Here you are, parenting a toddler. You have put in a ton of effort creating healthy sleep habits for your child and now after all your hard work and consistency, your toddler is a great sleeper. Great job! Life is grand with those predictable naps during the day and you get to enjoy a struggle-free bedtime each night. But, then inevitably, a bump in the road hits! Things like travel, illness, nap transitions, and significant changes to your daily life can disrupt a once perfect sleeper’s sleep! While it can feel frustrating and nerve-racking to hit these bumps in the road, don’t stress! They will be minor setbacks compared to the initial sleep coaching you had done. Here are the top toddler sleep tips for common bumps in the road.
Travel Toddler Sleep Tips
Travel is the most common bump in the road parents encounter. I am frequently asked about travel and always include travel tips in my closing support calls. The good news is that if you start with a good sleeper who typically sleeps on a consistent schedule, they will have that sleep schedule set firmly into their circadian rhythm. So when conditions are not 100% perfect, they will still get some sleep because their drive to sleep during those times is so strong. Another plus to traveling with a well-rested toddler is they can tolerate an accumulation of sleep debt much easier than a toddler who already has some sleep debt. Try these toddler sleep tips while traveling:
- Start with a well-rested toddler
- Travel during typical sleep times
- Bring comfort items from home (sound machine, sheets, favorite books, p.j’s)
- Try to stick to a similar time schedule
- Keep the same sleep routines, as much as possible
Do your best to keep things as similar to home as possible, but you’re on vacation so don’t stress! Try to stick with what you do at home the best you can. Your little one may have trouble sleeping in an unusual environment, which is completely normal and expected. It is ok to give extra assistance when on vacation. The most important part is that once you get home you return to exactly the same routine and boundaries you had before. It may be a night or two of a challenge as you reset boundaries and pay off sleep debt but with consistency and reassurance, your toddler will be right back to sleeping as they did before your vacation.
Dropping a nap can sometimes go very smoothly. Dropping the 3rd nap tends to happen naturally as your child is able to handle longer wake windows and start to take longer naps you simply run out of time in the day for the 3rd nap. The 2 to 1 nap transition can be a bit more tricky and complicated. This nap transition is best around 15-18 months of age. In order for this transition to be successful, your little one has to be able to handle at least 4.5-5 hour wake windows and be taking 1.5-2 hour naps regularly. Right around the one year mark parents often think it is time to transition to one nap because their toddler will begin to struggle with one or both naps being skipped or bedtime getting pushed too late. Careful adjustment to the distribution of sleep totals is what is needed.
- Keep in mind your child’s typical 24-hour sleep totals. If your child typically gets 13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period then a 12 hour night will only allow for 1 hour of daytime sleep. In this example, you may need to cap night sleep in order to get longer naps.
- I highly recommend tracking your child’s sleep (I love the baby connect app for this) this way you can be knowledgeable of sleep patterns and totals and have a record of when they have changed.
- Adjust in 15 minutes increments. Once you figure out where to adjust, cap in 15 minute increments. Often around the one-year mark, you need to cap the first nap in order to achieve a longer second nap. Or maybe you need to push a sleep time later to avoid too long of the last wake window before bed. Move slowly in 15-minute increments.
- When things don’t go well it’s early bedtime to the rescue! Parents often worry an early bedtime will create an early rise. In reality, the opposite is true. Too long of a last wake window is what will create an early rise. Pushing the last wake window too long will lead to a release of cortisol, the hormone responsible for keeping us awake. This makes it harder for your toddler to fall asleep and stay asleep. The build-up of cortisol in the body will creates an early rise. So don’t fear the early bedtime for a few nights; it can serve as a great reset. It also gives Mom and Dad a little more relaxing, evening time!
- The good news is that once you have dropped down to one nap, sleep times and totals will be pretty consistent till around 3-4 years old when naps are typically dropped. I know it’s a tragic tragic time, but even then you’ll still want to offer an hour of quiet time for your little one, (and you!) to rest and recharge.
This one can feel more like hitting a mountain than a bump in the road. This particular topic is near and dear to me as my oldest had a very difficult time adjusting to life and sleep when her baby sister was born. First it’s important to understand why big changes can impact children’s sleep so intensely. The feeling of safety and security is vital for healthy sleep. Anytime there is a change in our children’s life, whether it’s a major life change like gaining a sibling or an inconsistency in the daily routine, it creates feelings of insecurity. They may wonder what else will change, what this change will be like, or when another change will be coming. The unknown is very scary for children. Our little ones thrive on predictable routines and consistent responses from caregivers. Follow these new sibling toddler sleep tips to scale this mountain!
- Prepare your child as much as possible. Explain what it’s like having a newborn. Explain that there will be crying as communication. The baby is okay and you or your partner will take care of the baby’s cries and needs. Children often worry that the baby is crying because they did something wrong or that the baby doesn’t like them.
- Avoid making changes “because of the baby.” If you think the bedtime routine may be changing after the baby is born, make those changes before the baby arrives. For example, if a different parent will be doing the bedtime routine make that change before or start incorporating that parent into the routine during pregnancy.
- Hold tight to any enjoyable parts of the day or routine that can remain consistent, such as lunchtime together or afternoon walks.
- Have at least 15 minutes of one on one time with each parent daily. This time should be child led play.
- Include your toddler in helping with the baby as much as possible. For example, he can feel helpful by getting a new diaper.
- Give as many choices as possible. Even small choices like which books to read can help your toddler feel more in control of their changing world.
- Prepare a plan if your older child wakes in the middle of the night, even if he doesn’t currently. Give a little extra TLC and lots of reassurance that your love will never change, only grow stronger. Reassure your older child that this time will get easier. Validate their feelings and concerns and give lots of reassurance and love.
- Avoid other big changes all at once, like potty training or transitioning to a big bed.
To learn more about toddler sleep tips and other common sleep challenges please visit Meg Meadow’s blog at www.holisticsleepysheepy.com. And to learn about infant sleep coaching, beginning at 4 months of age, you can take Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny’s online class, Sleep Coaching 101.
About The Author
Meg Meadows of Holistic Sleepy Sheepy has two beautiful daughters; Emmy is 6 years old and Kate is 3 years old. She became passionate about child sleep when Emmy was born. while struggling with sleep deprivation. “I read many books and different sleep advice, but still had so many questions about the specifics of my situation. I had never heard of a sleep consultant until one was recommended to me. So, I hired a sleep consultant and it was absolutely life changing. I’m deeply grateful for her help and support. I could not have done it without her support and knowledge.” Today, it gives Meg great fulfillment to support families through sleep struggles. “With each family I help I am humbled and grateful to be invited into their lives and leave a lasting positive impact for a lifetime of healthy sleep.”