Your toddler bedtime and sleep question answered

Our health visitor answers all your queries about sleeping, naps and getting your litle one off to bed

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Does your toddler want to come in your bed instead of hers?

1) Bedtime dramas

Q. My 2 year old takes two hours on a bad night to get into bed. We all dread having to deal with bedtime – what are we doing wrong?

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A. It sounds like your toddler is in charge of bedtimes, rather than you. From endless demands for more stories, to continual drinks and getting in and out of bed for teddies, little ones have a range of skills that they use to prolong the inevitable bedtime.

Successful bedtime routines should last around half an hour and start with quiet time after the last meal, a 10-minute bath, one last drink, one or two stories of a length you’ve picked, and then good night.

Be confident, tell your tot the new routine and avoid engaging in too much conversation about it, as you’re the boss now! Don’t be enticed back into the bedroom and stick to your mantra: “It’s sleep time, good night.”

2) My child keeps breaking the bedtime routine

Q: My second baby’s due soon and my toddler’s suddenly started coming into our bed. How can I get her back – quickly?

A: Don’t panic! Most tots will go through phases of hopping into mummy and daddy’s bed, no matter how well they’ve settled in the past. Plus, the arrival of a new sibling can mean a change of bedrooms or moving to a big bed, which can unsettle your toddler.

Stick to a regular bedtime routine such as quiet play, bath, story and then bedtime. When she does come into your room, pop her back into her own bed without fuss, say ‘goodnight’ and repeat as often as you have to. I know it’s tiring, but it’s the only way to break her habit.

If possible, you could also ask a friend or relative to watch her for an hour or so during the day, so you can catch up on sleep until she’s back into her old routine.

3) She’s waking in the night

Q. My second baby is due in a few weeks. Out of the blue our toddler has suddenly started waking in the night again. How can we get her back to sleeping through… quickly?

A. It’s not unusual for a toddler to go through a phase of night waking. It may be due to changes in her daytime activities (like a new sibling being on the way!), her imagination working overtime, illness or teething. Your little girl has established a good sleeping pattern before, so be confident that with consistency from you she will get there again.

Have a think about how her days are structured and make sure they’re not too busy or over-stimulating. Go back to what worked before. The old routine of quiet time, bath, drink, story and bed usually works well. When she wakes at night be persistent in settling her to back to bed with minimum attention. It’s not easy when heavily pregnant, but worth sticking with in the long run. If you can, get some extra help during the day so you can get valuable rest, just until you get her back on track.

4) We need more sleep!

Q. My son has started waking at 5am, ready for his day. We’re exhausted, how can we get him back to sleeping longer?

A. This problem is often triggered in the autumn when the clocks go back, but can happen any time your growing child starts to need a little less sleep, and is very tiring. The simplest thing to do first of all is to try gradually making his bedtime routine start a little bit later. That way, he should begin sleeping later in the mornings. Look at cutting back on his daytime naps too. If he’s sleeping for too long during the day, this could be making him alert by 5am as he simply doesn’t need any more rest. To encourage him to stay in bed when he does wake, invest in a fun children’s alarm clock that tells him when it’s time to get up, and leave a drink of water out for him. If he does come into your room, make it as boring as possible. Don’t get up and play as that’ll reinforce the early waking habit.

5) Cot vs. bed

Q. My 16 month old still sleeps in my bed with me, as he’s never settled in his cot. Can he go straight to a ‘big bed’ now?

A. Good for you for making this change. The good news is that it’s fine to put him straight into his own bed rather than into a cot first. As he’s still young, a few additional precautions will keep him safe. When you’ve chosen his bed, fit a bed guard on the side in case he rolls to the edge. If you’re also moving him to his own bedroom, fit a stair gate to his door, so that he can’t roam at night. If he’s likely to get out of bed, make sure his sleeping area is safe from hazards – fit socket covers, tidy away any trailing flexes and lock windows, for example.

Preparing your little one for sleeping in his own bed requires a consistent approach because he might not be keen on the idea to start with. Begin a routine of quiet time, bath, milk, teeth, into bed with a story, dim lights and calm atmosphere. Try to persevere even if it’s hard at first.

6) Should my toddler still have naps?

Q: Recently my 2 year old’s been waking earlier and earlier from his daytime nap. Should I drop it?

A: Some toddlers rarely sleep during the day, while others will happily snooze for a few hours right up until they start school. It can be tricky to manage the move away from a daytime kip, but your little one seems ready.

Start by reducing his snooze time by 15 minutes for a few days and then a little more when you’ve seen how he copes. He’s probably going to be a bit grumpy, as he adjusts to less sleep, so try and do most of your activities earlier in the day and have some quiet time after lunch. Dinnertime can be testing, as your toddler struggles with tiredness and hunger at the same time, so offer him his main meal at lunch time, with a mid-afternoon snack to keep his rumbling stomach at bay.

7) Wrap up the naps

Q. I’ve been thinking that our toddler needs to drop his daytime sleep, as he’s started waking up earlier and earlier. What’s the best way to go about changing his routine?

A. Changing any routine is easier if you pick a few days when neither you nor your little one has much on. Be realistic: it may be better to drop his daytime sleep every other day at first.

Some other adjustments may also help with the change in routine. For example, you may want to try moving his main meal to lunchtime: it’ll be easier than trying to encourage a tired toddler to eat later in the day. And try introducing a little walk at his usual naptime, and allow some quiet playtime in the afternoon. You can also try bringing his night-time routine forward to help with early waking. Shift it gradually, by 15 minutes every few days over a couple of weeks.

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Alternatively, try reducing his daytime sleep by 15 minutes, until it’s gone completely. Gradually his body clock will adjust.

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