Sometimes, when you are deep in the throes of parenting a 2-year-old, you can wonder: Dear Lord, will this ever end? For most of us, there IS a respite. It's called 8 p.m. It's that blessed time of day when your toddler is suddenly quiet and you can peek in, see her angelic sleeping face, and know you have the strength to do it all over again.
Yes, moms and dads NEED that time from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. So what happens when your good baby sleeper suddenly stops sleeping? Or worse, what if you NEVER had a good sleeper to begin with?
There are some sleep issues that need to be addressed now so that they might not get worse down the line. Dr. Hannah Chow is a pediatrician at Loyola University Health System who is an expert on kids and sleep. She says:
"Lack of sleep can cause a lot of stress and difficulty for a child. Kids can have a hard time concentrating, which causes problems in school. There can be physical complications, such as headaches, and it can even cause a child to have a more negative outlook on life." Yep. Sleep matters. So how do we fix common sleep problems? The Stir talked exclusively to several sleep experts to give us insight into the 7 most common toddler sleep issues and how we can combat them. See below:
1. Waking up bright and early: "A reasonable wake-up time for a child is anywhere from 5:30-7 a.m., but some children are up before that time wide awake or their wake up time is too early for mom and dad," says Jenn Kelner, a Certified Child Sleep Consultant who runs a business called BabyZzz.
Solution: "Room darkening shades to block out morning light, white-noise machines to block out morning street noise, a timed light or child alarm clock that changes color when it’s time to get up, and an earlier bedtime. It’s counter-intuitive, but the earlier a child goes to bed, the later they will sleep in." Amen. I saw it with my own kids. Now sleep mom and dad!
2. Giving up the nap when they still need it: If your child misses a nap because of older siblings' activities or for some other reason, it actually becomes HARDER for them to nap. Over time, this overtiredness has a cumulative effect, which may cause the child to refuse to nap altogether.
Solution: "Start an earlier bedtime to help make up that sleep deficit and make it easier to nap," says Kelner. "Get the child outdoors in the morning for fresh air and exercise, very soothing routine before naptime, and leave the child for 60 minutes to give them the opportunity to fall asleep without stimulation. Once the nap has been re-established, bedtime can be moved a little later."
3. Difficulties in falling asleep: "Many children have difficultly falling asleep on their own if they have been used to being rocked to sleep, or if they have been falling asleep next to their parents," Kelner says.
Solution: Make sure the bedtime routine gets the child nice and drowsy. Turn off all electronics 60 minutes before bedtime. Leave the room slowly if they need you. For instance: Day 1-3, sit by the child’s bed or crib until they fall asleep. Day 4-6, move the chair to the middle of the room. Day 7-9, move the chair to the doorway. Day 10-12, move the chair outside the doorway.
4. Getting up in the middle of the night: Waking during the night is normal, but it becomes a problem when the child cannot return to sleep unassisted, Kelner says. It's especially hard if the child calls out for mom and dad and everyone is losing sleep.
Solution: "Have a consistent soothing routine in place to get the child nice and drowsy. Ensure the child is getting enough sleep, as over-tiredness leads to frequent night waking," says Kelner. "Make sure the child is able to self-soothe, and implement some sleep training/coaching if necessary."
5. Asking for mom and dad 15 times after "good night": We all know that kid (or have that kid) who wants one more kiss, one more hug, one more snack, one more AGH! This is a classic tactic that delays bedtime, which makes the child overtired, which then makes it more difficult for the child to fall asleep the next night.
Solution: "During your soothing routine, set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes, and explain that once the timer goes off, it’s time to say a final goodnight," says Kelner. "Ensure that before the timer goes off, you anticipate what that child may ask for -- so get them a drink, take them to the bathroom, and give the child lots of hugs. If the child is still requesting extra attention, implement some sleep rules with consequences, or simply ignore their requests."
6. Inability to self-soothe: Some children have more trouble than others soothing themselves into sleep when they are upset and especially when they wake up in the middle of the night alone.
Solution: "Giving your child a special transitional object, such as a teddy bear or 'lovie' to snuggle and go to bed with during the bedtime routine can help them learn to use this object to help themselves get back to sleep when they wake in the middle of the night," says Jennifer Metter of Jenni June Certified Sleep Consulting in Los Angeles.
7. You are co-sleeping without wanting to: This is me. My kids always end up in bed with us and neither my husband nor I can remember how they got there.
Solution: "Using an uneventful quick and silent return to the bed without payoff can help eliminate this behavior. Sleep consultants call this, 'The silent return'. Consistency is key here," says Metter. "It requires a bit of work and perfect consistency from parent for successful results, but uneventfully and silently returning your child to their bed the moment you notice they are out of it will help teach them to remain there until it is time to wake for the day. Children won't continually do what doesn't work for them."
What are your sleep solutions?