So, you think you’ve got your little one’s sleep sussed? You might be in for a shock when they make the transition from baby to toddler, so don’t get too comfortable.
For some reason, we tend to expect babies to wake up during the night, but for toddlers to sleep through. “Most toddlers will start to sleep through the night by the time they are two years old, but for some it could take until school age,” explains Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of ToddlerCalm: A Guide for Calmer Toddlers and Happier Parents.
“Toddlers still don’t have mature body clocks, which means that biologically their sleep is different to an adults and usually much more disturbed.”
If you’re finding your nights as unsettled as when you had a newborn, try these 10 tips.
1. Be aware of change in your toddler’s life
Life changes like starting nursery or a new sibling arriving will affect your toddler. “You might find that a previously sound sleeper starts waking up at night when something happens to rock their world”, says Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual: A Guide To Surviving The Years One To Four.
“Here the issue isn’t so much the sleep as what lies behind the behaviour, so look to spend more quality time with your child during the day”.
2. Drop the afternoon nap
Children can stop napping during the day any time from the age of about 12 months until they start school. Generally, once your child drops daytime naps, night-time sleep will improve, but the transition can be tricky.
“You might find days where your child nods off at about 4pm and then is up until midnight”, Joanne says. “Once your child drops their nap, try to encourage some quieter time to recharge their batteries in the afternoon.”
3. Don’t worry if your child wears nappies at night
If you are in too much of a rush to potty train your toddler at night, it can cause stress for both parents and child.
“It is perfectly OK for a child to still wear nappies at night until they start school”, Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains. “And it’s not considered to be a problem, medically, until they are over seven years old.”
For older toddlers, try specially designed absorbent ‘pyjama pants’ to help make the transition easier.
4. Understand night terrors
Night terrors can be alarming but are very common – and completely harmless. They are sleep disturbances, which can cause your child to cry out, scream, sit bolt upright in bed or even thrash about – but all while they are still asleep.
“Don’t wake your child as this can make night terrors worse. Stay close by and wait for the night terror to finish”, advises Joanne Mallon. They won’t even remember it in the morning.
5. Get into a good bedtime routine
Research has shown that a routine is one of the best ways for everyone in the family to get a better night’s sleep. “You could start with a bath, followed by massaging in some cream, having some milk, a story and then cuddles”, suggests Sarah Ockwell-Smith.
“If you incorporate scent (an aromatherapy oil such as chamomile in a battery operated fan in their bedroom is a nice idea) and sound, such as some relaxing music, into the routine this can really help to provide a relaxation trigger for your toddler.”
6. Make the move from cot to bed
Moving into a bed from a cot is a big step, and although some children take a while to work out that they can get out of bed on their own, others love the freedom and will make the most of it.
“Talk to your child about what it means to have a big bed, especially no wandering about!”, Joanne advises. “And return them to bed without speaking or making eye contact as often as you need to”.
Be prepared for the fact you might have to do this for a few nights until your toddler gets used to their new bed.
7. Don’t rush to put your toddler to bed
If your toddler is at nursery or with a childminder during the day, you might feel in a rush to get them settled for bed when you get home from work. However, Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains that in order for melatonin (the sleep hormone) to reach levels that make sleep easy, most children in daycare will need about two hours after arriving home.
“If you wait a little longer to put them to bed, to allow their hormones to level, you will usually find bedtime is easier.
8. Tackle teething
Teething isn’t just for babies, and when the big molars come in during the toddler years it can be easy to forget them as they’re not as visible.
“But because they are big teeth they can give a small child a lot of discomfort,” Joanne says. “Treat with infant paracetamol and teething powders. And remember, the good news is that these are the last teeth to come through!”
9. Limit your child’s screen-time
If you let your child use a laptop, tablet or watch TV, make sure you put it away or switch it off at least an hour before they go to bed – preferably two.
“This even goes for programmes aimed at toddlers or bedtime”, advises Sarah Ockwell-Smith. “‘Screen-time‘ is highly stimulating and emits a certain lightwave which inhibits sleep – limiting it in the evenings can have a very positive effect on toddler sleep.”
10. Choose the right supper
You might feel like eating is the last thing you want to do before you got to bed but toddlers sometimes need supper before they sleep, even if they only had dinner a few hours earlier.
“If your child gets hungry at this time, try to direct them towards food high in tryptophans which can help aid sleep”, suggests Sarah Ockwell-Smith. “This includes chicken, turkey and tuna.”