DR. RUTHERFORD: There are a couple of things this parent might consider. One is, can she go without a nap?
MOLLY: This was submitted from a mother based in Utah who described that she has a great bedtime routine and her toddler goes to sleep at an appropriate time on her own without any trouble. But inexplicably her little girl “wakes for 2-4 hours every night just talking and playing in her crib. She takes a 1.5 hr nap during the day.” The mom continued to elaborate that she herself is “a light sleeper” so once she’s awoken, even though she doesn’t have to go in her daughter’s room, she can’t fall back asleep and she’s one “exhausted mom.”
DR. RUTHERFORD: I would count that hour and a half nap as part of her sleeping. So her daughter is actually sleeping more than the mom realizes. However it’s not a good pattern to be getting up for a couple of hours each night. Even though she’s entertaining herself, of course the mom is alert and she can’t sleep. The first thing I would do is try taking out the afternoon nap.
When you were 22 months, Molly, you were done napping, too, because you wouldn’t sleep at night. This parent should be prepared to go through a few weeks (or even more) of a difficult pre-dinner “witching hour” until her daughter gets used to not having an afternoon nap, and she may need to put her down for the night a littler earlier than she is used to.
MOLLY: Yes, I would agree that when you eliminate that last nap time for a pre-schooler you have to almost expect that 5 -7pm span of time to be winey and miserable for a while.
DR. RUTHERFORD: That’s what I would suggest this mom start with, and it may be all she needs to do the trick.
MOLLY: The other thing I was thinking that she could do is to get a baby monitor and use it in conjunction with ear plugs. Then she’ll still be able to hear when the child is in distress and making loud noises, but won’t wake up to the light sounds of her playing in the middle of the night. I’m a light sleeper, too, and this set-up worked really well for me.
She also may want to take most of the toys out of the crib so that there isn’t any entertainment available in the middle of the night. Of course don’t take the “lovey” or security blanket/favorite animal. All the sleep experts advise promoting better sleep habits at any age by designating the bed exclusively for sleep.
DR. RUTHERFORD: I would have suggested ear plugs, too, although some parents may not feel comfortable with that idea.
MOLLY: Another thing she might want to consider, maybe not right now but in a few months, is to transition the baby out of the crib and into a toddler bed.
We had the same problem with my little guy when he was two and he began to wake up randomly in the middle of the night. We moved him out of the crib and into a larger toddler bed and he started sleeping through the night again. I wondered if he was simply too big for the crib and would wake himself up when he touched one of the sides.