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27 mos. old...Should I shorten naps to improve night sleep?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Hello all,


Wondering if anyone has any suggestions for my current sleep challenges. I'll elaborate below, but in short, what are your thoughts and experiences with interfering with nap length to lengthen and improve night sleep?




The Details:

My DS is 27 mos. old, has almost always been a difficult sleeper, and continues to wake 3 to 5 times per night, almost on a schedule, usually requesting a bottle of milk, occasionally requesting a brief snuggle time, and at least once to use the potty. His naps, however, have long been solid. He currently naps every day from noon to 2:15 or 3pm. Might his night sleep improve (as his doctor suggests) if I wake him from nap after 45 mins or 1.5 hrs?  I've always followed his lead on the times and duration of naps and rarely been let down, but is it time to interfere to help "reset his clock?"


I think he wakes at night (right now) mostly out of habit for milk because it's like clockwork...down at 8pm, milk at 11 pm, milk at 2am, pee and sometimes milk at 3 or 4am, milk at 5 am, up at 7am. Also, he doesn't fuss and then eventually ask for milk, he seems to wake up asking for it. I try to up his calories during the day but it seems a difficult task as he is in a picky phase and I prefer to let him follow his body's cues.


EBF vs Bottle:

He was EBF until gradually semi-self-weaning at 18 mos. (6 mos. after I had to go back to work full time for 1 year. I'm currently SAH but will work P/T come the new year). After hanging with Daddy that year, he came to use milk/the bottle as a soother, requesting it whenever he wants to chill out/take a break during the day. He won't drink it out of a cup. At night, he usually finishes the bottle and then either tucks it under his arm or tosses it aside. Occasionally he'll try to sleep with it in mouth. I've allowed him to re-explore the breast whenever he shows any interest but he seems to have forgotten how to nurse and does not seem to want to pursue it. Of course, he does know that I now no longer have flowing milk.


Night Weaning:

I had some previous success with limiting the bottle to 1/night by using gentle weaning methods/providing other forms of comfort, but after a season of various changes leading to my sense that he temporarily needed the comfort of the bottle at night, it all went to pot and he began this frequent waking again. Six weeks ago I tried to apply my previous weaning technique but more than 3 weeks later he was still waking just as frequently, only now I was holding him in the rocker for 10 plus mins at a time, so I concluded he was not ready and went back to giving milk as requested. Now he tends to tantrum if I try to say it is not time for milk yet and offer water and snuggles instead.



I deeply value attachment theory and DH and I aim to practice AP. We shared a family bed for the first six months but then made an easy transition to his room in a crib after it became apparent that he always slept better with more space on his own (even now, we try cosleeping whenever he asks but he always sleeps poorly and eventually asks to go back to his bed).


Also, I've recently begun implementing a suggestion posted elsewhere of slowly weaning him off of milk at night by gradually watering it down in hopes that less milk will help with the frequency of night waking (also concerned about possibility of tooth decay). Not convinced he's going to go for this, but we'll see.

BTW, I'm new around here, but I have recently begun to browse this wonderful forum and glean some real nuggets of wisdom. I look forward to contributing when I can, as well.


Thank you in advance!

post #2 of 11


You must be exhausted.  Have you looked at Jay Gordon's night-weaning information?  It has a nice explanation of how at your son's age it is perfectly reasonable to say to a child, "this is the 8 hours per night where milk is not happening, and we need this to function as human beings and a family."  In my house that translates to, "sleepy time."  My DS is also a wiggler and coslept for the first 6 months until he started kicking us.  He sleeps much better by himself.  He understands (now 23 mo) just fine that he can have milk in the morning and not in the middle of the night.  


You can hold him.  You can hug him.  But tell him there's a limit on milk, and it's not in the middle of the night.  You've got a solid attachment relationship to work from.  And the nighttime potty visit will probably stop if he's not having liquids all night.  Good luck!

post #3 of 11

Oh, and your doctor is nuts.  Never dissuade a child from a 2 hour nap.  They need that time to consolidate learning and recharge those emotional batteries.  Let sleeping toddlers lie!

post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your encouragement, ThreeTwoFive. I looked at the Gordon's material a while back when I first reduced his bottle to one/night, but I would probably benefit from a review. I think I'm reluctant to try it again because I still feel some guilt over going to work when I did (I think he might still be nursing now if I had not) and I anticipate that I'm going to have to deal with some major tantrums, at least for a time. But maybe not. I am going to try talking/drawing/playing it with him today, "no more milk at nighttime...night is for sleep...etc." and give it another go. Yes, I am very exhausted and I have long been telling myself "I can't do this anymore."


