As your baby turns into a toddler and goes through several developmental changes and milestones, you may find that their sleep pattern begins to change. LUCY WOLFE takes you through your toddler’s sleep transitions and offers solutions for a good night’s snooze.
When we become parents, one of the most frequently asked questions from others will be: Are they sleeping? However, as the babies turn into toddlers, rarely do people ask such a valid question. The reality is that whilst sleep can be a challenge in the first year of life, it can also be a significant issue in the second and subsequent years as well. If your child has sleeping issues, it is rare that they will outgrow them; it is not usual that it is ‘just a phase’ or that when they start walking the problems will resolve. Typically, if your child is inclined to wake frequently at night, requires your presence at bedtime and beyond, or refuses to nap, for example, parents will need to make some changes in order to see an improvement.
Two naps to one
Typically, young children are ready to transition from two naps to one at around 15 to 18 months. It is very important not to rush this transition as, if your child is not biologically capable of having one big sleep, you may start to experience frequent night waking as a result. Allow this stage to emerge naturally; I would want to see a number of factors that would indicate they are ready, as follows:
- Your child may begin to take longer and longer to fall asleep for their morning nap
- Your child may begin to not take the morning sleep
- Your child may sleep in the morning and, as a result, be unable to sleep for nap two in the afternoon
- Gradually moving the naptime by five minutes every day until you get closer to 12.30pm is a good solution.
Developmental leaps that affect sleep
Developmentally, the changes that emerge in the toddler years can also affect sleep. Their increasing ability to walk can give them an independence that may not be so welcome at bedtime when they begin to run away and even try to climb out of the cot. Lots of stubborn children can begin to assert control over their sleep by refusing to go to sleep, even when they are really tired. Setting boundaries and being consistent will help you through the many challenges.
Furthermore, sleep disturbances such as nightmares and sleep-talking seem to emerge from about age two.
Becoming an older brother or sister
It may be that your toddler will also have to get used to being a big brother or sister during this time and, although exciting, there may be a level of emotional conflict as he/she may feel displaced or left out. It is not unusual for these anxieties to manifest at night, resulting in bedtime struggles and frequent night waking. As best as you can, you will need to keep things as consistent as possible. It is important to maintain your toddler’s schedule during this time and also to allow for some ‘connected’ time with your child so that they continue to feel safe, secure and loved within your new family dynamic.
Lucy Wolfe is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four. Visit Sleep Matters.