Please watch my baby sleep video on what to do when your baby’s awake ALL night long.
To ask a question about your child’s sleep, just leave it in the ‘Comments’ section below! I’ll choose one and create a new video answer each week!View the Video Transcript
Hi! I’m Dana Obleman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program. If you’d rather read than watch, I’ve transcribed the text of this video below.
This week’s question is from Barbara. She writes:
“My daughter Tristan is 20 months old and still waking through the night. She can fall asleep completely on her own at bedtime, but then wakes up three hours later and wants a drink. Then for the second time she falls asleep, she is up from about 2 am until 7 am — and I have to be at school at nine!
If she does not wake for good, she will wake up three more times for a drink. I give her about three ounces of milk each time. If I do not give her the cup, she screams and cries until she is completely awake. I am so exhausted and tired towards the end of the day… What can I do?”
Okay, the good news is that Tristan is falling asleep on her own at bed time, so that is step one and that has already been taken care of. That is a great beginning. When you say cup, I am not sure exactly what you mean, but am guessing a sippy cup perhaps, with milk in it. I would eliminate that from the bed time routine all together.
Have a routine like a bath, getting jammies on, reading a few stories and then lights out. It does sound to me, even though she is not using the cup to get to sleep at bed time, like she has an association between milk and sleep. The farther you can distance those two, the better off you will be. Completely eliminate it from the bedtime routine and put her in her crib like you normally do with no changes there. It’s more a habit than anything, to wake up and think she needs something, when in fact she does not. People convince themselves of all kinds of things that they need in order to sleep.
I have had people tell me they cannot sleep unless they have earplugs in, or unless music is playing. Well, the truth is that they could sleep without those things but they have convinced themselves that those things needed in order to sleep. When first removed, anyone is going to have anxiety and find it more difficult to get to sleep, but once they are no longer dependent on those things, sleep comes easily again.
In essence what Tristan has is simply a habit; she does not need the milk. For a 20 month old, there is no reason why she should need milk in the night. She just thinks she cannot get back to sleep unless she has had milk. When she has a night waking, go in and remind her that it is still sleepy time, give her back her blanky or teddy, and tuck her back in, with no milk. Because she is 20 months old, she is going to understand, at some level, that there is no milk until morning.
Since it is dark out, you can make reference to it being night and say, “It is night time; still no milk.” Instead, I would do the leave-and-check style approach from The Sleep Sense Program with her. You can stay for a few minutes, reminding her it is sleepy time and still night, so there will be no milk until morning. Then leave for five or ten minutes and if she is still crying for the milk just go back and tell her there is no milk until morning and then out you go for another 5 or 10. Continue to go back in and check, until she has gone back to sleep without the milk.
I know that you are worried and because you have written that she will cry and scream until she is completely awake. Of course, she wants the milk and you are not giving it to her, so she thinks her only choice of action is to cry. It sounds like crying for it has worked it in the past and that you have given in and given her the milk. So you can be sure that she is going to do those things, because it has for her worked before. You are just going to have to be very strong in that there is no milk, until morning time. Keep going back to check on her, so she knows that there is nothing wrong and everything is fine, but there should be no milk.
Go in to check on her as many times as it takes until she is back to sleep. I know it is tough when you are already tired. I have a tough job when I am asking tired people to be even more tired, but really it is the only way to get to the end of it. Right now, this tunnel you are in, of waking up one to three times a night to offer milk to your toddler is sort of an endless cycle. Who knows when she will decide she no longer needs milk so that would be a tough road to be going down, as well.
By making some changes now, you are going to be more tired in the short term, but there really is no reason why she needs to wake for milk. Once she realizes that it is no longer an option, she will sleep well. The great news is that she can fall asleep without it at bed time, so that is going to start transferring to her night wake-ups quickly. You are going to be in for a few rocky nights, but there is no reason why she cannot just transfer those skills to that night waking as well, and start sleeping right through the night. Hang in there Barbara; work at not giving her that milk.
Thanks a lot for your question. Sleep well!
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