Toddler Troubles: Sleeping through the Night

Toddler Troubles: Sleeping through the Night

First, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support this week and the countless messages. Honestly, who needs The Notebook?  I feel ALL THE FEELINGS.

I’ve already been able to connect with some of you, particularly those that really needed a friend (or virtual drinking buddy), but I hope to respond to the rest in the next few days!

For all new parents—and even those second and third-time offenders—the sleep struggle is REAL. I got a message from Ashley who said her 13-month-old son isn’t sleeping through the night. She’s DESPERATE for a full night’s sleep, and was hoping we could offer her some help.

The good news is, she’s not alone. This is such a common hurdle among parents, so I thought exploring it a bit more could hopefully help many of you.

It’s not until becoming a parent that I truly appreciated how completely bogus the phrase “sleep like a baby” is. Like…what baby? Did you know that very act of putting oneself to sleep is a learnt skill? I didn’t, but that’s mostly because I spent the better part of my 20’s crashing out face down in my NYC apartment at 3 a.m. (sorry Dad).

But back to Ashley’s little night owl…

Her husband and extended family don’t subscribe to the “crying it out” method, and Ashley ends up doing much of the nighttime duty.

OK, so part of me wants to shout, “Woman…if you’re the one doing the lion’s share of work, do what you want.”

But I’m checking myself. Ashley has decided that letting him cry it out doesn’t work for her family, and I want to support that. If his crying will lead to a stressed out house, that doesn’t help anyone.

This is how Ashley broke down her dilemma:

 For his naps and at nighttime I give him his bottle, rock him to sleep and place him in his crib when he’s out.  If I put him in his crib when he’s awake, he cries until I either pat his bottom or rock him. He then wakes up 2-3 hours later crying and I usually just bring him in our bed. I know I shouldn’t, but I get too lazy to re-rock him.  If it’s been longer than four hours [since his evening feed], my husband will change him and I’ll get the bottle to feed him. Once he’s asleep, I’ll usually bring him in bed with us. I know I need to cut out the co-sleeping but any advice would really be appreciated!

First off…do not call yourself lazy for doing what you need to do to get through a night. Not to me, and not to anyone. There’s a reason sleep deprivation has long been used as a form of torture. It can break down even the strongest minds. Sometimes you just have to get through, by any means necessary.

That being said, you recognize that the co-sleeping is making this more difficult for you. He’s gonna have trouble sleeping through the night in his own crib, if he’s not spending much time there.

As for the night feedings, most experts would say (depending on weight, growth spurts, etc.) that he’s not waking up because of hunger, even if he does end up drinking a full bottle. By 14-16 pounds, a baby should be able to go eight-plus hours at night without a feeding. Think of it this way: If you wake up to pee at 3 a.m., and someone is there to offer you a funfetti cupcake, would you turn it down? Me neither.

Basically, he’s gotten in the habit of waking up, and he knows that if he cries long enough, you’ll come in, so why wouldn’t he just keep crying? To his little brain, it makes perfect sense.

Since I’m not an expert (or anywhere close), I decided to ask one. Melissa Brown is one of the top infant and toddler sleep consultants in Southern California and is the founder of Sleep Shop OC.

Here’s her two cents. (Actually, this is worth like way more than two cents. Trust!)

Getting older babies to sleep can be challenging, but the good news is that if you are willing to put in the hard work, they usually catch on quickly!

Stay consistent with a bedtime routine and actual bedtime (7 p.m. is usually the sweet spot for babies and toddlers, so begin the process around 6 p.m.). Kids thrive under consistency, even though they may not want to go to bed, they will begin to recognize the cues and begin prepping themselves. Keeping a firm bedtime is also a good way to make sure he’s not getting overtired (which makes falling asleep that much harder). You also want to make sure he’s not overstimulated right before bed, so spending the last hour of his day winding things down can help you avoid that.

Think: bath time followed by bottle, brushing teeth, and then reading a few books. It’s important he has a full tummy, but don’t feed the bottle as a way of getting him to sleep. Keep the lights dim, and any noise soft.

 This is the hard part: Always put your baby down awake. When you rock or feed your baby to sleep, he will keep expecting to be rocked and fed back to sleep every time throughout the night.  

Lastly make sure he has a good sleep environment. Set him up for success! His room should be dark, use a sound machine to block outside noise and have the temperature between 68 and 72 degrees.

