15 01, 2019

How To Get Your Child to Sleep (More) This Year

January 15th, 2019|Categories: Where to Begin|

How to Get Your Child to Sleep (More)

With the New Year upon us, comes the perfect time to begin to implement healthy changes for ourselves and our family. One of the most fundamental, but often overlooked cornerstones of health, is sleep.

As moms, we often could sleep very well, if only some little person would let us. However, bedtime battles and multiple night wakings can really impact the quantity and quality of sleep that we get.

The good news?

That you can improve your child’s sleep rather quickly, and therefore yours as well.

Start 2019 off right with a resolution to help get your child to sleep more solidly than last year.

Unlike popular resolutions that add more to-dos to your already busy life, instilling a sleep routine for your baby or child will actually simplify your life by creating a daily rhythm.

Why Start a Sleep Routine?

Routines give definition and structure to your day.

They allow you to plan outings when your child will be the most content.

They also leave you with more time to do nothing but relax, instead of trying to get your child to sleep.

Either way, a child who sleeps better, will make your life easier.

And as a mom, that’s always a great thing.

To get started with a new sleep routine for your child, follow these 5 tips for starting a new sleep routine;

On Your Mark…

Look at your calendar and pick a time when there will be few interruptions.

To help your child get used to the new routine, it’s important to be home for naps (for the majority of the time), rather than in the car or at someone’s house.

Not only does this help to instill the routine, but it also encourages healthy and restorative sleep that isn’t taken on-the-go or prone to interruptions.

Plan and Write Out a New Routine

When trying to help your child to sleep better, the primary focus should be their daytime routine.

If you’re unsure what routine is best for your child, start with documenting their day. This includes wake ups times, their mood throughout the day, meals, diaper changes or potty times, naps and bedtimes.

After 4-5 days of documentation, review the information and see what patterns you notice.

What Do You Notice?

Compare your child’s wake periods (and the resulting nap lengths) with this wake time infographic.

If you are noticing many naps that are only about 40-45 minutes in length, your child is going to sleep easily and waking up content, she may need a touch more play time (AKA: activity or wake time) before her nap the next day.

However, if the documenting reveals naps that are only 20-30 minutes in length and are loaded with crying-both before and after a nap-then the wake time may be too long.

There are other factors that can contribute to short naps, such as sleep associations and overtiredness, but this is a general guideline to start with.

Write out a new routine and post it in a highly visible location. For toddlers and preschoolers you can add pictures and make it into a poster for their room.

Develop a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine

Develop a simple pre-sleep (often referred to as a wind down) routine and do it before each sleep period. Keep is short, simple and easily to adapt between caregivers.

When a wind down routine is performed before every sleep time, it helps to cue your child’s brain to settle down for nap or night time.

This makes your job so much easier as the wind down routine helps your child understand that sleep is about to happen. They will begin to look forward to their naps and bedtime, thus ensuring a much smoother sleep time process for everyone!

Start in the Morning

The best place to start a new overall daily routine is at the beginning of the day.

Does this mean you have to wake your child up?

Yes, it might.

If your child is 4 months or older, sleeping past 7:45am  and you’re trying to establish a new routine, then regulating morning wake up time may be needed.

This may surprise some parents who think that bedtime is the best time to start, but that’s usually only for changing sleep habits. When we alter an overall routine, however, starting early is an easy place to set the tone for the rest of the day because of how daylight interacts with your child’s brain throughout the day.

The sun has a powerful influence of our internal rhythms (sleep, hormones, temperatures, etc.) and it’s easier to work with it, than against it. By regulating the morning wake up time, you will keep your day on track, rather than starting at bedtime.

Be Consistent

Like any changes we make this year, we must continually work at them in order to see the results. Getting your child to sleep is no different.

Being consistent will help your family quickly adopt the routine so it becomes second nature. In only a few weeks of sticking with your child’s new routine, life will be easier as your child will quickly and easily go to sleep.

Moving Forward

If you have one day that goes off track (or several weeks!), don’t worry about it! Get back to the new routine when you can.

Any change you make toward’s your child’s sleep health is better than no change at all!

Tired of figuring out on your own?

Don’t have the time to figure it out on your own?

Book a consultation and I’ll help you start the year off right-healthy, happy and well-rested! Don’t forget to also join the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page and have access to weekly live (and FREE) Q and A events!


