Health,  Lifestyle,  Parenting

Sleep Deprived Mama vs Insomniac Toddler

I need my sleep. Not as much as I used to, but I still need to sleep. If I could have a solid four hours in a row I would be quite happy. Still tired, but able to function. My daughter never sleeps, therefore I never sleep. This needed to change. It was time to battle. Sleep deprived mama vs insomniac toddler. Who would win?

I have wittered on a lot about the fact that my daughter, Molly, is a terrible sleeper. She is two and a half now and we must have had about a handful of times she has slept through the night. If that!

There have been a few things (for example illness and night terrors) that have contributed to Molly’s night time waking but I won’t go into detail about them because I have previously written about them.

My problem is that I cannot pin her night time restlessness on one of these reasons. She often wakes for hours in the night, for no explainable reason. I can tell she is tired but she just cannot settle back down.

After two and a half years of sleep deprivation, it was time to try and find a solution for what I could only describe as Molly’s insomnia. Luckily, there were a series of sleep workshops starting in my local area and my brilliant health visitor thought I was a perfect candidate for referral.

Though I felt like I had tried everything I possibly could to help Molly sleep better at night, I went into the workshop with an open mind.

There were a lot of really good tips and advise being thrown about. Such as:

  • No screen time after a certain time – both television and tablets
  • Stop naps after 3pm
  • No sugary food or drink before bedtime
  • Have a calm bedroom environment – no TV or ‘blue lights’ which may disturb sleep, toys should be put away so the child isn’t tempted to play with them
  • Use a nightlight / don’t use a nightlight – depending on what the child currently does
  • Have a consistent bedtime routine – e.g. bath, story, bed…
  • Get enough physical activity during the day so the child is tired out and ready for bed – not in the hour or so before bed though as it might wake them up

These pieces of advise were fantastic but they were things we had already adopted into our routine. So far the session wasn’t proving to be of any use to me…

The session leaders wanted to discuss routine in more detail.  I was about to switch off completely. I had never had trouble getting Molly to bed so we didn’t need to work on her bedtime routine.

However, it turned out they weren’t talking about bedtime routines, they were talking about daytime routines.  I didn’t know what Molly’s daytime routine had to do with her night time restlessness but I was intriqued. Suggestions made included:

Daytime routine should be more structured

  • Get up at the same time every day (including weekends), even if it means waking the child up
  • Have breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at the same time
  • Don’t let the child nap after 3pm – Or maybe not at all if they are anything like Molly. Even the shortest of naps during the day and we are looking at somewhere between 9pm – 10pm before she shows signs of being tired
  • Complete daily activities so the child isn’t bored – go out walking, to the park, messy play etc
  • Make use of a reward chart – not necessarily for good/bad behaviour, but kind of like a checklist. You could tick things off the chart when completed. E.g. you could tick off that you have eaten breakfast, completed an activity, had a snack etc with the aim being that the child knows what to expect during the day

Have Supper

  • Give the child a supper of ‘sleepy foods’ before bed in case they are waking up hungry
  • Sleepy foods are foods that contain melatonin and tryptophyn e.g.
    • Bananas
    • Oats
    • Dairy – cheese and milk
    • Wholegrain crackers or bread
    • Turkey or chicken
    • Beans
    • Green leafy vegetables
    • None sugary cereal
    • Rice
    • Pure cherry juice

Complete relaxing activities in the run up to bed time

  • Bath time – This will depend on your child. Bath time used to be relaxing for Molly but now she sees it as play time. We cannot get Molly to go to sleep with a routine of bath, story and then sleep time. She likes to come downstairs after her bath
  • Crafts that require concentration but nothing that will wake them up
  • Reading
  • Hand eye coordination activities such as threading beads and jigsaws

Bedtime should be structured and regimented (to a certain extent):

