Solving toddler sleep issues
We asked OHbaby! sleep expert Dorothy Waide for her advice on solving your toddler’s sleep issues:
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If your baby is older than 12 months and still not sleeping through the night, it may be due to one or more of the following:
1. Lack of a daytime routine which can impact on their night-time routine
2. Naps – your toddler doesn't know how to self-settle or resettle
3. Bedtime – your toddler doesn't know how to self-settle
4. Your toddler has a ‘sucking’ association to settle or resettle
5. Your toddler has separation anxiety
6. No consistency with bedtime routine
7. Room temperature – too cold or too hot
8. Light sensitivity
Here are my tips for getting your toddler's sleep sorted.
Daytime habits to consider changing:
1. Consistency is important. Toddlers like routine and respond well to knowing what happens next. Routines are important for toddlers, however they shouldn't be so rigid that it is difficult to work with. Ideally have a start and finish time of the day but in doing this, work within 30 minutes either side of your desired morning wake time and going to bed time frame. I also tend to work on the ratio of 80% consistency.
2. Say what you mean by being concise and follow through with what you say i.e. “If you don't do XYZ then we won’t do XYZ.” At some stage children need to learn that actions have consequences. Why not now?
3. Pick your battles. Positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity. Try not to sweat the small stuff.
4. Take time to resettle if your toddler only catnaps. By taking the time to resettle during their naps, this will have a knock-on effect to help with their own resettling overnight.
5. Dropping from two naps to one nap. This happens somewhere between 15 to 18 months, but with some toddlers it can happen earlier.
Night-time habits to consider to changing:
1. Consistency and calm from dinnertime to bedtime.
2. Look at diet for evening meals. Did you know some foods can contribute to night-waking e.g. hard cheese and an overload of fruit.
3. Dial down the imagination. Toddlers tend to have an active imagination so ideally any TV programmes or books that you are reading to them will have a calming effect rather than encourage their imaginations to be more active.
4. Have consistent sleep cues e.g. sleeping bag, cuddly toy and word association.
5. Props can interfere with your toddler’s ability to self-settle. If using a dummy don't ‘plug’ your toddler as soon as they get into their cot. Try placing the dummy next to them or leave it out of the cot until they have had time to self-settle. Don't just take away the dummy either. You will intervene within an appropriate time by giving them their dummy if they cannot self-settle without sucking.
6. Try and avoid ‘dummy runs’ through the night, either take the time to resettle or another alternative is to place a number of dummies into their cots, or use a cuddly toy that holds their dummies.
7. Allow your toddler time to self-settle and intervene when necessary. This can be done with or without you in the room and also can be done either in their cot or in your arms. It takes approximately 20 minutes for a toddler to fall asleep so don't leave them longer than this if they need you to help them find their sleep.
If you have been using large movements to self-settle or resettle (rocking, walking, driving!) then go back to the newborn settling techniques of small movements within arms so that you can then replicate that movement in the cot.
8. Put up good black-out blinds. This is particularly important in the summer months when the sun sets later.
9. Be firm but nurturing and always respond.
10. Introduce a dim night-light. Some toddlers find this reassuring if they wake during the night.
11. Take baby steps rather than big steps whenever you implement new changes. Remember you are teaching your toddler new tools so it takes TACT – time, acceptance, consistency (80%) and touch.
12. If feeding to sleep or feeding back to sleep through the night, take the time to try and resettle before doing this. To resettle overnight will take at least 45 minutes. This is not about leaving them in their cot to cry it out, but giving them the opportunity to resettle and then intervene and stay with them until they fall back to sleep.
Of course, some children have their own individual ways of avoiding bed-time. If you have a wanderer, a negotiator, a player, or a company seeker on your hands, read my article How to quit the bedtime battle.
If you are unable to resettle overnight you have two options:
1. To feed,
2. To safely co-sleep.
Resettling overnight is about staying with your toddler until they fall asleep rather than constantly going in and out of their room. Remember, all toddlers are different and it takes a minimum of ten days to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The first three to four days are going to be the hardest, consistency is the key.
- How your toddler self-settles and resettles during the day uses the same techniques you will use for night-time.
- Sleep is a learned behaviour. The difference between an adult and a toddler is that we have learnt to resettle when we wake during the night. Most of us wake overnight, however when our toddlers wake they do not have the tools to resettle.
- Darkening their room is key. Melatonin is a hormone that is released from your (and your baby’s) pineal gland and is associated with your circadian clock and thought to help strengthen your immune system.
Dorothy Waide is a baby whisperer and OHbaby!’s sleep expert. You can find out more about Dorothy and the services she offers new parents, at her website, www.babyhelp.co.nz.