Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sleep Slippage

Dearest Internets, I am at my wits' end! I appeal to your wisdom. Seriously, any advice is welcome.

We are having trouble with getting Vinny to go to bed. Here's the situation:

He sleeps (or, I should say, ideally he would sleep) in a toddler bed that is simply his crib with one side off. We removed the side about six months ago, because we thought it would help in the mornings when he woke up and was bored. That way he could just slip out of bed and play.

Well, he figured out a couple of months ago that if he wasn't really tired, he could just open the door of his room and leave. So we installed a child-proof doorknob cover on the inside of his door. But this just made him angry, and if we put him to bed, he would run over to the door and kick it and hit it, while screaming and crying. Eventually he would get tired and fall asleep right in front of the door. If you opened the door a few hours later, you would hit him with the door. I did manage to squeeze through and put him in his bed but it was hard to do so without waking him up.

Then we decided to install a gate in his doorway, because we thought he might be afraid of the dark and need some light from the hallway. But that actually made things worse, because he can hear what's going on around the house a lot better, plus he can see you leave.

Here's what I've tried.
  • I can go through the nighttime ritual and then put him to bed awake, which results in him screaming and crying and doing what I have described above.
  • After the nighttime ritual, I can continue to hold him and rock him to sleep in his rocking chair, and then set him down in his bed. He will sleep for a few hours until he wakes up in the night and realizes that I'm not there, and then begin screaming and crying and rush over to the door. The crying is genuine, or at least, he does produce tears.
  • I got him a nightlight, thinking that it could be fear of the dark that's bothering him. But unfortunately, he tends to pull the night light out of the outlet, which scares me that sometime he'll end up shocking himself.
  • I can take him to bed with me, and (usually) he falls asleep and sleeps through the night. Sometimes, such as this past Friday night, he does not want to fall asleep and then we don't get to bed until obscenely late (2 am, in this case).
  • If we move him to his room when he's fast asleep, he will wake up in a few hours and cry and rush to the door. If he does fall asleep with us, sometimes he lies completely still and sleeps peacefully; other times he kicks us in the head all night. Usually he is very mobile when he is close to waking up.
So we do have a solution that usually works: letting him sleep with us. But it is not the most convenient for us, and I would like for him to sleep in his own bed. Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

How old is he now? This sounds similar to some of the problems I saw with the toddlers I worked with.

It's just a thought, but is he comfortable playing in a room alone when neither of you is there? If not, you could tackle the less scary daytime separation first.

You need to make sure he feels safe and secure when you're not there. Does he have a special toy or blanket? Can you sense if he needs you at night because you are a sleep crutch or because he is scared of your absence?

Anonymous said...

Please promptly ignore the age question, as I then scrolled down to the previous post to see that you just celebrated his two year birthday. :-)

Rebecca said...

I think he's scared to be alone. When he's sleeping with us, neither of us do anything special except that we are just there. He usually snuggles up to one or the other of us and falls asleep without any effort on our part.

He does have a special blanket that he snuggles with during the time that we're winding down for bed, and at night. He used to use a pacifier but we had to take that away. Oh how I miss the pacifier! Just pop it in his mouth and he would suck himself right to sleep. Good times. Good sleeping! ;)

Sally said...

Here's what we did when Tommy was 2 and learning to stay in his big boy bed. (We moved him to a full-sized twin bed instead of a toddler bed, so it might not work with your set up.)

We made snuggle time with Mommy part of the bedtime routine. We'd do all the usual stuff, but the last book had to be read while he was lying in bed. Then I turned off the light, sang him a lullaby and told him it was time to try to go to sleep. As long as he would lie still and didn't wiggle around or play, I would stay next to him in his bed. I'd lie really still and pretend to sleep so he'd understand what he was supposed to be doing. If he couldn't lie still, I'd leve and tell him he could play alone in his room and that I'd return as soon as he was ready to try again.

It took a long time the first couple of weeks, but eventually he decided he'd rather lie down quietly next to me than play by himself. If he got wiggly, I immediately left the room, but he clearly understood he could have me back with him in an instant if he was willing to try to go to sleep.

