Big M had always been a great sleeper. From the time she was about two weeks old, she has always happily slept on a consistent routine, both for night and daytime sleep. As I share in my Early Childhood Sleep Series, I credit so much of this to my cousin’s life saving advice in his welcome baby care package. When we transitioned from two naps a day down to one at around 12 months old, she took to it with relative ease. Even making a move to a big kid bed didn’t seem to phase her. But, somewhere around 18 months, something strange started to happen. She would wake up from great, 2-3 hour afternoon naps, not only cranky, but outright hysterical. The post-nap crying would carry on for half an hour or more. What could possibly be wrong?
What Causes Post-Nap Crying?
From birth, I had always followed the rule, “Babies always wake up happy. ” Often, especially in early infancy, infants wake up mid-nap crying because they don’t yet know how to settle back to sleep as they transition through their sleep cycle (usually about once every 45-90 minutes). They aren’t ready to wake up, and if kept up after this wake up, will often remain cranky until their next nap. However, if you settle them back to sleep, they will often sleep for another hour or more.
So, at 18 months, when Big M started waking up hysterical 2-3 times a week, even after a 2-3 hour nap, I thought, she must not be ready to wake up. I started sitting with her in the rocker, with her blankie, rocking her until her heaving sobs ceased and her breathing returned to its regular rhythm. This often could take 15 minutes, and sometimes even upwards of half an hour. But she never went back to sleep… so it didn’t seem as though she needed more sleep. And while I enjoyed our snuggles, with my 5 month preggo belly at the time, my lap was getting smaller by the day.
[bctt tweet=”Does your toddler wake-up from naps crying? Try this quick fix! #toddler #naps #sleep #momlife”]
As the post-nap crying continued and became more frequent, I wracked my brain to figure out what could possibly be the cause. Nothing I googled seemed to find anything… until one day, I stumbled upon a series of messages on a Berkeley Parents Network message board. I was not the only parent experiencing this, and it seemed to be occurring in children all around a similar age.
The one recommendation, at the urging of a poster’s pediatrician that resonated the most with me, was the reaction was driven by low blood sugar, and could be most rapidly ‘cured’ with a snack upon wake up. I tried it that day, and it was amazing. As soon as I offered her a snack, she immediately seized on the idea, wiped her tears away and ran downstairs to the table.
What causes low blood sugar?
When you eat, your body goes through four phases of digestion. It begins with the ingestion of food – this is simply the act of putting food in your mouth. Then, actual digestion begins. First, by the mechanical chewing and swallowing of your food. And then by the chemical processes which occur in the stomach and small intestine where digestive enzymes, including insulin produced by the pancreas, help to break food down into smaller chemical particles in preparation for the next phase of digestion – absorption. Absorption occurs when the cells of the body absorb the smaller, chemical components created during digestion. Lastly, your body excretes all remaining waste products during the last and final phase, elimination.
During digestion and absorption, insulin works to regulate the metabolizing of carbohydrates and fats by aiding in the absorption of glucose from the blood into the muscles and skeletal system for storage rather than immediate use for energy. Its production is triggered by the digestive process, and helps to regulate overall blood sugar levels in your body. Often, right after you eat, your blood sugar rises, insulin is produced to help metabolize it, and return to your body to steady state levels.
However, if you don’t eat enough, allow too long to pass between meals, are more active than normal burning more energy than usual, you can drop below steady state levels, resulting in low blood sugar – which often leads to crankiness, fatigue, headache, hunger and more. Think of the late afternoon slump many adults feel, which often leads you to grab a quick snack or take an afternoon coffee break.
I noticed Big M’s post-nap crying fits often occurred when we had a really busy morning. She would eat a great lunch, sleep really hard, and be so hungry and uncomfortable when she woke up, she would be distraught instead of just being able to calmly communicate she needed something to eat. I also noticed these fits would increase in frequency when she hit growth spurts (18 months, 2 years). She would eat everything in sight, and still wake up and be ravenous at every meal.
[bctt tweet=”Toddlers can suffer from low blood sugar too – recognize signs and quick fix #toddlers #naps #sleep #momlife”]
Best Snacks for Low Blood Sugar
Offering snacks high in carbohydrates, and preferably natural sugar for small children, will help quickly bring up their low blood sugar, and soothe their symptoms, which are often the cause of their post-nap crying. Big M is partial to fruit and pretzels. Milk and juice are great too, though we don’t do juice at our house, and prefer to eat whole fruit instead.
I try to keep snacks small, healthy, and just enough to take the edge off until the next meal. The girls both do pretty well without a morning snack most days, but for little kids, the 5-6+ hour stretch between lunch and dinner is a long time to go without eating.
I was glad such a simple and easy remedy could bring a smile back to my little ones face. Please note, I am not a medical professional, and extreme symptoms should always be raised with your pediatrician.
Does your toddler suffer from late afternoon low blood sugar? Has your toddler every woken up from a nap overly distraught? If you found this post helpful, you may also like Transitioning to a Big Kid Bed! Be sure to check out all the posts in our Sleep Series, and all our favorite tips for early childhood sleep from around the web on our Sleep board on Pinterest.