Solving typical toddler sleep problems
Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Toddler sleep problems are big kid versions of younger baby
sleep troubles. Psychology plays a bigger role now: scared at night,
not wanting to sleep, stuck in a bad habit, ... Combining good sleep
habits, consistency and flexibility with setting simple boundaries will
your most successful approach.
That's why we start out with top
toddler tips and then find out in detail what sleep is like now
and how to tackle toddler
sleep problems well.
Top toddler tips
In the second year and towards 4 years old, sleep gradually starts to
resemble that of a big child.
As at any age, sleep cycles are
sequence of lighter and deeper sleep, but deep sleep becomes more and
more important. The length of a sleep cycle goes from just 50-60
minutes to a 90 minute sleep cycle.
Overall that means that your toddler can sleep more deeply and for
longer. In fact, she now truly needs long uninterrupted stretches to
keep healthy and well-rested.
As a toddler, your child can do much more than before. She becomes
stronger, talks more, is more independent and understands better and
better what is going on around her.
A stronger will is also typical at
toddler age … terrible two's
are no myth ...
The biggest advantage, also at bedtime, is that it becomes possible to reason with your child. By showing
and explaining what and why you want her to do certain things, you can
accomplish a lot. And not in the least ... it's also plain fun and
interesting to have this little person to chat with, in true two-way
On other hand, being able to do more by herself means that she can come
out of bed in the middle of the night, take up toys at bedtime, use
temper tantrums to make it clear that she does NOT want to go to sleep …
Setting boundaries is the way to make it through these phases well.
Rules may sound a bit harsh to you, but setting boundaries simply means
that you make it clear to your toddler what is allowed and what isn't.
You may need to explain things 100 times or more, but with consistency
and calm, you will accomplish a lot.
What to do
- Set clear boundaries and be consistent about them. Your toddler
cannot comprehend complicated rules. But simple, easy-to-remember
boundaries that you stick to consistently are very doable. These
boundaries help build her confidence and understanding of the
world around her.
And sleep matters are not so different
from other situations. It is OK to have a clear rule about staying in
bed past bedtime, or until an allowed morning wake time.
Exactly as you
have a rule about not throwing with food, not use crayons the carpet, etc.
- Talk talk talk! Talk with your toddler, a lot. She may not
understand everything yet but
definitely more than most of us realize. Hearing the same thing several
So include her in what you're doing
together, explain why
you do things, what's happening …
It will help with understanding and
accepting what you expect of her, also and especially when it comes to
sleeping. Make a habit of this and it will pay dividends in the months
to come …
- Help her be prepared. Avoid surprises at bedtime such as suddenly
skipping the bedtime story, not allowing a drink anymore, the new bed,
etc. Always announce and talk things through well in time.
As an example, imagine you're staying
at a friend's house for the weekend. If unprepared, your toddler may
panic at bedtime when she discovers that she's expected to sleep in a
foreign bed …
But if you'd talked it through beforehand, checked out the
bed and bedroom during the day when you arrived, showed where you will be during the
night, … it all becomes so much easier (simply less scary) for your little one.
and keep a positive attitude: the rest and comfort will shine onto
your toddler and help you both sleep at best.
Also, show confidence. Don't worry, you
wouldn't be the first parent to lose confidence if
your toddler just won't sleep, night after night. But if you can at
least act confidently, give
her the feeling that you know what you
are doing, that has a huge effect.
- Praise and applause. A young child wants to please her parents.
Positive encouragement is one of the most powerful tools to improve a
Whenever she wakes up after a good nap,
night, has settled well all alone, ... tell her how proud you are and
how well she's been sleeping. Be indulgent enough: even staying in bed
minutes longer than usual is worth a praise ... and has the best chance
of becoming longer thanks to your applause.
As soon as your child will understand the principle (usually sooner
than parents expect) sticker reward charts
are a helpful tool for this.