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2.5 year-old still not sleeping


Our IVF daughter is 2.5 and has NEVER slept through the night. This is our only child and we are both 45.
Her mother sleeps in the same room as her, and lays with her to get her to sleep each night at 8:30 and each time she wakes, before moving to the mattress on the floor. This can be as much as three times during the night.
I get up every time and get the bottle and change the nappy, and then her mother lays with her.

We've tried the methods that everyone likes to share, such as, watering down the milk, giving her less, changing it to water, changing it to a sipper cup, etc. Our daughter gets hysterical with crying when such measures are taken. And, I mean uncontrollable sobbing and tears and choking for over two hours, and we then cave in. Having a child that distressed at 1AM in the morning for two hours is not something you can extend for three or more hours.

Now, to make it even worse, she is waking and screaming and will not tell us what the problem is. Nothing placates her until I become a nasty father who has to smack her hand hard and yell loudly at her tell me what the problem is or stop crying. I am then banished from the bedroom and she slowly calms down - with her mother sleeping in the bed with her as always. I feel horrible for doing it, but ...

My wife's family are of no intelligent help. My mother thinks I am pushing a two-year-old too hard and that there's nothing wrong with our daughter waking for milk and that she is probably having nightmares and I am a horrible person for smacking her at anytime let alone at 1AM in the morning. "Besides, she never does this with me when she stays at my house."

As a self-employed person working from home and travelling a lot for business, the sleep deprivation is not only troublesome personally, but is affecting my work performance which is placing a financial burden on us, as well. Especially, considering the economy in the last two years.

During the day she is a very well-mannered, well-disciplined 2.5 year-old. She is now going to Kindy from 8:30AM to 3:30PM every Thursday and Friday (3 weeks now) and they say she is a delight and the favourite at the centre. They tell us she won't eat much, and doesn't really sleep at the centre, either. But that her behaviour is exemplary.

We had to drive her to get her to sleep both day and night times for nearly two years.

I've poured over forums like this for weeks and when we try the examples of deprivation and controlled crying, they do not work - in so far as we give in after two hours of hysterical crying. In the middle of the night I defy anyone to allow their daughter to be hysterical non-stop for longer than two hours.

I'm writing this at 2:20AM on a Saturday night after another 1AM wake-up of screaming for no reason and not telling us what is making her cry.

[Modified by: RicW on 22 May 2010 17:24:21 ]


  • By the way, this is our only child and we are both 45.
  • I prob. won't be much help as I don't have a troubled sleeper myself but didn't want to read and run as it sounds like you're at our wits end.

    First off, I agree with your wife, please don't smack her hand or yell at her. I'm guessing this is a learned behaviour for your daughter. The way she sleeps is "normal" for her, it's all she knows and doesn't understand why she can't have milk as she's always had it. I'm sure you prob. do feel bad but I'm guessing it has to do alot with desperation on your part which I can understand. Sleep deprivation does horrible things to peoples minds. I'm 36 and need my sleep too so when my 2 yo is up a few times a night, I feel it.

    Is your dd in a toddler bed? if not, is it a good time to transition her to one? If you do, get her involved in choosing the bed, the linens, redecorate her room etc. and make a big deal about it and tell her what a big girl she is now.

    Do you change her nappy each time she wakes up? If so, I'd stop it as it's prob. waking her more or do you do it because it's so saturated from all the milk? Most healthy 2 yo's shouldn't need a change overnight...

    This is prob. more advice for an infant but have you tried singing to her when she wakes or just rubbing her back and telling her in a calm soft voice to go back to sleep?

    lastly, have you considered professional help ie. sleep testing... A friend of mine has had to bring her 2 yo son to a sleep centre for testing as he was having problems and it turns out he has some sort of sleep apnea for which he is being treated.

