Toddler Sleep Problems

I wish I could say now that P is 3 years old. Our sleep issue stemming from babyhood are far behind us. The sad fact is that that couldn't be farther from the truth. David and I are brimming on the edge of insanity while we try and battle our allergic to sleep toddler. I was really optimistic that the start of a full day of preschool (five days a week 8-5pm) would wipe her out come end of day. But with the reintroduction of naps (we eliminated them at home due to this problem) she is back to her old bag of tricks.

But before I jump into the here and now with her sleep issues. I have to go back a couple of months. In May the "paci fairy" came to our house to take all of P's paci's to "deliver to new babies". I was super worried about this transition but turns out she was able to handle it quite well. She was excited about the fairy coming and making her a big girl. About a week went by without too much fanfare in the sleep department and then all ish hit the fan.

P began to have aggressive (and I mean aggressive) night terrors. She no longer knew how to self soothe herself. They would happen every single night and last anywhere from 10 - 45 minutes. Always around two hours after she fell asleep. If you have never experienced a night terror, let me break it down. Night terrors take place when a child cannot for some reason transition into REM sleep. P would cry, flail, scream for help, mommy, daddy and just sob. Inconsolably. When and if her eyes opened they would be glazed over and she clearly was not "with us". It's hard to describe but if you have experienced it you know what I am talking about. As soon as she snaps out of the terror she is back to her giggling, smiling self. Some nights I tell you it's almost like an exorcism.

So we have read a lot and researched a lot and it boiled down to a couple key factors. With the main one being that she is over tired. A lot of other things can contribute (being too hot, too much screen time before bed etc.) but we recognize that P's were likely happening due to the fact that she wasn't getting enough sleep. She wasn't napping and then when she went to bed - she wasn't sleeping well.

This went on for over three very long months and it was distressing. I was praying that once preschool started we would have some hope in sight. And while the terrors have lessened quite a bit (about 1x a week) we are now dealing with a toddler who simply does not want to sleep. When she finally falls asleep she is waking up anywhere from 3-5 times a night. This working mama is EXHAUSTED.

So this incredibly long post is basically a cry for help if any other parents are experiencing this. I also know there is a habit I need to break and while I have tried, I am also miserably failing. Because I am so damn tired that it's easier to just give in than fight her. She gets a sippy cup of milk before bed and I know that this is hurting us as she wakes up and cries for it. I've tried to swap it out with water but it's not cutting it (and truth is we are potty training so really she shouldn't be drinking anything!)

P's schedule is as follows:

7-7:30am: wake up get ready for preschool
8-8:30am: arrives at preschool
1-3pm: nap time at preschool (she doesn't always nap this full period)
6:30-7pm: dinner
7:30pm: bath
8-8:30pm: books and bed

She usually doesn't fall asleep until 9:30-10pm. Our pediatrician even suggested I give her children's benadryl for two weeks to try an disrupt her sleep cycles. So I gave it to her last night for the first time and she still slept like crap. We've tried lavender Epsom salt in the tub, essential oils, waking her up before a terror starts (never a good idea with her as it has always triggered a terror), putting her to sleep early, putting her to sleep later. For the love of the SANDMAN go to sleep child!!!

If you have made it to the end of this congrats. If you have advice for me, even better, I'm all ears just don't mind if I close my eyes.
play gown // Plain Jane


  1. Awww man! So sorry. :( A couple things I would try. Put her to bed earlier, my 3.5 & 7.5 year old still go to bed at 7 or 5 after, and don't seem to mind. Now of course if we are out having fun they won't melt but try that. Also, when my oldest was 3-4 she would stay up for HOURS in bed. The ped told me to do 3 mg of melatonin and see what happened. I ended up buying the gummies that are 1.5mg each and giving her half a gummie (.75 mg) a night and it worked wonders. We did it right before teeth brush then straight to bed for a book. She would be out in a few minutes. We did that for about a year and a half (mainly bc we were scared to try without) and she did fine when the bottle ran out! Good luck, I hate bad sleep, it's truly awful.

  2. I'm so sorry you are dealing with this! You both (parents) and P too! I would love to know what advice you get...I'm sorry I don't have any in this department. If you need advice on a kid that sleeps so deeply that they can't get themselves up to go to the bathroom (my step-daughter), I can give you tons in that department ;) We spent years waking up multiple times a night to take her potty so she wouldn't have accidents (and most of the time she still did anyway). So I feel you's exhausting being woken up so much, especially when you have to work in the am!

