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In his now 26 months of life, he has probably slept all the way through the night 15, maybe 20 times. They seemed to be an irregularity, never happened two nights in a row.

He is a easy as pie to put to bed. We eat dinner, then brush teeth, read some books, and then to bed. He almost always goes straight to sleep. Or, if not, talks to himself for a bit and then goes to sleep. Either way, parent intervention at this point is very unusual.

At his best, he was waking up maybe once a night. It usually followed a pattern. Say, 12:30 am every night. Then after 3 weeks his patterns might change, maybe wakes up at 2:30 every night.

Lately, it's 3 times a night. It happens 1:30-2 hours, almost like at the end of a sleep cycle.

He will sometimes get himself back to sleep. I feel like I've gotten a pretty good feel for when this is going to happen, and when it won't. Unfortunately, this is very much the exception, and not the rule.

When we go into his bedroom, it is very minimal interaction. I usually won't even talk to him. I re-position him in his crib, give him his pacifier back (it is usually lost at this point), and then re-cover him with a blanket. I can be in there for maybe 5 seconds, and that's all it takes, and he's good. Until 2 hours later when he wakes back up again.

It almost seems like he is waking up at the end of every sleep cycle. And, instead of sleeping through that, or rolling over and going back to sleep, he starts crying/fussing, and won't stop until the 5 secs I spend to do the blanket/pacifier.

After 2 years, we are at our wits end. I just don't know what to do. Some things we have tried:

  • No blanket (we live in a hot/humid area, air conditioner is set to 74 at night)
  • With blanket (a super-soft fleece, or sometimes a very-light single-layer sheet type blanket (think those thin swaddling blankets).
  • When he was younger, tried leaving a sippy cup of water (never once used it)
  • With stuffed animals, with none
  • With pacifier. This has always been a must for him. Per the suggestion of his pediatrician at his 1 year (or was it 15 month?) checkup, he said just put some extras in his crib. If he loses it, he'll have a better chance of finding one on his own. This completely backfired, as he now expects to have one in his mouth and at least one in his hands. I'm not sure if this is related to his sleeping problem or not, as he had a problem even before this.
  • With a slightly cooler AC setting. Though, in the winter we keep the house at 67 or so, and the problem persisted over last winter.
  • I've tried just poking my head in the door and telling him to go back to sleep, instead of doing the blanket/pacifier routine. The idea being to break him of the need of that help from us. This usually doesn't work. Sometimes he'll calm down for 15 mins, then just start fussing again.
  • We run a small box-fan in the room. It is slightly pointed at him. It's been a while since we've tried without. maybe I'll try that again tonight.
  • I've tried letting him cry it out a bit. He just works himself into a state that takes him even longer to get to sleep once we are trying to help. Once or twice even vomited he was so worked up (he seems to be a very... mucousy cryer. Ends up coughing on it, then vomitting)

We just don't know what to do. It's important for everyone involved to get a good night sleep. This recent bought of waking 3 times a night is incredibly difficult to deal with. Any suggestions would be welcome. Help us, please!!

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I don't have any real answer I'm afraid. None of our kids slept through the night until they stopped wearing a nappy at night. However, I do think it has paid off now, none of them have any issue with going to bed. The younger two (9 and 11) still ask to go to bed when they get tired. –  pipTheGeek Mar 24 '13 at 11:03
    
Not sure whether you will see this but if you do, I am wondering if you have made any progress? As I read your question, it sounded so much like ours. We are struggling with the same thing. My son just turned 26 months old today and he does not sleep for more than 1 1/2-2 hours at a time. We are so exhausted! We have tried everything and are not sure what to do next. I hope your son is sleeping for you now. Alana –  user4346 May 25 '13 at 1:41
    
Regarding "he now expects to have one [paci] in his mouth and at least one in his hands", my son does that too. He doesn't have a stuffed animal or security blanked.. he likes to have an extra paci in both hands when he is tired or needs comfort, haha. I don't think it's a problem, but when it's time to wean him from paci's this could make it more difficult because he won't be able to easily transfer his security to a stuffed animal. –  Philip Jun 13 at 17:43
    
Probably not worth a whole answer: But check if he needs so much sleep. It really sounds to me like he has to much of it. Take notes about how long he is awake at night and cut that time from his sleeping time. Like if he is awake 1 hour, you cut one hour from his sleeping time. See how he copes with that and if it works. Note: Testing this for two to three days isn't enough. Changing the sleep habits takes up to two weeks where you should be consistent with the new sleeping time. –  Katja Hahn Jun 16 at 19:17
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7 Answers 7

We gave our son a pacifier when he was about 7mo, thinking it would help him sleep [etc], but it actually meant that he would wake up when it fell out of his mouth. So, it caused more problems than it solved. We weaned him off the pacifier quickly, replacing it with a soft toy-type thing (http://www.cuski.com/) which he chews instead. He still sleeps with it now, at 2.3 years, and was invaluable when he was teething. Basically we regret ever offering him the pacifier!

