Here we go (all night long)
September 22, 2020 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Have you actually let you toddler stay up all night?

We are having an epic battle of wills with our 2-year-old regarding going to bed. We've done it all - trust me...we. have. done. it. all. I'm not looking for a "have you tried x...." We have tried x, trust me.

My new thought is maybe he just isn't tired, and we should let him wander the house (supervised) until he gets tired and goes to bed on his own. Has anyone tried this before? Did it work?

*I'm only looking for answers to the two questions - have you tried this and did it work. Please no additional advise requested.
posted by Toddles to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I hope you don't mind that this is secondhand anecdote, but my friend did this with her kid, who was definitely of the we-have-tried-everything variety. (One of the things they tried was a sleep consultant, and the consultant literally said "I've never seen a child like this before", if that gives you an idea). What she did was babyproof the living room and put a little mattress in there, and she would lie on the couch and doze while he just played and wandered around the room. He would sleep in small bursts on his mattress and get up sometimes in the night and have another couple hours of playing and then go back to sleep. She got a lot more sleep on the couch than she was before trying this experiment.

He is now elementary-school age and still does this in his room, like he's often awake and playing with toys or reading books during the night (she tells him to do whatever, just don't come out and wake them up). Everyone seems happy and healthy and well-rested in their house, so I would say it did work.
posted by cpatterson at 11:03 PM on September 22, 2020 [15 favorites]

I tried this with mine, but when he found that I was ignoring him rather than engaging with him, he moved to the tile floor and intentionally banged his head on it hard enough to break the skin. I'm guessing this is not a typical response but be prepared for frustration.
posted by metasarah at 3:13 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don’t let my just-turned-3 kid wander the house(!) until he is tired, but I do let him wander his bedroom by himself until he is tired and then he falls to bed by himself. Sometimes I do check in at 10-15 min intervals and physically haul him into bed (he can get up again if he wants to but mostly he figures it’s too much work), but sometimes I forget because I am doing chores and I turn up 30 min later and he’s asleep. That’s how he goes to sleep. Not being facetious but you can’t force a kid to sleep unless they want to.
posted by moiraine at 4:24 AM on September 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

We did a similar thing to the comments upthread with a very early waker—made a safe room with a bed, dozed while the kid did kid-things. As he’s gotten older, he’s looked at books or a locked-down tablet on his own and he still seems to need less sleep than the average kid.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:31 AM on September 23, 2020

Yes. It was not a particularly successful experiment, but I did try it (in a soft dim safe space). At the time I was part of several peaceful parenting communities, including one that was explicitly "Wait It Out" with regards to children learning to sleep, and it was a reasonably common tactic (I mention that neutrally, in case you wish to seek additional anecdotes). Ours mostly got increasingly tired and upset, and eventually did come to me to snuggle and sleep, but it was a long process and didn't seem healthy for either of us. That child is definitely also still someone who seems to need less sleep than average.
posted by teremala at 4:48 AM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was a baby/toddler who wouldn't sleep. My parents put a blanket on the floor with toys and books, and I could stay up as long as I wanted as long as I stayed on the blanket. Anecdotally this worked beautifully, I don't remember it at all except through the photos of me asleep sitting upright with a book open in my lap. I had terrible insomnia through my tween and teen years; I've had incredibly regular and healthy sleep my entire adulthood.

When I was in high school I babysat for a family with a toddler who didn't have a bedtime. He had to be in his room (door closed, with one of those childproof knobs so he couldn't get out) with only a nightlight on but otherwise he could do whatever he wanted. I was to check on him every 15 minutes. Mostly he would play with his wooden train on the floor. Sometimes he would be in bed (mattress on the floor, he could get in and out himself) babbling to stuffed animals. He would eventually put himself to sleep when he was ready. It was very stress free.
posted by phunniemee at 5:25 AM on September 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

As a toddler and small child, I had a strict bedtime (7pm) but was allowed to do whatever I wanted in my room after bedtime as long as I didn't come out. My parents tell me I often sat mournfully in the doorway for a while, played for a while, and eventually went to bed when I was tired. They say that bedtime was never a struggle but it's possible time has smoothed over the bumps and bruises.
posted by baby beluga at 6:33 AM on September 23, 2020

