1 Year-Old Baby Boy Playing All Night

by Mag

Question: My son is 1 year old. We have had sleep issues with him from the beginning and they just kept getting worse, no matter what we tried, until he was about 7 months old. At this point he was only sleeping 4 hours a night and taking one 2-3 hour nap during the day. This does not seem like nearly enough sleep to me for a baby when the norm is over 12 hours a day (total, not just night time)for most babies. I was at my wits end, and because my pediatrician did not take me seriously, I started to research on-line where I found the Ferber method. After using this method, my son began sleeping better and eventually got up to about 10 hours a night with one 2 hour nap in the afternoon. About 3 months ago the amount he slept each night started to decline again. He now goes directly to sleep when I put him down about 9 pm, but wakes between midnight and 2 am and stays awake (playing-not crying because he is playing I do not go in his room, that just makes him start crying and he's awake even longer) until 5 or 6 in the morning and then wakes again at 9 am, making his daily sleep total between 7 and 9 hours a day. This behavior seems odd to me and I feel like he needs more sleep than this. He is consistently demanding/cranky, so I have to assume he's not well rested (all other causes--colds, teething, etc.--have been ruled out over time). My peditrician tells me "everyone is different" and leaves it at that. Am I being overly concerned? Should I take him to a specialist of some sort?

Heidi's Answer: Dear Mag, No you are not being overly concerned: you are a loving mother listening to her instincts, which tell you your son is not getting the sleep he needs. If you as a mother are concerned and want to have your son checked by a sleep specialist then you should do that and I must advise you to. That said, I do have a few things you can try first.

You have been doing well with helping him get more sleep, and regularity. The fact that he goes to sleep so nicely when you put him down at bedtime is really good, and something to cherish.

The fact that he plays at night and does not cry is also positive: it shows that he is not anxious but feels comfortable. I know, you are probably often awake listening to him too, waiting for him to go back to sleep so that makes it extra hard on you.

But the fact that he does not cry, makes it not unpleasant for him. I know it seems odd to you but it does happen. And it usually passes after a few months. It's good not to interact, as you are doing.

The 7-9 hours of sleep a day are not much, I agree. And his crankiness during the day does indeed point to not being fully rested. But his amount of sleep is also not impossibly low.

Either way, what I advise for you right now is to simply change his schedule a bit. An earlier and restful start of the night can make a huge difference. So to start, go from the 9pm bedtime to 8pm. You can do this in steps of 10 minutes per day, or go 'drastically' and shift with one hour straight away, whichever feels best to you. You may even go to 7.30pm if that feels right.

You haven't mentioned when his nap is, but you may need to fiddle a bit with that too, to have it start between noon and 1pm.

Give this 2 weeks, without changing anything else and see what happens. These schedule changes can be very powerful.

Do contact me again then with any changes that occured, or also if nothing at all changed. We will then take it from there.

Good luck, take care,

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Tried that already ...
by: Mag

I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question.

Although, I have
spent the better part of a year "fiddling" with my son's nap and night time
schedule, nothing works long-term. The schedule you mention is one I have
used before. However, I decided to give it another try.

At first, he was
waking at approximately 9 AM each morning. His nap was lasting from 1:00
until 4:00 and he was going back to bed at 8:00...Woo Hoo..sleep time for
Mama! To what seems to be my never-ending disappointment, this lasted for
only one week.

Now it is 1:30 AM...he's been awake since 9:30 PM and he woke
at 6:00 AM (yesterday). He took a 3 hour nap at 12:30 (yesterday)...he fell
asleep on the floor because I was trying to get him back on schedule but he
was too tired to stay up until the 1:00 nap-time. Two nights ago he was
awake from 1:00-4:30 am. This child is all over the place. Every time I make
a change to his schedule, I attempt it for two weeks (unless it is obviously
unbearable for more than three days). If this were a "phase" or something I
thought he would "grow out of", I wouldn't bother to post.

This has been an
issue from the beginning and I literally mean, the beginning. When you bring
your baby home, you expect to be sleep deprived for a few months, but by 14
months...things should be smoother. Instead of these night-time wakings
being an aberration, they are the norm for him. No matter how hard I try or
how much I "fiddle" with things, this child wants to be awake at night.

Thanks again for your advice, Mag

Alternative: follow his lead
by: Heidi Baby-Sleep-Advice

Dear Mag,

Thank you for your update. I am sorry I suggested something you already
tried, and especially since it didn't help.

What strikes me in what you write is that it did seem to work for the first
week, something that reminded me of your original post. You then wrote that
with Ferber, you also got good results at first, which then declined ... So
it seems your son does react to the structure positively, but his body
doesn't seem to keep in the routine.

(This is something we often see when a baby has just learned a good sleeping
skill and then teething or a simple cold or even a too small diaper size
comes messing things up again. But from your posts I don't have the feeling
any of this is playing, right? Otherwise, even if it does not explain
everything, relieving even the slightest discomfort can help.)

Right now, I don't see a clear reason why your son wakes and stays awake
like that, and what we could do to change it. I prefer to tell you honestly
rather than pretend I have the magical solution.

Does your local hospital, or one within reasonable reach, have a pediatric
sleep center? Then I definitely advise you to go there for a first talk and
see what they suggest.

While awaiting that, I do have a suggestion as a test, in case you haven't
already. The different and strict schedules have not helped. So, how about
you follow his lead?

So, if he's showing early tired signs at 12 noon, have him nap then. If he
does at 10am, have him nap then. And then maybe a second nap if he's tired
again in the afternoon. Or not and then also follow his lead for night time
bedtime which can be quite early if he hasn't had the second nap, and late
if he did.

Of course always go for early tired signs (like staring and losing interest
in activity), that's even before tired signs like yawning and rubbing eyes,
and avoid anything close to being over-tired.

Do try and guide towards 'normal' bedtimes (between 6-11pm). This approach
can give a different schedule every day but your son may do well on it.

When he wakes at night and does not require your attendance, let him play by
himself or only go to him briefly to reassure (no lights, minimal

Again this is a test, I'm not claiming it is your magical solution but it
may be worth the try.

I do understand that you feel there is something more going on, and as I
said I do advise you to seek professional help at a sleep center.

Take care,

by: Mag

Thanks, Heidi. I have to admit, the whole idea of following his lead goes against what I've come to believe about building good sleep habits. It probably comes from the overconfidence you get from already having one child who "does everything the way they are supposed to"...his sister sleeps so well and always has :o). I guess I'm afraid if I let go of that control, he will get even more erratic in his sleep patterns. But, I will try it and see how it goes. We can always go back to the schedule. Probably, if he were my first child, I would have tried this before, but it can be hard to have two children on different schedules when you're already suffering from sleep deprivation yourself. If it fixes the problem though, it will be well worth it in the end.

I do have some sleep issues myself and have wondered if maybe he's inherited them. Maybe we should both go for a sleep study. We live in a large city so we have lots of options on that front.

Thanks again for your suggestions and support. Sometimes it can be helpful to hear that you have already done those things that others would do. It lets you know that you aren't crazy...after a year of sleep deprivation, you start to feel that way :o).

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