Q&A: 15-month-old nap weirdness

Amanda writes:

"Hoping maybe I can get some help from your awesome followers.  My son is almost 15 months old.  And I don't know what the HELL is going on with his sleep. 

He used to go down easily at night (after a routine that has been the same since 4 weeks), even saying "down" or reaching for the crib.  He almost always sleeps through the night, with the occasional 2-minute scream fest that he puts himself back to sleep after.  He used to sleep until 7, but it's gotten earlier and earlier and lately he's been getting up at 5. Sometimes earlier.  Ready to GO.  So we've started letting him cry and not getting him until 6 at the earliest, which has helped.  He will cry for a while and go back to sleep until 6:30-7, and some days he'll sleep through to about 6:15.

All of a sudden, it is BLOODY MURDER every time we put him down.  First it was the naps, then the night.  We've been working on transitioning him to one nap, because he was fighting the second nap so hard, and he seems to be the right age.  We keep him up until about 11, then do the routine.  He falls asleep like a stone as long as he's held, and as soon as we put him down, it's the rigid body and the screaming.  And screaming and screaming and screaming.  We've tried graduated interventions, but he just falls asleep as soon as we pick him up and screams again as soon as we put him down.  For the last few days, it's been an hour of crying every single time, both at nap and at bed.

He's never been a great napper-- at his very best, we could get an hour and fifteen minutes out of him. Now we're down to an hour of crying, 30 minutes of sleep, and a terrible mood for the rest of the day.  We put him to bed early-- one hour of crying.  We put him to bed late-- one hour of crying.  I just don't know what to do anymore.  I'm afraid he's getting chronically overtired, but I don't want to start holding him for all his naps.  Then we'll just have to go back to the screaming eventually.

What can I do?  Please help.  We are lost, and losing it."

This seemed weird to me, as usually 15 months is an age in which kids who haven't been sleeping START to sleep. So it seemed strange that this would be an age with some kind of sleep disturbance. Plus, the intensity of the crying made me think something was off, so I suggested that maybe he was in pain while lying down, and this could be reflux or heartburn.

Amanda cut out all acidic foods, but didn't see any change:

"He was getting insanely overtired, so we caved and started holding him for naps. I know. But he slept 2 hours plus, every time. And we got the nights back, down like a charm, and waking at about 6. My stress level plummeted: there are way worse things than napping with a baby on you.  But now it's been a couple of weeks of nap holding, and we're totally screwed. I love holding him, it's cozy and sweet and all that.  But he's heavy, and he's getting bigger, and that's the ONLY time I have to get anything done.  I can't commit to doing it every day until he's four.  But I don't know what else to do.  I"ve created this habit, and I don't know how to break it.

Any advice?  Thoughts from your readers?"

The fact that he sleeps while he's being held but not when he isn't is making me think this is some kind of physical discomfort issue that's being alleviated when someone holds him. I wonder what happens if he's in a car seat or stroller, if he can fall asleep then (that's kind of the classic tell of silent reflux or heartburn, if a child sleeps fine upright in a car seat or stroller but can't sleep lying flat). Or if it's something that's not tummy-related, but is still causing him pain.

It just seems odd to me that this came out of nowhere. What am I missing?