toddler fighting bedtime

CASE STUDY: Toddler fighting bedtime & early waking

Cory's sleep story...

Up until recently, Cory had been on 2 naps at day at 9:30-10:45 and 1:30-2:15. His second nap was getting harder and harder to achieve though, so mum Lauren figured it was time for him to transition down to one nap. It was tricky to get this happening much later in the day than 10:30am though, as Cory would get too overtired and be hard to settle.

Around 10:30am, Cory was easy to get down for his nap (just a quick story, cuddle and into bed) and would then sleep for a couple of hours, until 12:30pm. Lauren was pretty happy with this but by the late afternoon/evening, Cory would go into a really hyperactive state and would then refuse going to bed at 7pm.

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 he would go to sleep around 8:30pm.

Cory would then wake somewhere between 1-2am, cry, and require some settling or a bottle before he would go back to sleep. He would then be up again at 5:30am to start the day!

Lauren had already tried bringing bedtime slightly earlier and had tried it later too, to no avail. By now, she had had enough of Cory fighting bedtime and waking early in the morning, so she reached out to us for help.

We could see the problem straight away! Cory's nap was happening too early in the day, so come bedtime at 7pm, he was extremely overtired, having been awake from 12:30pm.

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Over tiredness in a toddler often looks like hyperactivity. This is due to a build up of cortisol, a hormone similar to adrenaline, that triggers the "fight or flight" response in our bodies. This is why overtired babies and toddlers struggle to settle to sleep - their body is literally fighting sleep with all it's got!

Cory was genuinely unable to go to sleep at bedtime because of his over tiredness, so he was "playing up" instead. This over tiredness was also responsible for his middle of the night wake and partly the cause of his early morning wake too.

Lauren could now see that Cory's nap needed to be later in the day, but with his early morning wake, she didn't think he would be able to make it to the nap time recommended in our sleep schedule. So she reached out to one of our sleep consultants in the Little Ones Village for personalised guidance.

We suggested shifting Cory's nap back by 15 minutes, every couple of days, to give him more time to adjust to the changes. We also explained to Lauren that his early waking was 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 too.

By shifting his nap later in the day, Lauren was 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, but was still calling out to Lauren each night. After a few nights of following our gentle settling methods though, Cory was going down without a peep!

At Cory's night wake, we suggested Lauren stay consistent and use the same settling method to help him back to sleep. Toddlers thrive on consistency so the more consistent you are in your approach, the quicker you will see results! After adjusting his nap, Cory was well-placed to go back to sleep, so his night wake was resolved quickly and with minimal fuss.

The early morning wake was a harder habit to break (it usually is!), so Lauren had to implement some additional strategies to help teach Cory that it was still sleep time (and not play time!) and to help "reset" his body clock so that he could sleep for longer.

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!

After adjusting Cory's nap time and following our gentle settling methods, Lauren quickly saw their nightly bedtime battle disappear and a wee while later, Cory's night wake and early morning wake were gone too.

If you need a hand overcoming your toddler's sleep challenges, we have all the information and tools you need in our Little Ones App.

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