7 11, 2018

Toddler Early Morning Wakings;Causes + Solutions

November 7th, 2018|Categories: Toddler Sleep|

Toddler Early Morning Wakings

Toddler early morning wakings…We’ve all been there…

Fast asleep, all warm in your bed. Between dreams, you glance at the clock and see it says 5:00 am.

Happy knowing you have another hour to sleep, you nestle down into your fluffy covers and cozy pillow. You are about to drift off into lala land, when, all of a sudden, you hear your toddler calling for you.

You groan as you get out of bed, fumble to find your slippers and make your way to your child’s bedroom. You try your best to convince them that it’s not time to get up yet.

Rubbing their back, lying down with them, getting stern with them-none of it works.
Giving up, you bring them back to your bed and try to catch a few more zzzs, which, by this time is only a few more minutes.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many of my clients with toddlers and preschoolers experience variations of this scenario. The good news is that there are many things we can do to help stop toddler early morning wakings.

What Exactly Qualifies as An Early Waking?

It is quite normal for children between the ages of one and four to wake early, but it’s important to know what is categorized as age-appropriate and what is too early.

The typical or average wake up time for toddlers is between 5:30am – 7:00am (but often 5:30am can still be moved out a touch later).

An early waking or rising is defined as waking up for the day prior to 5:30am. Parents tend to define early morning wakings when the child is suddenly waking up more than 45 minutes earlier than they normally would, but *technically* it needs to be earlier than 5:30 am.

Toddler Early Morning Wakings; Why Do They Happen?

There are many reasons why children might experience early morning wakings. No two children are the same, but let’s explore the most common reasons (and solutions) for each.

1. Not Getting Enough Sleep

By far, the number one reason toddlers wake up too early is because they’re overtired. Which leads to the next logical question of…

“Why don’t kids sleep in then, if they’re overtired?”

I know, it seems so irrational, right? But that’s because as adults, our sleep functions differently than a child’s. When we are tired, given the opportunity, we will often sleep in the next morning to catch up.

However, with children, when they are overtired, their body releases extra stimulating hormones to fight the fatigue that accumulated the day before. In turn, their sleep isn’t as deep or restorative and they are more prone to night wakings.

Then, as they approach the early morning hours, and their body naturally reduces the amount of melatonin (the sleep hormone) being produced, it gets increasingly harder for them to return to sleep. So, not only are they not sleeping as deeply during the night, they are also more prone to night wakings and early risings.

You can see the difference between a well-rested child’s sleep (thick, solid line) and an overtired one here (dotted);


Are Naps Contributing?

Similarly, early wakings can occur if your child has had too little daytime sleep. Contrary to popular belief, many toddlers don’t drop their nap until closer to 3-4 years of age. Others will nap until full-day school begins.

If their nap is shorter than needed, or dropped completely, then come bedtime, the body, in an effort to try and sustain itself, goes into fight or flight mode. 

If a child’s wake time between the end of a nap until bedtime is too long, this could also encourage early morning waking in toddlers. The nap itself might be the correct length of time, but if bedtime is too late, the child could catch their “second wind” and go to bed too late.

On the flip side, if the child is having too much daytime sleep, this can be a cause of early morning wakings as they no longer require as much sleep at night. This effects children of 3 years and up in particular. If nap is too long, then bedtime becomes too late and the restorative night time sleep is shortchanged.

Every element of the child sleep routine has a knock on effect that could cause early morning wakings.

2. Changes to the Toddler’s Life

Just as sleep debts can accumulate in various spots, there are different areas in a child’s life that can also impact early wakings. Just as something like stress could affect our sleep, changes to their routine can have an effect on your toddler’s sleep as well.

As you may have discovered when they were a baby, milestones can mess with sleep. This is still true for toddlers.

If they happen to wake early in the morning, they might begin to practice their new skills when they wake, instead of going back to sleep. Most notably, this happens around 18 and 24 months. 

Entering daycare for the first time, can also be a difficult adjustment for them, both emotionally and physically. If this transition causes the child stress, it could cause early morning wakings.

Equally, if a new sibling enters the family, this change can be difficult for children and may take some time. Not only are they trying to adjust to new noises, new routines, but  shifting family dynamics as well. 

3. Sleep Hygiene and Healthy Sleep Habits

Just like we try to teach good overall hygiene habits to our children, (brushing their teeth properly, washing their hands after using the potty, etc.), sleep hygiene is an critical component to their overall sleep success.

