The Tot Q&A: Kids sleep with Mary Cantwell

Sleep is essential to our health, well being and for our children’s physical and mental growth. Tot Expert & award winning Certified Child Sleep Consultant, Mary Cantwell of Rest to your Nest answers your questions on children’s sleep from infancy to 5 years.⁣

baby sleep questions

Q: How long you should leave your child crying at night?

A: Depending on your child’s age, if they are under 4 months their brain is not fully mature yet to consistently connect sleep cycles so you can practice putting them down drowsy but awake. If they are fussing a bit, see if they can fall asleep on their own. If they start to go to a full out cry, try patting/shushing for a few minutes. If they can’t fall asleep, go ahead and pick up and do what you can do get them to sleep.  For our older set (4mth and older), I would start with a number you feel comfortable with for letting them try to settle (say 5 minutes) and go in to comfort (shush/pat) for about a minute.  I would then add between 2-5 minutes (whatever your comfort level is) to the 5 minutes you first did and go in comfort them again.  On the 5-minute example above, you would do 5, 10, 15 minute intervals for the first 3 check ins and then stay at 15 minutes until asleep.  If you are doing a check in and they are starting to show signs of settling, give it a few more minutes as they may be falling asleep and you go in and might interrupt them doing so.  Good luck…you got this mama!

Q: My baby is 3 months old and will only take 30-40 minute naps. What can I do to help her sleep longer naps?

A: A child’s circadian sleep rhythms (the ability to connect sleep cycles) is not fully mature until 4 months of age.  At 3 months old, she is right at the cusp of being able to consistently connect sleep cycles. A sleep cycle at her age is between 30-45 minutes so she is sleeping one cycle right now. I would practice with her when she wakes up from her first sleep cycle to see if she can try to connect to another one by letting her play or fuss a bit in her crib. If she is ok in her crib, let her see if she can do it. If she starts getting upset, then I would go in and shush/pat/pick up to try to soothe her (try doing this for 10/15 minutes).  This practice is helping her lay the foundation for her to connect her sleep cycles when she is 4 months old!  Good luck!

Q: My 7mth old still wakes up every 1-2 hours for a feeding. He starts sleep anywhere from 9pm to 10pm for 3hrs max in his crib right next to our bed. He has three naps during the day, the first one is nearly two hour, the second is an hour and the third is 45mins. He will also wake up between those naps to nurse and go back to sleep. I consulted my doctor who said this is normal. Should I get a sleep professional?

A: At his age, he should be on a 3 nap schedule which he is so good job! There are certain times during the day that our sleep hormone (melatonin) peaks and this is when you want them taking naps since it is easier to put them down to sleep and they sleep longer (more REM sleep).  The morning nap is typically between 8:30/9:00am (it ranges 1 hr to 1.5 hours), the second nap is typically between 12:30/1:00 (it ranges from 1hr to 1.5hrs and that third nap is between 3:00/4:30pm (the range is 30 minutes to 1 hour) and bedtime is typically between 6:00-7:30pm.  It looks like he may be falling asleep past when his melatonin is high so he is in a lighter sleep mode.  I would try putting him to bed gradually earlier over a week and you should see those wakings decrease over time.  On the feeding front, I would chat with your pediatrician about night feedings. At this age, one feeding can be appropriate at night and after his feed make sure you put him down drowsy but awake so that he is aware he is going back in the crib. If you would like to chat more, I offer a complimentary 15 minute sleep evaluation to answer any questions you may have at RestToYourNest.com.

Q: My daughter is 15 months and she’s starting to fight her afternoon nap. Is it time to drop one nap?  She wakes at 7am and will usually take her first nap around 11am. Bedtime is usually 7:30-8:30pm.

A: The average age to transition to 1 nap is between 13-15 months so she is right on track. I would start moving her over to one nap by slowly pushing back the nap time in 15 minute increments every few days until she is at 12:30. This nap will be average 1.5 to 2.5 hours and bedtime will be 4.5 to 5 hours after that nap. It sounds like she is doing great on the sleep front!

Q: My 2.5 year old seems to be ready to transition out of her naps on days that she is home. She’ll blow past her nap time but sometimes get exhausted and pass out at dinner.  Should we try to keep her awake?  The other challenge is that on preschool days, she is exhausted and sometime wants to pass out before nap time because she’s an early riser and active at school. Is switching back and forth from nap and sleep schedules doable?  On the days where she’s exhausted at school and takes a long nap, she seems to never be tired for bed!  And, will it really ever work out to have both of my girls sharing a room?  If one of them wakes early, will this happen for both? One is 2.5 years and the other is 9 months.