If anyone else would like to share their thoughts, I would appreciate them, as well.

post #5 of 11

I cut my son's nap around his second birthday and it was the *best* sleep thing we ever did.  We cut it out completely.  You might not need to be that drastic but sleeping 2-3 hours seems like way too much if he's waking that many times a night.  Also, there is truly no way he needs those sorts of calories in the middle of the night.  We night weaned DS at 15 months (from the breast) by offering daddy, water, and crackers.  Is there a partner or someone who can help you with night weaning?  You all deserve a better night of sleep and their are gentle ways to do it.  Eating all night is just a habit for him now, not a nutritional requirement.  Yes, there may be some tears and tantruming, but getting a ton of calories in the middle of the night at 27 months is not helping anyone with sleep or nutrition.  Good luck mama. 

post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks, APToddlerMama.

We've successfully night weaned in the past using Daddy and water. He started drinking milk again following a stressful period in our family during which I felt I needed to listen to his increasing objections about maintaining it. He seems to be highly sensitive to the emotional climate of things. He is also very tactile and has always needed a lot of physical soothing. I think he'd still be nursing today if I hadn't gone back to work and inadvertently begun the gradual process of weaning from breast. 

But I agree that much of his night waking seems to be out of habit at this point. It is only occasionally out of need for soothing. And truth is, the soothing can come in other ways. So something needs to be done about this.

I think I'll stick with the gradual watering down process for now and see if it helps. If not, I may try to work with the naptime.



post #7 of 11

I personally wouldn't cut his nap down or out. But as he is sleeping better at night he may not want/need as much sleep in the morning.

Remember, you are getting him to sleep better at night for his own good/health too...not just yours. His constant waking is disrupting his sleep too.

I found that thinking thst way made it easier when we had to deal with some tantrums cutting my DD off from milk at night.

I wouldn't give her a chocolate bar because she cried, I wouldn't let her watch 2 hours of TV because she cried for it...so why should I let her have chronic sleep deprivation because she cries for it?


We night weaned gently. We held her, cuddled her, offered a snack instead of the breast, etc.

She fought hard and we let it go then tried again a short time later, she fought hard again and we eased up and tried again later. Then she went with it. We basically went with the Jay Gordon method but eased it up a bit to fit our needs/family. We decided that we would got from midnight to 5am, then extended to 6am, then started from 11PM-6am, then extended further. By the time we got to 11PM-6am she had just stopped waking in the night (for the most part).

We just said, "time for sleeping" and promised nursing in the morning and followed through on the promise.


I personally wouldn't switch out water with the milk. That wouldn't have worked for our DD. She would just be waking for water instead!

But o whatever will work for you and your family.


Good Luck.



post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks colsxjacks.


An update for any who may be interested.

Now at a 1:4 ratio for milk:water and surprisingly he's not objecting...seems to be easing the adjustment to fewer calories at night. I also prepared him and began implementing a countdown of sorts to decrease the number of bottles per night, "Tonight you can only have 3 (...then 2...then 1) milks." I've reminded him each time I went in during the night, and offered rocking, snuggles, water, etc. to help him get back to sleep anytime he wakes after he has run out of milks. In the morning we talk about what happened during the night, I tell him I'm proud of him, and he seems more confident and happy. And he gets milk on demand during the day. But his appetite for other foods has noticeably increased as well, and most importantly his sleep has improved. I got a full 4 hours in a row last night, and then 3 more! and that is a huge accomplishment in our home these days! I also broke down and bought a "My Tot Clock" to give him a visual of when it's time for sleeping and waking, and it seems to be helping as well.

Tonight will be his first night (since our previous stint of milk free nights) with 0 milk until it's time to wake. When he was drinking his last milk of the day, just before starting the bedtime routine, I said, "You've had 3 milks, then 2 milks, then 1 milk at night." He smiled. Then I said, "This is your 1 milk tonite. After this, no more milk until it's time to wake up." I thought that was a clever and positive way of framing it for him. :) We'll see how the night goes!


Finally, more than anything, I have to say, I think the thing that has made the most difference is this:


A mentor recently reminded me of the importance of "holding" for our children the knowledge/belief that they are capable of achieving the next step in their development, particularly when they are regressing or struggling to embrace it themselves. The approach I describe above is only working well for us right now because my son is ready AND I am confident in my perceptions of his needs. When I decided to set my guilt and conflicted feelings aside and take care of them elsewhere (instead of trying to take care of them in the context of my relationship with him), I immediately noticed a difference in the way my son responded to me about this limit setting. It feels really good to feel confident and connected in this way.


Thanks to all of you again for your input, encouragement, and for helping me think this through!

post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 

Oh, and today's nap shifted about 40 mins later in the day and shortened to a little more than 1.5 hours.  We'll see, but I think this may be the trend if he continues sleeping better at night. :)

post #10 of 11

How wonderful for both of you!

post #11 of 11
That is great.
And yes, we also found that our DD was able to sleep better and wean from night waking/nursing when she was ready. We tried to wean a few times and she put up a battle. We just stopped trying and waited a few weeks-months and tried again. The time it was successful there was hardly any battle from her at all. And we were able to rid ourselves of our guilt and be confident about it too.
Happy sleeping to you all!
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Mothering › Mothering Forums › Baby › Co-sleeping and the Family Bed › 27 mos. old...Should I shorten naps to improve night sleep?