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EXTREME night waking--medical issue or bad habit?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

My 17-month-old daughter has never slept through the night. And when I say "never slept through the night", I mean she's often up every 10-20 minutes, with a few hour-long (two hours if we're lucky) sleep stretches. There have been a few rare instances where she's slept 3 or 4 hours straight. When she wakes, she is mildly distressed. She does not want to play or get up. She wants to sleep but can't. She needs to breastfeed to get back to sleep, then lay on my body for quite awhile until she is soundly asleep enough to be laid down on the bed, but she is often up again almost immediately. She doesn't seem to be in any great pain when she wakes, though it's possible she has a tummy ache or something like that. She tends to do better during naps, but not always. 


I am concerned for my health, but more so for my daughter's. She looks very healthy--was a big Buddha baby who has transformed into a more slender but solid toddler. However, she has very poor digestion and is not terribly interested in food (with the exception of breast milk--she wants to nurse all the time during the day too). I have to turn on videos (something I never thought I would allow) to distract her to get her to eat. Much of her food comes out the other end undigested--even purees (at least the ones that are identifiable like sweet potato). The only things she digests well are meat and dairy, which are her favorite foods. She was extremely colicy as a little baby with doctors and midwives all saying it was the worst case they had ever seen. She had issues with food (breast milk) not staying in the intestines long enough to be digested properly (though it didn't stop her from gaining weight).


She is intelligent and very active, hitting all the normal milestones. She is very strong-willed and some might think "difficult"--though not in the extreme. She is extremely active, though she can sit still when obsessed with mastering a new task. She can be quite irritable and sensitive, but who wouldn't be with so little sleep? I am too exhausted to practice effective positive reinforcement and end up responding to crying and whining, so that is certainly part of it too. 


Anyway, I have been waiting for her to grow out of this like she grew out of the colic, but it is clearly not happening. Neither of us has gotten more than 4 hours sleep a night for almost 1.5 years. I have been advised to slowly eliminate one night feeding at a time, but with 20-30 feedings a night, she would be off to college before we were done! I am now very seriously wondering if there is a medical cause like silent reflux, sleep apnea, or food sensitivities. 


Other details: She usually naps 1-3 hours (usually 3). When she naps for 2 or 3 hours, she will wake at least once an hour but often much more. Sometimes I have to lay beside her the whole time and let her nurse almost continuously to keep her down. We live in an extremely dry, high-elevation environment. I go through 1-2 pints of water a night myself and still wake up dehydrated. Humidifiers don't even make a dent in the dryness. I am an herbalist and have tried many things to help her sleep with no major effect. When she was EBF, I eliminated all major allergens from my diet with no effect on colic or later on night waking. 


Well, I didn't mean to write an essay here, but thanks for bearing with me. Any advice or opinions would be greatly appreciated. Is this within a range of normal or should I be treating underlying causes? Anyone else have a kid like this? 


Thanks so much!

post #2 of 14

Definitely sounds like she has some food issues. What does her skin look like? Is she prone to diaper rash?

post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 

Her skin is pretty normal. No eczema, itchiness, rashes, dryness, or other signs of allergies on the skin. Occasionally, I will notice a little bit of darkness under the eyes, but that could very well be sleep deprivation. Her toenails are very brittle and break off, but that could be from the extreme dryness here as well as her age. She is not prone to diaper rash. She has never had thrush. Sometimes at night, when she first falls asleep, I notice that she has a little congestion. It goes away within 10 minutes max after nursing. So no clear-cut allergy signs, but I am definitely going on another elimination diet to see if things improve. It has been a long time since I last tried it. 

post #4 of 14

Hmm...have you posted in the allergy forums? The ladies over there were really great about helping me figure out my daughter's issues.

post #5 of 14

http://www.celiac.com/articles/22292/1/Gluten-free-or-Not-Celiacs-Suffer-More-Sleep-Disorders/Page1.html. celiac would wreak havoc on the digestive system without necessarily showing up on the skin. It appears to have some association with sleep issues

post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks! Interesting that it's what would traditionally be considered mental health-related reasons (depression, anxiety, ect.). A few months ago I was reviewing some studies showing the connection between gut flora integrity and depression--how it goes both ways, with stress and depression damaging intestinal flora and poor flora balance fostering depression. Would suggest similar therapy for depression and celiac and other food sensitivities. Makes me consider following a GAPS-type diet for both of us in addition to more simple food elimination. That should be fun to implement with massive sleep deprivation and a toddler underfoot!! ;)

post #7 of 14
Wow I don't think I've ever come across anyone whose child slept as badly as mine!! hug.gif I used to go nuts trying to get advice & reading about poor sleepers who woke 10 times a night. I would have LOVED to be woken only 10 times a night!

DS is now 3.5 years, and if it's any consolation -- he is finally sleeping longer stretches.

I don't think it's normal at all for a child to wake that often. I never did figure out what exactly caused his poor sleep. I'm just glad it's finally improving some.

Hopefully you have better luck getting medical professionals to help/take you seriously, I didn't have much luck with that at all, but I would at least consult some doctors/specialists if you haven't already.

In the meantime, I will share a couple of things that seemed to help us:
- Cutting out gluten completely, from my diet and his. He also had a lot of vomiting that disappeared when we cut out gluten.
- Not nursing to sleep. This was INCREDIBLY hard to do but it was worth it, it cut his night wakings down by at least half. I still nursed for night-wakings, just not before he first went down for the night. Eventually I did partially nightwean him (this was around age 2 I think -- and he nursed every 10mins during the day to make up for it!) but not until he was actually eating solids consistently.
- Taking him to the potty to pee every time he woke. Even to this day, if I don't take him to the potty the first time he wakes, he just keeps waking over & over until I remember to take him.

