Father here of a child about 15 months old who has never been a great sleeper but has been improving over time. Notable parameters are: 1) very regular routine for naps and sleep, 2) still nursing, including usually prior to sleep and put down drowsy and one night feeding, and 3) all other wakings usually handled by myself.

Recently, after some months of steady improvement (6-9 months were 4-6 wakings per night), we've had a weird regression. Basically, our 15-month-old will usually wake up 40 minutes in and cry in a steadily escalating pattern. In our experience, that never resolves into sleeping with this one, so I come in. I pick up crybaby and then soothing occurs basically immediately. A couple of hugs, some quick words of reassurance, and back into the crib in about 1-2 minutes. Generally no fighting against being put down (that happens when overtired, but not normally). However, 10 minutes later... same thing. And 10 minutes later... same thing!

So basically, for three times I need to go in there, pick em up for barely no time, and then back to sleep. Don't get me wrong, this is a huge improvement over the first year-plus of truly soul-crushing sleep issues. However, I'm wondering why this multiple-bounce issue is happening. Kid settles, kid shuffles into a comfy position, I say my goodbyes and skip out. Every time. The last time is exactly the same, except it works and usually leads to at least a 3h block of sleep.

Anyone know why this might be happening? If I add it up, it seems like a whole 40-minute sleep cycle occurs where toddle-zilla cannot settle for more than 10 minutes. It's the second 40-min block of the night, and doesn't seem to have any obvious physical cause.

  • I can note also that this historically has not been all that common. Generally it's those 40 minute transitions that are problems, or certain 3h transitions.
    – Namey
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 5:07
  • Should also note that naps are now typically one per day and 1.5-2h without incident. So it's just that 40m-80m segment of the evening.
    – Namey
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 5:09
  • To make sure I understand, the baby is going to bed fine, sleeping 40 mins, then has this odd short period of waking up frequently over a 40-80 min time span, but after that, settles in?
    – threetimes
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 5:53
  • Yes. Exactly. Sleeps fine for about 40 minutes, second 40 minutes with multiple wake-ups, sleeps fine after that second period for at least 3h.
    – Namey
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 0:55

1 Answer 1


Maybe this will be reassuring or terrifying. I hope reassuring is what you get from it.

I have 3 birth children (I have adopted children too, but not as toddlers/babies) and among those 3, all of them had times they did a weird sleep change that I did not find a reason/answer for with any degree of certainty. I say this because you should know that you aren't alone and sometimes weird things happen, then pass, and you can't even know if anything you did mattered in many cases. I could say "When I did this...it stopped" but I also have enough kids to know that it might have simply stopped because it was going to stop at that point versus that what I did that time was actually effective. Or what I did might have been effective, and again, I can't know because I wasn't going to experiment with sleep once it was better.

So what I will offer are things I have tried that seemed to help for similar-ish sorts of behavior, and different things helped different kids to varying degrees, and I make no claim about anyone item other than it likely "won't make it worse". What these things are would be the ones I think did work to some degree for all three of them.

If you normally do a bath before bed, stop. Change it to way earlier in the day. If you do not normally do a bath before bed add it. This one has for some reason varied a lot per child, but absolutely seems to impact sleep. I had one child that if you gave him a bath, no matter how tired he might be already (even long day) he would not settle in well for at least 3 hours. I sometimes put him to bed dirty (and I mean dirty, like outdoor play, etc) simply because it was easier to wash sheets than deal with 3 more hours of him wound up and ornery.

Lavender really is a lovely thing. There have been scientific studies about it's actual impact on assisting with sleep. I use therapuetic grade and just add it to olive oil and apply it to my kids before bed. Olive oil is great for the skin and they are used to that little ritual, and then they also smell amazing.

With a bad 1st hour of sleep, I try adjusting the bedtime if that is feasible. I move it up by 15minutes first, then another 15 if that hasn't helped, then I go the other way with it, push back 15, then 15, then 15 again (so you would be back to where you start, plus 15 mins later at that point). The reason is that sometimes I can't tell whether my child is not tired enough or overtired. I assume overtired first as that usually is the case.

Onto something I adore for toddler age when using blankets is pretty standard. My kids did so great with a weighted blanket. I have my oldest with sensory processing issues. It was recommended to me to use a weighted blanket to help him sleep more soundly and since it worked so well for him I figured I would try it with the next. You have to base the weight on the weight of the child, so personally I prefer something like Etsy or the like for someone to buy one. I made my own because I sew. There is a formula that is used based on the size of the child, hence I say Etsy. The point is, a blanket that is a nice weight will help the child's nervous system calm down and be less prone to restless sleep. These I like so much I keep meaning to make one for myself, but alas someone is always outgrowing one here and I never make it onto the "to do" list on sewing. I would say at this age, you get about a year out of the blanket before you might consider sizing up, maybe longer. I know when because they do in fact sleep more restless again.

And onto the reassuring part. It all passes. All of it. One day you realize you do not get woken anymore at all. You don't have to change any more bums, or get puked on ever, or even have to help them puke. You no longer have to survive on tons of coffee and commiserating conversations and you can pep talk some poor sleep deprived soul that they too will hit that finish line. I know how hard lack of sleep is. I am truly sorry for anyone going through a rough patch with their little one. It can be so hard to find something that seems to work and harder still to make a plan on what to try with a brain that is half asleep when awake due to lack of sleep.

  • Thanks. We are over the worst of it, thankfully, but this is one mystery thing. We have tried shuffling bed times around a bit, but if we go much earlier there's just no getting this little one settled. The bath thing is an interesting one though: we do baths some days but not others (non-bath-days are just hair washing). It seems to affect sleep, but it's entirely unclear in what way (e.g., pattern is different but not better/worse). We have been thinking about blankets, so might go that route: currently no bedding still.
    – Namey
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 5:50
  • Well in my house if I have a little one that sleeps better with a bath, bath will often just mean 10 mins in water. I don't soap them regularly unless there has been some icky thing that has happened. We live in a cold climate, so much of the year they are really quite clean due to such little body exposed to dirt. ;) I call it a bath either way, but really it's just time to play in some warm water mostly. Maybe try that daily for a week and see if you see it helping. I generally time it for the kid it works well for to be about 30-45 mins before I anticipate sleep.
    – threetimes
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 5:55
  • I was going to answer this, but my answer would have come down to this "Lavender really is a lovely thing."
    – user29389
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 12:22

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