Q&A: weird whining on wakeup

Emily writes:

"Our daughter Maia was a pretty good sleeper from I'd say 7 or 8 months through her first year. Then, around 13 or 14 months, she suddenly started waking once during the night. Part of this was sickness – since daycare started she's gotten sick at least once a month. Part of it was also cognitive, at times (wanting to read, just wanting to be held) and I am sure teeth came/come into play, as well (she got her first two at 14 months, the second two have been pushing out for the past 3 weeks).

But then in the last month she has not only been waking once a night but shifted her morning waking from 7:30 to nearly 5:30 at times. She also wakes differently. I'm sure it's her normal pattern (we all wake up in the night) but she can't soothe herself down for whatever reason. So she starts to whine. It's a weird whining-yodel and it can last for over an hour. If we don't go in, it generally turns into full blown crying and screaming. We've tried ignoring it and we've also tried some modified CIO but nothing has worked.

All I can think of is that she simply needs us right now – that's my gut. A lot of the time she does need Tylenol for her teeth…but then also wants a bottle, which is something she's totally grown out of at this point. But yikes, the wakeups are killing us and I'm starting to worry that we're just fostering her screwy schedule.

Any advice?"

The 13-month waking thing is very common. It's a Wonder Week and happens to lots of kids. Many of them go back to sleeping after a few weeks, but if she's got teething on top of it it wouldn't be super-unusual for it to continue. Add in new kinds of movement, weird weather, holidays and all that hubub, and it's infuriating but not unusual.

It's the whine that makes me interested. This stretch from 15-18 months is kind of crazy because it's really when kids start to realize that they are not you, but are, in fact, separate. Which is why there are so many crazy power struggles at this time, and they suddenly want to do everything themselves, and have full-on temper tantrums, etc. (Often it manifests particularly in refusing to eat certain foods or all foods, because sometimes the only control kids feel is over what they put in their mouths or what they swallow.)

So I wonder if the whine is kind of her barbaric yawp at knowing she's she and not you. And also her way of getting you close because it's really effing scary to realize you're an individual. You feel like she needs you, and I think she does, because otherwise she's staring down the barrel of the nothingness that comes from being alone in the world. Aside from Elmo, of course.

I am always going to tell you to trust your instinct. If you feel like she needs you for some reason, go with it. Soon she'll turn 18 months and it'll all go to hell anyway. It will all change soon enough anyway, and you'll know when you need to respond differently.

The early wakings I've truly got nothing on. Five years of Ask Moxie and I can't get a handle on it for love or money.

Anyone else feel like their child was having an existential crisis at this age?

42 thoughts on “Q&A: weird whining on wakeup”

  1. We solved morning wakings by moving bedtime later and shortening her nap. I consulted with my Ferber book and it seemed that we were expecting her to sleep too many hours in a day.I thought my DD was experiencing sleep disturbances due to a Wonder Week about 4 -5 months ago. Now she’s 22.5 months and waking once a night, which is better than what we were experiencing, but is still not as good as when she used to sleep through the night.
    Most nights she just wants Daddy to change her (slightly wet) diaper. Many nights she just wants Daddy to give her a hug and lay her back down. Trying CIO just results in more lost sleep as we have to lay there listening to her. I think we’ve just decided that the path of least resistance is to go in once a night for what my DH is now calling “halftime.”
    I do wonder how long this is going to last though. Are we going to be experiencing “halftime” until she is potty trained at night? Because my step-son was still wetting the bed well into grade school.

