Sleep Advice: Toddler Night Wakings

Toddler Night Wakings Glitter Dreams

Welcome to our Sleep Advice Column, in Partnership with Little Sleep Stars. Here, Lauren, Founder of Little Sleep Stars, helps our tired Mamas who have reached out for advice on the challenges that night time brings. If you, or someone else that you know, is struggling to get their little ones to sleep. Please drop us a message, or leave your question in the comments below. Sleep deprivation is real, it impacts on both our mental and physical wellbeing. We are here to help get you back on the right track and on your way to a good nights sleep! This time round we tackle toddler night wakings…

Question:

My 2 yr old still wakes most nights. I think it’s a habitual thing as I just give her a little bottle because it’s tough resettling her every 1-2 hrs. That’s what she expects now though. If she’s overtired, she will definitely have multiple wakings, and timing her naps is tricky sometimes. How long will that last for before she will just start sleeping through it? I don’t think, my nearly 5 yr old  woke if he was ever overtired?

I’m often asked at what age a child will sleep through…

Toddler Night Wakings Grumpy Child in Bed

My answer is always the same. It doesn’t happen (not consistently anyway) until a child is equipped with the skills and confidence they need to navigate through their inevitable night-wakings.

The first thing to look at here is how this little one falls asleep at bedtime. If that is on the bottle, then we likely have a child who associates or even “needs” that in order to fall asleep. Most humans, adult and child, wake 3-5 times per night. That is biologically very normal. When we have a child who needs a bottle to resettle some, or all, of those wake-ups. We end up with multiple night feeds. Even where there is no longer a nutritional need for them. There becomes an age when a child has matured sufficiently enough to take on all of their required calories during the day. At this stage, night feeds should become redundant. If this doesn’t happen, a cycle can then develop where their body becomes used to snacking on milk through the night. This can then also impact on their daytime appetite.

Once a child is able to settle independently at bedtime, they are well-positioned to then extend that skill to resettle during the night. Helping a child to learn these independent settling skills can, and in my opinion certainly should, be achieved using gentle methods that do not involve leaving them to cry.

Overtiredness does typically drive multiple night-wakings…

Toddler Night Wakings Toddler Asleep in Trolley

Meaning a parent may be aware of more than the expected 3-5. This is because the elevated level of cortisol in the little one’s bloodstream makes it physically harder to sleep soundly. It also means that once a child is awake, they find resettling to sleep harder. This tends to lead to parents offering milk etc, which further ingrains that as an association and the pattern continues.
Children generally benefit from some daytime sleep until around 3-3 and a half years old. For the average two-year old, starting the day at 6:30/7am with a two-hour nap starting at 12-12:30pm and asleep for the night around 7:30pm is a great schedule. When the nap sits much earlier, or later than this, a child will likely release cortisol to keep them going through the longer period of awake time. This then creates problems in the night. Once a child no longer needs daytime sleep they are much more physically capable of making it through a 12-hour day without becoming overtired.

Short term pain for long term gain…

Toddler Night Wakings Keep Going

Helping a little one learn how to sleep well isn’t always an easy process. If a family is consistent though, they are likely to see results within two-weeks. Once a child can sleep soundly through the night then the whole family benefits. It really is a case of short-term pain, for long-term gain.
Additionally, once a child has teeth, the best way to protect those budding pearly whites is to clean their teeth following their bedtime milk and not feed again until morning. Whilst some babies will still nutritionally need night-feeds making this impossible, it is certainly something to aim for once a child is past their first birthday.

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