Overstimulated and wound up kids will struggle to fall asleep. When they do, it’s more likely to be shallow and not refreshing. Their bodies need to be relaxed prior to a sleep period.

And remember; the sleep that children experience in the early hours of the morning is quite light. Any  stimulus such as light, temperature may prematurely wake the child.

4. Are You The Reason?

As parents, we play a very significant role in our children’s sleep habits. This includes early morning wakings. It means that we have the ability to help the toddler overcome them, and be aware of our behaviours that might have a negative impact.

If parents themselves are feeling insecure or unsure with a routine they might inadvertently be spending too much energy trying to get the child to sleep. Ironically, by trying to get them to sleep, this can end up keeping the child awake as there is too much engagement and stimulation.

Another aspect to consider is communicating expectations. When I talk to new clients about what they have done to try and change their child’s early risings, majority of the time, they have missed a significant piece; talking to the child about what they expect.

We often focus on telling kids what they can’t or shouldn’t do, but we forget to tell them what they can or should do.

Many of my clients assume their toddlers know better, but I’m here to tell you, they don’t. If the child knows what you expect from them and what to do when they get up, we are then setting them up for success.

5. Hidden Medical Issues

By now, you know that early morning sleep is very light. The body reduces melatonin production and the desire or sleep pressure, is significantly reduce.

Any disturbance or stimulus can result in them waking early. However, if all of the preceding issues have been resolved and your toddler is still waking early, I have found the final missing piece may be a medical one.

Children with airway issues, breathing difficulties, allergies, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea, among other things may still continue have shorter nights, until these underlying root causes are addressed.

Toddler Early Morning Waking Solution #1; Tweaking the Overall Sleep Routine

The key to eliminating these wake ups due to over-tiredness, is to fix your child’s sleep routine. To start, begin by logging their overall sleep for 5-7 days. Then look for the shortfalls.

  • Are their naps too long or too short? A one year old may need about three hours of sleep. This may or may not be split between two naps. (For more information on the 2-1 nap transition, see here.) But a two or three year old may do better with less than that. If an older child is napping too long during the day, it may short-change their night time sleep which then sets up a cycle of over-tiredness.


  • Is bedtime too late?If your little one is still napping, then it’s important to consider the distance between the end of the nap and bedtime. Most of the time, they can only handle about 4-5 hours after they wake up from that nap. More than that, you risk a sleep debt starting to build.

Want more valuable tips to help your toddler or preschooler sleep better? Download your free copy of TODDLER & PRESCHOOLER’S SLEEP SOLUTIONS; EASY TIPS FOR EXHAUSTED PARENTS.


  • Are naps starting too early or too late? Sleep cycles are based on the body’s response to light and dark signals throughout the day, along with social cues.There are certain times that their body is more ready and able to nap, but if we miss those sleep windows, they will catch their second wind and make it hard to settle into the deep stages of sleep needed to fully recharge the body.

Once you know where the problems lie, you can start to make adjustments and help get them back on track. But be patient, usually early morning wakings take a little while longer to adjust than night issues do.

Toddler Early Morning Waking Solution #2; Coping With Life Changes

Although there can be some large routine shifts, the good new is, we have a way to tackle it!

When it comes to milestone development, although it can be exciting to witness because it means they are getting older, my recommendation stay on top of your child’s schedule. Just because they are older, doesn’t mean they suddenly need less sleep.

Be strict with making sure naps are happening at the right time each day and if they aren’t, that bedtime is adjusted accordingly. Be preventing a sleep debt to form before bedtime, helps to ensure they sleep to their regular wake up time in the morning.

If your toddler early morning wakings start as a result of beginning daycare, then it’s important to talk to the staff. Communicate your concerns, ask them to record all sleep periods and help them work on strategies to ensure proper naps are being taken. You can read more about naps and daycare here.

And finally, if a new sibling entering the picture has thrown your toddler’s mornings out of whack, keeping the lines of communication open, empathizing with them and spending one-on-one time together can help.

If the noise of the new baby is causing your toddler to wake early, then investing in a good quality white noise machine can be an easy solution.

Toddler Early Morning Waking Solution #3; Create Healthy Sleep Hygiene

Create a soothing and relaxing wind down for your toddler prior to each nap and bedtime. It doesn’t need to be long or elaborate, it’s not the actual steps that matter, rather the act of repeating it each day, that’s important.

With repetition, the brain comes to recognize that it’s time to sleep and begins the internal process of winding down. As long as you are leaving while your child is still awake (be careful they aren’t too drowsy or it will become a sleep association), a short and simple routine is great.