  2. @Jessica and OP: Me too! My DD is almost 19 mo and CIO is just not successful. She generally just wants to be held so she can settle down EXCEPT when it’s 5am, the it’s WAKEY WAKEY! Teething is felt very keenly by DD and we suspect minor ear infections (since she’s an avid thumbsucker). I think DD has slept through the night about 4 times in her short life thus far, so I’m sick of these wakeups, but sucking it up for the time being.Other than sympathy, I got nothin’. Well, expect for checking out the archives of Child of Mind (http://www.isabelagranic.com/bed-timing/18-22-months/) for an explanation of the developmental period. In a nutshell, expect lots of sleep setbacks and Isabel believes it’s the worst time to do sleep training.
    Jessica, I’m somewhat heartened to hear someone’s kid didn’t get totally night potty-trained until grade school–my 4yo son wakes up with a wet Pull-up every single morning, even if he’s gone to the potty during the night. I suspect I’ve just enabled the lack of motivation to control the bladder at night by putting on the Pull-up, but I lack the time and energy to force the issue, esp. with the poor sleeping of Kidlet 2. I figure he’ll do it when he’s good and ready.

  3. Jessica and ML, my brother, age 35, still wakes up at least once a night. It stopped being my mom’s problem when he was around 3 and could get up and go to the bathroom by himself. There’s light at the end of the tunnel whether or not the halftime wakeup stops. πŸ˜‰

  4. Moxie:I’m looking forward to having her potty trained, but definitely NOT looking forward to putting her in a bed that she can climb out of.

  5. Here is my big, uninformed guess:The OP didn’t mention anything about naps, but if she is in daycare, is it possible that she was put on one nap before she was ready? That might explain some of the night wakings/early risings. It is probably neither here nor there, because she might be ready for one nap now at 14 months…Sleep problems are so tricky. Probably, the best thing to do is to stick with routines that have historically worked best, whatever they are. I think changing course all of the time just confuses everyone, the child most of all.

  6. My daughter ( tension releaser) would often make a throaty moaning sound as her way to get off to sleep. As a younger baby she’d cry and drop off, but as a toddler she would prefer the moan. After 10 minutes of the moan, off she’d go. Could that be the explanation I wonder. If she is going thru a wonder week, she might not actually make it to dropping off on her own and so the moaning might last longer than usual. Eventually she will get pissed off that she can’t fall asleep and start to bawl.

  7. I just have to say that both of my older kids (3yo and 2yo) have gone through multiple stages of early waking for no apparent reason. We tried to narrow down fairly obvious reasons (too cold? too hot? too much light in the room? move bedtime earlier or later, etc.) but most of the time that stuff doesn’t make a significant difference. We’ve found that the only cure is time, as frustrating as that is! If we give it a few (albeit, exhausted) weeks, they usually start sleeping later.

  8. @Jessica20 months was when sleep went haywire for DD (now 4). She started off being a great sleeper, sleeping 12 hour nights from very early. Things deteriorated around 16 weeks, but nothing too bad really. In fact she slept really well at night well into the second year, then everything changed at 20 months and, I hate to say it, didn’t improve until well after 3. We are talking night wakings up to 8 times a night during the worst times (round birthdays, quarter and half birthdays).
    We put it down to everything from teething to needing to wee, to having a wet nappy, to needing to poo, to having a dirty nappy, to wanting company, to having night terrors or nightmares, being too hot, too cold, too full, hungry. The list was endless.
    Hopefully your LO is going thru some sort of hiccup and she’ll be back to her good old self in no time. Not all kids are as bad sleepers as mine was.

  9. I vote give her a bottle and change her diaper at the middle of the night waking and she’ll sleep longer in the morning. It may be hunger as well as needing comfort that’s waking her

  10. I have an almost 4 year old and a 15 month old. The first was a pitiful sleeper when sleeping alone so I adopted co-sleeping. Both kids have gone through the early rising stage. The 15 month old is mostly still in it. He goes down around 8:30-9:15, sleeps alone till 1am-3am, “sleeps” with me till morning. He will night nurse for a few minutes at the first wake up but then may sleep till morning or wake up to nurse again at 5am, 6am, and 7am until we get up for the day. Typically therea re 2 or 3 days a week (usually falls on the days that I could sleep past 7 if he would) he’ll get up around 5am. This is all assuming he’s healthy. When he’s teething or sick he’s a constant night waker and pretty much insists on sleeping with his head propped on my right arm. Which has made January real fun since he’s had 3 ear infections this month… or maybe the same long ear infection…I’m obviously not a super structured person. We have routines but not schedules. That’s just how I roll. The thought of keeping a strict schedule makes my skin crawl so I’m sure other parents would make suggestions that include running a tighter ship. More power to them if that works for them. I get drained sometimes but then I remember that with my first things got easier at 2 years. So much easier in fact that I decided to have a 2nd child.
    What was I thinking?!?