    I don't know what else to say but it is good to hear she behaves well during the day - I'm sure she is a sweet little girl.
  • Hi,I did not want to read and run,but I will not be much help to you.
    I can only state what probably other people have said-that association with night time waking for milk and her mumj lying next to her to get her to sleep must break or she will never learn to self settle and u will not get a peacefull night sleep till she is in her teens.
    As hard as it is,at 2,5 years old night time is for sleeping,not waking for milk and unless haevily soiled not even changing a nappy.I can only suggets establishing a firm but kind bedtime routine,explainning to your lo that this is how thing will be done from now on and sticking to it.Bath,story and a good night in her own bed,not lying next to mummy,because she will only look for her again when she stirs at night.Then either using controlled crying or gradual retreat,BUT doing it consistently and starting firmly at bedtime,as you cannot expect her to fall asleep with mummy in the evening but selfsettle later at night alone.When coming to comfort her,say only the same and exact words-for example-GOOD NIGHT,ITS TIME TO SLEEP NOW.Nothing else,and under no circumstances offer milk or anything else.If she is sick calmly clean it up and give no extra attention and carry on with the routine.
    It will be hard,very hard,but probably harder for u than for her.The screaming and crying will continue for maybe even 2 weeks before she finally learns to sleep through BUT u will be better of as a family.Lack of sleep must be taking its toll on her as well plus all that milk at night could be affecting her apetite during the day.
    All the best.
  • hi i cant really offfer cant advice but my daughter of 2 has never slept through either. I wnat to share my experience though which may make you feel better.
    From 4 weeks old daisy would wake for a 1 am feed and never be able to settle back to sleep she wa slater diagnosed with silent reflux and was in lots of pain till she was 13 months old. I was advised NOT to do controlled crying and have never been able to leave the room and let her fall to sleep. we held her till she was about a year and then sat cotside hand holding. she has come into our bed every single night since was 4 weeks old as this does settle her back quicker. and also gets me back to sleeo quicker.
    I too have poured over forumns and books looking for sleep answers that doesnt include crying until they are frightened and sick. And im afraid it doesnt exsist. HOWEVER this is something i am not prepared to do. You should never attempt controlled crying unless you are going to follow it through and be consistant with it. if you cave in you have put your child through 2 hours of upset for nothing and you will make her even more confused and insecure. Every time i have tried to keep my daughter in her bed for days at a time i have made myself ill, becouse instead of having broken sleep i have NO sleep my partner has little sleep and daisy has little sleep. I have now come to terms with the fact that i have a child that really struggles to sleep particuarlly without me but is it really that big a deal???? Co sleeping works for us and it also works for lots of other families . I am hoping that when she gets older and we cann reason with her that she will be able to sleep easier on her own. many many mothers i have spoken to have told me their children were the same until they were 5. since i have adopted this more relaxed approach she goes to sleep in her own bed abot 9 pm with me or her dad holding her hand or sometimes i get in with her. she normally wakes about 1 and i get her and she comes in with me. she always asks for juice which i give her (not great for the teeth but it is def a comfort thing as she wont settle without it) and 5 nights out of 7 she will go back to sleep. we normally get 2 really bad nights a week which i cannot explain the crying.
    So i am not here to tell you to co sleep, but what i had to do was come up with an alternative to what the majority of people were suggesting i do. with a combination of just accepting what was happening and putting her in her own bed we are all sleeping more. Sleep deprivation can make you ill and doubt everything you do as a parent let alone everything else in your life.
    couple of suggestions though . i cannot see the point in both parents getting no sleep. why are you changing nappy and milk. it would be far better for you to take turns alternate shifts or nights . my partner works full time so i do most of care in night if needed and he takes a turn at weekend. I agree with the others about the nappy changeing it shouldnt really be nessesary to change nappy but now and then i too have to change my daughters as she drinks loads of juice befor and during night. Also the smacking hand thing has got to stop in my opinion. We smack out of frustration but you need to find another way. I have found that as parents we need to agree with all desions made and this is obviously upsetting your wife. I think if my partner did this i would end up resenting him. So you are not the only parent in the world with a child thta doesnt sleep well but it does get better and in my experience as soon as i accepted her fir what she was instaed of wishing she would change.
    Good luck hope you get some answers
  • hi
    my daughter was 2 in Feb so a similar age. She has slept through the night ONCE in her life...

    Its my own fault as I have never left her to cry. She was a premmie and I think I have wrapped her in cotton wool as seeing her struggle at birth still haunts me. Anyhow, back to your problem..

    I have to say, smacking never works, less so at 1am. It will only make your child cry more and you to feel like a shit. I have smacking..totally cannot abide it. It should be banned worldwide! One smack can lead to another and another and, well. do I need to go on! Sleep deprivation is bloody hard to deal with. I can sympathise with you there. I have 5 children and know how hard it is to face a day after a night of no sleep.