Now here's the important part. He also knew that I would only stay while he was FALLING asleep, but was going to say goodnight and leave before he actually WAS asleep. If I timed it right I got so I could leave when he was awake enough to be aware that I was leaving but too tired to protest. The key was to not sneak out or wait so long that he didn't know I was leaving.

It took a LOT Of repetitions the first few weeks, because he didn't want me to leave. I'm talking an extra hour or two at bedtime at the beginning, doing the same thing over and over and over. However, if he fell asleep while I was in there he'd wake up later in the night upset that I was gone and come looking for me.

The goal was to get him to accept the idea that I was going to leave him alone once he was ready to sleep.

We repeated the same set of expectations when he woke up in the night. I'd take him back to bed, lie down next to him and wait to say good night and leave until his breathing deepened and eyes were closing but before he was completely asleep.

We also tried a full-fledged leave him to cry and fall asleep somewhere on the floor method, but that never worked very well because he woke up disoriented and upset. This gentler method really worked with Tommy because my presence was a huge motivation for him. I'm not sure if it will work with Charlie when we get to this stage because he' more independent, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Madeleine said...

First of all, I'll say that this really stinks and I feel for you. I know how hard it is to cope with sleep issues when you are sleep deprived. Being woken in the night by a crying child is No Fun.

Now the random advice.

If you want to try again on a night light without risk of electrocution, look for one that has a cord so you can plug it in behind a piece of furniture where he can't reach it. We have one from IKEA that we love. It also has a rechargeable battery so if there is no safe/convenient outlet in Vinny's room, you can plug it in elsewhere during the day then unplug it and put it in his room at night. Also great for travel. (Hotel rooms with inconvenient plugs, I glare in your general direction.)

When my daughter was small and having trouble falling asleep, I had a phase of sitting in the rocking chair near her crib till she was out cold then sneaking out. But the floors were creaky and if I didn't wait long enough she'd stir and I'd start over. It was getting to be 45 minutes and it made me crazy not knowing when I could sneak out. I was losing it.

At some point I decided to set a limit. I would sit for 10 minutes and then leave, even if that meant coming back in a few minutes for a pat on the back. It's too long ago to remember exactly how it all played out, but I vividly remember feeling relief that I knew how long I'd be sitting there, and that it was my choice to be there.

So it might be that deciding on your preferred plan, even if it isn't perfect, will bring you some relief.

And for a different kind of relief, have you seen the mariachi video for Obama? As linked by Bitch, Ph.D.

Susie said...

Although I have no experience with 2 year olds, I might have a suggestion for the nightlight problem.

- We got this for Ethan, and I really think it helps soothe him when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I'll go in in the morning and it'll be on - not sure if he's figured out how to turn it on, or if he's just stepped on it, but I think he likes it:
- A friend of ours who works for OXO got us this as a baby gift - we love it!

acmegirl said...

Thing 2 (age 2.9) is in the bottom of the bunk beds my two have in their room. I lie in bed with her to read a story, then lie with her until she has just fallen asleep. We ususally are also listening to music or one of Thing 1's books on tape. Sometimes she wakes up a little when I leave. If she gets upset, I wait a little longer. If not, I say goodnight and leave.

For Thing 1 (age 10), I made myself a little nest of pillows next to her crib on the floor. We took the side off, too, because it seemed like she hated being in a cage - she would shake the rail like a prisoner. I laid my head on the mattress next to her and held her hand. That worked with various degrees of success. When she got a bigger bed, I just got in with her and waited for her to sleep.

I also never tried to lock either of them in their room in any way. Thing 1 used to come and get into bed with us in the middle of the night. At a certain point, I don't remember the exact age, I just started telling her to go back to bed when she came in at night. When Thing 2 comes in, we still let her come into the bed. In fact, I have sort of motivated her by telling her that she can do this if she first sleeps in her own bed like a big girl. This way, we get some peace, and she knows she can come to us if she wants to. Is it possible that the fact that he can't get to you is fueling this?

acmegirl said...

Oh, by the way, tag!