We sometimes wonder if the words ‘toddler’ and ‘sleep’ belong in the same sentence. It seems that we interact with many families that experience sleep difficulties with their toddler.
Some families explain that their toddler has never slept well and they have now decided to address their child’s sleep. Yet others tell us that as a baby, their child slept wonderfully and the difficulties that they are now experiencing are new.
There are many reasons why toddlers either do not settle or do not stay asleep.
Just by altering the timing of your toddler’s pre-sleep routine and settling to bed, sleep may improve without much more effort. Timing is often overlooked as a reason for toddlers finding it difficult to settle at night which can then have a knock-on effect for the rest of the night.
By working toward a regular pre-sleep routine and actual time to settle to sleep, things quite often improve around a toddler settling to sleep. Toddlers like to feel safe and secure and by being able to predict that the same thing happens around sleep time, it will in turn help them relax around sleep. Here is a timeline to help:
1. Offer your toddler their dinner around 5pm, they are usually hungry by then. Follow with a bath and then have them dressed ready for bed at close to 6pm.
2. If they have a milk drink then offer it around 6pm in the living area.
3. At 6.20pm time for teeth cleaning and a toilet visit if they are toilet trained.
4. At 6.30pm take you toddler into their place of sleep and by lamplight have some quiet, wind-down time. Keep this time free of technology (no Ipad stories) just books or recited stories or songs.
5. Have a cuddle and a chat. This wind-down time helps prepare their busy minds to settle in readiness for sleep.
6. At 6.45pm settle your child to sleep in their cot or their bed.
The earlier the time a toddler falls to sleep, combined with a good 15 minutes of wind-down time, the easier it will be to wake them in the morning also.
But if your child has been used to settling at a much later time, then expect that their body will not fall asleep until closer to that time. For example, if your child usually falls asleep around 9pm, they will still fall asleep around 9pm even though you may put them to bed closer to 7pm. To address this:
* Start out by aiming to have your child asleep by 8.30pm for a few nights.
* Then gradually aim to have them asleep 10-15 minutes earlier every few nights until they are falling asleep closer to 7pm each night.
The important thing is to stay calm and behave like you know what is going on while you introduce change to a toddler. They are testing out boundaries and they want to know if YOU know the rules which, in turn, makes them feel safe. Be patient while your toddler adapts to new sleep times and changes around the settling routine.
Many toddlers respond to a chart with things that happen in order, so that they can check the chart to see what happens next. Some toddlers also respond to head scratchers, that is, asking them what happens next rather than telling them. For example:
“Nicholas, what do you need to do after you have finished your milk?” He will reply “Clean my teeth”. At this point, praise him for being so clever and he is more likely to willingly do his teeth as he thought of the idea himself. If you tell Nicholas to do his teeth and when to do it, he is more likely to challenge it or even argue about it so he becomes unsettled before sleep time.
You should also take into account if your toddler has a sleep in the day, what time of day it is and how long that they sleep for.
* If they are getting too much sleep or the sleep is too late in the day, this will make for a difficult settle at night.
* Offer your toddler a sleep at around noon and then decide how long that they can sleep for in the day and still settle well at night.
* This will differ from child to child, so make it suit your own child.
Remember what works for one family may be quite different to what works within another family. By all means, compare notes with your friends, but no two toddlers are the same. Go with the approach that suits your family and your toddler.
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For further information, see Carolines Angels website.