Technology is great, but it has its place. If your toddler is watching the TV or an iPad before bedtime, the blue-based LED lights emitted from screens suppress melatonin release which can have negative effects on children’s sleep habits, so avoid this 60-90 minutes before bedtime.

Some ideas to include in your child’s wind down routine are;

  • reading books
  • singing songs
  • saying prayers
  • shutting off lights
  • massage
  • kid-friendly yoga poses
  • saying good night to various family members
  • talking about favourite parts of their day


To help your little one sleep later in the morning, keep the room nice and dark. If they absolutely need a night light, get the lowest wattage possible with a warm bulb colour such as amber, orange or pink. Stay away from LED or blue-based lights as this suppresses melatonin, which is the exact opposite of what we want.

Just like light, temperature also has an effect on children waking early. If the room is too hot or cold, children can be sensitive to room temperature which will cause them to wake. Keep the temperature between 17-21 C for maximum comfort. 

Toddler Early Morning Wakings Solution #4; Set Expectations and Reduce Engagement

The easiest solution here is to be preventative!

To help your toddler know what to do in the morning if they wake early, lovingly and respectfully set ground rules and expectations ahead of time.

So, how do we do that?

With their help, create a fun and colourful poster/chart/picture/graphic that lists a specific set of rules or steps to be followed at each sleep period. 

You can also make a “rule” chart for yourself at the same time. 

Find a special place to hang their chart in their room where it’s clearly visible. Likewise, you can place yours in your room as well.

This helps to set them up for successful sleep habits and show how the whole family values sleep. It also gives you a plan and timeline to follow.

If part of the “rules” are that the child gets 2 kisses and 3 hugs, stick to that. Don’t get engaged in power struggles or repeated requests, especially during your toddler’s early morning waking. 

(This is an added bonus of making sleep rules! You get to blame the chart, as a reason to get going. “Sorry honey, I would love to stay and cuddle, by my rules say I have to leave so that you get the sleep your body needs to be healthy.”)

Toddlers are notorious for trying to endlessly engage with parents, so they need you to be consistent. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

The other important component of having an expectation chart, is to follow through with logical consequences later on. If there are no repercussions for their choices, the pattern will continue.

But please note; logical consequences are very different from punishments. Consequences help to teach, punishments tend to shame and come out as anger.  We want to avoid taking things away like favourite TV shows, stuffed animals, not being able to play outside, etc., if they have no relationship to the sleep rule that wasn’t followed. Always keep in mind that A must equal B to see the quickest changes with your child’s behaviour.

Toddler Early Morning Wakings Solution #5; Consider Underlying Root Causes

The best way to solve this issue is to take it to the medical professionals. Before doing that you may want to record your child’s sleep and note any of the following.

  • Does your child snore (or, even breath audibly)?
  • Do you ever hear pauses in their breathing while sleeping?
  • Do they breathe with their mouth, or have open lips when sleeping?
  • Are they chronically stuffed up (or, during certain parts of the year), have runny noses or dark (or red) circles around or under their eyes?
  • Does your child have any allergies; environmental, seasonal or food that you suspect?
  • Do they ever rashes, bumps that aren’t attributed to anything?
  • Do they get several ear infections a year?
  • Do they have a narrow jaw and high, arched hard palate?
  • Does the child’s parents have a history of allergies, sleep problems, snoring, chronic sinus issues?
  • Does one or more parents or grandparents snore or use a CPAP machine?
  • Did the parents have ear infections, adenoids or tonsils removed as a child or tubes put in their ears?
  • Does your child get very hot and sweaty during sleep periods?
  • Do they sleep with their head arched back?

Taking an investigative approach to your child’s sleep can help aid the pediatrician to rule out one of more issues that could be causing your child to wake up early. Record and mention any of the above questions that match your family history. Sometimes a pediatric dentist that specialize in airway issues can also be helpful.

Toddler Early Morning Wakings Can Be Fixed

Waking too early can be difficult for both parent and child. Not only do they leave the child feeling tired, but it’s hard to parent well when we’re exhausted too. However, by using the above information to help narrow down the cause, early morning wakings are nothing that you and your toddler cannot overcome.

Too tired to do it on your own? Join the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page and participate in one of the frequent Q &A sessions.


Want to get help faster? Book a mini-consult and I will analyse sleep logs, routines and sleep patterns and give you quick, actionable advice that you can start to use right away.

