What happens to sleep when my baby becomes a toddler? – By Jo Ryan

So you nailed the baby phase! Well done. You survived and also managed to keep your baby alive for 12 whole months! You would think that now your baby is a lively toddler, the sleep problems would be well and truly over. Well, unfortunately that may not be the case. If your baby wasn’t a great sleeper, then the bad news is that your toddler might also not be a great sleeper. And even if you baby was a decent sleeper, once they get to 12 months or more, things can regress.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is a reason that things can go pear-shaped once your baby becomes a toddler. There are also some major developmental leaps that happen in the toddler phase that will also affect their sleep. But don’t despair! The good news is that as they get older, sleep problems can be fixed a little easier because you can rule out things like feeding overnight. Toddlers also can understand what you are saying to them so you can explain more.

If you are dealing with a toddler sleep regression, the key is to not let it go on too long before you try and correct it. Toddlers learn things quickly but we need to be consistent and repetitious and they will get there!

Here are some of the toddler problems and how best to deal with them.

1.      Not wanting to sleep in the day

This is a BIG transitional time for day sleeping. Toddlers will often transition from two naps to one nap between 12 and 18 months, and eventually they will want to drop the nap altogether.  The drop from two to one can cause a toddler to be particularly tired in the afternoon and evening. It will help if you can try to get them to bed as early as possible during this phase. If they are resisting the nap altogether it can be a good idea to have a “rest time. So there is no playing, just lying on their bed, or the sofa and perhaps reading a book, watching something calm on the television or listening to music. My suggestion is to really try and keep this rest period going for as long as you can!

2.      Stalling at bedtime

Toddlers may work out that stalling and asking for things at bedtime is a great way to keep you in the bedroom. Just one more drink, just one more cuddle, just one more book, these are all classic toddler stalling requests. A great way to manage this is to have a really great bedtime routine. You can even have a chart in the bedroom that your child can tick off when they do the task. Everything should be on that chart, eg. Read 2 books, kiss the teddys, do a wee, have a drink etc. so that when it is done you can refer to the chart if your child tries to stall.

3.      Getting out of bed

Another common toddler behaviour is them coming out to find you after they have been put to bed. This can be extremely frustrating, particularly if you have sat down to have your dinner or watch your favourite TV show. If you can, try and deal with them calmly and the same way every time it happens. My advice is to walk your child back to their bed and ask them to stay and go to sleep. Don’t get mad, don’t say too much, just keep doing it and eventually they will get the message and go off to sleep.

4.      Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety usually starts around 10 to 12 months and peaks around 18 months. This is when, even if they can’t see you, they still want you! Bedtime can be a time when separation anxiety peaks. Toddlers who were once able to go off to sleep on their own, will now want you to stay with them until they fall asleep. This can cause all kinds of disruptions to their sleeping, with them often falling asleep much later than they usually would, and waking more overnight. Having a very good bedtime routine can help with this. Make sure you stick with what you have been doing so they know how things will go. After going to bed, you can assure them you till pop back to check on them every 5 minutes or so, which can help. Don’t try and sneak out of the room as this will only cause more anxiety. Comfort your child but don’t introduce anything new. By that I mean, don’t start lying with your child if you weren’t previously. It should pass after a bit.

5.      Early morning waking

Some toddlers just want to get going with their day as soon as those birds start chirping. And this can be way too early for a lot of families. There are some things you can try to fix this but some children are just early morning risers. If you have one of these, then it is best to teach these children to stay in bed until the sun is up or until you come to get them. A toddler clock that comes on when it is time to get up can help with this. For the other early risers you can try adjusting their day naps. If they are getting too much sleep in the day, they can start to wake early in the morning. You could also try getting them to bed a bit earlier, around 7pm, as toddlers who go to bed too late tend to shorten their nights and wake early.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.