  11. Early waking SUCKS but I feel like it’s just part of the game, sometimes. I always wonder if it’s tied to a growth spurt, maybe they wake up sooner because they’re hungry.When we went through that stage, I thought DD was a little more difficult to handle just because it was right before she was truly verbal. I felt like during the daytime, she really wanted to communicate but just couldn’t do it yet. It wasn’t so much meltdowns with her as, it just seemed like she was very upset. This would have been a great child to do sign language with, except that she went to daycare and I knew for a fact that they didn’t do baby signs with the kids. I felt like teaching them to her, and having other caregivers not know the signs, would be too frustrating.
    I felt like hitting that milestone of being able to clearly ask and receive and just TELL, really flipped a switch. Hang in there!!!! This can’t last.

  12. I think the early waking has something to do with becoming more aware of a full diaper. It’s like pre-potty training awareness. Not that I was ever brave enough to test this on my first son by waking him up to change his diaper at 3 or 4 in the morning. But I definitely will try with my second son (in about 4 months). It’s just so weird the way so many kids do this early morning wakening at that age.

  13. Since my first thought that 5:30 a.m. was sleeping in for her first year, I’ve obviously got nothing on the early waking. Just roll with it is all that we could ever do.I don’t really have any advice on the middle of the night thing (@Jessica- I love the name “halftime”!) but I wanted to offer my story because maybe it will make you feel better about it. Apparently, when I was a baby, I’d wake up once in the night and want to play for an hour or so. My parents were sharing a house, so they couldn’t let me cry and my Mom just got up and played with me. She says I outgrew it when I was about 2 and weaned. I started sleeping through the night then.
    My first daughter had horrible sleep but never did the “I’m awake and I want to play!” thing. But she also started sleeping through the night when she was about 2.
    My second daughter, who is now 16 months, has better overall sleep patterns, but a few times now, she’s woken up in the middle of the night and refused to go back down. The most recent time, I took her in her room to rock her to sleep (we usually just start co-sleeping when she wakes up in the night), and she squirmed out of my arms, crawled over to her books, and held one up to me with an expectant “you’re going to read this, right?” sort of look.
    No matter what I do, it takes about an hour to get her down when she does this middle of the night thing, so I’m starting to think my Mom’s “just go with it” idea is the smartest one. I’d rather read/play than get screamed at by a baby who is trying to squirm out of my arms.
    I’m just hoping that she magically starts sleeping through the night at 2, too!

  14. DD woke up many times in the night back then but she’d have a big crying/waking thing at five that required changing her nappy, a long feed, soothing words etc. and then she’d sleep on. She’s a night-bird. We already co-slept to get any sleep.She had a tremendous growth spurt during that time as in 12- 17 months was one long growth spurt and there were also teething issues, walking issues but she really was hungry at 5AM back then.
    At the exact point where her birth-weight tripled at 17 months( she’s above the 100th centile for height) she gave up all forms and times of breast-feeding.
    She still woke, but not like the 5 AM long wake-ups before, and not as regularly. She could last until breakfast later. So I would also vote to change the nappy and give the bottle. In the hopes of a little more sleep. Listening to an hour of crying is the worst.
    It can’t really hurt to try.

  15. I am a firm believer that many kids don’t sleep through the night until age 2 (I’ve never had one who consistently did but some people swear these unicorns exist).Give the bottle, change the diaper, go back to bed.
    Or do whatever you want that lets you get the most sleep you can. I truly would not worry about it.

  16. We mostly rolled with the early wakings. I did find they tended to come around growth spurts and may have been hunger related.It is amazing how much you can get done before 8 am though. πŸ™‚
    On the night wetting topic – my son is 5 and still fills a Good Night about 4/7 nights. My husband wet his bed ’til he was 8 as did many of his blood relatives despite bed alarms, etc., so I suspect it’s genetic. We go through phases of trying to go without the night diaper for a couple of weeks every so often, wake him when we go to bed, etc., but so far no dice. We’re not pushing it too hard.

