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Effective methods to sleep-train your toddler
Is your toddler (or young child) not yet sleeping through the night, or do they have trouble falling asleep by themselves? Before you feel like a failure, know that studies indicate that at least 20% of children between the ages of one and three still continue to wake up regularly in the middle of the night and struggle with other sleeping habits.
It's not too late to sleep train your child. There are various sleep-inducing tricks for you to try - remember, certain methods work for some but not for others - and before you know it, your little one will have no problem falling asleep happily and staying asleep throughout the night. However, if your child is potty training, starting preschool, or expecting a new sibling, changing their sleep routine might be too overwhelming for them at this point, and it might be best to wait for the milestone to be over before beginning sleep-training.
Note: These sleep-training methods may not work for children who are in unstable homes or going through traumatic events, as the issue is a lot deeper than what sleep training will be able to resolve.
Why your child might be struggling to sleep
Stephanie Zandieh, director of paediatric sleep medicine at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, says that inappropriate sleep associations are the primary cause of frequent night-wakings. If a baby or toddler is used to falling asleep with a bottle or by being rocked, when they wake up during the night (which all babies, toddlers and even adults do), they will cry until they get what they want, rather than simply falling back asleep by themselves.
Zandieh teaches that at this age, it’s important that you’re no longer nursing your toddler to sleep, rocking them to sleep in your arms, or giving them a bottle in the crib.
Another reason why your toddler might be giving you grey hairs during the night is because toddlers are at the age where they are learning about control and even manipulation, and guess what - you're the perfect guinea pig for them to test their newfound abilities on! Without proper structure and consistency, your toddler can easily win the nighttime battles.
The term "sleep training" is an umbrella term that refers to a spectrum of methods to help babies or toddlers learn to fall asleep by themselves. It essentially teaches them to fall asleep without depending on you or someone else.
Whichever of the sleep-training methods you decide to go with, you will probably have to spend a lot of nights practising. With toddlers, parents have to focus on consistency and setting boundaries. Remember, toddlers test limits and push boundaries, so while they might go along with your new sleep routine initially, they might start testing you after a few days. Usually the second and third nights of sleep-training may be worse than the first night, but with perseverance, you’ll soon see some improvement within a week or so.
Have a consistent daily routine
Your toddler should be well rested during the day with one or two naps (if needed - every child is different), and should be going to bed at an age-appropriate time. Believe it or not, the more tired your child is, the more they will fight their sleep and the more times they're likely to awaken during the night. In many cases, inconsistent routines and overtiredness is the main cause of toddlers' poor sleeping habits.
Have a consistent bedtime routine
Toddlers thrive off routine. If bedtime is always different and unpredictable, your toddler is more likely to feel uncertain and also try manipulate the situation more, so you may want to add the following to your toddler’s bedtime routine:
- Take a nighttime bath. The warm water can calm and relax your toddler, preparing their mind and body for sleep. Use some soothing Sleepy Kid Bath Salts to encourage relaxation and promote the conditions for a good and peaceful night's sleep.
- After bath time isn’t play time. Running around and getting excited can stimulate your toddler, making it harder for them to feel sleepy. Establish a calm-down period before bed with no electronic devices. Rather, do a puzzle together, read books, or put their stuffed toys to bed.
- Dim the lights to stimulate melatonin production.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment, close the curtains and turn down any noise. Add a few drops of Lavender Essential Oil to an Aromatherapy Diffuser with LED lights.
- Read a bedtime story or sing a calming song before turning off the lights.
The most important things about a toddler's bedtime routine are consistency and avoiding overstimulation. Try to follow the same routine at the same time every night. This will signal to your child that it is bedtime. Praise and positive-reinforcement are the best ways to encourage their efforts.
Make sleep training fun
Sleep-training does not have to be stressful or super serious. In fact, the more serious, stressful or boring it is, the less likely your child will want to cooperate. The goal is to encourage them to be comfortable in their bed and falling asleep on their own, so giving them anxiety with drill sergeant tactics will have the opposite effect.
Get into your pyjamas with your toddler. Show them how excited you are to get into your comfortable sleeping clothes. Decorate the bed with their favourite soft toys, and tell them how the toys are all excited for bed time. Let your toddler choose their own story book each night, and include all the toys in story time.
Limit (or eliminate) screen time in the evenings
Studies have linked screen time to an array of issues including anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances and low self-esteem. Most digital screens give off short-wavelength blue light that is very similar to sunlight. This light makes us more alert and deceives the body into thinking it’s daytime, even when it's actually night. This is one of the major reasons why so many health professionals are urging people to refrain from screen time in the evenings and at night!
Remove your toddler from all screens at least an hour before you begin their bedtime routine. Rather put out puzzles or other toys they can play with.
Don't give them a bottle or breast to fall asleep to
If your child still drinks from a bottle or is breastfed, don't allow them to fall asleep while drinking, as this reinforces dependent association to falling asleep. It's best to not let them drink at all in their crib or bed; feed them just before you lay them down. Babies and toddlers who drink to fall asleep usually wake up during the night and seek out the breast or bottle, rather than falling back asleep on their own.
If your child says they are thirsty at night, offer a few sips of water from a cup.
The “pick up / put down method”
This sleep-training method is where you stay in the room next to their crib or bed until the child falls asleep. If they cry or fuss, pick them up and soothe them until they have calmed down. Remind them that it is sleep time and that you are not going anywhere. Put them back down and wait next to the crib or bed until they fall asleep. Repeat the process until they fall deeply asleep, before leaving the room. Reassurance and comfort play a huge role in your child adapting to this sleep-training method, and after a few days move your chair farther from the crib or bed and closer to the door, until they no longer require you to be in the room to fall asleep.
The "cry it out" method
While parents are moving more away from this method, the option is still there. Many sleep specialists and child psychologists disagree with this method for various reasons, saying that it could do long-term damage and trigger attachment issues later on in life. This method involves putting the child in their bed, turning off the lights, and leaving them in the room even when they cry. There is also another version of the cry it out method that is a bit more gentle and less stressful for the child, called the "longer and longer" method.
The "longer and longer" method
A more gentle approach to the cry it out method is the longer and longer method. Put the child in their crib or bed while they are awake but drowsy and exit the room, closing the door behind you. If your toddler cries, don’t immediately re-enter the room - wait about five minutes before entering the room, soothe the child until they calm down, and then leave. If the child cries again, repeat the process until they fall asleep, except each time, you wait a little bit longer before re-entering the room.
This method can be stressful for both the child and parents, and takes a lot of commitment - it may take a few hours until the child finally falls asleep from exhaustion. Sooner or later, they will realise that crying for you will not get them what they want.
Try natural sleep remedies
These sleep training tricks and tips work for many parents and they just might work for you! Sleep training a toddler can be a major transition and sometimes might feel too overwhelming for them, which is where natural sleep remedies can help! Our range of natural sleep remedies for babies and children will help them fall asleep and stay asleep. Our safe and effective sleep remedies will help establish healthy sleep patterns naturally, without unwanted side effects.
Sleepy Sprinkles is a natural homeopathic sleep tonic that calms and relaxes babies (0 - 12 months) to establish healthy, regular sleeping patterns and assists with sleep problems caused by teething and colic.
Du Du Drops is a natural homeopathic sleep tonic that calms and relaxes young children (12 months +) and induces a state of drowsiness and relaxation. Du Du Drops is gentle and non-addictive and will not unduly sedate your child.
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