Solving typical toddler sleep problems, part 2

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Page 2 of 3

Not sleeping through the night and not feeling tired enough at bedtime are two major toddler sleep issues. And it takes toddler-specific techniques to solve them smoothly. Recognize the causes and the battle is half won ... then add the right tools for long peaceful nights.

Not sleeping through the night

Waking up (frequently) at night is the most difficult of all toddler sleep problems. A healthy child does not need night feeds or drinks anymore and is physically able to sleep for 8-12 hours in a row.

But many just have not learned well to sleep through yet or simply still need your presence and reassurance at night.

Because being a toddler brings along new nightly wake up causes: separation anxiety, having got stuck in patterns of waking to feed or requesting attention (the so called bad habits), being more sensitive to sounds or light, stress, agitation, temper tantrums and illnesses or bugs picked up at day care or school.

What to do

Toddler sleeping on back

  • A good, well adapted daily schedule and a simple pleasant bedtime routine are still the very basics for a good night.

    The right night time bedtime can make or break your nights so ensure that it's well-timed: not too late, not too early: your toddler's sleepy signs are your best guide.
  • Definitely until 2-2,5 years old, your toddler will still take at least one nap. Many happily continue with naps or a simple quiet time until 4-5 years old.

    And that's ideal: it keeps your child happy all day and encourages better sleep at night.
  • Knowing how to self soothe to sleep is the main skill to have to sleep through the night without parent help. A transition object (blankie, cuddly toy, ...) can be a very important help right now.

    Also don't be afraid to use the gentle, progressive techniques of gradually shortening your reassurance and presence time.

    They are just as efficient as at a younger age, and even more appreciated by your big kid: she feels understood and appreciated, and will react all the more positive for it.
  • Being too hot or too cold and a wet diaper are two of the typical wake-up causes for a toddler. A toddler sleeping bag and simple ideas to avoid a wet diaper are a good help here.

    My Overcome Frequent Waking action plan and e-book help you discover many more possible wake-up causes and explains the toddler-specific techniques to avoid and/or move away from night wakings.

    How to avoid the typical early morning wakings is also explained in the guide: to help you get a biut more sleep in those precious morning hours too.

Not tired by bedtime! (aka hidden over-tiredness)

Toddler girl with doll baby carrier

This is a biggie among toddler sleep problems.

A toddler can be very active in the evening and you may wonder "where does she get this energy at 8pm (or 10pm) at night?! Why is she not sleeping?!" She should be tired by now, right?

And in fact, she IS tired.

Once a child is over-tired she can seem very (!) awake instead. So as a parent it's easy to be mislead.

And being over-tired simply makes it difficult for a young child to settle. Contrary to classical or even logical belief, being very tired is not helping at all to fall asleep more easily or to sleep longer but makes it worse.

Indeed only when just readily tired, settling has the best chances. It also makes for a peaceful onset of the night or nap and leads to more restful sleep. This in turn means more and uninterrupted sleep.

What to do
  • Recognize early sleepy signs. Avoiding over-tiredness is easy when you know when your little one is first getting tired. This can be at the first yawns or simple eye-rubbing but some children don't show any signs until their mood turns bad.

    My Sleepy Signs Journal (free download) helps you pinpoint the readily tired moments - for naps and nights - by observing closely and learning to understand your toddler's sleepy signs (based on the behavior you see).,/li>
  • Prefer an early bedtime. It's a myth that going to bed later helps with sleeping longer in the morning. On the contrary, the restless sleep from being over-tired easily results in earlier mornings.

    Schedule bedtime well before your toddler becomes over-tired.

    Use the early sleepy signs as discussed right above. Whenever in doubt, go as early as still practical for you and reasonable for your child. Remember to give new bedtimes enough time to settle before changing again or giving up. Detailed guidelines for changing bedtimes are in my Overcome Frequent Waking guide.