Toddlers : Sleep
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
Once asleep, your toddler may sleep through the night without waking and crying or calling out to you but getting them to bed may be a challenge. Toddlers tend to get overtired more easily than newborns and may ‘fight’ sleep. This is why it important to spot the signs of tiredness, which may help you settle your child to sleep before crankiness sets in. This is where the consistent sleep training leading up to this age will be a big help.
Sleep Patterns - What to Expect
From 12months onwards your toddler may still sleep around 12-13 hours sleep per day over a 24-hour period with one long overnight sleep and 1-3 sleeps during the day. Many toddlers are early risers, and there may not be a lot you can do about this. Putting your child down for sleep later on the evening to counteract their early mornings may not work, as they may still wake early but be cranky from lack of sleep. You may need to adapt your sleep patterns too at this time, if you have an early riser you may need an earlier bedtime as well, at least for now.
Consistent bedtime routines are still very important. Most toddlers are ready for bed around 6.30 – 7.00pm. This allows them time to fall into deeper Non-REM sleep which occurs between around 8 and 12pm (if you put your toddler down at 7pm).
Your child’s bedtime routine may consist of teeth brushing, bath and nappy change, followed by quiet time or bedtime stories and then bed. This calm routine could wind them down for the day and prepare them for sleep.
Where will your toddler sleep?
There is no set time when you should move your child from cot to a bed, but most children are ready for their first bed between the ages of 18 months and 3years. You may still be co-sleeping in the same room as your baby, or they might already have their own bedroom, but by this stage you may consider moving them into their own space to make it a more peaceful environment for your child to learn to fall asleep without you present. This is important for parents too … a time to reclaim their personal bedroom space, which may have been shared with your baby for the past year.
There are a few signs that your baby may be ready for their own bed. Outgrowing their crib is the most common, as well as if you are having another baby, or if your active toddler is trying to climb or jump out of their cot. This is where the decision gets tricky – you will no longer have to worry about your child falling from their cot in an attempt to escape – compared to your child now being free to move around during the night. Toilet training is another reason for moving from cot to bed – if your child is in the process or has been toilet trained, they will need access to the bathroom during the night.
Children all adjust to this milestone differently. The change to sleeping in a bed may coincide with other milestones such as toilet training, starting childcare, a new sibling on the way etc., so be patient if your child doesn’t respond well initially. One way to help ease them into the change is by throwing a “Bed Party” and making a big deal of how exciting it is. Allowing them to get into bed themselves also may give them a sense of accomplishment and self-assurance.
On the other hand, your child may have a smooth easy transition from cot to bed. If your toddler has a baby sibling, it could be made easier if their attitude is that the crib is for the ‘baby’. Or they might just be calm about it and you won’t need to make any special effort to get them to move beds. No matter how prepared your child is, always remember to have a guardrail up to prevent your toddler rolling out of bed in the night.
Moving your child from cot to bed is a significant milestone for you too. It signals another milestone for your baby and is a nice time to reflect back on the time when you had a tiny baby in her first bassinet and how far your toddler has come.
Settling Your Toddler to Sleep
Settling your Toddler to sleep at this stage is very similar to early techniques, but issues such as separation anxiety, toilet training, moving to ‘big bed’, growth spurts and developmental changes or a change in environment all play a role in how to settle your child. Routine and a consistent sequence of bedtime rituals is still important in creating positive sleep behaviours.
Aside from ‘comfort settling,’ where you remain in the room soothing your child while they are in bed and returning to them immediately if they become upset, you may be considering ‘self-settling’. This is where you settle your child into bed, reassuring them for a brief period until calm, and then leaving the room for slightly longer periods than if they were to become upset while ‘self-soothing’. The length of time you delay returning to the room is dependent on your child’s level of distress and your capacity to listening for their crying to reduce. This can be a challenging time for families, listening to your baby crying is distressing and if you aren’t comfortable you can always talk to your healthcare professional for advice.
If ‘self-settling’ is not for you but you still want to encourage your toddler to put themselves to sleep, there are other sleep routines you can establish which may achieve this. You can be present in their room but try and avoid physically soothing – commonly called “parental presence sleeping”. This means you are with your baby but sit or lie quietly within eyesight of them and pretend to rest or sleep. If your child becomes fussy you can give a little cough or comforting sounds while keeping your eyes closed.
If your baby becomes distressed you can rise and use self-soothing reassurances while your baby is still in bed, and then return to your quiet corner and allow them to calm themselves for sleep. Stay in the room until your child is asleep, and then you can leave or go to bed if still co-sleeping in the same room as your child. This continues for about a week or until your baby has 3 consecutive nights or relatively uninterrupted sleep. You then may be able to begin leaving the room before your baby falls asleep.
However, you establish your night-time routines, always remember to be as patient and as consistent as possible. As adults we know the worth of getting the right amount of sleep. Your child too needs all the rest they need for their optimal health and development.
Issues and Obstacles at Bedtime
Typical issues and obstacles at bedtime can be:
Calling out and getting up after bedtime.
Night terrors or nightmares.
Behaviours resisting sleep may develop during this age, as separation anxiety may cause your child to become very needy. Bedtime struggles may appear following a significant change or loss in your child’s life, leading to anxiety and fear of being alone. Or your child may be one to call out during the night for you- they may have a dirty nappy, need comfort or be scared – some children do not like the dark or are scared of imaginary ‘monsters’. You can reassure your child by getting a night-light, so they are not in complete darkness, or doing a check of their room with the lights on for any ‘monsters’.
Of course, your child may be calling out because they want or need something, so go to them if you think they need your help, or something is wrong. Vocalising what you are doing as part of their bedtime routine can sometimes soothe your child at nighttime.
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, May 22). Toddler sleep: what to expect. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/sleep/understanding-sleep/toddler-sleep
raisingchildren.net.au. (2018, June 12). Moving from cot to bed. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/sleep/where-your-child-sleeps/cot-to-bed
raisingchildren.net.au. (2018, June 12). Night terrors. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/sleep/night-time-problems/night-terrors