At that age my kids didn't have a set bedtime. They just fell asleep whenever they got sleepy. They both were still co-sleeping as 2 year olds so if the kid hadn't fallen asleep by the time I was ready to go to sleep then we would both get into bed together and the kid would easily fall asleep once the lights were out and I was lying there beside them. But normally the toddler would get sleepy earlier than that. They were both still nursing until they were almost 3, so at some point in the evening the kid would typically get sleepy and ask to nurse or seem sleepy and I would suggest it and they would fall asleep while nursing. Both of them gave up naps somewhere around 2 1/2 and then they started getting sleepy much earlier at night. There was a difficult transition period where the kid would get through most of the day without a nap and then sometimes fall asleep around 5:00 in the evening, which was bad, because then they'd wake up after a couple of hours and not be sleepy again for a long time. If we could keep them awake until more like 7:30 (which could be tough, because they could be cranky during those last couple of hours) then once they fell asleep they'd be out for the night, which was great.
posted by Redstart at 7:10 AM on September 23, 2020

As far as the "Did it work?" question, the answer is yes. I'm not sure what "working" means to you, but there were no bedtime battles, everyone got enough sleep and I was content with the system (or lack of) so from my point of view it worked fine.
posted by Redstart at 7:13 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not exactly the same strategy, but we had a traffic light style alarm clock in his room before he could read numbers. Red meant 'don't wake us up', green meant 'do your worst'. I think it was made by VTech. He didn't always sleep when I wanted him to sleep, but he would stay in his room, unsupervised, until the light was green, and we never had a safety issue.
posted by unstrungharp at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Maybe it's just this once you have to deal with this.

I did the couch thing mentioned above until I woke up to the channel I hadn't thought to block. He really didn't need much sleep at 28 months and did you know that the best part of that Kubrick movie is the tricycle?

After 2 weeks I started planning activities. The moon is plenty bright around here and we had a canoe so we explored the river and an abandoned summer camp. He learned how to follow animals and stay upwind and be very quiet. Meteors, owls, bats, bowling alleys, unauthorized tours of the Biltmore, truckstop prok chops, dawn. I'd get four hours of really deep co-sleep for six hours of all that. He was having so much fun. It seemed like a good deal.

And then it was over as inexplicably as it started. He started sleeping 10 -5. I was just getting steam up dammit.

So no, nothing worked and then next October I had to rearrange my schedule again. He could remember the previous year and talk about it in a different way, about what it felt like from the inside. Precious stuff.

He does this every fall and it seems to be when he makes his cognitive leaps.

You're both up anyway so might as well create a bonding adventure. Blow his little mind.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:53 AM on September 23, 2020 [25 favorites]

Have I tried this? Sort of. At that age mine would wake up at 1-2am and could not get back to sleep for 3 hours. It wasn't a battle of wills; I think she just couldn't sleep. I gave up. She wasn't the wandering type, so I would sit her beside me, in front of the tv, sometimes in her high chair I think, and let myself fall asleep on the couch. Yup, 3 hours of TV in the middle of the night. And this was before we had nice Netflix shows. Yo Gabba Gabba still haunts me.

Did it work? I don't really understand the question. She'd eventually fall asleep. She kinda grew out of it? No regrets. She is still a terrible sleeper at 10 years old now. She has ADHD, needs melatonin at night, and can't get to sleep without me.

My sister also had one like this. He has really severe ADHD and probably sensory issues. He's on medication to help him sleep now, but before that she had no choice but to just put him in his room with the door locked (she had to remove anything dangerous plus reduce the bed to a mattress on the floor) and let him do his thing. If she didn't, he was trying to escape the house. In the end, no harm done.
posted by kitcat at 12:13 PM on September 23, 2020

We have done this (meaning the "stay up as late as you want, just stay in your [childproofed] room" variant) for two generations -- my parents to me and me to my child. Worked like a charm in both cases, and we both sleep like champs now that we're past our respective toddler phases.
posted by somanyamys at 12:27 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don’t remember much about sleep in my toddler years except that I was told I was very loud, moved around a lot, and was impossible to keep in my bedroom.

From the time I *can* remember, I have had sleep issues, insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, all the good stuff. Like many of the above posters, once my parents figured out that I wasn’t being obstinate (stories for another time) the rule was “stay in your room, read, play quietly, or listen to the radio on low volume.” I adhered to the rules because laying in bed unable to sleep is still the seventh circle of hell for me.

Decades later, I still have nightmares and insomnia (and have worked shift work since I was 17 years old) and I basically pass out after I’ve made myself tired enough, knowing that I will wake up several times during the night and probably embark upon something that didn’t get done during the day. I figure I will sort it out when I retire. I have CPTSD and anxiety issues, which probably exacerbate weird biological sleep issues.

All that being said, thank you for being a parent who is trying to be helpful and please continue to do so.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 5:09 PM on September 23, 2020

Has anyone tried this before? Did it work?

I did this with my first kid, who didn't sleep more than four hours at a stretch until he was at least three years old. There weren't any real alternatives. Sleep wasn't going to happen; he wasn't wired that way. Now he's a teenager and chooses to go to bed at 8:00 PM, so: yes! It worked!
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:10 PM on September 23, 2020

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