  17. My 23mo was a pretty good sleeper from 15m to about 20m. Now he does the early waking (5am is normal, 6am is almost unheard of, 4am is possible), and wakes a bunch at night. I was hoping molars, but I don’t know if it will ever end. Late bedtime? 5am. Early bedtime? 5am. Nap? 5am. No nap? tantrums, then 5am. *cries*He is the middle child, my 1st didn’t sleep through the night consistently until about 29 months. I should be ready. But those 5 months of good sleep totally jacked up my internal sense of perspective and I just feel like a ZOMBIE. The baby is 6m and still cosleeping, and she is entering that wont-sleep-unless-touching-me phase and I swear to god in 5 years I will probably look back fondly but right now I would offer virgin sacrifices if I meant I got any sleep. Probably best that it wouldn’t really help.

  18. A method I’ve read about but not tried (but there is evidence that it works well for some children) is the scheduled awakening or wake-to-sleep method. This is based on resetting the body clock that’s got set at a 5.30 a.m. wake-up. What you do (and it’s pretty rough) is to get up between 15 minutes and an hour before your child is due to wake up (so, for you, between 4.30 and 5.15), and then wake your child part way up by doing things like rubbing her tummy, putting a pacifier in her mouth, or picking her up and putting her down again. Then get her settled back to sleep. Try this three nights in a row and see whether the 5.30 wakings stop – if they do, keep going with the early morning waking routine for another 3 nights to get it to stick. Not a popular method, for obvious reasons, but there is a research study out there showing it’s got a reasonably good success rate.

  19. My daughter started waking up around 4 or 4:30 am when she was about 13 months. It went on for quite sometime, with the only solution being us sleeping with her for another 40 minutes (maybe) or bringing her downstairs and letting her toddle around. Around 17 months (seriously, the worst 4 months of my life), I decided I couldn’t function anymore.For a full week I talked to her about waking up, the things she can do when she wakes up, how wake up time at our house is at 6 am, explaining that that mommy and daddy were not going to be there until 6 am anymore, etc etc. She was (and still is) a very verbal kid–that’s how she processes stuff. So, we picked a day and let her cry it out. It was terrible and heartwrenching and I hated every minute that she cried. But, the next day she only cried for half the time, and the day after that she slept until 6:30.
    It was the right thing for us to do at the time. She is now 3.6 and sleeps from 8-7 without fail. Good Luck. The early morning wake up is torture and can wreak havoc on all aspects of your life. I think you have to deal with it whichever way works best for your family.

  20. Ugh. The 5am wakings. We’ve been in and out of the early wakings with DS, probably from about 13 months on (or even before that). As far as I can tell, all that I can somewhat reliably link it to is him making a great cognitive leap. He often gets up at 5 to nurse, even now at 2.5. But during those developmental leaps there is nothing I can do to get him back to bed for an hour or two. I’d just end up taking him into the living room with me to lie down and nurse. And then if it was still before 6:30, he’d sit on me (lying down) and watch Sesame Street videos. I could rest a bit more. It was the only way I could deal as he usually had multiple night wakings.But now, at 32 months I can easily put him back down (after nursing) if he wakes at 5, and he sleeps until 6:30 or a luxurious 7:30. The late sleeping in has made me late for work more than once, but After 2.5 years of sleepless nights and early wake-ups, I just have to take advantage of the extra sleep!

  21. My kid, now 22 months old, has always woken up extra early if he goes to bed too late. He gets over tired, extra cranky, and when he wakes he has a harder time resettling. This was true when he slept in a crib in his own room, and when he sleeps in a bed with us (what we’re doing currently). This seems to fly in the face of everyone else suggesting she’s sleeping too much, but too LITTLE sleep is an issue with our dude. He especially wakes early/doesn’t sleep well at night when he’s ill– particularly if there’s a cough or congestion involved.Good luck waiting this out/solving this.