A: A majority of kids keep their nap until 3-3.5 years old (some even keep it until 5!). At her age, she is still in need of a nap so that she can stay rested and not become overtired which causes early morning wake ups and can make it harder for her to fall asleep at the night. I would implement a rest time with her at home during her nap time and make a special Rest Box/Bin that has ‘quiet’ items such as books, blocks, puzzles, coloring books and so on, so that she can only play with these at Rest Time. This ensures that she has something special to look forward to at nap time. I would set a timer for 1hr for her rest time and if she falls asleep, great.  If she doesn’t, at least her body has slowed down, and she has rested it physically. With her naps at school I recommend asking the school to only let her sleep 1.5 hours so that it does not interfere with here going to sleep at night.  On sharing a room, yes, it is possible.  I would wait until baby is sleeping through the night and chat with your 2.5 year old and tell her that her sister might make noise at night and it is absolutely normal and we stay quiet and go back to bed. Keep reviewing and practicing this with her at night and it will become her new normal!

Q: My 6 month old cries for a few minutes basically every time I put them to sleep. They go to sleep on their own after that but will keep crying at every nap and at night time. He seems to know when the sleep routine starts and often cries before I even put him down and I can’t do anything to stop it. I put him down, he cries briefly and goes to sleep on his own.

A: It sounds like you have a nice bedtime/nap routine (nice job!) and he is at an age where he is aware sleep is on the horizon which he is showing us by crying a bit before going down. You guys are way more fun to hang out with then sleep! As he gets older, this will turn into him chatting with himself for a few minutes before falling asleep which is pretty sweet.

Q: My daughter is 22 months old and still wakes up asking for bottles and for mama every hour between 1-5am. She now sleeps in a regular bed.  What can I do to get her sleeping through the night?

A: It sounds like she goes down well at night which is fantastic! Does she get out of her bed and go to your room to get you?  If she is staying in her room and just calling for you, I would start letting her know during your bedtime routine that milk/food is for daytime and night time is for sleeping. You can say something like ‘the kitchen is closed at night‘ so that she can start understanding it.  She is young so you will need to stay consistent with her at night when she wakes up and go in/or say over the microphone on the monitor the same mantra every night (make it your own but an example is ‘It’s Night Night time, I Love you’) when she asks for milk and say the mantra in a calm voice. Also, I am not aware of what time she goes to sleep at night, but the average is between 6:30-7:30 for her age so make sure she is falling asleep on the sleep wave when her sleep hormone (melatonin) is at a peak so she falls asleep easy and in her deep REM Sleep which helps her stay asleep longer.  Also, check with your pediatrician that she no longer needs to eat at night. Good luck!

Q: My 3 year old just started waking at 6am every day. He goes to bed at 7:30pm. Sleeps at night but the early waking is new. He naps for 1.5 hours during the day.

A: He has a good nap and sleeps through the night so he sounds nice and rested…yay!  Does he have an ‘Ok To Wake Clock’ incorporated into his sleep routine? The reason I ask is he may not know it is early in the morning.  I would get a clock and practice with him before going to bed so when the clock turns yellow (or whatever color it turns for official wake up time) that it is morning time. He may wake the first few days before it goes off so wait until clock turns the right color and then go in and make a big deal about the color which means its morning time. I would start with a reasonable wake time from where he is now (try 6:15) so that he feels like he can do it.  Keep it up and he will go back to sleep a bit longer!

Q: I have a 4 month old who will only sleep while being rocked/held for naps (he is able to put himself to sleep at night). Any tips for best way to sleep train for napping in the crib?  What is an ideal sleeping schedule at this age?

A: He is putting himself to sleep at night (fantastic to hear!) which is a sign that he has it in him to fall asleep for naps and you need to practice with him during the day. The drive to sleep is more at night so when you see that he can put himself to sleep consistently at night this will start translating over to the daytime. The easiest nap to start practicing falling asleep is the first nap as it is an extension of our REM sleep from the night before. After your nap routine, shut the lights off, walk him around the room for a few minutes to relax him and then lay him down in the crib drowsy but awake and see if he can put himself to sleep. If he is just fussing a bit, let him try to settle himself. If he escalates and starts crying, then go shush/pat to comfort and then step back to see if he can fall asleep.  I would try this for a 10/15 minutes and if he can’t fall asleep go ahead and do what you need to do try to fall asleep.  Keep practicing this with him and over a few weeks he will eventually be able to put himself to sleep.  An ideal schedule would be: you would shoot for 3 naps – with the morning nap at 8:30/9:00am, afternoon nap at 12:/12:30pm and third nap between 3 :00/4:30pm and bedtime between 6:00pm-7:30pm depending on duration and quality of naps.