16 10, 2018

The 8 Month Sleep Regression; What Causes it and How to Solve It

October 16th, 2018|Categories: Baby Sleep|

You Say Regression, I Say Progression

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a sleep regression. Likely, it was the 4 month sleep regression. But what about other regressions? In particular the 8 month sleep regression? (Sometimes called the 8-10 month regression. But don’t worry, it doesn’t last that long, rather it can happen sometimes during those months. Whew!)  It’s not talked about as much, but can still impact your child’s sleep.

What is a Sleep Regression?

Sometimes the term ‘sleep regression’ is overused and we say it to explain any challenge with sleep that occurs. (I myself have been guilty of that in the past. I distinctly remember posting on a sleep forum to try and find out if there was such a thing as a 13 month sleep regression. Note: there isn’t!) 

But in the truest sense, a sleep regression describes a previously completely independent sleeper in the weeks before that suddenly has gone off the tracks. However, if there were sleep associations, medical issues, poor sleep hygiene, and/or the challenges that were present in the few weeks leading up to the sleep disruption, it’s likely not a sleep regression.

The good news is; regression or not, changes can be made and solutions can be found to help you overcome this challenging period of development. 

What is the 8 month sleep regression?

If you had previously heard of the four month sleep regression, then it’s important to know that what happens at eight months is quite different. At four months,  your child underwent a biological and cognitive sleep shift. This was a development in the way that your child fell and returned to sleep. Sleep cycles developed and your child began to enter and exit these cycles all night long.

The development they undergo at eight months is slightly different.

This time, your child’s biological sleep patterns are not changing. However all the physical milestones that your baby may be experiencing at this time can start to impact their sleep. 

Additionally, this is a common period for children to experience nap transitions as well and a sleep debt can build up. There’s a lot going on for children development wise at this time in their lives. It’s like the perfect storm of sleep disruptions.

What Causes the 8 Month Sleep Regression?

As mentioned, there are a few reasons why this blip in your child’s sleep may happen. Let’s look a bit more closely at the reasons;

  • Cognitive developments: Your baby is developing a sense of object permanence. She is starting to understand that even though you are gone from sight, you have not actually disappeared. This means they may cry for you once you’ve put her down in the crib.


  • Language development: The brain is working overtime to practice moving the jaw, tongue and lips to form new sounds to communicate. 


  • Physical developments:  Developing more strength and motor skills. Children are starting to learn to crawl, sit up and pull up. They may decide to practice these skills during nap time or at night.


  • Nap transitions: Baby is ready for slightly more awake time, a more regular schedule and might be ready to drop from three to two naps.


  • Overtiredness: If a child has the wrong routine, too late bedtimes or all the new developmental changes are tiring them out, this can cause a regression in sleep as a sleep debt builds.


Can You Sleep Train During the 8 Month Sleep Regression?

The short answer is ‘yes’. But understanding that sleep training is the last component to put into place, is important.

The long answer is, if you’ve read my articles or follow me on Facebook, you know that sleep training plays a very minor role in creating an overall healthy sleep routine for your child. The priority should always be a well-timed daytime routine and an age appropriate bedtime.

Want tips for a great routine and a solid night’s sleep? Download your FREE copy of Baby Sleep Basics here. 

Many sleep issues can be completely solved with just doing the foundation work of having a wind down routine, well-timed naps and an age appropriate bedtime. In fact I would go so far as to say that many sleep regressions can be avoided altogether with this, somewhat, simple advice.

Sleep is essential for everyone, including your child. Helping baby to get more sleep that they need to be healthy, so don’t let a developmental spurt stop you. 

How Do You Handle a Regression While Baby is at Daycare?

Handling a sleep regression when baby is at day care can be tricky, but there are things you can do. First and foremost, make sure the day care has a good understanding of healthy sleep habits, and the sleep needs of your child. Communicate with them what you’re experiencing and make sure they are understanding of the situation.

Tweak your baby’s routine as needed and ensure that the day care is supportive of this. And always remember to be patient. Many day cares have policies they have to follow. If it seems like they’re being difficult, they’re probably just following a procedure.

Tips to Handle the 8 Month Sleep Regression

Sleep Needs

Know how much sleep they should be getting in a 24 hour period. See this chart.  This is an important place to start. If your child is clocking significantly less than recommended, they may not be experiencing the 8 month sleep regression at all, but rather just be overtired.

