Hi there! I’m Lauren Olson, the founder of Sleep and the City, and now the appointed *SLEEP CONSULTANT & YOU TUBE BEDTIME STORIES HOST FOR DISNEY*!! Disney reached out to my this past summer, and I was of course crying happy tears at my desk reading the request. Disney has so many great items on their website to promote child sleep, and you can see the entire article I wrote here and the products that I’ve tested at home with my own children!
Today we will be diving into some of the most common sleep problems that parents with toddlers experience, how you can avoid these potential sleep hurdles at home, and sharing our secret tips to help your child LOVE sleep! Read below for my top Toddler tips I shared with Disney, and click the button here to see their Instagram stories chatting all about it!
School is in session....and your child is waking up suddenly WAY too early every morning. Or your toddler's naps suddenly last so long, that it's becoming difficult to put them down at night. You also begin to even think about not traveling together for the upcoming holidays or special event until they are 18, because when you return home, things are a mess and sleep habits are out the window.
But before we launch into my secret tips and tricks on toddler sleep, let me tell you a little about myself: I am a Mother of two, a lifestyle blogger and a certified pediatric sleep coach. In my business I use contemporary approaches and custom plans designed to provide parents the specific sleep information they need when it comes to developing healthy childhood sleeping habits. I also love to educate expecting and new/current Mamas on the latest trends in the “baby world” to ease the transition into Motherhood (or make it overall easier to navigate!) and more enjoyable. For me, sleep is extremely enjoyable, so let’s dive right in to the common sleep issues that plague millions of families every year:
PROBLEM: YOUR CHILD WAKES UP EVERY MORNING BEFORE 6AM.
Every parent will inevitably watch the sun rise with their baby or toddler at some point, due to a bad dream, night terror or illness. However, if your child regularly goes to bed around 8pm, then any waking before 6am (or after only 10 hours of sleep) can be defined as "Early Rising". Early rising is characterized by your child acting like he or she is ready to go for the day with all the energy you'd expect from yourself after a few cups of coffee- but you know it's much too early for your little one. Why is this happening morning after morning? A couple of clues could lie in your schedule: a child that skips an afternoon nap during the summer due to social events, the splash pad, (or just plain having fun) could result in an overtired child, thus they will "crash" at bedtime. Due to the extended window of time spent awake, this alone could possibly cause a young toddler to wake up much earlier than usual. If you choose to allow your toddler up before 6am and shift your schedule back* to accommodate, slowly this will become your child's new internal rhythm. Invest in a black out shade and light/clock that illuminates when it’s time for the child to get out of bed in the morning to help your child understand the difference between wakeup time and stay-in-bed-still time. Make sure you have an age-appropriate schedule prior to any schedule shifting that you’ve followed for at least 2-3 weeks.
PROBLEM #2: AFTER TRAVELING, YOU RETURN HOME...AND YOUR CHILD SUDDENLY NOW REFUSES TO FALL ASLEEP ON THEIR OWN, EXPERIENCES NIGHT WAKINGS, OR REFUSES TO NAP.
Oh boy. Many parents will joke that vacations are now described as "family trips", meaning it's not always a “vacation” for everyone involved. While traveling, sleep can be heavily disrupted due to changing sleep environments, inconsistent schedules, and perhaps even the introduction of a new sleep crutch for a parent desperate to keep a young child quiet in a house full of family members. We recommend traveling with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Once home, return to your "home routine" as quickly as possible. To ease your child back into your old routines surrounding bedtime, a reward chart for bedtime can assist an older child understand and accept your sleep wishes.
PROBLEM #3: NO SCHEDULE.
The key to staying on schedule when the sun rises much early and sets MUCH too late, is adhering to a consistent, yet flexible summertime schedule that involves physical & mental stimulation for your toddler. A good rule of thumb is that from the time a child wakes in the morning, he or she should go to bed about 13 hours after waking for the day, leaving the next 11 hours reserved for sleep. Be sure to offer a nap to those under three years, or allow children to catch a quick catnap in the car or stroller should they need one after a busy morning. If holidays or family gatherings push bedtime back further than usual, your child may wake at the same time the following day (or earlier as discussed above), so be sure to offer a nap slightly earlier than normal the following day after a big activity, and return to his or her normal bedtime thereafter. Once you decide on a consistent schedule that works for your family, stick with it, and give your child up to 4 weeks to fully adjust.
PROBLEM #4: CHILD COMPLAINS OF BEING THIRSTY, SCARED, OR COLD AT NIGHT.