So my theory is, he was nursing frequently for multiple reasons... partly including discomfort from eating gluten. Cutting out the gluten meant he woke less frequently in discomfort, so needed to nurse less. The less he nursed, the less he needed to pee. I think many of his nightwakings, he was peeing small amounts, or uncomfortable from a slightly wet diaper or something, and it was keeping him awake. Basically it was all a big cycle. The more he woke the more I nursed him the more he peed, then he'd wake even more... know what I mean?? This is definitely not the whole picture for us. But it was part of it, and the three things above helped a ton (and none are particularly harmful to at least try).
post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 

Oh, it's good to hear that someone else went through this and that it resolved eventually! We are consulting a developmental/behavioral specialist this week to see what we can learn. I am also eliminating wheat and dairy from both of our diets again to see what happens. Do other stuff to rebuild gut integrity a la GAPS. Keeping my fingers crossed!

post #9 of 14

My son experienced the same type of night waking for his first 2 years and then he became a better sleeper. I feel for ya sista.  It takes a strong woman to survive  - good for you for being there for your baby (nursing and parenting back to sleep) 


It is known in the scientific community that our babies gut health reflects our own gut health (even that of the father).  And one doesn't even need to experience digestive issues to have gut problems such as leaky gut. I am now on GAPS and things are much better with my second baby.  I didn't find GAPS until I was pregnant however and so I have to wait to do the intro stage (I went to the full GAPS) which means my guts won't fully be healed until I am done nursing.  Go for it, you can do it for you and your baby!!!  Especially check out the info about babies first foods - gut sealing bone broth. So go and read all about GAPS and Natasha Campbell-Mcbride (creator) and also check out chriskresser.com   He's a great compiler of research on gut health.

post #10 of 14
Sounds so much like my dd who had silent. Reflux and we didn't know for a long time
post #11 of 14

Our daughter woke constantly, cried as if in pain, would vomit tiny tiny amounts, and wanted to sit up.  We tried all the reflux medications to no avail.  Finally, we took her to the emergency room and said something is wrong.  They tested for sleep apnea (she didn't have it), but did find some undiagnosed allergies and infections which we treated.  We did a gluten free casein free diet because we found out she was allergic to wheat and dairy.  She is 2.5 years now and her last allergy tests showed she is no longer allergic to wheat/dairy and now eats them. She now wakes about 2-3 times a night (wow! it's great)


Before going to the hospital (and she ended up being hospitalized twice, each for a week), we found we got a little bit of help from having her sleep in a carseat in own room (so she was upright). Ultimately, this did not work, and it was only treating her underlying infections/allergies that got us sleep. We also had tubes put in her ears to drain fluid which caused chronic ear infections.  We saw a gasteroenterologist, ears nose throat (ENT), and pediatric allergic.  I wished we had tried to get help sooner - before the medical route, we went to a homeopath and naturopathic physician but those did not work for us. 


Good luck.

post #12 of 14
I cannot even believe how similar your situation is to mine. I also have a 17 month old daughter who wakes just as frequently as yours. I have been wondering the same things about whether she has a medical problem or if it's just habit. I've been scouring the Internet looking for answers. I'm even bringing her to the chiropractor tomorrow to see if there is anything they can do to help.
After reading these suggestions, i think we are also going to try an elimination diet. It is definitely worth a try. Im also going to see if our doctor will let us try a reflux med. You are not alone in this! I hope we can find answers so that we can get some sanity back!!
post #13 of 14

Hi there.  Dad of a really bad sleeper here.  Our 13-month-old daughter has always slept exactly like this, so you're not alone.  And yes, it is pretty awful.  She also started off with bad colic--the all-day-long screaming kind of colic which slowly tapered off after about 3.5 months.  She's healthy in all respects, and hitting her milestones, but like your daughter is pretty cranky much of the time, probably due to moderate sleep deprivation (she's also happy a lot of the time!).  My wife still breastfeeds and we co-sleep (not really by choice).  Our daughter does do a pretty good job at eating solids throughout the day, so there's that to feel good about.  But she basically wakes up every hour or two at a minimum, all night long, and cries out in slight distress.  She nurses, and then falls back to sleep.  It's exhausting. 


We have no reason to believe she's ever had a problem with acid reflux and no reason to believe she has sleep apnea.  Neither does her pediatrician who we absolutely love and respect (and who is fairly non-traditional and very supportive of breastfeeding and co-sleeping, etc.).  She (i.e., the pediatrician) also had a poor sleeper/high-needs baby and she told us (just yesterday as a matter of fact) that we should NOT blame ourselves--that some babies are just awful sleepers--meaning they are light sleepers, and also sensitive, and also more prone to separation anxiety.  She shared that she had gotten fairly desperate with her own son's poor sleeping and had ended up having to gradually (over 2-3 months), get him night-weaned and sleeping on his own.  That she had to let him cry a bit in order to protect her own sanity and health. 


My wife recently tried the Dr. Jay Gordon night-weaning approach recently and while it was stressful (a fair amount of crying, especially the first couple of nights), it was actually somewhat successful--right away our daughter got a few solid three-hour chunks of sleep in and maybe even a four-hour chunk in there as well.  Then she got a bad cold and it went to pot, but I think we are going to try again when she feels better.  Because the sleep deprivation is really making us feel desperate and resentful, which is terrible for the entire family.  


I'll report back if we see any success...

post #14 of 14

Have you tried taking LO to the chiropractor? I brought my daughter yesterday and was skeptical, but she slept from 8pm until 11pm UNINTERRUPTED! I was amazed. Not sure if it's a coincidence but she normally wakes up many times between 8 and 11pm. My husband and I actually got to spend time together! I can't remember how much she woke up after that, but it was better than normal. Not sure if things will go this well again tonight, but I will let you know :)

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