  • Bedtime routine should be consistent so the child doesn’t become confused – e.g. bath time, then a story, then it is time to sleep, all at the same time each night
  • Be firm when telling the child that you will read one/two stories and then it is time to sleep – don’t say you will only read one story to the child and then allow them another. If you think your child will want more than one story, say they can have two stories before going to sleep. It is whatever will work for you but you have to stick to what you have said to your child
  • Instead of offering cuddles and having idle chit chat with the child when it is sleep time, you should place your hand on the child’s head when leaving their bedroom and say, “sleep time now”. Nothing else, just that and then leave the room
  • Every time the child wakes up at night you should put them back in bed, put your hand on their head and say,  “sleep time now”. No idle chit chat, just leave the room
    • If your child is anything like mine this will be really difficult. Molly will constantly get out of bed and have a tantrum until she gets her own way. In the past I have given in and sat with her in her bedroom or have taken her down stairs because I didn’t want her waking daddy up when he has to be up early for work.
    • All these night time cuddles are detrimental to both myself and Molly. If she screams and I come running with a cuddle she will learn that screaming results in cuddles with mummy. I have a huge issue in denying my child a cuddle when she wants one but I think I am just going to have to toughen up with this one (sob sob weep weep)..


Those were the tips I came away from the workshop with. What do you think?

I know they sound quite regimented and way too structured but for children with sleep problems like Molly, where every other option has been exhausted, it may be the only option.

If the rigid daytime structure works it could be slowly relaxed over time. If the child starts getting back in to bad night time sleeping habits, the routine could become more regimented again.

I must say I was quite hesitant to put these changes into motion but it is for the best. As of yet I havent been as regimented with the tips as I need to be. Probably because I hate structure (i’m more of a spur of the moment type of person) but because of things like illness etc getting in the way.

I will be putting these into place though to see how we get on. We all need to start getting a decent amount of sleep, and Molly also has quite a fiery temper so a structured daytime routine could help with behaviour issues too.

I am assured by the leaders of the sleep workshop that it will be really hard, but if I am strict and stick with the new routine we should have cracked it within two to four weeks.

What do you think about these ideas? What is your bedtme routine? Do you have any other tips I could try? I look forward to hearing some more tips.


Sam x



You can also find me blogging at Serenely Sam

Two Tiny Hands


  • Donna

    I’ve always thought mine are just good sleepers, but I suppose to an extent all those tips are things we do. Michael always had to have a routine in the day time, because I worked. So then we just carried it on.

    It’s not super strict, but we do generally do activities at similar times, and they always eat at roughly the same time.

    I’ve said it before, but I really don’t know how you cope

    • stressymama

      I need to be stricter with routines – but it’s difficult because Molly can be like a live wire at times! Tonight for example, daddy was putting her to bed while I did my online course but she was kicking off because she wanted mummy, crying that much that she ended up being sick everywhere. 😤😤😤

      There always seems to be something that takes us away from planned routines, no matter how hard we try.

      I’ll give this new routine more of a go and see how we get on.. haha

  • Lisa | Pass The Prosecco Please

    I think you have just got to do what works for you – every mum will have an opinion and it winds me up – I was always told no cuddles in the night if he wakes up – I always have and he always settled quickly after. I was strict and he has never slept in our bed, night time was always 7pm to 7am, we have had good nights and bad nights, we just do our best. Stay strong mama! #marvmondays

    • stressymama

      Not giving her cuddles at night will be hard.. I worry that she will wonder why mummy doesn’t want to cuddle her and feel abandoned or something.. I will probably give in and cuddle her.. but then I guess it is back to square one. I think this is going to be harder for me than her to be honest haha

  • Kaye

    It’s such a difficult one as every child is so different. I thought I’d have a clue with my second after getting my first sleeping fairly well but he’s entirely breastfed and wakes every 2 hours so far; the same things we did with his brother just don’t work for him!

    I hope you get some much needed sleep; these are tips I’ll try to implement as my littlest gets older as my eldest does thrive with routine.

    Thanks for linking to #MarvMondays. Kaye xo

  • stressymama

    Thank you. I just hope this works because I’m out of options after this ha.