    I think you need to sit down with your wife and make a pact to 'help' your daughter to sleep better. I cannot tell you what this is as I dont have the magic answer (hence my own toddler not sleeping).

    I do however think our reasons are similar. Your daughter was IVF and therefore I presume came after a lot of heartache. You therefore did anything you could to make her happy and let her know how much you love her? My daughter was a premmie and I too indulged her more than I normally do when they are little.

    Could you try this method

    put her to sleep as always
    when she wakes your wife to go in and settle her.
    The mattress your wife sleeps on gets moved 5 foot towards the door each night.
    This goes on till it is out the door on the hall and eventually not there at all?/

    failing that, just go back to what you were doing? Your wife sleeping with your daughter? If it ain't broke, why fix it. My first born (now 19) was a awful sleeper. By the age of 4 she was a great sleeper and prefered her own bed and her own room. Dont despair as one day you will find you cant get them out of bed before midday!

    Please though, dont yell or smack your child. You need to talk to your GP as sleep depravation can cause all sorts of problems. Remember 2 year olds dont upset us on purpose. They are little innocent children who dont have the capability to be so cunning that they purposely upset us. She is obviously genuinly upset at night and just want reassurance that all is OK.

    Good luck and remember your daughter loves you more than anything in the world.

    d x
  • Oh I can sympathise with you. My little guy is almost 2 1/2 and has never slept through although he has come close a few times. We don't agree with controlled crying as it serves no purpose..he is crying for a reason.

    I do agree with everything others above have said and would like to offer up another suggestion. Has she always been unsettled in the night so badly or has it got worse at any point? I say this because my son was pretty ok sleeper as a baby but gradually got worse from the age of 1, and we were giving him milk to settle him every time he woke.

    It turns out that he is milk protein intolerant and so of courfse every time he had milk when he woke unsettled, the bottle comforted him and he settle dbut then the next lot of milk was upsetting his tummy so he'd wake again. He wasn't so bad as a baby because he was mix fed up to 5 months and then formula fed solely and formula stage 1 is very low in milk protein but once he hit 1 and we were giving him more and more cows milk and follow on toddler milk he was getting more milk protein and getting more unsettled. Finally got him diagnosed earlier this year and switched him to milk protein free diet and oat milk and...well he doesn't sleep through yet but we have seen improvements.. course the teething and eczema and asthma don't help witht he sleeping but the milk protein was definately the main problem.

    Hope that helps
  • Hi,

    i'm sorry you're having such a hard time. I don't really have any suggestions about how to encourage sleeping but do have an alternative to smacking for you. When my siblings and I were crying uncontrollably and couldn't catch our breath my mum would take us to the bathroom and sit us on the toilet seat or edge of the bath, wet a flannel in freezing cold water and hold it to our foreheads then calmly and gently tell us to take deep breaths and calm down. Honestly it worked every time and even now when I get really upset I find cold water splashed on my face a real comfort and very calming. Good luck and I hope you get her sleeping soon.

  • I wish I had some advice that you'd like and appreciate.. but I don't.

    If you've been driving your daughter in the car for 2years or having her mum sleeping next to her then youve just created a massive problem for yourselves. You've taught her that she needs these cues to sleep, and it will not be easy to fix esp aged 2 1/2. Please don't think she is being difficult, or naughty, she's only doing what you have taught her.

    I'm ready and waiting to be shot down in flames but I think you need somebody to be honest with you. I think that you could either continue with your wife sleeping in with her, as somebody else mentioned, I think you've gotten your daughter into the habbit of needing mummy there, you're going to have to either continue what you've started or go through very difficult sleep training of some sort to fix this. If you continue co-sleeping now, you could wait until your daughter is much older and able to communicate better and has a better understanding, before trying to get her to self settle and sleep independently.

    Your daughter at 2 1/2 doesn't need milk through the night, and surely not out of a bottle? And she should be able to go through the night without nappy changes at this age!? Let her grow up, make the changes from baby to toddler and let her know what a good clever girl she is and how grown up she is, the more mature she feels and more independent you allow her to be, the better the results you'll get in other areas such as sleeping I believe.

