This is the second part in our toddler sleep tip series with sleep coach Deanna Lorusso. Learn the facts from the fluff behind the nap controversy circulating in the media. Find out how to balance potty training and bedtime. Delve deeper into what causes most toddler sleep disturbances and discover the best way to protect your child. And read many more expert tips for reclaiming bedtime for you and your family!
TiP: Recently, there has been a lot of contradictory information in the media about napping. How does it affect toddler sleep? How do you advise parents to manage naptime and bedtime?
Deanna: There has definitely been a lot of contradictory information regarding toddler naps in the media lately. The study that brought the issue to light stated that children over two who nap experience disturbed nighttime sleep. The first thing to keep in mind is that the article itself noted it lacked significant evidence to explain this claim fully and that more research is needed. From the perspective of working with hundreds of families, I question do the children with interrupted night sleep nap during the day to make up for that lack of night. It’s the historical question of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Yes, toddlers who don’t nap will fall asleep quicker at bedtime, but is that healthier?
From my experience and training, I consistently recommend that children continue to need naps until sometime during their third, even fourth year. The important thing to look at is how many hours of sleep your child receives during a 24-hour period. Even the National Sleep Foundation recently weighed in on new recommendations, stating that an average one to two-year-old needs 11 to 14 hours of sleep, and an average three to five-year-old needs 10 to 13 hours of sleep. As it’s probably impossible to get that amount of sleep during the night, naps are recommended.
Naps help keep our children well rested. More importantly, naps keep them from getting overtired. Being overtired causes the biggest problems when it comes to sleep at night. When a child is overtired it makes it harder for them to fall asleep, stay asleep, and go back to sleep when they have a partial awakening during the night.
TiP: Co-sleeping for toddlers: Yay, nay, maybe for a time it’s okay? What does the sleep expert say?
Deanna: Co-sleeping is a very personal decision. I don’t really have a strong opinion on it other than it needs to be the parent’s choice. If you make the decision to co-sleep with your toddler, and you are doing so safely and everyone is getting the sleep he or she needs and deserves, then continue to do so. It’s when the co-sleeping situation “happens” out of survival that we often need to find alternative solutions. This is often when I work with parents to help their child fall asleep in their own bed so the parents can then revert to the marital bed.
The other question surrounding co-sleeping that I often get is can you sleep coach while co-sleeping. The answer is yes. I have some techniques that I use just for co-sleeping families that want to continue to co-sleep yet want their children to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep through the night.
TiP: Toddler sleep disturbances: What are the usual suspects, causes, and solutions?
Deanna: The two biggest disturbances that I find with toddlers are nightmares and changes to the family dynamics. I touched upon nightmares in the first part of this series Sleep Coach Tips for Top 5 Toddler Sleep Problems.
The toddler years is a time when the imaginations of our children peak, and they try to distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy. We as parents often have to really monitor what they are being exposed to during the day. The shows we select might be perfectly acceptable, but very often it is the previews or commercials that cause the scary thoughts. Alternatively, older siblings, friends or neighbors often introduce ideas that are scary for our young children that result in nightmares that night.
The second big disturbance that I speak to families about are changes in the family. These changes can include additions to the family. Moving to a new home, changing child care providers or starting school. All of these changes are huge for a little person to adjust to. So, they may need a few extra cuddles, sometimes discussing the changes, and often a short episode of re-coaching to remind them of their sleeping skills.
TiP: Night lights, calming music, stuffed animals, bedtime stories, warm baths, lullabies . . . when does the bedtime routine become overkill and backfire? Is that possible?
Deanna: Bedtime routines are crucial for all young children in that they provide consistency and a time for our children to unwind before bed. The bedtime routine should be about 30 minutes in length. Anything longer and it does become overkill. I also caution that you want to avoid over-stimulating activities during the bedtime routine. If your child is falling asleep during your routine, it is either starting too late, or it is too long. Remember, your child should go to bed drowsy but awake.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s okay if the bedtime routine does not include a bath. The average night in my household with two toddler boys, bath time creates a more stimulating environment than a relaxing one. So we work it into a more appropriate part of our routine. And baths in the evenings may not work logistically for other families who want to get everyone in bed on time, either. So, as I discuss with all of my clients, your bedtime routine needs to fit your family’s specific needs to work on the majority of nights.
TiP: Potty training toddlers, especially during sleeping hours, is tricky. What’s the best way to encourage them to get up to potty and go back to sleep?
Deanna: Toilet training is a major developmental milestone. So, parents can expect temporary social, emotional, feeding, and sleep disturbances. I often tell parents that it is okay for your child to wear pull-ups, diapers, or the like until four or even five years old. This is often when children’s bladders are mature enough to hold it all night, or for their brain to learn how to respond when their bladder shouts “full.” And, after all, the effort to get them to sleep through the night, it makes no sense to confuse them by waking them to go pee! Encourage potty use right before going to bed and before naps, but don’t get into a struggle over it.
Often for newly trained children, the potty can become a stall tactic. When they say they need to potty, you, of course, let them out of bed and go potty; but once and only once. Keep it boring. No talking, no games, no show and tell. Just potty. Boring with a capital B! Then put him back in a pull-up or diaper (if wearing one); reassure him that using a diaper at night is fine; and tuck him into bed. I just remind my clients not to make it a party, or this will be the new favorite stall tactic!
TiP: From Houdini “cribsters” to free-roaming toddler bed rascals, how do parents keep sleepy heads in bed?
Deanna: This has to be the hardest part of working with toddlers. As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t until about the age of three that children have the capacity to understand staying in their bed all night. Yes, some children grasp it earlier, and others won’t get out of the bed until a parent takes them out, but for most, it is closer to three years old when they understand bedtime means all night long. So parent consistency is key here. With each wake-up, parents must escort their child back to bed, tuck them in and say goodnight. Any deviation from that plan can cause new habits to form. Ultimately, if you can keep them in a crib, please do!
”Learning to fall asleep on your own is a skill that we teach our children, and we can teach it to them at any age. So, for those that have toddlers and they thought the bedtime situation would fix itself, and it hasn’t, you have hope! I coach families with children up to age six.” Deanna Lorusso, Sleep Coach, Owner – Family Bliss