  3. I'm reading this hoping you had some solutions in your comments, oh and I'm laying with my son who is 5 in January, who had the terrors, who doesn't fall asleep without me and who still wakes up every. Single. Night. He sleeps on the floor next to us or if dad has retreated to the couch, he sleeps in my bed.
    We went to a sleep study clinic at Boston Children's Hospital and her advice was to just wait to put them to bed when they are tired. Cut out screentime, and something else that was stupid too. I wasn't putting my son to sleep at 10, that's too late. So I slept on the floor for a long time next to him so his screams wouldn't wake the house.
    I feel your pain. I pray it passes for us.

  4. Oh friend, I so wish I could help you!! These little rascals are all so different...
    My few tips would be:
    Can the school try an earlier nap time - say 12-2?
    An earlier bedtime around 7pm
    Try the melatonin and persist with the benadryl religiously (it has worked for us before)
    Leave her in her bed if she is awake
    Calm and firm taking her back to bed if she gets out - we had this for a month and it took at least 10-20 trips back to bed when we got rid of the paci but it eventually worked

    Praying for your sweet friend x

  5. We had a lot of problems with my son going to sleep. He gets up at 430am M-F and we would put him to bed around, but he wouldn't go to sleep till at least 930-10, then he started sleeping in our bed and still wouldn't go to sleep. So finally at my wits end my friend had recommended try melatonin I was hesitant to do so even though it is natural. I talked to our pediatrician about it and she said go for it. The first night we gave him the pill it worked wonders, within a half hour of giving it to him, we went to bed and did our nightly routine and then he was out within 10 minutes. He now is asleep by 8pm and I am thinking about trying to get him to bed a little earlier to maximize all the sleep he can get now that he is in kindergarten. We used zarbee's, can only find it on Amazon, we get the little purple pill, it's about the size of an eraser head and grape flavored. Good luck!!!

  6. Ugh mama I'm so sorry. Sleep deprivation is absolute torture. Praying her sleep troubles end SOON!

  7. Sorry for the delayed comment BUT I will say that P's issues sound a lot like Clara's. Basically, Clara was struggling to go to sleep from 8pm-11pm every single night and then would wake up multiple times per night. Like she was just RUNNING AROUND THE HOUSE for hours before bed and couldn't stay asleep. I went to an occupational therapist and her pediatrician about this... her pediatrician recommended melatonin so we tried that but it only worked for a week and I didn't like depending on that. In the end, we dropped her nap and had a really moody two weeks but now she doesn't struggle AT ALL during bedtime and actually loves going to sleep. It's hard to have her awake all day because she tries to put herself to sleep in the afternoon which means I get no 'rest time' or 'quiet time', but we needed our nights back so it's been worth it! I would see if her preschool can keep her awake and active during the day and then really try to get her to bed super early, especially if she emotionally can't handle a dropped nap. GOOD LUCK! Non-sleeping toddlers are so, so hard. <3

  8. I would try an "OK to Wake Clock" set to her normal wake time, paired with a gumball machine in her line of site in her room, but set where she can't reach it. I linked both below. Explain that she can't come out of her bed before the clock turns green, and if she follows the rule, she gets a gumball prize in the morning time. This worked wonders for our terrible sleeper, who is exaacly the same age as your little one. He naps 1-3p at school, goes to sleep at 8:30p, and wakes at 6:15-6:30a.

  9. I have sleep issues with my 2.5 year old son as well. I totally feel for you! He gets up really early (5:30 am), takes a 2 hour nap during the day and lights out (except for a fun nightlight/table lamp) are out at 8 pm. He was waking up around 3 times a night, sleeping in our bed, asking for milk at 4 am (I always relented and gave it to him), and he always threw a tantrum when I tried to get him to go back in his room and sleep. Someone suggested I read "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Dr. Weissbluth and I ignored them. However, after reaching my wit's end, I decided to give it a try. Let me tell you, it worked wonders!!! This is the first month I've implemented some of his suggestions and my son has slept through the night 5 times (doesn't sound like a lot, but when they NEVER sleep through the night it is!). I stopped giving him milk altogether and instead leave a cup of water on his nightstand that he can have if he's thirsty. I also created a "Sleep Rules" chart (4 rules can be found in the book) that I had my son help me decorate and we hung it in his room. We go over it every night before he goes to sleep. I added a fifth rule, "Don't leave your room until the green light comes on" (the light being the light from the OK to Wake clock Laura suggested above). We also created a sticker chart. If he follows all rules, he gets a sticker in the morning. After 3 stickers he gets a special treat (cookie, donut, etc.). If he does get out of bed at night, I say absolutely NOTHING to him and walk/carry him back to his room (over and over again if I have to). No verbal interaction is key. With respect to the alarm clock, I recommend setting it for a time when you know she's most likely still asleep, even if it's a tad bit early. That way she'll feel proud of herself for staying asleep until the light goes off. I hope this helps! I'm an exhausted Mama too and long for the day when I can sleep again...