Q: My 3 year old no longer naps during the day, goes to bed at 7:30pm and has started waking up at least once overnight, needing one of us to get him back to bed.  He wakes in the morning at 6am and use to sleep 7:30pm-7:00am through the night!  Should I be putting him to bed later?

A: A great question and your little guy has a great sleep foundation! He is old enough to start having a Sleep Rules Chart and to incorporate an ‘Ok To Wake Clock’ into his routine so he know what time morning is. I would get poster board and make a Sleep Rules Chart for your son, so he knows what to expect on the sleep front.  We want to keep it simple and age appropriate. An example of this would be 1.  We read 2 books, brush teeth and close our eyes to sleep 2.  If we wake a night, we stay quiet and go back to sleep 3. We wake when the Ok To Wake turns yellow (or whatever color it is).  I would get him involved with making it and have fun with it!  The night you start with the Chart, I would do a practice run with him, go through the chart, get in bed, have the clock go off so he knows what to do.  Keep going through thee rules at night and in the morning and over a week he will be sleeping like a champ!

Q: My almost 6 month old constantly wakes for his pacifier, should we get rid of it or wait it out another month when he can grab for it on is own in the crib?

A: If the pacifier is soothing him, I would keep it but in the meantime practice with him when he spits it out by patting the crib mattress so he starts grabbing for it, once he has it, guide it back to his mouth but with him holding it. If he uses it during the day, do the same and let him practice with you so when he is old enough to grab it this will be something he is used to doing.

Q: Our 2.5 year old goes to bed easily but three or four nights a week will wake up crying asking for some milk. We don’t think she’s actually hungry because she eats through the day. She also naps for about 1.5-2 hours. Is she napping too much?  Bedtime is 7:30/8pm and she wakes around 6am.  Naps are usually 12:30-2ish. Sometimes it takes over an hour to get back to sleep. We don’t take her out of the crib and keep the light off when we go in to check her.

A: For her age, naps are typically 1.5 to 2 hours and bedtime is 7:00/7:30pm so she is good from that perspective.  It sounds like she is getting up during the lighter time of sleep as more of a habit and she is putting herself back to sleep on her own which is really good. You should incorporate into your bedtime routine a chat that night time is for sleep and not eating (say something like ‘the kitchen is closed until morning‘).  If she wakes at night, encourage her to hug her lovey and go back to sleep.  She is a bit young for an Ok To Wake Clock but if she knows her color well, I would start using one so that when she wakes and it is still dark in her room she knows to go back to bed which will help her tremendously.  As anything with kiddos, stay consistent with her and she will be sleeping well soon!

Q: WO can’t day nap without pacifier and cries every time it falls out. Tips to get her to sleep without it?  Slowly removing it never works.

A: Congratulations on your new addition! On the paci, are you trying to get rid of it for all sleep?  If you are looking to keep it but want to work on her not waking up once it falls out, I would see if she can fall asleep without it.  So, once it comes out, if she is just fussing, let’s give her to opportunity to see if she can put herself to sleep.  If she starts to cry, she is not old enough yet to self soothe consistently so at her age I would re insert it for her.  In a few weeks when she is around 7-8 WO, her development will keep maturing and she will be able to possibly hold onto it throughout the whole nap or be able to sleep through it falling out.  Keep up the great work of laying a strong foundation of sleep for your little one.

Q: Our 3 yr old wakes multiple times in the night/calling our names and asking for water. Goes to bed around 8pm, naps sometimes, and wakes up for the day at 6am. We use white noise keep the room dark, use a projector etc. 

A: The sleep environment sounds pretty good and the only thing I would change/remove is the use of a projector through the night and to take it out of his room.  My assumption is the projector, projects stars or something cute on thee wall or ceiling.  If you use light of any sort at night, you want to use a regular night light with a red or orange hue.  Orange and red-light helps promote the sleep hormone (melatonin) and the other hues such as blue or green suppress the production of the sleep hormoneOn the days that he naps, shoot for bedtime around 7:30/7:45 and on the days he does not shoot for 7:00/7:15 so that he does not go to bed overtired which leads to night waking.  Good luck!

