Well, the world is collapsing and so am I!!
Julie and I have been home for 3 weeks (due to COVID-19) and somehow her sleep is even worse and I desperately need a schedule.
She gets tired after only an hour and a half of wake time which is crazy because she’s about to turn 9 months. I try to stretch her awake time and I think she’s so overtired that she does gymnastics in her crib and then only naps for 20 minutes. It's like getting in the crib invigorates her! She will lay on her back for a bit kicking, then stands and mouths the crib, then lays down and pushes her arm through the slats, then puts her head on the mattress and waves her booty around. Sometimes she just sits up waving her paci around and holding a press conference. It's adorable but very odd! I’m just grateful she’s not crying so I don’t go in unless I think she needs me.
I’m supposed to be working from home and while I obviously can’t work while she’s awake, it’s impossible to get anything done in the day when she never sleeps! Lately she's been skipping her third nap of the day -- should I keep trying to put her down for it?
I’m also trying to feed her solids twice a day and struggling to get her to actually eat and I think it’s because she’s always so tired! She's also started waking up between 4 and 5 each morning so I am very tired too!
Erin, mom to Julie, 9 months
As soon as you get used to a routine with a baby, the routine changes.
Babies typically give up the third nap by about 9 months; some a bit sooner. I encourage parents to maintain that third nap as long as possible but at some point, it stops working.
This nap transition is often complicated by the fact that it is occurring at an exciting time, developmentally. This baby is sitting and pulling to stand and babbling, all things that she is excited to practice in her crib, even when she's exhausted. Her lack of interest in solid food right now likely reflects her total exhaustion. It's not a health concern at this age, when it's fine for her to get most of her calories from breastmilk or formula anyway, but it is naturally worrying to her mother.
In the case of this overtired baby, we decided to have her mother put her in the crib for 30-45 minutes each day at 3 or 3:30 so that this single mother has a brief opportunity to work and so that baby can have some quiet time. She hasn't been falling asleep but it's not a problem or a punishment to put a baby in her crib for some time to decompress. It's actually a great opportunity for the baby to practice all her exciting new skills in a safe environment. Luckily she doesn't protest this time out.
We also moved her naps earlier, to 8:30 am and 11:30 am, to try to get her to sleep before she is overtired. And we are striving for a 5 pm bedtime. Occasionally, when her short naps lead to early morning wakings, I have counseled her mother to attempt a third nap in the car.
Normally, I never recommend car naps because naps in motion are never of high quality for older babies and toddlers. But sometimes, when a child is overtired, a nap in motion can help prevent the sleep debt from becoming too great. A mid to late afternoon nap in motion, when she wouldn't be napping in the crib anyway, serves as a bridge to keep her from getting too overtired before her very early bedtime.
We are still working together and finetuning the plan each day, but Julie is gradually -- usually -- lengthening out her two naps a day. Her early morning wakings are improving.
The good news is that this transition, like all transitions with babies, is generally short-lived... even if it feels like it lasts forever. Julie will master the latest set of developmental skills and be more willing to sleep at bedtime again... so the early morning wakings should end. Her body will become more accustomed to only two naps a day and the naps should lengthen out, especially when she doesn't wake up so early in the morning.
It all sounds simple here but when you and your baby are both exhausted, it's hard to troubleshoot successfully. Let me help.
"Ask Me Anything" sessions are just $45 for a fifteen-minute call. During this season of COVID-19, I am offering a special one-week package of sleep support for only $279 (normally it's $379 for two weeks) and additional discounts are available for returning clients. Schedule a free consult today and get your tired family back on track.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.