  • Kimberly - Media Mummy

    Ugh Sam this is so hard. I don’t know how you’ve coped for so long! I hate to say it, and there are people who don’t agree with it, but we cried it out with M twice – and it worked. Once when he was a baby (I know!) and the second time when we took away his comforters at night and he was 2 1/2. It’s really hard, and you have to be mentally ready, but normally only takes 3 or 4 nights of hell and then it clicks. You’re the boss, and you need sleep to be the best you can be the next day! I worked on SuperNanny back in the day, it helped too 🙂 x

    • stressymama

      I could use a super nanny right about now.. I would try the cry it out thing with molly but the problem is that she has a really bad gag reflex and when she cries too much she is sick.. the last thing I need at 2am when she is refusing to sleep is to be changing bedding.. I really hope this strict routine works. Thank you Kimberly. X

  • Alison (MadHouseMum)

    I really feel for you. Tiredness is like an illness and it’s a viscous circle, because in order to enforce the routine you need to be strong and to be strong you need sleep. Ignore anyone who says to indulge in the cuddles, because they are not you. They are not feeling how you are feeling. Whenever you follow a well planned and well meant process it will take very little time if you persevere. Compare this with months more of no sleep – it’s a no-brainer! It will be hard, but you have to be hard to be kind. You are being kind to Molly, as well as yourself. Good luck. Alison x #FamilyFun

    • stressymama

      Thank you. I think I agree with the being hard to be kind. We’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked and it will be of benefit to us all in the long run..

  • Angela Watling

    We’ve use a lot of these approaches for my daughter’s sleeping. But she is naturally inclined to routine like her mum and her dad so when we was younger it was never a particular battle for us fortunately. Well, getting her to bed. She woke in the night about 75% of night until about 20/21 months old. So I can relate a little to what you’re experiencing.

    Ultimately you have to go with what feels right to you. If you feel anxious about doing something then Molly will pick up on it and that will set things off on a bad note. If you feel you need to be a bit more regimented then you could introduce things slowly. One thing that does work for us is doing something similar to the hand on the head / “sleep time now”. But we have cuddles before that. I couldn’t not have cuddles. If she gets upset in the night she gets cuddles but if she kicks-off just because (rather than she’s ill or scared etc) then I stop giving as many cuddles etc each time I go in. I hate doing it, but a few times recently she has been so unreasonable at bedtime that I have just left her having a crying tantrum in her room. It really stressed me out, but going in her scream even more so we had to ride it out. After a few days she grumbled and grizzled and then a few days after that she seemed to move on.

    We do always get her up at more-or-less the same time. She also has standard routine we follow most days. She does sleep past 3pm at the moment but we get outside in the morning and the afternoon for a run around. I notice on the days we skip and afternoon walk or garden play that she is harder to get to sleep.

    Sorry, that was a bit long and rambly. But just trying to say we’ve done a bit of everything based on each reaction. When she’s genuinely upset, the rules get put aside and she gets cuddles and mummy or daddy sitting with her.

    Just try some things and see what you are comfortable with and what works. My only single piece of advice would be to pick something and stick to it for at least a week unless it causes real distress to one or both of you. It seems to take babies and toddlers at least a week to adjust from my experience.

    I’ll stop writing now… Good luck! #FamilyFun

    • stressymama

      Thank you Angela, this is great. I think Molly needs a strict and regimented routine, but in the past when we have tried to change things something always seems to get in the way (illness or something). I can’t really let her cry it out though because she gets herself so worked up and ends up being sick..

      I like your advice of introducing things slowly. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop the cuddles either if I’m honest. What you said about having cuddles if she is upset but cutting them down if they are crying for the sake of it is fab advice. I will be doing that from now on..

      Thank you again x

  • Karen | TwoTinyHands

    I liked reading your replies. It shows almost everyone is in a similar boat. I still feed mine to sleep and worry Constantly that I am making a mistake but he never sleeps on his own and only will if we’re out walking or driving. It seems like something breastfeeders don’t talk about, like there is a certain level of stigma about it. I don’t know how to approach it and I’m too nervous to admit to health visitors that at nearly 20 months he still feeds to sleep!! I’ve admitted here though, so first step maybe!! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

    • stressymama

      I think as parents all we do is worry that we are doing something wrong, when ultimately, we just have to do what is best for ourselves and our families. Thank you

  • Emma Reed

    Honestly, I have tried it all. The baths, the HV tips, the changing dinner time, chill out, gro-clock that just kept him awake… I was then offered some music to review on my blog and it has been a lifesaver for helping him to relax and go to sleep. Trouble is he’s still waking at night to get in with me… he’s three! I give up now! lol #familyfunlinky

    • stressymama

      Hi. Music is something I haven’t actually tried with Molly. What music was it, if you don’t mind me asking? x