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September 29, 2020 7 min read

Beyond The First Year | Part 5: Toddler Sleep

“Hold on to the tiny moments and cherish the little snuggles. They grow up so fast.”

Bye-bye baby… hello toddler! The first year may be over, but there are still lots of fabulous firsts to come: first words… first steps… first friends… maybe even first tantrum.

Sure your little one will always be your “baby,” but their first birthday is a big milestone — one that transforms your infant into a toddler and with that comes all the joys of toddlerhood.

By now both of you may have finally started to master the whole sleep thing. You know what your child needs to get a good sleep (most of the time, anyway!), and they’ve gotten pretty good (or better, at least) at sleeping through the night.

But just as you’ve gotten the hang of things, you may find that your little tot is more interested in exploring the world around them and it will take a little more convincing and winding down than ever to get them to sleep. So you will need to keep on keeping on with their sleep routine and the healthy sleep habits you’ve already instilled.

A 12-month old will still need two naps during the day (for a total of 3 hours), plus around 11 hours of sleep at night to fuel their baby battery. There will be days that your little one will resist going down for naps, but don’t assume that they are ready to drop their nap just yet. Most babies at this age aren’t ready to make that transition to one nap a day until around between 15 – 18 months.

Toddlerhood brings a bunch of new developmental milestones to celebrate as well as new challenges – whether you're dealing with bedtime rebellion or the move to a big-kid bed, getting your toddler to sleep well is no small feat.  

Safe sleep guidelines for toddlers

The good news is your toddler is no longer at risk for SIDS and the guidelines safe sleep for toddlers are different from the ones you had to follow for babies. That said, there are still some important things to consider for safe sleep:

  • Transitioning to a Toddler bed.Once your little one is able to climb out of their cot or when the height of the side rail is less than three-quarters of their height, it’s time to consider transitioning to a toddler bed with a side rail (or you can try a mattress on the floor). Other than for safety reasons, there’s no rush to move them out of their cot just yet. Most children transition to a toddler bed between 2 and 3 ½ years old. It’s also best to wait until your child is emotionally ready to move to a bed and physically able to get in and out of the bed safely.
  • Create a safe sleeping space. Make sure your child’s cot or bed is far away from any objects with ties or strings, like window blind pulls, curtains or electrical cords; likewise, watch for items that your toddler might be able to pull into their cot or bed, like picture frames, mobiles or other hazards. The good news: Blankets, pillows and stuffed toys no longer pose the risk that they did when your child was a baby – it's perfectly fine for your toddler to sleep with a thin blanket and a small pillow.
  • Sleep comfortably.Your child is old enough to sleep safely in any position they are most comfortable whether that be on their back, stomach or side – many toddlers will move around their cot several times a night during their sleep, there’s no need to worry. That said, ensure they wear comfortable and appropriate sleep wear to keep them cool in the warmer season and warm in the cooler season - the Sleepy Hugs 'Cool' range of sleep sacks are made using lightweight cotton fabric perfect for the Summer season and the Cozy Toddler suit keeps them comfortable all year round.


Commonsleep problems for toddlersand tips for how to solve them:

Here's a look at some of the most common bedtime problems and tips for getting your child back on track.

Night waking. Your toddler needs around 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day, but it's rare that they will stay down for a solid night of uninterrupted sleep. Many toddlers wake up one or more times during the night for any number of reasons: sometimes they are just not tired, or they are too tired, or they could be stirred awake by a bad dream, or pain from teething or earaches, or just because they heard a sound or noticed a light being turned off.

Early waking. Good morning, sunshine! Toddlers tend to be early risers and don't like to greet the morning without company (that means you!). While you may not be able to budge your early bird's sleep habits, try moving their nap up to earlier in the day so they are more likely to be tired at night. If they wake up with a soaked nappy, try to limit fluids before bedtime so wetness doesn't wake them up too early.

Nightmare and night terrors. It's not uncommon for toddlers to start having scary, realistic bad dreams from around 2 years old.

Nightmares are scary dreams that usually happen in the second half of the night, during dream sleep. During a nightmare, your child wakes up fully and can instantly remember the frightening dream. You can settle your child when they have had a nightmare, and your child will usually remember the waking in the morning.

