Toddler Sleep Phases
One of the first thing we start to realise about toddlers is that they are much more demanding and they want to be in control compared to when they were bundles of baby joy! This means that sleep is a completely different thing – a lot of it is very emotionally driven. Do not underestimate toddler sleep; it’s almost far more complex than baby sleep in many ways.
Generally, night terrors usually come about from around 18 months plus, they’re not often seen in smaller babies and children. Often, a child will never remember a night terror and they will all grow out of them eventually but it is a sleep disturbance that can affect your sleep. Most parents I’ve worked with will know it’s definitely a night terror rather than a nightmare. They usually happen when your toddler moves from the deep part of a sleep cycle into lighter sleep. This transition starts with a bit of a scream or a cry, and it’s quite an unsettling noise, the sort you’d want to run straight into their room for. It can be horrible for parents to witness, it is a distressing sight. There’s often screaming, perhaps some thrashing around and there can be open, fixated eyes as well as fast breathing. What’s normal with night terrors is that, if you go in, they can’t sense that you’re there because they’re locked in a state. Don’t worry if they don’t respond to you, this is a classic behaviour; you shouldn’t try and wake a child up, just leave them be. Obviously if they’re thrashing around so much they’re putting themselves in danger you could put something under their head or hold them but do not try and wake them up. Let it pass and stay with them, if you want to, and then let them go back into their sleep again.
If your child’s night terrors do continue and become distressing for you, it’s worthwhile looking at how much sleep your child is having as they are prominent in toddlers who are overtired. Do take a look at their daytimes and their sleep patterns; perhaps pop them to bed a bit earlier so that they can have some more sleep.
Climbing Out Of The Cot
This can be a common stage for active toddlers when they suddenly realise they can climb out of the cot by themselves. I tend to see this happen at around age 2 and I wouldn’t be looking to move a child to a bed unless they were 3 years old. Really this is a sign that they probably need a bed but there are things you can do about it:
- lower the mattress so it is on its very lowest level on the cot.
- remove any toys or aides that they could stand on.
- try hard not to laugh when you see your toddler waddling along the landing in a sleeping bag! A lot of parents do find it amusing but, of course, if they see you laugh they’ll think they get attention for it.
- calmly place them back into their cot and leave the room.
- keep an eye on the monitor: as soon as they make an attempt to get over the cot, try and go in at that stage and let them know they mustn’t climb out. They are simply testing a boundary so nipping it in the bud straight away is a good idea.
- don’t bring them downstairs or out of their bed as this can lead to a regression.
At some point in your toddler’s bedtime history or sleep journey, I’m sure they will start to push back on bedtime. This is absolutely normal! As they grow, they test boundaries and work out where their control lies, which can mean that going to bed can become an issue, as they test these things out.
This can look like them saying “one more story!” or “I need water, Mummy!” and making demands at bedtime, which is where a lot of toddlers can regress with their sleep. I know this can be concerning for parents and they start to give in to these demands, which can then make things spiral. If you stick to your routine, your toddler will realise where the boundaries are and it is unlikely to continue. If it does start to become an issue, consider whether your bedtime routine is consistent to set those boundaries for bedtime. Children feel very secure in boundaries and having them in place is very reassuring at bedtime. You could also look at their ability to self-settle to sleep; if bedtime is becoming longer and longer and it’s because they need yo to be there then I would suggest you take a look at my toddler sleep course.
A lot of toddler sleep is emotionally-based and they’re trying to show you something. It can be linked to a change at nursery, perhaps a new baby, separation anxiety, a developmental change. . . don’t ignore the behaviour but really try and stay as consistent as you can. See if you could increase the attention you give them in the daytime or early evening so that they’re not craving that attention at the bath/bedtime routine. Even missing bath time sometimes, if it means you can have some extra undivided attention for them, can really help them before bed.