:30 and then he sleeps for about two hours. We do dinner around 5, then a bath when dad gets home at 6. Dad plays with baby and gives him a bottle and then starts swor serious "time for bed talk" at about 7. When he's older we'll make a point of eating all together, but it's not possible now.

Switching to one nap is actually great for me- we can do something in the morning or afternoon now.

Also, don't know how social your kid is but mine is MUCH happier if we go out for a nice walk and he gets to interact with lots of people.
posted by betsybetsy at 6:28 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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