    I can imagine how hard she cries and how much she gets worked up when left to cry, the longer you leave it to do things like CC the harder it gets, and the worse the reaction from the child the older they are. I appreciate that you'd not feel comfortable doing this, I don't think I would either. Therefore I'd say don't start it, ie, the letting her cry... and then give in. this will confuse her, give her mixed messages and take you round in circles. Hearing the crying will get you frustrated and tired and isn't going to help anybody. Please don't smack her, I can see you're frustrated if she's not speaking out about whats upsetting her, but a smack won't make her give you an answer. She'll be crying out of tiredness more than likely, she'll probably want to sleep, but can't do this without her mummy beside her as it's what you've taught her.

    I think you would get the best advice from your GP, he'd be able to refer you to a sleep specialist who could give you the help needed to break these bad habbits. otherwise I think jo frost aka supernanny would sort you out no problem! (just kidding!)

    It may be worth talking to her during the day about nighttimes. just gently chatting about what she likes/doesn't like. Find out if she is frightened sleeping alone, find out if she likes mummy there. Explain that one day she should sleep in bed on her own like a big girl, and see how she responds. Nothing might come of this, but speaking about it at day time and explaining to her what should happen at bedtime/nightime when you're all awake and happy, could make the nights just that little bit easier.

    Some form of sleep training should work but I would recommend getting some help with this and not going it alone, because it WILL be very hard.

    good luck to you, I hope eventually you crack it. xx

  • I know lots of people ahve offered advice as your not alone. Our daughter didnt start sleeping through until 13months, this was still on and off at times. I think we can all say that we have all made mistakes which we would change if we had another. From your posts I will bullet the amin points which need changing. Sometimes I think it is easier for someone to tell you what you need to do.
    - get rid of the milk. Give her milk before bed and wehn she wakes up, nothing in between.
    - dont change the nappy
    - dont tell her off at night time. She is probably crying out of frustration that she cant sleep.
    - personally i would stop your wife sleeping with her
    - discuss with your wife a routine with roughly set times and stick to it. You daughter will then feel in routine too.

    Could you just give us an insight into her average bedtime routine.

    1) Give her milk before bed in a beaker. I tend to give my daughters to her warm. Dont give in and give her anything during the night, she needs to learn she doesnt need it for comfort.
    2) dont change her nappy. If she is wearing a night time nappy the right size she can wearing it all night without it being changed. Changing her nappy will awake her even more. I rememeber doing this when we tried to figure out wy she was crying.
    3) does she have a favoutie teddy that she has that she can snuggle up to?
    3) Im not 100% sure where this mattress is. Does your lo have her own cotbed/cot to sleep in. Pop her in the cotbed with the milk, teddy next to her under a blanket or whatever you've have been using. Turn the light off so she knows its bedtime, but leave a light or something outside her door so there is some light and not complete darkness. When she has finished her milk, lie her down and pat her back, maybe sing to her eg. twinkle twinkle, baa baa black sheep or a soothing song/rhythm. then whisper shhh to her. When we transfered our daughter to her own room we had problems with her getting to sleep. I used to stay in her room untill I knew she was sound asleep then slowly creep out on my hands and knees! Making sure i had left the door open enough (we did have some creeky floorbaords which didnt help. I also lay on the floor next to her cot so she could see me. I would close my eyes enough that she thought they were closed but i could peek out.
    The idea that someone suggested about the mattress next to her and moving it away is a good one too.
    4) Routine like someone else mentioned is good as its a routie for you but also your daughter needs to know what happens next. I dont bath my daughter every night but some do. Decide what time tea is, time for bath, time for getting ready for bed if no bath. Read her a story, put her to bed with milk etc. I always get my daughter ready for bed in her bedroom with the lights on dim. I then send my husband to get the milk.
    If you she cries in the night, just stand over her and pat her back and say shh. No eye contact and no other talking. This is telling her that its bed time.

    I have a book that states that cc is no use at this age. I never used it because our dd used to end up crying so much she would be sick.

    I will try and find it and let you know what it recommends.

    Like Sooky says, you need to be firm, yes it will be hard, but it need to be done to break the habits that you ahve now found yourselves in.. Ifn you work from home. Give you wife some peace when your work scehdule is over to catch up on on some rest.

    I noticed you posted on sat, please do let us know how things are going. Lovely ladies on here to offer advice. We know its hard as lots of us have been there too. It can only get better image I like the idea of a cold flannel when crying....
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