Sleep Coach Tips for Top 5 Toddler Sleep Problems

If you ever feel like no amount of coffee could fill your sleep deficit, then you’ve got TODDLER. And we’ve got something for that: tips from sleep coach Deanna Lorusso for parents experiencing the top five toddler sleep problems.

She’s the mompreneur of twin boys and sleep expert that brought us baby sleep myths and tips, and we’ve invited her back to address toddlers! Toddlers and all of their delightful transitions often tangle and wrangle with the entire family’s sleep routine. And a healthy dose of sleep per night is essential for optimal cognitive function (and minimal family dysfunction).

Deanna, a certified pediatric sleep coach and owner of Family Bliss, is going to jump right in as our featured tuned in parent and guest blogger today.

1. When and how do I make the transition from a crib to a bed?

If possible, I advise parents to wait as long as you can to make the transition to a big bed or toddler bed. Here are a few things to consider when contemplating the transition:

  • Age: 30 months would be the very earliest that I would make the transition; closer to three or even four years old would be ideal. This is the age when children have the cognitive ability to understand staying in their bed all night long. Age is the first factor to consider along with does he climb out of the bed frequently and is it a safety issue?
  • Does he ask for a “big boy bed”?
  • And has he mastered the act of falling asleep alone at bedtime and putting himself back to sleep during any nighttime partial wake ups?

2. How do I make the transition from two naps to one nap?

The earliest is a toddler between 15 and 18 months that is usually ready to make the transition; not a 12-month-old baby, contrary to popular belief. I encourage parents to make this routine change if:

  • their child is consistently getting 10 to 11 hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep;
  • their young toddler is consistently taking longer to fall asleep for the morning nap;
  • and consistently takes shorter morning naps, or
  • sleeps too long in the morning and refuses an afternoon nap.

The above signs indicate that the transition from two naps to one nap can take place. I provide more detail on this in my blog post Nap Transition from 2 to 1.

3. Why does my toddler wake in the middle of the night after going to bed easily?

This is a very common question, and, usually, I need to ask parents: “Is your child awake enough at bedtime?” I know it sounds like a silly question, but we want our children to be drowsy but awake; more awake than drowsy is better. They need to be aware that they are falling asleep. Remember, bedtime is the easiest time to learn to put yourself to sleep.

Children need to master the skill of falling asleep on their own so that when they wake in the middle of the night, they can apply this skill. So if your child is waking up multiple times during the night, putting themselves back to sleep from these partial awakenings becomes even more difficult as the night progresses and they get more and more sleep even though it is fragmented.

4. Nightmares vs. Night Terrors

toddler early wake upNightmares are very common, totally normal and often peak at two or three years of age when children have rich imaginations and sometimes have trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. Children will seek comfort from their disturbing dream. They often recall the nightmare, and it may take them a while to fall back to sleep and get the scary thoughts out of their minds.

I often encourage parents to avoid scary videos, books, and stories prior to bed or during bedtime routine. Don’t play scary games. Respond quickly and assure them of their safety. It’s important for parents to keep a calm presence of mind and use a reassuring voice as it can make a huge difference in these middle of the night episodes for both parents and child. Remember to reassure your child as needed, showing love and respect for these normal experiences.

Night terrors are both different in symptoms and the experience. When a child is experiencing a night terror, they may scream and appear anxious. The child is often inconsolable and may not recognize their parent. They may push away and possibly seem frightened of their parent. The terror usually lasts between five and fifteen minutes and then subsides. These incidents are often more upsetting for the parent than the child, as children do not usually remember them. They most often occur within 2 hours of falling asleep.

Night terrors are NOT bad dreams. They are not a sign of a psychological problem. The most common cause of night terrors is sleep deprivation or a disturbance in a child’s sleep patterns. They can also be caused by stress in the child’s sleep schedule, such as traveling to a new time zone, sleep apnea or illness with fever. Night terrors can also occur during a developmental milestone.

5. Early Rising

toddler waking upWaking up between the dreaded 4 am and 6 am is a very common concern for parents of toddlers. The two main reasons for children experiencing early rising are often nap deprivation and/or too late of a bedtime. I always encourage parents to work on those two key components first; then I often encourage parents of toddlers over two to think about toddler clocks. They are a great tool to help remind our little ones when it is appropriate to climb out of bed. We use them in our home, and love it!

Tuned In Parents toddler sleep

Oh! There’s so much more! Toddlers are full of transitions! For more amazing sleep tips, you’ll want to read our interview with Deanna covering the following toddler sleep topics:

  • setting the recent nap controversy in the media straight,
  • co-sleeping,
  • more on toddler sleep disturbances,
  • bedtime routines that backfire,
  • streamlining potty training and bedtime, and more!

Thank you for being tuned in parents, and a special thanks to today’s featured tuned in parent and guest blogger, Deanna! We welcome your comments, suggestions, and more tips — let’s keep the knowledge flowing! Contact Deanna, too, with all your baby and toddler sleep questions! She’ll give you a free consultation.

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