For the past month or so, our almost 3 year old has simply decided not to sleep. He’s been in his big boy bed for about 6 months and we’ve honestly had very few problems. The transition from the crib to the bed was pretty smooth. He cried because his crib “broke” but moved on pretty quickly. Then, one night he just decided he didn’t want to sleep anymore. Instead of going to bed and staying in bed, he started standing at the door crying for a hug or water or to say prayers or to have us fix his blanket. At first, one or both of us would just run up there and fix whatever problem and he’d go to sleep easily. Then it started happening 4-5 times. Then, he started waking up somewhere between 2 and 4 in the morning and doing the same thing. Now, it’s like I have a newborn again. He’s up as many as 8 times in a single night and it’s never for anything I would describe as important- he didn’t have a bad dream, he’s not scared, he’s not sick.
Now to be fair, he’s never been a good sleeper. He was close to 18 months old before he consistently slept through the night. When he was in the crib, we would go back and forth on letting him cry himself back to sleep or going in to soothe him. Largely it had to do with how tired we were. Sometimes, you just have to do whatever you need to do to get some sleep.
I’ve read all about leaps and growth spurts and this sleep regression or that sleep regression, but frankly, I don’t care. I am a tired mom and I’m also a very pregnant mom. I knew things were bad when I told my husband I was super worried that the new baby and our toddler would be on different wake up schedules. If neither is going to sleep through the night, I at least want them waking up at the same time. It took a minute for the weight of that statement to sink it, but we both decided the toddler has to sleep. Alone. All. Night. Long.
Of course, I turned to google and all the other parents and doctors out there for advice. There are a variety of theories on why kids this age fight sleep: wanting attention, not doing enough during the day, control, etc. It’s unlikely our son is lacking attention. I’m a stay at home mom and while I have to get things done during the day, he certainly gets a fair bit of my undivided attention and my husband makes him his complete priority from the time he gets home from work until bedtime. It’s possible that he’s not doing enough physical activity during the day, but I doubt this. He’s enrolled in swimming lessons, gymnastics and we going to the library once a week for story time. I also coupon, so we go to a ton of stores. On top of that, he runs and plays by himself during the rest of the day. I see control being the number #1 cause for him fighting sleep. He’s got a stubborn streak that my husband and I both blame on each other. For example, our rule is you eat what’s for dinner or you don’t eat. I don’t think he has eaten dinner in 6 months (unless its pizza or hot dogs).
Ultimately, after some discussion, my husband and I have decided to go the bribery route. We want to establish a set of sleep behaviors and if bribery is how we get there, then so be it. I found this sleep reward chart online and we have decided to go the positive reinforcement route. For every night our son sleeps through the night, he gets an M&M (seriously, what would we do without M&Ms?!) and when he fills the whole chart, we’ll buy him a new toy or a special treat or something along those lines. We’re hoping with enough repetition, we can establish a habit of sleeping through the night and staying in his room. Once the habit has been established, we can back down on the rewards (maybe an M&M for a consecutive week or something?).
Wish us luck. We have a month until the new baby arrives and we’re starting the sleep bribery system tonight!