CASE STUDY: Toddler fighting bedtime & early waking
*this is a case study from a real-life mum who reached out for help. We share our case studies in the hope it may help other mums who are in the same, or similar, situations. Not everyone parents in the same way, so please do not judge, criticize or demean these mothers and the parenting choices they have made in the best interests of their babies and their families.
Age: 20 months
Naps: 1 nap at approx 10:30am-12:30pm. Bedtime 7pm.
Little Cory had recently dropped from 2 naps in the day down to 1 nap and he was having it at around 10:30am for a couple of hours. He was easy to get down for his nap, a quick story and a cuddle and into bed. The problem came however in the late afternoon/evening when Cory would go into a really hyperactive state and would then refuse going to bed at 7pm. His mum Lauren had tried bringing bedtime slightly earlier and had tried it later too, to no avail. Cory would cry, fight, play in his cot, stand, shout out... Anything but go to sleep! Lauren was having to go in to him again and again, laying him down, offering water, repeating his bedtime song until eventually Cory would go to sleep at around 8:30pm. He would then wake somewhere between 1-2am, cry, require some settling or a bottle before he would go back to sleep. His days usually then started at 5:30am.
Lauren purchased our Toddler Sleep Program because she had had enough of Cory fighting bedtime and she wanted to be able to get him down easier each night. She quickly saw that the daytime nap in our Program was later that she had been putting him down and she didn't think Cory would last until our recommended nap time from his early start for the day. After asking for guidance in our support group, the Little Ones Village, Lauren was advised to gradually move Cory's nap back by 15 minutes every couple of days to give his body clock the chance to catch up and adjust to the changes. We explained to Lauren that his early waking was actually partly caused by his nap being earlier in the day, so moving it back was a good step towards eliminating that dreaded 5:30am start.
There were 4 things that needed some tweaking and they were all very inter-related:
1. the nap moving back was the key to everything else being able to fall into place
2. bedtime needing some gentle coaching to wind back the "fluffing around"
3. the night wake simply required a limited-response approach, but seeing as Cory was actually well-placed to go back to sleep, this was done quickly and with minimal fuss
4. the early morning wake had turned into a habit wake, so shifting the nap back and minimising the overtiredness at bedtime helped remove the physiological reason for the wake. A bit of coaching that it was still night time was needed to help Cory learn to go back to sleep.
After implementing the nap changes suggested in the Program and using some of the methods in the Toddler Tactics section, Lauren quickly saw Cory's bedtime battle disappear and a wee while later, his night wake and early wake was gone.
Cory had been on 2 naps at day at 9:30-10:45 and 1:30-2:15, so when he then transitioned down to one nap, it was tricky to get this happening much later in the day than 10:30am without him getting too overtired. The problem was that this nap was now happening too early in the day, meaning come bedtime at 7pm Cory was extremely overtired, having been awake from 12:30pm. Overtiredness in a toddler looks like hyperactivity. That's because overtiredness is the build up of cortisol, a hormone similar to adrenaline that triggers the "fight or flight" response in our bodies and it will seem like your toddler has had a shot of coffee right before bedtime. This is why overtired babies and toddlers struggle to settle to sleep - their body is literally fighting sleep with all it's got! This was causing Cory's behaviour at bedtime - he was simply unable to go to sleep because of his overtiredness, so he was "playing up". This overtiredness was also responsible for his middle of the night wake and part of the cause of his early morning wake too.
By shifting his nap back in the day, we were able to get Cory through to bedtime at 7pm far more rested than he'd previously been but still good and ready for bed. He was immediately easier to settle to sleep and Lauren only needed to use our Toddler Tactics methods to negate his calling out at bedtime for a few nights before Cory was going down without a peep! The early morning was a harder habit to break (it is always the hardest sleep habit!) and Lauren had to implement some strategies to help teach Cory that it was still sleep time (and not play time!) and to reset his body clock away from the habit wake.
Now, Cory is waking between 6:30-7:00am for his day and going to bed easily at night. Lauren can't believe the change in her little boy:
"This was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be! I was expecting to have to do some sort of regimented sleep training with him and I had braced myself for that, but all we needed to do was change his nap timing and use a few simple settling techniques in the early morning! I can't believe it!"