OHbaby! sleep expert Dorothy Waide shares her advice on helping your active toddler get the rest he needs.
We spend many hours wondering what is the right amount of sleep for our children. It is important to remember, however, that every child is different and any suggestions we discuss are guidelines for parents to work with –they are not set in stone.
For toddlers aged one to three, I would recommend approximately 12 hours for night-time sleep and one daytime sleep of around 1½ to 2½ hours. It’s time to change the length of their daytime sleep when they start to take longer to fall asleep at night, or start waking in the night when they have normally slept right through.
When toddlers are ready to drop their daily nap, it is important to remember that all children are individuals, therefore there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address this. If your toddler is having a long day nap that has started to affect their night sleep, then I suggest reducing the day nap by between 15 and 30 minutes. If this then brings the night-time routine back to normal, then I would hold there until I needed to shorten again. Otherwise, I would hold for 10 days and then reduce the nap again until I found a length that allows the evening bedtime routine to go back to normal. Over time I would continue to reduce a toddler’s naps until he is having a short nap of between 30 minutes and one hour.
Another strategy is to just drop the nap altogether and have a quiet time. The time frame for a quiet time will differ from toddler to toddler, but I suggest around 30 minutes. This could be just sitting on the sofa cuddling and reading books or watching an educational programme on television. Some toddlers are even happy to just lie on their bed and have a quiet time.
Once a child has dropped his daytime nap, I find that every so often he will need a catch-up nap, or a ‘band-aid’ as I like to call them. A band-aid nap would be less than 30 minutes.
The hardest time to get a toddler to bed is during daylight saving, as they cannot understand why they need to go to bed when the sun is still shining. Having a good bedtime routine will help. This means allowing enough time for your child to have their evening meal and prepare for bed, so as to avoid rushing through this time and adding to the stress.
Good black-out blinds are a must and I tend to make a child’s room ‘night-time’ dark before taking him into his bedroom to tuck him in bed for the night. Then, with a little magic and imagination, you can encourage your child by discussing how lucky he is that night-time is already in his room, making him feel very special so he happily hops into bed.
For other children it is not quite so simple, but consistently following the same bedtime routine will help all children understand what is expected, avoiding too many fallouts.
If your child is one who needs a drink, snack or an extra cuddle every night, then remind him before he goes to bed that this is his last time to have what he’s requesting and once he’s in bed, any requests are no longer available as it is time to go to sleep. You then need to follow through with what you have said.
Whatever changes you are making to bedtime routines, bear in mind that results certainly won't happen overnight. However, consistency, clear instructions and not giving too much verbal attention after you have said goodnight will definitely help you to get to your goal of a battle-free bedtime.
I find the two most common reasons why toddlers consider 5am time to start the day are the outside world waking up or the light creeping in around the sides of their curtains.
Having good black-out blinds is essential. A black-out blind or curtain prevents any light from creeping in around the sides, top or bottom of the windows.
If you live somewhere with early morning outside noise (cars leaving early, dogs barking, birds singing, etc), you could have white noise timed to come on before dawn and see if this makes a difference.
Another option worth trying is a sleep training clock with an easy-to-read signal that shows your child when it is an acceptable time to get up.