This week’s question comes from Angel. She writes: “Help! My baby’s one year old and is not sleeping well.
He has a one hour nap in the morning, but then doesn’t have another one all day. His playtime takes all day and into the evening, and still does not sleep until midnight. He wakes up about two-ish — sometimes he’ll settle and sometimes he doesn’t. If he does, he’s up for the day at five a.m. and that’s it! So in 24 hours, he sleeps five hours. Is there something wrong with him or is something wrong with me?“
Well, you know this is a pretty extreme case, Angel. But I think it’s a good question because a lot of people write in on the blog wondering about how much sleep their child should be getting, how to increase nap lengths, and how to increase nighttime consolidation. So even though it might not sound as if you’re in the same situation, I think this is a good example for how we can increase sleep.
Below Sleep Requirements
First of all, this is far below any kind of sleep requirements. Five hours is not enough for an adult, it’s definitely not enough for a one-year-old. So, I think that you do have a fairly serious problem, but I think its one that you can definitely fix.
Now, you haven’t gone into too much detail on how he actually falls asleep when sleep does happen. My guess is that he uses a variety of props or at least one prop. Perhaps you rock him to sleep or he falls asleep eating or nursing. In some cases, he might just fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, which wouldn’t be too surprising given his schedule.
How is he falling asleep?
I want you to first look at how he falls asleep and that’s always the first place to start when you have a child who’s not sleeping well. Look at what are the things this child thinks he needs in order to fall asleep. Then you want to start making some changes to that. I mean ideally what you want your child to understand is that when you feel the feeling of fatigue, that the best solution to that feeling is to go to sleep.
However, what can happen with some children who have some anxiety is that they play harder, they run faster, they do more to fight it, to push it away. You can push it away. I mean if you are really tired and you push through it, usually you’ll catch your second wind and then that’ll carry you on until the next time you crash. So, I would guess that that’s what he’s doing the majority of the day is pushing through his fatigue instead of honouring the feeling and using sleep to alleviate the symptoms.
Related: Are your Children Scared to Fall Asleep?
So, given his age, what I’d like to see his schedule start to look like is going to bed about 7:00 p.m., waking up at 7:00 a.m., and taking one afternoon nap about 12:00 or 12:30 p.m. That’s going to seem like a big jump considering he goes to bed so late and is not sleeping through there and barely takes a nap. But I want you to go ahead and give it a try because a lot of times when you let over-tiredness take over, that’s when he starts kicking into high gear and getting really active. So try to catch it before it becomes that.
Start a new bedtime routine
So, let’s just say if you started today, for example, you know he got up at five-ish I’m guessing for the day and then I would try to schedule his nap time about 11:00 a.m. given the fact that he’s an early riser at the moment. And what you want to do is create a bit of a routine before nap. So maybe read a story or two, then he should go into his cot awake. This way, he can start figuring out how to do this on his own, and you can use the “stay in the room method”.
If you want to be with him and sort of being a coach for him while he learns this new skill, or you can do a “leave and check” strategy where you go in and out every five minutes or so to check on him and be supportive and then leave again. Either way, it’s up to you, but you do need to really get on board and start teaching him how to do this.
Let’s say he took an hour nap, which is his norm, then I want you to try for a bit of an earlier bedtime, and that would be a 6:00 p.m. bedtime given the fact that he rose early, napped early, and now he’s going to go to bed early
Make sure a half an hour bedtime routine to start signalling to his brain and body that it’s making that transition into night.
So, a bath is a good example, and then into pj’s, maybe a snack or a last feeding (keeping him awake for the feed) and then into the cot awake. If you’re staying in the room, you can do that method where you wean yourself out of the room over the course of a week or so, or you can leave and check. Once it’s night, it’s night. So at 6:00 p.m. that’s bedtime.
What you’ll find is that the more he practices this, then gradually his schedule will adjust and he’ll probably start sleeping a little later into the morning. Eventually, you can move nap down a little bit, and then you can move bedtime down to about 7:00 p.m. But it takes the average person four to six weeks to adjust to a fairly significant change in your sleeping habit, so you should not expect this to just fall into place automatically. There will be days where it feels like a bit of a push, but it’s very important to go ahead and do this because he definitely does need more sleep!
Learn more about sleep and children from Judy Clark.