15 tips for toddlers that won’t sleep through

Kinderling News & Features

As many of us can attest, sleep issues don’t stop once bub grows up into toddlerhood. They have their own whole set of troubles that cause them to wake up in the middle of the night, which can drive you mad as you continue lose sleep too!

These tips might help you find the root of the problem, and make some changes to obtain a full night’s rest.

1. Head to bed on time

Did you know your toddler sleeps deepest between the hours of 8pm and 12am? This means if they’re partying past 8pm, they may not be getting enough sleep and not getting enough sleep can make them wake more in the night. Try an earlier bedtime, say 7 or 7.30pm.

2. Try waiting before settling

Some toddlers are still learning the art of settling themselves back to sleep. As such, if you rush into their room at the first sound of a whimper, they may have gotten used to needing you to pat, cuddle or rock her back to sleep. This is called a ‘sleep association’. If you need them to get to sleep solo, try holding back a few minutes before you bolt into her room as this will give her a chance at settling herself. If the whimpering escalates, then try the next tip.

3. Avoid helping too much

If your kid won't settle on their own, help a little. Your toddler will demand being picked up, cuddled or rocked every time they wake if this is how he knows to get back to sleep. Try weaning him off this by offering limited help. For instance, pat them on the bottom, so they know you're there and then when they’re calm, but not quite asleep, leave the room. Then, if they still cry out for you, delay the time you return. This gentle approach to sleep training will help them learn that mum or dad isn’t need to settle back to sleep.

4. Ensure they’re not unwell or teething

Of course, there are times when our little ones cry at night because they are unwell or suffering from teething pain. This is when they need us most. Check your tot isn't sick, or has a new tooth on its way, before you assume they need sleep training. When toddlers are ill or in pain they need comfort.

5. Offer a comforter

A cuddly blanket, stuffed toy or even your old t-shirt to smell you, can all help to comfort your tot in the night. If they get attached to these things, they'll learn to use them to soothe back to sleep instead of always calling out to you.

6. Create a consistent bedtime routine

A simple and consistent bedtime routine is soothing to little ones. This may include a warm bath followed by stories and a calming song. Kinderling’s Settle Petal program is the perfect accompaniment to the winding down process. Doing the same things in the same order every night will prepare your kid that it’s time for sleep. If they get better at GOING to sleep of a night - meaning they’re settled and happy to drift off to sleep on their own - you may find the night waking also eases.

7. Maintain the day sleep

You may think your little one needs less sleep if they’re waking in the night because perhaps they’re not tired, but in fact they may need more. Toddlers need an average of 10-14 hours of sleep a day and this includes a day sleep. If your little one is in the habit of skipping this, they may be suffering from over-tiredness and over-tiredness will make it harder to sleep at night.

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8. Consider any life changes

If your toddler has gone from sleeping through the night to suddenly waking up like a newborn baby, have a little think if anything has changed in their world. A new sibling, a change of daycare centres or starting toilet training can all lead to regression, and this includes sleep regression. If you can identify a change that may be causing any anxiety, then address it and try to work through it with them.

9. Be gentle but firm

If you go into your toddler's room during the night, be gentle but firm about it being time for sleep. Be calm and quiet to reinforce the idea that it’s a time for sleep.

10. Don’t always cuddle to sleep

There’s nothing lovelier than having your little one drift off to sleep in your arms, but if you know your toddler can’t fall asleep any other way, then you probably need to make these ‘before bed’ cuddles, not ‘go to sleep’ ones. You aren't denying love and affection, rather you are helping them to learn some independence in that they CAN go to sleep on their own. Again, a good ‘going to bed’ routine’ will help them to learn when it’s time for sleep.

11. Talk about the day

Sometimes toddlers wake at night because they can’t process things. They call out between sleep cycles because their minds are ticking over. A lovely little thing to add to a bedtime routine is recounting the events of the day with your toddler as you dress for bed and brush teeth. This will help them to process and understand experiences and put them out of their mind to sleep more peacefully.

12. Consider night terrors

If your toddler’s waking is in the form of violent screaming, sometimes with thrashing, they may actually not be awake at all but suffering from night terrors. Night terrors are a scary enigma but seem to happen in toddlerhood. Your toddler will look like they’re suffering from a nightmare, and their eyes may be open but they’re actually asleep. The best way to deal with night terrors is to not wake them up and wait for it to pass. Waking will only result in them being more upset, confused and have trouble getting back to sleep.

13. Burn off steam during the day

Toddlers need to burn off physical steam, running around or using their bodies when playing. If your little one has spent the day sitting in the stroller, they may need to expend some physical energy well before bed time. Factor this in as a possible cause of night waking too.

14. Stop middle of the night milk feed

If your toddler is in the habit of drinking a bottle of milk or demanding a breastfeed in the night, they may also be using this as a ‘sleep association’ - that is they think they needs milk in order to drift back to sleep. Try cutting this out and giving them a chance to fall back to sleep solo. Give yourselves a few nights to adjust to this.

15. See your GP

If nothing you try seems to have an effect, speak to your GP. They'll check for any other reasons why your toddler might be waking in the night. In most cases though, the issue will resolve itself in time. Hang in there!

For personalised sleep advice, write in to Kinderling Helpline. Mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue answers questions every Monday, to help your family rest better.

This article was originally published on Babyology.