The other thing we did was to always go through when he called (so he always knew we would be there if he was scared etc.) but as you've done, keep interaction to a minimum. It would always be me (Dad) as well, so always the same person, same soothing routine.

I guess I haven't said anything you haven't thought of - the only other suggestion I've got is checking the room's humidity. We found our son slept better when the room had a decent level of humidity, too low and he'd wake up coughing.

Hope things turn around for you.

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This totally sounds like our situation. The pacifiers, while did seem to work in the short run, definitely did not in the long run. As for the humidity, we live in a very humid location, though admittedly the AC takes some of that out. Maybe bringing in the humidifier will help. Thanks for the idea. –  CoolUserName Sep 11 '12 at 14:39
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+1 on ditching the pacifier. Our, now 10 month old, is sleeping through maybe a third of the time and otherwise usually only one brief wake up and cuddle since we weaned the pacifier away at about 7 months. Until then she was a terrible sleeper and woke up whenever the pacifier fell out. I don't regret having used it up till that time because it really helped her with collic and reflux but once she was over that getting rid of it made a huge difference. –  Bogdanovist Sep 13 '12 at 23:38
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You have my deepest sympathies. I have a few suggestions that might help.

Make a bedtime book? My friend's first son had this same sort of trouble. He didn't sleep through the night until he was about two and a half. Here is what they did:

They got a few good bedtime books, and talked about how confident they were that he would sleep all night without needing Mommy and Daddy, just like the characters in the books do.

Then they made him his own bedtime book that had pictures of him in it. The story described his bedtime routine, from brushing his teeth to getting his jammies on, to falling asleep and feeling so cozy and sleeping all night. It ended with waking up in the morning and being cheerfully greeted by his parents who were so happy to see him.

A few days with his new book, and he was sleeping all night.

Change his bedtime? It may be that he is going to bed just a little too early or a little too late. We had trouble with my eldest (who had been sleeping well, but then started waking up at night) when he was three or so, but putting him to bed a little later fixed it.

Potty problem? Our little one (who is 26 months old too) has recently started waking up at night because he has become more aware of having a wet diaper. He is determined to get out of diapers so he can wear underpants like his brother, so he finds it particularly upsetting to wake up and be wet. We cut back on his fluid intake in the afternoon and we put him on the toilet before bed and this seems to be helping.

I also highly recommend The No-Cry Sleep Solution, particularly if you find the cry-it-out method upsetting. It helped us a lot. Good luck. I hope you find a solution.

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Ohh, I like the book idea. A lot. My son loves books in general, so I think a custom book is something he will not only love, but may help us as well. We've tried altering the bedtime a little. There were definitly a few situations when he was younger where putting him to bed earlier would improve the situation. We've tried earlier a few times recently because we were so tired. Not much luck. We tried later a couple of times, mainly as a function of say getting home from dinner late. He tends to sleep worse those nights. Right now, bedtime is 7:45. –  CoolUserName Sep 11 '12 at 14:44
    
(cont) He gets up anytime from 6 if his diaper leaks, to 7 if not. He tends to wake up a little earlier if he has had a better night, a little later (7:30) if it's been particularly bad. We are in fact in the middle of potty training. Haven't tried reducing liquids yet. Thanks for the suggestions. –  CoolUserName Sep 11 '12 at 14:45
    
I had to put a fair bit of toys in my older one's crib recently (she is roughly 26 months old as well). She's got a potato head, train tracks, 3 stuffed animals, a pillow, a blanket....and somehow there is room for her in there too. She plays with her toys and then eventually falls asleep (I can usually her talking through the door). Not sure if it'll work for you if it's just a cry for attention :( We also have ours go to the potty before bed and we have black-out blinds in her room. She sleeps roughly 10-12 hours straight. Bedtime for us is around 10 PM (she never falls asleep sooner).... –  Swati Sep 12 '12 at 11:25
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People don't learn how to do things without practice. Learning to go back to sleep by yourself is no different. That means first you must decide if it's more important for him to never have to struggle, or more important for him to learn this skill. The unfortunate fact of parenting is that it's impossible to do both.