Q: My 4 month old Sage sleeps alright at night but we struggle with naps. I’ve got him napping 2 to 3 times a day but naps can vary from thirty minutes to 3 hours.He often has to be held which is making him want to be held at night. He sleeps in Dockatot in my bed for nursing convenience.  What advice do you have for a more streamlined sleep routine? Any particular method you recommend? Thank you!

A: At 4 months, he would be on 3 naps a day which he is! Since he currently is in bed for sleep, he may be waking up more then intended since you both may be bumping into each other by accident. I would start trying to have him sleep in a separate sleep space in your room such as a bassinet, side sleeper or a crib and I would start this at first at bedtime since our drive to sleep is greater at night.  For a sleep routine, I would change his diaper, put on a sleep sack, nurse and burp him, and then walk him around the room in the dark until he is relaxed a bit and then lay him down drowsy but awake. The following day starts with naps and over time all his sleep will be there and this will be his new normal. You have got this!

Q: My 6 month old wakes earlier and earlier each day. He has moved his wake up time from 7 to 5 over the last few weeks. Why?? Is there any way to get back to 7am wake up?

A: Has there been any change in his schedule from when he was previously sleeping until 7am?  Please let me know so we can see if something is off on his sleep schedule.  Also, it’s getting lighter earlier lately so be sure to have blackout shades on the windows which helps him from inadvertently waking up too early.

Q: How can I get my 2.5 year old to stay in her bed throughout the night? Every night I read her a book, put her to sleep at 7:30/8 and between 11-1 she wakes to come to my room to sleep with my husband and I.  She co-slept for almost 2 years and we have a second baby coming in less then a month and no end in sight to getting her to sleep through the night. She’s potty trained if that makes a difference. We use the times she wakes up too take her to the bathroom and she finishes sleeping with us until the morning.

A: Congratulations on your upcoming addition!  You have a nice bedtime routine and she goes down well for the night.  She is old enough to have a simple Sleep Rules Chart and have guidelines on what to expect on the sleep front.  Let’s get a poster board to make a simple sleep rules chart and incorporate an Ok To Wake Clock.  Simple rules to are 1.  We read 2 books, brush our teeth and close our eyes for sleep, 2.  We don’t wake anyone in the house that is sleeping, 3. We wake when the Ok To Wake Clock turns yellow (or whatever the color is for wake time).  The first night you put up the chart, I would do a practice run with her, go through the bedtime routine, read the rules, shut off lights for a few minutes and have the clock come on so she knows how it’s going to go the first night.  Over a week or so of consistently incorporating her chart she will be sleeping well!  If you’d like more guidance, I offer a complimentary 15 minute sleep evaluation to answer any questions you may have and how I support families at RestToYourNest.com.  Congrats again!

Q: Our 2yo (26 mths) does not self soothe and we have given her and attempted everything. Crying out has not been successful and can result in her getting sick. She cries for 15/30 minutes before nap, then naps in the crib.  At bedtime, she either goes down immediately or has the same pattern. However, she’ll wake between 11pm-2am hysterical and goes back to sleep if in bed with me.  She will then sleep until 6:30/7.  We are diligent with routines, low stimulation before bed etc. We need her to learn to self sooth and sleep through the night.  Help and thank you!

A: You have laid a great foundation and sleep environment for her which shows in her being able to put herself to sleep and self sooth for naps and at bedtime. We just need it to translate this to her night waking.  When she wakes at night I would look at picking a method that you feel comfortable with her trying to put herself to sleep (looks like you wait 15/30 minutes for nap time so you can try this on night waking since this is what she is used to) and go check in on her and comfort her by shushing/patting but keep it brief.  I would continue to do this until she falls asleep in her crib.  This will be different from her current routine so be consistent with her and over time she will start putting herself back to sleep soon enough!

Q: My 2 year old would fall asleep on her own and now needs us to sit with her every night. She is in a toddler bed and will scream if we leave the room.

A: I am guessing she fell asleep previously on her own and this is something more recent.  After bedtime routine, I would tuck her in and say to her ‘Mom needs to go potty really quick and be right back to check on her.’  Then leave the room to go to the bathroom and come right back.  The next night say ‘I need to go turn the oven off’ (or check the washing machine-any excuse works) but take a few minutes extra to go back in. Every night over a week have a reason to leave and then extend your time to come check on her.  Over time when you come back in to check on her, she will inadvertently fall asleep on her own.