Sometimes, figuring out a sleep problem feels a bit like detective work. Recently, the mom of a toddler contacted me for help getting rid of her son's pacifier, which she believed was causing him to wake during the night. But when we looked into the issue, we discovered that the pacifier wasn't the real problem. Read on...
My son is 17 months old, and he started sleeping through the night around 13 months. Within the last month, he’s been waking up about 2 am (6 hours after his bedtime.) Sometimes it seems as if he's in the middle of a dream; he will stand up in his crib and cry an unusual cry. Depending on how tired I am, I'll bring him in bed with me, which sometimes works and other times he just plays with my face. We have not taken away his pacifier yet, which is our New Years resolution, as it seems to be giving him more grief than pleasure lately. He needs it to fall asleep, but he'll take it out sometime during his sleep and when he wakes up in the night to put it back in, he can't find it. He never uses it during his waking hours. What is your recommendation on weaning him off the pacifier?
He naps between 1-3 hours during the day and sleeps about 11 hours at night. We kept the pacifier around this long because it helped him sleep before, but now with another baby due in May, I would like him away from this habit before it comes really hard!
Most kids are overtired, so when I'm looking for a reason for nighttime wakings I consider overtiredness first. However, the patterns he's displaying with his night wakings don't suggest that he's overtired, they suggests that he's undertired.
And I don’t think the pacifier is the problem. You can get rid of it if you choose, but I doubt that doing so will stop his nighttime wakings right now.
The thing that I'm honing in on is his naptime: you said he sleeps between 1 and 3 hours. That's a big variation in nap length. At this age, length and quality of nap can be a big factor in nighttime sleep, and it's important for naps to be consistent. That sometimes means waking your child from his nap to make sure he doesn't sleep too long.
Have you noticed a difference in the quality of his nighttime sleep when he takes a 3 hour nap? It's rare for a child to regularly take a 3 hour nap without it affecting their nighttime sleep. 3 hours is a very long nap, and in many cases, it's just too much daytime sleep.
If he's doing well on 11 hours of sleep at night, I would keep his bedtime and wake-up time the same. What I recommend is trying to keep his naptime consistent and waking him after 2 hours maximum.
After a few days of that, if he's still waking at night, I would reduce the nap to 1.5 hours.
The key is to encourage a nap that's restorative but not overly long, and to keep it very consistent.
It sounds like you're on the right track in many areas, so once you get the timing figured out, I think things will smooth out with his nighttime sleep.
Lo and behold, Beth did notice a connection between her son's 3 hour naps and his night wakings, and they're on the way to better sleep. Another sleep sleuthing case, solved.