Sleep Accumulation

Log their sleep for 5-7 days to see what they’re actually getting. Divide the total amount of hours by the number of days and it will give you an average to compare to the recommended amount.

Identify Problem Areas

Is your child having disrupted night sleep? Or are naps the biggest challenge to your child’s sleep needs? Once you see where the main issues lie, you can tweak your baby’s daytime routine. 

If your child’s naps are too short,compensate with an earlier bedtime. But if night time is the bigger area of concern, you may need to tweak the routine to reflect their biological circadian rhythms and natural sleep windows.

And finally, if a nap transition is needed; follow this article for tips and move to two naps.

Give Practice Time

If your baby is enjoying practicing her new skills instead of sleeping, offer her some practice time during the day. While you don’t have to sit, prop, or pull her up, offering her the ability to naturally practice these skills during the day can help.

Sleep Train, If Needed

Once an age appropriate routine is in place, if you want to wean any habits your child has become dependent on, you can. Pick a method that you feel the most comfortable with and be consistent with it. There are a variety of methods outlined in this series. 

Be Patient

Sometimes, with new skills, comes blips in sleep. If your child’s routine is on track, bedtime is age appropriate and she’s an independent sleeper, all we can do is just wait for the cognitive or physical milestone to develop allow the novelty to wear off. In these cases, as long as we don’t start any habits we don’t want to maintain long term, this phase lasts one or two weeks.

Have more questions?

There are many ways to get answers. Make sure to like and follow the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page to get notifications when there is a free Q & A session.
Download your copy of Baby Sleep Basics or book a one-on-one private consult to get detailed and specific help for your unique situation.

1 10, 2018

Night Terrors & Nightmares; How To Help Your Child Sleep

October 1st, 2018|Categories: Preschooler Sleep, Toddler Sleep|

Night Wakings, Night Terrors, & Nightmares-how to help your child manage all three

Halloween is coming! And with this season comes with an assortment of monsters, goblins and ghosts – oh my!

For some, this festive season is all in good spirits. For others, such as our little ones, it can be all too new and terrifying. The imaginations of children can be affected by the scary sights that are flying around at this time of year. Their brains are working on overtime trying to process it all and this can cause bad dreams.

How should you handle situations where your toddlers and preschoolers are scared and waking up at night? Is it really nightmares, or something else entirely?

First, it’s important to note that there are three common types of night wakings:

  • Overtired night wakings
  • Night terrors
  • Nightmares

Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.

Overtired Night Wakings

Did you know that no one really sleeps right the way through the night? Especially not children! We all go through periods of rest and brief wakefulness.  As you can see in the following image, our children’s sleep cycle lasts approximately forty five minutes. Once a cycle is complete, they will partially wake up before entering another cycle.

4 month old sleeep

You usually enter and exit these cycles seamlessly. However, children can become overtired due to an increase in stimulating hormones in the body. This will increase the chances of waking during the night when children are trying to transition through the different stages of their sleep cycles.

The Solution To Night Wakings

The solution to night waking is simple (in theory 😉 ). Make sure your child is well rested and getting the right amount of sleep based on their needs.

It goes without saying, but if they’re over tired they need a few days with earlier bedtimes. This will help them to catch up on the deep sleep cycles that occur early on in the night.

In addition, have a soothing wind down routine, dark sleep environment to encourage their body and brain to settle for the night.  Finally, work towards weaning their dependency of sleep props if it is disrupting their ability to transition through sleep cycles at night.

Night Terrors

Night terrors are not a pleasant experience for the child and parents. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the phenomenon, during a night terror your child may have their eyes open and appear to be awake. They might yell, scream and thrash uncontrollably. Your attempts to soothe them will go unacknowledged until all of a sudden they ‘snap out of it’ and come to. This will leave both you and your child confused.

Technically speaking, night terrors, less commonly known as a Confusional Event, occur when part of the child’s brain remains asleep although their eyes are open. When they overcome the night terror they won’t remember what has happened. This might seem similar to a nightmare, but it isn’t. No dreaming occurs during the sleep cycle when night terrors take place. Night terrors tend to happen during NREM sleep  and in the first four hours of sleep.

The Solution To Night Terrors

Like regular night wakings, night terrors can be associated with a child being over tired. Make sure they are getting the right amount of sleep and be sure to allow them earlier bedtimes if they’re lacking sleep.