Unfortunately, some crying does come with the territory, but there are ways to minimize it. I found this article from Parenting, and it seems to offer a softer approach to sleep training. Slowly pull away each crutch, until he’s finally on his own. For example, be firm about placing him in crib awake and patting his bottom. After after a few times, he’ll start to accept this as the new normal. After he’s conquered that hurdle, start pulling your hand away when he looks like he’s getting ready to fall asleep. Taking little steps to back away from being his human security blanket will make it less upsetting for him and for you. Eventually you will just be able to be in the room, then next to the door, and hopefully soon, outside completely…with a wine glass in hand.

It may take longer than “crying it out,” but it can work.

Ultimately, he needs to LEARN how to put himself to sleep, so until he has the opportunity to, he’s going to still depend on you to help. Your job is not to get him to sleep, it’s to teach him to put himself to sleep.

One more tip: My daughter wanted to be comforted by me so routinely, that I got her the Comfort Silkie, and I’m telling you it’s like baby Xanax. One side is all silk, and since silk absorbs smell easier, I wore it under my shirt for a few nights so it picked up my scent and then tossed it into her in the crib. And because silk feels similar to skin, it can help him replace YOU with the blanket.

Now I hate to end on a bummer note, but I’m gonna have to serve some truth salad.

For you as the parent, uninterrupted sleep is pretty much in the rearview mirror. You’ll stumble on a few those blessed nights over the next few years, but it’s like finding a crumbled $5 in your coat pocket…it may happen on occasion, but don’t count on it. Even when your tiny human starts sleeping through, you’ll still be waking up every few hours to check the monitor to make sure he’s breathing or to triple check you locked the front door or to pee.  I woke up three times last night—during a six-hour period—to turn the air conditioner up, then again to turn it back down, and then up again.  The current temperature in Los Angeles is SOUP, so I wanted to make sure the baby was cool, but not too cold. (I mean… I’m my own worst nightmare.)

If any of you guys have tips to share, please comment below! Or if you have any questions, start a dialogue…this is why we’re here, people.

But keep it cool. Regina George gets hit by a bus for being a mean girl. Just saying.



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  • Kassie Aparis

    July 31st, 2016 21:48

    My first never went to bed when I put him down sleepy but not asleep... I tried to force it on him and he would cry for HOUrS (even with comforting). Finally I gave up and tried it again randomly a couple months later and poof, he fell asleep like magic. So I think some babies have to be ready. I am having trouble with our now 2 month old because if I let him "cry it out" our now 2 year old wakes up 🙄

    • Leslie Bruce

      August 1st, 2016 16:07

      I think you're TOTALLY right. Babies have to be ready for it, and so do the parents. And AH! I never thought of that. That gives me a whole other bag of crap to worry about before we try for number 2. Ha. So great though that you have two healthy babes! How is your 2-month-old? Eight weeks was when I started to see the light at the end of the newborn tunnel!

  • Blanca

    July 31st, 2016 22:35

    I don't agree about not letting the baby sleep in the same bed as you... Actually it turns out to be a very good thing for them because that is how nature designed it, baby expects to sleep next to mom, he gets a better sleep and we do too! Also it doesn't mean he will never be able to sleep by himself ever... Eventually he will want to sleep in his own bedroom... My baby is 19 months and when she gives us a rough night I just put her in bed with me and we all have a great sleep! And then, naps and other nights she can sleep in her crib in her bedroom perfectly. Don't feel bad by doing this, is good for both of you

    • Leslie Bruce

      August 1st, 2016 16:13

      I totally hear you! The best thing for your family is whatever you (as the parents) feel is best your family dynamic. Sometimes I wish my daughter would want to cuddle in bed with us, but she has no time for that. Ha. I have two nephews who co-slept with my sister, and they are the BEST cuddle bugs when they come to visit. But I have definitely gotten a rogue foot to the ribs. That being said, Ashley explained to me that she WANTED to get her little guy into his crib full time, so I was trying to help her with that. Also, I saw this article in the NYTimes this morning and wanted to share. It basically says all forms of "sleep methods" can work, which made me feel really good. Many roads lead to Rome, so it's just figuring what works for your fam.

