Sleep must be one of the most talked about and controversial parts of parenting. For some reason it still baffles people that most babies don’t sleep very well, it doesn’t matter what routine or set up you have SOMEONE will have an issue with it (and will most likely make a point of telling you) and as parents we all know how SHIT sleep deprivation is and how crazy it makes us.
I’ve written about Abel’s sleep before, when he was about 13 months we sleep trained him, worked amazingly and I am really glad we done it for our sanity. Back then Mr worked away and wasn’t home a lot so it made my life a lot easier that he slept better. He continued to sleep like an absolute babe til about 2 1/2 then boom, overnight it all went down to crap.
This time it wasn’t just the case that he wanted in our bed or wouldn’t settle very well, he was absolutely terrified of random things in the night. Monsters, spiders, the dark itself, bugs, little noises, being alone, he was genuinely scared and we didn’t know where it came from. Maybe a book, the TV, something someone has said, we would probably never know but it totally threw us.
I remember the first night, he went to bed OK but woke up terrified that there were monsters. All we could do was try and calm him and reassure him that monsters weren’t real. I remember sitting on google and just as I was about to bring out the “monster spray” I read that wasn’t such a good idea as it makes out that monsters do exist! What the frick do I do then?! This went on for a few nights, one night in particular he woke up thinking bugs were on him and he was hitting his legs, we had to bring him into our room and hold him til he calmed down, we were at a complete loss.
A week or 2 went by and I think the reassuring and us staying in the room with him had more or less worked BUT then the “I’m scaaaaared” started… he knew how to play us. We tried to be firm but that ended up in full blown hyperventilating filled tantrums. We are definitely not the type to be easily defeated or give in to tears at the slightest bubble but this was like a different child.
So skip a few months of little sleep, me getting pregnant (which we planned while he was a good sleeper I might add lol) and us losing our minds we were still knee deep in the shit that is toddler sleep problems. I call them problems because they were, every night without fail, Mr ended up on the couch or Abel’s bed when he got a single. He was knackered for work, I was knackered from having a wriggly toddler next to me and I’ll be honest, the more it happened the more I was kinda (ashamedly) dreading this baby coming.
So about 2 weeks ago after months of this going on and having tried sleep training again which did NOT go well I decided to call the health visitor. It takes a lot for me to admit defeat but I was done. I was exhausted, emotional, pregnant and Mr was done in. We were bickering constantly out of tiredness, I felt awful that Abel had to put up with us and things were just getting worse. She thankfully said she would come out 2 days later.
We were honest and told her everything that had been going on. I knew the pregnancy wasn’t helping but it definitely wasn’t what set all this off. Abel had over time now developed a “fear” of dad in the night now too – this I think was what broke us.
She did say a lot of what we were doing was great, no TV in the bedroom (one of my pet hates), no naps, telling him it’s bedtime in advance, reading, supper, trying to return him to his bed. Where we were going “wrong” was letting him in our bed, he knew how to get his own way. I say “wrong” as I know this works for so many and that is amazing, but for us and me especially it doesn’t.
So what was the plan? First of all we took the gate off his room, we never really used it but it could be adding to his “trapped” feeling. We also made a firm rule of no TV/screens for at least an hour before bed. No crazy time before bed. We would take turns regardless of the dad “fear”. We wouldn’t stay in the room til he fell asleep (eek!). We would try a reward chart.
So first night… we expected this to be hard and it was. It took an hour and a half of continuous returning him to bed until he fell asleep. Of course the first few times we left the room he went MENTAL but we just kept going. Sometimes he was already out the bed before we actually got out the room but we just kept doing it saying very little to him (it’s sleepy time etc). We let him come out of his room each time before we gently took him back. One thing she had said would help is reassuring him that we are only down the hall and that his door is open but it’s bedtime. In the end we ended up telling him we were outside his door in the hall which was still a HUGE improvement and this seemed to work. He got up once that night and we done the same til he fell asleep.
Second night took at hour, third was the worst and took nearly 2 – this night in particular he tried every delay tactic out there and was up most times (laughing in my face at times) but again we just stuck to our plan and didn’t rise to it. By the fourth and fifth night he was only taking half an hour or so but not really getting out of bed, more just shouting “you still in hall” and I would shout back every so often. Last night and the night before he only took about 20 minutes and I shit you not SLEPT ALL NIGHT. The reward chart has really helped too, he actually wakes up SO excited to put a sticker on it and tells everyone.
I know this isn’t really a set out plan of attack and I’m not trying to say this is how to get your toddler to sleep but I guess what I do want to say is there is help out there and it can get better but it is fucking hard. We are a week in and it is only starting to really get a lot better, and like I said night 3 was the worst. Looking back I think sitting down and looking at naps, what you do before bedtime, how you deal with the issues and working together really help. The health visitor didn’t really “do” much but she did have an outside perspective and although some was hard to accept, we weren’t helping the problem we so desperately wanted to improve. I know some health visitors leave a lot to be desired but at the very least there should be other places they can direct you if they really can’t help, for example ours had said if we were still struggling after a week and a half she would refer us to Sleep Scotland.
I am now feeling 10x more positive about this baby coming, am enjoying MORNING hugs in our bed with Abel once again and actually getting some sleep.
I hope this gives some reassurance to those of you also dealing with toddler night owls and you figure out your own plan to improve things, I also hope I haven’t put the fear into those of you still to reach this stage (hands over eyes monkey emoji)!
So here is a rundown of ALL the points we were given that COULD help just in case any more help…
- keep things calm and quiet before bedtime.
- no TV/screens for at least an hour before bed (the blue lights will keep their little brains going for ages).
- warn them bedtime is coming so it isn’t a surprise.
- don’t use their bed/room as a punishment place.
- try to keep things regular, not necessarily by time but a routine helps.
- don’t give in to continuous requests for a drink, the toilet, hugs, tucked in etc.
- if they are ill or something upsets the routine then be prepared but don’t let it become long term.
- look at naps, if they still are maybe see how they are without or try a different bedtime.
- keep bedtime discussions about staying in bed to during the day rather than before bed.
- put pajamas on as close to going to bed as you can or they will forget why they put them on.
- let them choose what pajamas they wear, what book they read, what toys they have so they still feel “in control”.
- remember bed is boring to toddlers and they have major FOMO so will do anything they can to avoid it.
- a nightlight may help some toddlers.
- avoid scary books, TV, games in daytime.
- think about any new things happening that may be effecting them – new baby, nursery, an event.
- a reward chart is a good way to encourage them to stay in bed and show their progress.