Night terrors can also happen if the child is too warm. Watch that their bedroom temperature stays between 17-21 C (62-69 F). Dress them in warmer pajamas and have a cooler room temperature. This is better for the body than wearing cooler clothes and having a warm room temperature.


Nightmares and night terrors often get confused with one another. But nightmares differ from night terrors for a few reasons.

  • Nightmares happen during REM sleep whereas night terrors occur during the NREM sleep phase
  • Because of this, nightmares tend to happen later during the night
  • The child will usually remember their nightmare or at least know that it’s the reason why they woke. Children won’t remember their night terrors and may even fall back asleep after one unless woken by a parent

The Solution To Nightmares

Children waking due to nightmares is a common worry I see among my clients. The good news is that nightmares don’t actually happen as often as you might think. I see more night wakings happening in children that are caused by sleep debts and over-tiredness. This is more of a concern than nightmares.

That’s not to say that nightmares don’t happen.  Incidences of nightmares usually peak between the ages of 3-6 years of age and can be brought on by a number of things. More often than not, it’s simply brought on by growing up and being aware that negative or scary things exist.

If a child is dealing with anxiety or stress brought on by changes in their lives such as starting school or a new sibling coming into the family, this can also trigger nightmares. Or, the child may simply have an overactive imagination.

Validate Their Feelings, Not the Fear Itself

When your child has a nightmare, reassure them that the dream wasn’t real and validate their feelings. At the same time, be careful to not validate the actual fear itself. 

Sometimes, in their efforts to reassure a child, parents will start to do a “monster check” or spray a supposedly magic potion to keep them away. But doing this implies that there are actually monsters to check for, or bad things that require a magical potion.

Instead offer gentle reassurance, love and support after a bad dream. Give them the tools to work at building their confidence up. For example; if they are very upset you could try to help them by rewriting the dream and giving it a funny or silly ending.

This not only conveys the message that the dream wasn’t real, but empowers your child to manage their feelings upon waking.

Watch What Your Child Watches

Children have wild imaginations-it can be what makes them so fun to be around.  But many young children are very sensitive and even some cartoons and movies that are targeted for younger audiences can be too scary.

I once made the mistake of letting my daughter watch The Lion King. She was already in school, so I thought it would be fine. However, the hyenas scene bothered her for a few weeks.

We had many conversations about how it wasn’t real, along with ideas of what she could focus on at bedtime instead, such as her favourite parts of her day, what we would do on the weekend, etc.

After that, I always took into account her sensitive nature before viewing other movies.

Limit Electronics Before Bed

It may also be a good idea in some circumstances to monitor and limit the amount of TV your child is watching before they go to bed.

It is recommended to shut TV or similar electronics off 60-90 minutes before bedtime to encourage melatonin release and help your child wind down. This can also help your little one to not incorporate anything too confusing or scary into their dreams at night.

8 takeaways to help you and your toddler sleep easy

  • Make sure they’re getting the right amount of sleep for their needs
  • Give them earlier bedtimes to help them catch up on their sleep cycles
  • Make sure their room is a good temperature
  • Validate their feelings, but don’t encourage the fear
  • Reassure and comfort them
  • Help them to learn coping mechanisms
  • Limit TV exposure before bedtime

When our little ones wake at night, it’s important that we understand the reason, so that we can help them get back to sleep quickly and efficiently. Whether it’s an over-tired night waking, night terror or nightmare, there are several tips and tools you can use to help everyone get the rest they need.

Want more sleep tips for your toddler or preschooler? Grab your free copy of Sleep Solutions for Toddler + Preschoolers; Easy Tips for Exhausted Parents

18 09, 2018

The 3-2 Nap Transition; When and How To Do It

September 18th, 2018|Categories: Nap Transitions|

3-2 Nap Transition

It should come as no surprise that infants and children sleep a lot more than adults. This is because sleep plays a vital role in growth, development and cognitive functions. Children are undergoing these things at a more intense rate than adults so it stands to reason that they require more sleep to be able to grow and develop properly. This is one of the reasons that children nap during the day. Naps are important for helping children form overall healthy sleep habits and patterns.

Sleep Debts

When naps are missed, something called a sleep debt, forms. This debt is the cumulative difference between sleep needed and sleep actually attained. Overtime, if this debt grows larger, or isn’t recovered, children become overtired. This leads to a whole host of problems that can include night wakings, early morning risings, short naps, plus more. You can read more about overtiredness and sleep debts here.