  22. We have the early waking with our 20 month old, too. I bring him to bed with me and nurse or give him a sippy cup with milk when he gets up around 5. I’m not wild about the habit we’re encouraging, but for the moment it works. Like the milliner, he’s even made me late for work by sleeping in, but I’m not complaining.

  23. Hello! No time to read comments and I can’t tell how old Emily’s daughter is, but my daughter did the 5:30 wakeup and when she was 18months old I got the Good Nite Lite and it has worked wonders for us. You set it to “turn on” at your desired wakeup time (start at 5:30 since she is waking then now and then gradually do 5:45, 6:00, etc. until you get to a more desirable wake up time). Seriously, phenomenal!, because otherwise how do you explain to a one-year-old in a way they truly understand that it’s too early to be out of bed – but when “Mr. Sun” comes on, you can come get Mommy. Best wishes!

  24. Our older son (now 2.5) has always been an early riser. He has an early bedtime (6:30 PM before he turned 2) and always woke up between 5-5:30, except during that terrible horrible no-good very bad 18 month sleep regression (which lasted three months) when he woke up at 4-4:30. So for us, our waking life since he was born just starts at 5:30. We often brought him to bed with us and made him cuddle until 6. He never would go back to sleep, even during the sleep regression phase. At other times than the sleep regression when he woke up before 5-5:30, we had good luck leaving him in his crib until it was time to get up. But he wasn’t screaming and crying that whole time, even though he didn’t sleep, either. Everybody used to tell us – put him to bed later! This did not work for us at all! Later bedtime = earlier wake up time (like @Brigid). When he was over 2 we could put him to bed at 7 and now he usually sleep until 6 or almost 6. He regularly slept through the night form the time he was 8.5 months old, except for sleep regressions and illnesses. I don’t consider early wake ups as not sleeping through the night. Just because *we* wish we were still sleeping! 5:30 isn’t really the middle of the night; it’s just an early morning. (But of course his early bedtime means that DS gets a full night sleep even when he wakes up at 5/5:30.) I ended up liking the early mornings, because it meant I could have a great cuddle and a relaxed morning, rather than a desperate scramble out the door. We (my DH and I) just go to bed earlier to compensate.

  25. My son also had an early waking phase around that age. I usually would just get up and bring him to bed with me, and could normally get another half hour of cuddle/dozing time at least, and if I got lucky he might actually fall back asleep for a while. For us, that was fall, so when the sun started rising later he started getting up later as well, and it eventually settled itself out to about a 7 am wakeup time. My approach has always been that I’ll get my son, let him come cuddle with me, even let him bring a toy to play with in bed, but that I won’t get up out of bed with him until we hit whatever the “normal” wakeup time is, and that’s also usually worked fairly well for us.

  26. Hmmm… interesting parallels here for a 26 month old who was sleeping well at 24 months and then it all went to h-e-double hockey sticks. Our problem stemmed from separation anxiety/teething/conjuctivitis-strep throat recovery. He was relying on us to cuddle him to sleep while sick in December and then we went on holidays and he was in different places for two weeks and then we got home and he had NO intention of sleeping in his own bed. He would wake up (like all kids do) but instead of self soothing and going back to sleep, he decided he needed us and would start yelling his head off. CIO does not work on this one. Just makes him hysterical (even if it’s just me leaving the room to go get myself ready for bed!). In the end, I decided that we had to cold turkey any co-sleeping solutions. Now, when he goes to bed (which also became an ordeal) I don’t touch him at all once he’s in bed. I just sing to him and lie on the floor beside the bed. That seemed to do the trick in terms of the overnight wakings. It’s gone from multiple and completely dependent on mummy or daddy to a quickie, reassuring shush to nothing. That took two weeks. But it was worth it to have my sleep back. I’ve now had two nights in a row of sleeping through the night and it feels so awesome. I mean, I’ve been a really happy person the last two days!! We had a few 4:30 ams but that has also resolved.