  • Heather Hudson

    August 1st, 2016 3:09

    I have a 2 year old toddler and an 11 month old infant. Right now I'm getting the most amount of sleep that I have ever gotten since prior to my second baby being born. One thing that I have found has helped and given me confidence in implementing better sleep routines with my children is the book, "The Sleep Sense Program: Proven strategies for teaching your child to sleep through the night," by Dana Obleman. In my previous life (that's my life pre-babies, before being a full time stay at home mom) as a teacher, I know that there is not one way of teaching that works for all children. This book breaks sleeping down by age group. It's like having expert advice without having to pay the expert price! Let's face it, as parents of babies we don't have loads of "me" time, so reading an entire book is not practical. But it is an easy read, and just reading the chapter that pertains to your child's particular age group will provide you with loads of strategies to implement at bedtime! There are even tips for mothers interested in weaning their children from breastfeeding. I remember prior to finding this book, I used to cringe when it was time for bed, as I would be teased by sleep. But I promise you this book will help and the best part is that after reading some of it, you can really tailor the techniques to your particular child and family situation. Happy reading and happy sleeping!

    • Leslie Bruce

      August 1st, 2016 16:17

      That's some awesome advice! I'm definitely going to get this book. Thank you for sharing. My close girlfriend Jenny swears by a sleep book (that I have, but I can't find right now) that similarly breaks down sleep by age. I'm gonna ask her to chime in and share. Would love your thoughts. I often find that it's not always ONE thing that works, but bits and pieces of different methods coming together. (Does that make sense? I'm only one coffee into the morning.)

    • Jenny Managhebi

      August 2nd, 2016 2:54

      Hi Heather, I think it is so great that you found a book to help you with your 11 month old and two year old. I have another book you may love. It is a big book but no one should be discouraged by its size. I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 month old and this book has saved me. Literally! I never knew how important sleep would be for my children until I read this book. It is called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Weissbluth. Whenever I tell my friends about this book I always encourage them to read the introduction, the chapter about naps and then to skip to the age group of your child. I only read for the stage that I am currently in with my son. I am currently in months one through 4 because the next chapter starts at month 5 and well, I am just not there yet. I actually keep it on my night stand and refer to it often. He has great real life parent/child sleep situations that we can all relate to. Sleep patterns change as they get older and this book supports you through each change. I hope you check it out. You will not regret it. Jenny

  • AshLey

    August 1st, 2016 18:58

    Oh my gosh thank you Leslie for all of this! I am so overwhelmed right now I started to tear up when I saw that you wrote this and everyone's input and support!! I am going to start to try the recommendations you wrote today I will definitely keep you all updated! Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!!

  • Heather Hudson

    August 1st, 2016 19:09

    Thanks! Lol! Yeah that totally makes sense. I'm not saying this book is the "end all, be all!" Also, I'm definitely not a mom who has got it all figured out (I mean what mom really does!?). Just because my children sleep well now doesn't mean they will go through phases. Children's wants and needs are ever changing as they grow. Therefore our jobs as moms are ever changing as well. One thing that probably never changes for moms is that constant feeling of guilt...trying to please your child and wondering if you are doing what's best for him or her and what's best for you! I'm totally "whipped" by my toddler and my infant (although I try not to let them know it). Haha! (I swear that wasn't an evil laugh). 😉 Naturally then the approach in this book that worked best for my family was the "stay in the room" method. Plus I didn't follow the book verbatim, I adapted it for our family. It's like you said, what works is "bits and pieces of different methods coming together." That's why I like this book because within the sleep strategies provided by Dana Obleman, there are examples of different methods used, which you can fully adapt to meet the needs of your family, just as the families did in the case studies provided in the book. I look forward to hearing more about your friend Jenny's sleep book! It's always good to have this information in my mommy tool box for when I need it again!

  • Kristena

    August 2nd, 2016 4:47

    I definitely LIVE by routine. I have 4 kids (12, 9, 4, and 3), so sleeping through the night is a thing of the past for me. I have come to realize that as long as they start in their own bed and stay there most the night, I am ok with the early morning snuggles to get a few extra hours. Our routine is pretty consistent (there are those occasional nights and the 2 littlest stick most closely to the routine than the older 2)... We eat dinner, I clean up dinner while they play/clean up, I help them clean up their messes, we pick out pajamas together, takes baths (brush teeth, lotion, clip nails, etc), we read books, I let them have 1 show, and then it's off to bed. My 3 year old is still have to fight to stay in bed. Let's just say I sit by his door sometimes for longer than I want to say. My rule of thumb for that is as long as he is in his room, he is fine and I leave him be. The sleeping routine is hard. For sure. I would definitely cut out the bottles though. There's no need. They can drink out of sippy cups at that age and no bottles in bed. Remember too... The more stressed you are about a situation the more stressed baby will be. Take a deep breath and know it will be fine and it will be. They are resilient little things. Also... When they are really fighting the bedtime thing - remember crying can be a way to tell you they are mad too (mad your not there, mad your not doing it their way, etc), think of it like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Good luck mama. This momming thing is so hard! Hopefully you will find a way that works for you!

