Toddler Sleep Fears

Oh I’ve been wanting to post so much lately, about our spring gardening and birthday preparations but our family has been overwhelmed with toddler sleep fears that’s taking up all our time and energy.

Pip has been fighting falling asleep for several days now. She did it intermittently at day care, where she normally sleeps like an angel.  She also wakes up screaming. We’ve ruled out illness, although perhaps teeth are bothering her, but it seems to go beyond that. When we try to sleep, she behaves fearfully and with apprehension.

I’ve also noticed recently she’s displayed more examples of fright.  She points out smudges or pieces of lint, backing away as she asks “what’s that?” and wondering if it’s a bug.  She is terrified of a neighbor’s remote control car. She begs us to put on the TV or radio (to drown out the noise) when the car is racing on the streets. Even when it’s not out, she refuses to go outside, or whines and whimpers when we are in the yard. At every noise, in and out of the house, she glances at us and asks, “car?”

Between these new examples of fear and her fighting sleep, I think she is having nightmares and has become scared to fall asleep.

At night in our house, and nap time in our house, she won’t even get on the bed with us (where she normally sleeps). She stands on the floor, peering up at us with all our books and smiley faces, with fearful, longing eyes.  I managed to get her to sleep (two hours after her usual nap time) in the baby carrier one day. But since then she won’t go in the carrier. She won’t go in the rocking chair with us, or even nurse on the couch! It’s like she knows the places she’s likely to dose off, and is purposefully avoiding them. Even this morning, dressed and ready to leave the house, she insisted we nurse on the floor instead of the couch.

If she wakes in the middle of the night, as she did last Saturday, she’ll cry and claw at the bed, trying to get down.  That night, the only thing that calmed her was letting her sit on the bureau next to the humidifier and push the buttons.  We put on the nightlight too, which seems to help snap her out of her initial panic. And after two hours, I got her to fall back asleep as she nursed in my arms and I rocked her. The weird thing is, if I try to sit down, she completely wigs out! She snaps out of her daze, stops nursing and cries, kicks her legs…

Four hours into it on Sunday night we even tried a drive in the car, but that didn’t work either.

The poor thing is clearly exhausted. We’re trying everything we know to help her but can’t find the magic key.

Yesterday my husband did some awesome prep work, playing with her on the bed during the day, and talking about who sleeps where. She had fun, and that seemed to tell us it wasn’t the bed she was scared about so much as actually falling asleep. At nighttime, after our usual bedtime routine, we all read books together on the bed. She nursed, but as soon as shealmostdrifted off, she jerked herself awake and cried to get down off the bed and out of the room.

We set up a little “bed” on the bureau and she sat there, nursing, but it was ridiculous and she wasn’t going to fall asleep unsupported like that. I asked her to help mommy fall asleep on the bed, and come pat my shoulder like she likes to do. She kept saying no, and I kept asking “why not?” and “what’s the matter?,” waiting patiently for her to comprehend my question and figure out her answer in her head. 

Finally, finally, she whispered something about spiders.  I’m cautious to not jump to conclusions but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was worried about them (she saw one in the house last week).   My husband and I told her there were no more spiders, and they were all gone, and even “sprayed” for them to go away (even though I read later we shouldn’t pretend they were there in the first place, but I wanted to give her the idea that she had the ability to make them go away).

Throughout the next couple of hours, she mentioned spiders again. It was the only concrete thing she mentioned as we tried different tactics to help her fall asleep.

We got the crib mattress and put it on the floor next to our bed. She was very excited by that, and we cuddled and read books. We spent about an hour settling in. When my husband was with her, finally, finally she asked for Mommy. I came and we cuddled and she nursed on the crib mattress…then she stood up and started whining anxiously again. I scooped her up, got her settled nursing in my arms, and rocked her back and forth.

15 minutes later she was in a deep sleep and I was able to lie her down in the bed.

It’s exhausting just writing all this down, and there’s so many more details.  It can be extremely, overwhelmingly, frustrating and exhausting trying to put a scared or reluctant child to sleep.  To help myself deal with this, I ask myself, “who says this isn’t how it should be right now?” and remind myself “this is what Pip needs to do now,” and that my job is to be there for her.  It can sound hokey, but it truly is the only way I can mentally survive these situations and not lose my cool.  Plus, even though it might not be convenient or easy,  those statements are true….

If anyone has any advice on dealing with a fearful sleeper, please share!

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3 Responses to Toddler Sleep Fears

  1. Sleeping Mom says:

    Wow that’s tough! My two year old was scared at one point but I think it was because of the dark (his room is pitch black with the curtains). So we got a night light and that seemed to solve it. But if your daughter is specifically saying spiders, something about it must have scared her. What if you borrow books from the library about spiders, especially friendly-looking ones who are nice? She may start to think that these aren’t harmful and that they can’t do bad things to her.

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