  27. Speaking of Wonder Weeks … My babe is 46 weeks (almost 10.5 months) this week … are we almost out of the 9 month sleep regression yet? I had the misguided idea that it only lasted for a few weeks or so around 9 months, but here we are almost two months later and any and all regular sleep has gone to hell and has been in hell for nearly eight weeks. I feel like grim death. When does the 9 month sleep regression end? Does it ever end? Bueller? Bueller?

  28. My 17 month old daughter just recently started having trouble sleeping. She used lay down and go to sleep with not one bit of trouble and now she cries and calls for Mama. She used to sleep in until 7:30-8am and now she is waking up crying at 5:30am! I am glad to see that this seems to be a “normal” occurrence for this age. Hope it goes as quickly as it came!

  29. It’s the yodely whine that caught my attention. Sounds a lot like what my daughter would do upon waking every time she was in the middle of a developmental leap. It was the strangest sound … not whining in our case, but she only ever made it during those 18-22 month developmental phases. I likened it to talking to yourself when you’re working through a puzzle.

  30. My daughter is 14 months old, and while she isn’t waking in the middle of the night – she is being IMPOSSIBLE. So glad for this info ‘Often it manifests particularly in refusing to eat certain foods or all foods, because sometimes the only control kids feel is over what they put in their mouths or what they swallow’.She can’t talk yet except for screeching MAMA or DADA and won’t let me feed her, but won’t eat favorite foods or anything. I would normally just ignore it, but at night, she isn’t even drinking milk. Last night, I just put her to bed and this morning she sucked down her morning smoothie like it was going out of style. It makes much more sense to me now that you says she’s in the middle of a developmental leap – because she seems to be right on the edge of talking.
    As for early waking – she also wakes early – not CRAZY early – but the rule in my house is we don’t get out of bed until 7. So – she’ll wake up at six and sing to herself, play with blankets, roll around… I just let her be. She very rarely gets upset.

  31. well, at least it’s not just our toddler who is doing crazytime at night. BabyT was inconsolable last night from around 11:30pm to 2am and the only thing she would accept without crying was sitting in front of Shaun the Sheep on TV with her daddy. Sigh. We’ve had several of these middle of the night toddler parties lately. We hope it ends soon – we were getting used to sleeping through the night ourselves πŸ˜€

  32. My daughter is just 6 months so I know I am just starting this roller coaster. Recently, she has started waking early and babbling to herself in her crib. Totally cute, however, one of her new noises is a throaty rumble that sounds almost exactly like “Redrum, Redrum.” Swear to God.

  33. I’m obviously not a super structured person. We have routines but not schedules. That’s just how I roll. The thought of keeping a strict schedule makes my skin crawl so I’m sure other parents would make suggestions that include running a tighter ship.

  34. So your daughter is getting 2 hours less sleep than she used to. That’s a significant amount.I don’t believe she simply needs 2 hours less than she used to. That’s a pretty significant change. If this were me (and I NEED sleep – 5:30 is simply uncivilized!) I would:
    1) Push bedtime EARLIER. Maybe 7:00 or possibly even 6:30. Keep the same wonderfully soothing routine you have, just push it up ~15 minutes a night until she’s falling asleep earlier.
    My read from what you’ve said here is that she is simply overtired (not sure why but) and an earlier bedtime may help significantly.
    2) Rule out any environmental factor – block out blinds (or tape aluminum foil to windows temporarily). DEFINITELY try LOUD white noise in her room. Use an old sterio or whatever you have around.
    3) You could TRY a “toddler alarm clock.” These work WONDERS with kids who are 2+. At 13 months I’m less optimistic. But I absolutely swear by them for kids over 2.
    4) If you think teething is a factor I would sleep dose in the middle of the night (while she’s dead asleep). Works great and will keep her teeth from bothering her (if you wait until 5:30 it’ll be too close to her wake-up time and she’ll be up for the day). Try it a few nights to see if it helps.
    But really try an earlier bedtime. Babies don’t just suddenly need 20% less sleep then they did a month ago (although it can be a bugger trying to figure out how to get them back on sleep track!).

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