You can think of a sleep debt like a financial debt. If you have withdrawn one hundred dollars from your overdraft account, you are in debt. You owe your account one hundred dollars. If this isn’t repaid, interest is accrued, increasing the debt.

Repaying the sleep debt, or not having one to begin with, involves having an age-appropriate nap routine. Most children under three years of age will need a nap in some form while they’re still rapidly developing.  However, it’s not unusual for many kids to continue napping until they start full day school in Kindergarten or Grade One.

What is the 3-2 nap transition?

Before we get to that stage where naps are cut out all together though, we have to overcome the first “official” nap transition. The first nap transition that many parents encounter is the 3-2 nap transition. This is when the child no longer needs their third nap of the day. This third nap is often referred to as the catnap because it’s usually shorter than the other two naps. The third nap usually only lasts one sleep cycle (30-45 mins).

When does the 3-2 nap transition occur?

Knowing when to drop a nap can be confusing for parents. On average, a child will be ready to drop their third nap between 6-9 months of age. However, if the child has developed independent sleep skills and is taking long naps of about 1.5-2 hours, they may lose this nap earlier.

How do we know they are ready?

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ for nap transitions. Usually by 6-9 months most children will be ready for the 3-2 nap transition. You’ll also be able to tell if your child is ready if their routine starts to shift slightly. If they have two longer naps that have become well established this shows that they are aligned with the child’s biological sleep circadian rhythms.

Another sign that your child is ready to drop their third nap is when no matter what you do, regardless of the tricks you pull out of your sleep bag, they just won’t sleep! I distinctly remember driving my daughter around in the car to get her to sleep for the third nap and eventually even this stopped working. She just stayed awake the whole time.

Other signs your child no longer needs the third nap:

  • Your child is 6-12 months old
  • Your child might appear tired but still refuses the nap no matter what you do
  • All of your usual go-to “tricks” stop working. Things like nursing, feeding, rocking, bouncing and driving rarely work or stop working all together
  • The other two naps become long and well established in their routine
  • Because of two prolonged naps, it seems too late into the afternoon to introduce a third nap. You might find yourself wondering “should I try another nap or just do an early bedtime?”
  • As your baby lengthens naps one and two, the third nap may push bedtime too late. 
  • The other two naps might stay short but become well established. This is common around 7-8 months of age

Signs that they still need the third nap

  • Throughout the week, there are more days than not that they are taking the catnap
  • Your child is going through a big development like trying to sit up, stand or crawl. A surge in brain development often coincides with another part of development regressing, like sleep
  • If you offer more awake time between nap two and the catnap, they start to take it again.

How to transition from 3-2 naps

In order to make this transition successful, naps one and two must be at least an hour and a half long. For babies younger than six months, short naps are common as their sleep/wake cycles fully mature which makes transitioning to a two nap routine at this point, rare. However, if your child is taking a morning and an afternoon nap that are closer to two hours in length, then they may be ready to drop nap three.

Once you decide to drop the third nap, you need to move bedtime earlier so your child isn’t awake for too long. Most babies napping twice per day settle into a bedtime of 5-7 pm. Yes, I said 5pm. No, that’s not a typo. 😉 

Early Bedtimes During the 3-2 Nap Transition

When moving your baby’s bedtime, it needs to reflect the dropped nap. We want to avoid creating a sleep debt, so we need to replace the missing day time sleep with night sleep until the child can handle longer wake periods. Depending on their age when they drop the catnap, they still may only be able to handle a two hour wake period.

This is how we end up getting to a 5pm bedtime.

For instance, if the child is 6 months old and nap two lasts from 1-3pm, even after that great nap, they can only sustain a two hour wake period, given their age. If you’ve tried for a catnap and it’s not happening, they need an early bedtime of around 5pm.

Once your child is ready to drop the third nap, or is refusing to take it, then stop offering it and move bedtime up earlier.  

The early bedtime won’t last forever, it’s just while they are adjusting to the two nap routine. Put your baby down for the night when they need it, and put up your feet and enjoy.

Nap Transitions Summary

Nap transitions can often be tricky and sometimes, they can be downright awful. Deciding when the right time is for your baby to drop a nap can be confusing for the best of us. Listen to the signs that your child is giving you. If they don’t want that third nap and their other two naps get longer, that could be a sign that they’re ready to transition.

Need more help with your baby’s sleep? Pick up your free copy of Baby Sleep Basic’s: Tips To Encourage Better Sleep.