Q&A: 20-month-old twin won't nap

Toby writes:

"I have a 20 month old with a long history of sleep issues (short naps, no naps, etc). We had a good stretch a while back -- she went to bed at 7:00 and slept a good 11 - 11 1/2 hrs (still does), and took a 2 hour nap.  The 2 hour nap lasted about a month (right after she went from 2 naps to 1).  Since about April, she has reduced her nap time to 45 minutes, sometimes less.  I feel 45 minutes is not enough sleep, she gets a little cranky.  I've tried to adjust nap time and bedtime, but the nap continues to end after 45 minutes.  Everyone else I've talked to with children this age gets a 2 hr (on average) nap.  (By the way, I have twins and my other 20 month old takes a 2-3 hour nap).  I've tried leaving her in her bed and letting her cry but she screams bloody murder and doesn't go back to sleep. I've read everything I can get my hands on about sleep and children and your website is the only thing I've seen that addresses this issue (she was almost 18 months when this started).  It's been three months, how do I get her back on track so she gets enough sleep and I don't go crazy."

I'm going to need some help with this one from parents of multiples. I'm afraid my suggestions might be tough to implement with another child the same age in the house, so any tips on juggling two conflicting nap schedules are welcome.

The first thing I'd do is check for environmental factors. Is your daughter eating anything that could be giving her reflux or tummy distress or keep her awake? (Think acidic things like citrus or tomato--especially ketchup--or the common allergens like wheat, dairy, corn, artificial colors and flavors, and artificial sweeteners.) Even things that don't affect your other child could be a problem for her that makes it physically impossible for her to sleep for long.

Then I'd try to help her relax into sleep. She's probably a little young to drink Just For Kids Nighty Night tea (you'd have better luck with that with a kid over the age of 2, unless you have one of those toddlers who will actually drink hot tea), but it's not too early for homeopathics. I've had some success with the Hyland's formulation Calms Forte 4 Kids. It has homeopathic ingredients that help them relax their bodies and minds enough to fall asleep. If you can't find the Calms Forte, try chamomilla pellets. Homeopathy has no side effects, so it's safe for babies and kids. Even if you don't think homeopathics do anything, they still give you the opportunity to try the placebo effect by telling your daughter that the tablets will help her fall asleep.

Make sure she's getting enough exercise in the morning to be tired out enough to sleep, but watch out for activities that could be making her too excited or anxious to relax into sleep. If you're using TV or videos to help your kids wind down into naps, reexamine what you're showing, because it could be helping one child relax but riling up the other one, so you may need something more bland.

I wonder if it would help if you could lie down with her to get her to fall asleep. She may need a little help making the transition to the Land of Nod. I think it's a fairly common practice among SAH parents of toddlers to lie down with them to help them calm down when they've been riled up too much to drift off easily. The clear and present danger here, of course, is that you'll fall asleep, too. Which is probably good for your body, but isn't going to help with the laundry situation, and could be disastrous since you have another toddler in your house.

If you had a singleton, I'd tell you to try driving or strolling her to sleep for the nap (and then driving or strolling for as long as it took to keep her to sleep for at least an hour). If it worked, I'd tell you to do it at the same time every day for a couple of weeks until she'd gotten into the habit of falling asleep and sleeping for a decent stretch at that time every day. I can't really imagine how you could do this with multiples without incurring a lot of confusion, extra work, and back strain, but if you find yourself with an extra adult during the day for a few days, you might try it to see if it helps.

Also, examine your weekend schedule. Are things so exciting on the weekends that your daughter gets out of the habit of sleeping and can't get back into it again during the week?

That's what I can think of. Any parents with multiple-specific suggestions or insights?