Other people have mentioned the pacifier is probably doing more harm than good. One way I have found helpful is to let them use the pacifier while you are rocking them to sleep, but to gently pull it out before you put them into bed. That way they don't get freaked out when it falls out suddenly.

The other thing is to teach a strategy for putting himself back to sleep, practice the strategy, and incentivize the strategy.

Teaching should be annoyingly specific. Parents often skip a step they think is obvious. It's not obvious to a two year-old. Even to my five year-old I have to give instructions like, "Stop crying. Lie down. Pull up the covers. Close your eyes. Go to sleep." If I skip a step he doesn't do it. And yes, when kids are only crying for attention they are usually perfectly capable of stopping when asked. For some reason it never occurs to a lot of parents to ask.

Practicing should be very consistent. Use the same words every time. Maybe make it into a song. Don't skip the strategy "just this once" because you're tired. The more consistent you are, the faster the learning will be. Have rehearsals at bed time.

Incentivizing means making him want to follow the strategy. If it's more desirable to do it the old way, that's what he will do. The easiest and most immediate incentive is probably your own presence. Call through the door for him to do the first step so you can come in. After he's gotten that down, make it the first two steps, etc. After he has all the steps down with you on the other side of the door, wait longer and longer to go to his door. The gradual transition not only makes it easier on him, it also makes it easier on you.

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Children who wake up often in the night do so because they get attention. He knows that no matter what, you'll come. Also, children his age should not be using pacifiers anymore. So, lose the pacifier, and stop going into his room every time he wakes up. He will cry and cry, and may throw up a few times (obviously you'll have to go in if he barfs), but he will learn to settle himself. A couple of comfort toys and/or a favorite blanket will help.

It's more a matter of you than him to be honest. It will be difficult for you as you will want to intervene, and will make for a few unpleasant nights, however it's the only way you're going to get him sleeping through the night.

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You're right - I have no doubt this is a behavioral problem (on both the part of our son, and us). I think we'll try and fit the pacifier weaning into our plan, though I think it will take a while and in the meantime we can try some of the other ideas as well. –  CoolUserName Sep 11 '12 at 14:38
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It sounds so cruel and heartless to let your child cry and cry until he throws up. –  Dave Clarke Sep 14 '12 at 21:15
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The only way @CoolUserName is going to break the cycle is for him to learn that crying isn't going to get him what he wants. Right now he cries and mommy comes every time, unless mommy stops coming he'll keep on crying. It sounds awful, and it isn't going to be pleasant for a few days, but it will be worth it. –  GdD Sep 17 '12 at 8:18
    
This is cruel, because the reason might be something different than attention. Not every child that doesn't sleep through wants just attention. This is an assumption. Even if it is "just" attention, there are softer strategies to the problem, which in my opinion should be tried before you consider letting your child cry until it throws up. –  Katja Hahn Jun 16 at 19:12
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Here's a simple suggestion for temporarily restoring your sanity: move his crib/bed into your bedroom. This will make settling him if he wakes up much easier and faster, and hopefully he'll be sufficiently reassured by your presence in the same room that he'll start to settle himself and allow you to sleep through the night.

The obvious problem with this is that you've now got a 2-year-old in your bedroom, and you'll need to shift him back into his own room at some point, at which point the cycle may recur. But at least you might get some sleep in the meantime?

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My daughter who is 2 years 3 months is going through the same issue right now, but to be honest she never slept well. We tried so many thing, but letting her cry eventually worked for us. But, eventually she stopped, and started having trouble. We modified her diet because we found she didn't do well with dairy products, and were suprised to see how many things contained dairy. BUT BUT BUT....here is one thing we never thought of, and sometimes many seem to not think of. Get you son/daughter tested to see if they are vitamin deficient. We found out almost 2 years later than she was very low in IRON.....yes IRON, and Vitamin D. We staretd including these and it was a immediate change. I would highly suggest gettinghis/her blood looked at. It was hard at first but a miracle at the end. She is having trouble again sleeping, but is cutting her 2 year molors so we aren't sure if that is the cause. But we will be putting her to bed a little later than normal aroun 945 now. The whole day light savings time threw her way off. She does complaint hat she has nightmares, but at this age it's one thing at a time. I highly suggest get your child's blood levels looked at. That's all I can provide.

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You all simply make sure your kids get a lot of physical play every single day - they will be so tired by the time night rolls around they will literally start begging to go sleep and will not ever wake up in the middle of the night.

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