How to get your baby to sleep
Toddler sleep problems
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Toddler sleep problems
From waking up too early to swapping the cot for a bed – find out about common toddler sleep issues and how you can tackle them.
Having survived through the baby sleeping phase, you’re realising that getting a toddler to sleep regularly through the night presents its own unique set of challenges.
Like babies, toddlers can wake up frequently or be reluctant to fall asleep. But the fact that they can now get out of bed by themselves and are beginning to talk - or argue - means that tackling sleep issues requires a slightly different response.
Many parents encounter problems with toddlers moving from a cot to a big bed, waking up at the crack of dawn, and sleeping restlessly. If any of these sounds familiar, we’ve got information and advice on how to tackle the next stage of sleeping issues.
Getting a toddler to sleep… and stay asleep
Your toddler wants to attach themself to you at bedtime, either by crawling into your bed or having you stay with them until they fall asleep.
Have a calming, wind-down bedtime routine in place: the last few hours before bedtime should be free of overstimulating activities, games, and TV. Try to follow this same evening routine every night, so your toddler is prepared for sleep time.
If you want your toddler to fall asleep by themself, try gradually separating from your child by kissing them goodnight and promising you’ll be back in two minutes. Make sure you go back, and say goodnight again. Repeat with longer intervals until they are calm enough to drift off.
Although they’re out of the baby phase, toddlers still spend more time in REM light sleep than you do, so they’re likely to wake up more often.
Toddler waking up at night
Don’t give in to demands or allow treats when your toddler has woken up at night – you don’t want them to associate tantrums with positive reinforcement. You might want to try the rapid return technique, by calmly and gently replacing them in their beds as soon as possible and with little fanfare.
Reward charts and little bribes for staying in bed can work well and provide positive encouragement.
Many parents might find they're happy to compromise a little and stay with their toddler until the child falls asleep.
You might even want to co-sleep for a little while, as toddlers do not have to go wandering to find you in the night and so might be less distressed. A good compromise could be to provide a trundle bed or mattress in your room for your toddler to sleep on if they wake up in the night.
Moving from the cot to a big bed
Let your toddler adjust: place the bed in the same place the cot was, or allow them to nap in the bed before they try a whole night, even keeping the cot in the room for a while if necessary.
Emphasise the excitement of this milestone with your little one, and reward them for staying in bed when they are told.
Make sure the room is safe for little night wanderers – check windows are secure and remove any potential hazards. It can be a good idea to invest in a stair gate – which was rated as the most useful baby product in our Which? Baby Survey 2015.
Find out which stair gates are worth splashing out on in our stair gate reviews.
Sometimes toddlers simply aren't ready to make the switch; there’s nothing wrong with switching back to the cot if you think this might be the case.
Toddler waking up early
It can be helpful to use a nightlight or timer, such as a Gro-Clock, to teach your child when it's morning and they're allowed to get up.
Make sure their environment is primed for sleep: darkness in the bedroom and not too many toys or distractions in the vicinity.
The ‘wake to sleep’ method suggests that if you can slightly wake your toddler from deep sleep just before their usual early waking time, they will start the sleep cycle again without fully waking up. This will require greater commitment from you, in the form of getting up at 4am every morning at least three days in a row.
Behaviour such as head banging, bed wetting, strange sleeping positions, night terrors and sleepwalking can be normal behaviour for toddlers, and are more likely than not to be temporary phases. If you're worried about a persistent issue, consult a doctor for professional and personalised advice.