Night terrors on the other hand are very dramatic awakenings that happen during the first few hours of sleep at night. They can be very distressing to watch, as your child may seem extremely disturbed and upset, and it is very hard to console them. Overtiredness and not enough sleep can make night terrors more frequent.

It’s important to note that night terrors are a part of normal development and happen in healthy children.

While there is very little you can do during a night terror episode, here are some things that may help you deal with these unpleasant episodes:

  • During the night terror episode, stay calm and don't touch your child unless they are going to hurt themselves. Efforts to settle or help your child often make the episode worse.
  • Have a regular sleep time with a good bedtime routine to avoid your child becoming too tired.
  • Don't make a big fuss about the night terror the next day. Children – and their brothers or sisters – can often become upset by your reaction and may become anxious about going to bed.

Sleepwalking and sleep-talking. It can be unnerving when your little one starts muttering to themselves during sleep or starts wandering through the halls glassy-eyed but still zonked out. Sleep walking and talking during the toddler years is fairly common and may not be a big deal, as long as your child is getting enough sleep. Make sure your house is safe at night time. Lock windows and doors, and clear the bedroom floor of objects so they don’t step on things or trip over.

Fear of the dark. Toddlers' imaginations can go into overdrive when the lights go out, and this can cause major sleep problems. These emotions are very real to your child. A small dim night-light may help ease their anxiousness about sleeping in the dark. Let them sleep with their favourite comfort toy or blanket. Try to keep as close to their normal routine as possible and avoid letting them hop into bed with you. Your little one will feel more reassured when they see that you're not worried.

Sleep apnea/snoring. Having trouble breathing at night because of a stuffed nose, enlarged tonsils or allergies makes sound sleep difficult. Experts say up to 3% of toddlers and young children can experience obstructive sleep apnea, a partial blockage of the airways that causes breathing to stop temporally. If you suspect your toddler has obstructive sleep apnea, or their nighttime breathing or snoring frequently disrupts their sleep, check in with your pediatrician to discuss the issue.


Reasons why your child may have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep

Screen time before bed.Screen time before bed can affect how quickly your child falls asleep and how well they sleep for 2 main reasons:

  • Screen use in the hour before bed can stimulate your child.
  • Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets is known to suppress melatonin levels (the hormone that tells your brain it’s time to wind down for sleep) and delay sleepiness.

It is recommended to avoid any screen time and TV at least 30 minutes before bed.

Stress or over stimulation. If your toddler seems squirmy and overexcited at bedtime for no apparent reason, it could be the thrill of a fun new playmate or a big day they’ve had meeting lots of new people. Making the transition from an action-packed day to dreamland will be tough, so plan to spend a little extra time helping them calm down after an eventful day.

Your child is not tired. If your child has overslept during the day or had their nap too late in the afternoon, this might explain the surge of energy they get right before bedtime. Adjust their last nap to an earlier time, making sure they are not sleeping past 3.30pm in the afternoon. An earlier nap also means more rest-inducing play time during the day.

Your child is overtired. It's ironic, but the more exhausted your toddler is, the more likely they will be buzzing with adrenaline when the clock says bedtime. Make sure your toddler logs 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day. If that's not happening, then they will likely end up being overtired — no matter how energetic they seem.

Your child doesn't feel well. Sleep is elusive when your child is unwell. Cuddling, extra hugs and special requests are all fine when your child is stuck in bed with a cold or flu, especially because they need rest now more than ever. Once they start feeling better, you can be assured that they will go back to their regular sleep schedule and things will be back to normal 

Simple bedtime strategies

Here are some more simple bedtime strategies to help you navigate (and negotiate) your toddler's bedtime.

  • An active day equals a restful night. Give your child lots of play time and opportunity to exercise their mind and body during the day and you'll have one happy – and ready for bed – camper.
  • Keep a consistent bedtime routine. There's no great mystery to the best bedtime routine. It's all about the three Bs: bath, book and bed. Make it soothing – a warm bath, a soothing book and a cozy bed are all you need to create the best bedtime routine for your toddler. You can also try a soothing massage. Do this routine daily and they will see bedtime as just another part of their day.
  • Avoid snacks before bedtime. If you offer up sugary snacks or drinks near bedtime, your toddler will be sugar-fueled and revved up. Better to opt for a small glass of milk instead, or a plain cracker and cheese (though remember to brush their teeth after the snack).

Previous: Part 4: 6-12 Months Sleep