Physical activity for most children peaks in the summertime and when school is in session, which is great for bedtime sleepiness. Due to an increased level of physical activity, children may complain of being thirsty.....at midnight. Should you choose to allow a drink in the middle of the night, only offer water to those children no longer requiring a feed at night; avoid juices and milks which can contain sugars. With the air conditioners pumping, always dress your baby or toddler in organic long sleeve pajamas to increase the likelihood of comfort and warmth. For children that may wake suddenly and experience nightmares, or simply are afraid of the dark, introduce a "nighttime friend" that is only offered at bedtime, and encourage your child to hold/squeeze/sing to their friend should they wake worried at night (vs. coming to wake you up, eek!).
PROBLEM #5: NO NAP WHEN ONE IS NEEDED, OR REFUSAL TO TAKE A NAP.
So many parents are quick to think, "My child is having more trouble going down for naps, I bet if I drop the nap completely this will work out better in the end." Perhaps you're right. Or perhaps you will have a young toddler on a warpath by dinnertime. Toddlers nap begin to gradually disappear around age 3, over a period of weeks (not a couple days), where naps can become shorter or the child plays the entire time. Always encourage a quiet time until school age. Even us adults need some down time after a busy morning. When your toddler begins to show signs of dropping the nap (doesn’t fall asleep at nap time or doesn’t fall asleep for over an hour+ for at least three weeks consistently), try moving up bedtime by 60 minutes for a few weeks before returning to your “normal” bedtime. During this particular transition, it’s also common for a no-longer-napping-toddler to catch a quick catnap in the car, but wake them after 15-20 minutes max if possible.
PROBLEM #6: YOUR TODDLER IS A BETTER BARGAINER THAN YOUR COUPON-CUTTING GRANDMA.
I once read that bargaining is a toddler's currency. They have nothing to lose by doing so, by asking for just one more book, one more hug, one more bathroom break. Try to implement theses habits or “asks” into your nightly routine, so they are using the bathroom or sipping a little bit of water PRIOR to getting into bed. With toddlers, it’s very important to stay consistent and firm with your expectations around bedtime.
PROBLEM #7: SCARED OF THE DARK, OR NIGHTMARES.
As a working-at-home Mom of two, no one understands putting on a quick cartoon more than me while you hustle through a 2-minute shower. I get it. Make sure you're monitoring what your children are watching when you're not watching closely, or what the younger sibling is watching WITH the older child. Imagination in play peaks at age 3, which also means children have the ability to now dream "in sequence", making dreams much more vivid (or terrifying). Allow your child some in-room soothing, or sit with them until they’ve fallen back asleep.
PROBLEM #8: YOUR TODDLER WAKES UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT TO PLAY OR VISIT
This is likely the most common issue that I see with my toddler clients. Allowing a child into your bed one time to continue sleeping, and consecutively more nights thereafter, and it will be a lot harder to encourage a separate sleeping space. Return your toddler to their room instead, and try to stay in your toddler's room, and encourage him or her back to sleep, using as little intervention as possible. You may have to sit with them until they fall asleep, or check on them in short intervals until they are asleep again. If your child is waking up at night and playing for more than one hour, this may be due to what is called Split Nights, and calls for some schedule help. Always keep the room around 70 degrees, with white noise playing continuously, and limit access to toys that encourage play.
PROBLEM #9: YOUR TODDLER IS POTTY TRAINING & ISN’T QUITE READY FOR OVERNIGHTS.
Pull ups at night are OK! Many parents will ask me, "What should I do if my toddler wets the bed" or "What should I say if he leaves the room at night to use the bathroom?" It's perfectly acceptable to allow a pull-up until age 5, when a child's bladder completely matures. Due to our body's biology, your child should not experience a BM diaper late at night, unless they are experiencing some tummy troubles from dinner of course. If you choose to allow your toddler to sleep without a pull-up or diaper, try doubling up the sheets (cotton sheet, mattress protector, repeat) so that instead of changing the entire bed at 3am, you can simply pull off one layer to the dry ones below.
PROBLEM #10: MOVING TO A TODDLER BED TOO EARLY
This is a VERY exciting time for a young child, so expect some slight regressions at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Lots of praise for those kiddos that stay (and sleep) in their big kid bed at night! But moving too early, or without ground rules set in place first, can be the recipe for sleep disaster! Purchasing a DockaTot could ease the transition as well, especially for those children that move a lot at night, roll out of the toddler bed, or whom enjoy feeling more safe & secure. Yes, the "Ok to Wake" color clocks also works wonders, but be sure you talk through your expectations around the clock and getting out of bed. BUY ONE NOW. (Here's our favorite.) THE MINIMUM AGE that I recommend moving your child to a toddler bed or a shared room with a sibling is 2.5 years old, and/or when safety is no longer an issue and set rules are consistently followed.