  • Sena

    August 3rd, 2016 1:07

    Reading this has brought a huge smile to my face! I have an 18 month old daughter who still doesn't sleep through the night. My son (who is now 4) always slept and I never had any issues with him. I thought that my daughter was just a small demon. While reading these comments, I grabbed my kindle and they are downloading as I type this. I'm so happy I came across this "blog that's not a blog" I feel like everyone on here would really get me!

  • Heather Hudson

    August 3rd, 2016 3:53

    Hey Jenny! Thank you so much for the information about the sleep book you suggest! I'll be checking it out! I have heard of Dr. Marc Weissbluth, as Dana Obleman quotes him in her book. I look forward to learning more about his methods of creating healthy sleep habits! It's great to have as many tools in my mommy tool box as possible! Another tool that I use in each of my kids' bedrooms is a sound machine! For $20/$25 on Amazon you can get a decent sound machine, that will drown out any household noise, which will keep your baby... sleeping like a baby! Having a toddler and an infant, I can't always get them to nap at the same time. So having the sound machine is golden in preventing the noise of the dog barking, phone ringing and/or sibling playing from awakening my child who is in a sound sleep. My only qualm about it though is that anytime I travel with my kiddies, I have to remember to pack the sound machine! But I've stayed in some very loud hotels, and the grandparents' houses can be quite noisy as well, so it's good to once again have the sound machine to drown out the noise. Also, I believe that the sound comforts my children when they have to sleep away from home. In my opinion, tools such as books and machines are all sound investments and make a good night's sleep well worth it!

  • Meiby cornella

    August 3rd, 2016 14:38

    I'm so happy to find this blog. I lived in Indonesia. I have a 3 months old baby girl. She's beautiful, healthy and happy. Me? I feel like a zombie. I think I stopped sleep well since the 3rd trimester of my pregnancy and now I think I'm going crazy because I can hear my baby cry even when she isn't. So, although my baby girl is sleeping 6 hours straight at night, I can't. I just can't. When she fall asleep, I have a hundred "to-do list" waiting to be done or just like tonight, (when I write this comment it's 10.27 pm here in Indonesia), I lay beside my sleeping baby, and start searching on google, how can another mommies survive their day. Or just checking my instagram. Until my baby start crying and wake up. Next thing? I hear my husband say "Good morning". Yeah. Like that. 24/7. Cheers 🍼

  • Ashley

    August 9th, 2016 17:25

    Okay first off I have to say that I bought the comfort silkie blanket and omg what a life saver he loves it seriously baby Xanax! He hadn't really attached himself to anything and once I lay him in his crib he grabs that blanket and snuggles into it! I haven't even been able to sleep with it yet to get my smell on it since I can't seem to take it from him! and this week we recently have made a progress towards sleep training him as of sunday he has officially not been rocked to sleep! We start the bedtime process at 7 with a bath and than we change him sometimes read him a story than I feed him his bottle and lay him in his crib and pat his bottom if he starts to play I'll leave him for a few minutes and he hates it but when I come back he knows I mean business and will usually lay down and let me pat him to sleep last night after two wake up calls the last one being at 10 he slept all the way tell 6am!!!! What!!!!! I was up like every hour lol looking at my monitor but he slept soo good! And he took a two hour nap yesterday too!! So it's only been one day but hes napping right now and it was so easy to put him down!! So needless to say I have already seen improvement! We are going out of town this weekend so I really hope that doesn't mess him up but I couldn't have done this with out you Leslie and all the fellow mommys who have responded too!! I will keep you gals updated in about a week I pray everything is going much smoother! Eventually I will end the patting him but for now I'll take what I can get!! Xoxo!!

    • Leslie Bruce

      August 15th, 2016 21:02

      Ashley! This is amazing to hear. Please keep us posted. Eight hours of sleep is huge for him AND FOR YOU. Well done, Mama. Your hard work is really paying off.

  • Josh Raring

    August 19th, 2016 3:11

    ~ Toddlers are usually light sleepers. They tend to wake up at the slightest sound, and sometimes even when they are hungry. They may wake up because they are feeling cold, or just to pee, but may be unable to go back to sleep.


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