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.

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

27 06, 2018

3 Reasons Your Toddler Won’t Go To Sleep at Bedtime

June 27th, 2018|Categories: Toddler Sleep|

Toddler Won’t Go To Sleep At Bedtime?

“This is the the song bedtime that doesn’t end,

Yes it goes on and on, my friends”

If you have a toddler that seems to take forever to get into bed, or fall asleep, then this is your anthem. (My apologies to Lamb Chop Play Along for my version.)

When your child was a baby, you may have envisioned that a toddler would be easier to put to bed. No more rocking, feeding, changing, changing again and more rocking. For hours and hours.

After all, with independence and the ability to communicate with words, comes less work for Mom and Dad, right?

But it is sometimes for precisely those reasons that bedtime gets dragged on and on.

“I need another glass of water”

“I have to pee”

“Why are leaves green?”

After you explain in detail, chlorophyll and by extension, photosynthesis, you say a silent prayer that this is finally IT and you can close the door and relax for the night.

Um, no.

Ten minutes later, the process is repeated.

As frustrating as these extended bedtimes are, there are usually specific reasons why they occur.

Usually; the child is overtired, undertired and/or the expectations around bedtime haven’t been well-defined.

It can take a little bit of figuring out which one is the main reason, but once you do, bedtime can return to an easy, relaxing and quick process.

Let’s figure out what’s going on. And more importantly, how to end it.

Reason #1 Why Your Toddler Won’t Go To Sleep

The number one reason why your toddler won’t go to sleep quickly and easily at bedtime is because they are overtired.

When kids are either not getting enough sleep, or bedtime is too late, they form a sleep debt and become overtired. Both of these terms mean that the child is sleep deprived.

A sleep debt is the difference between how much sleep a child should be getting and how much they are actually getting (similar to an actual financial debt).

“Overtired” is a description of what happens to their body when the sleep debt and sleep deprivation takes over (similar to when you dip into your overdraft in your savings account). If you want to read more about how overtiredness affects children, check this article out.

Now you may be thinking that in order to use the term “sleep deprived”, a child would have to be trying to survive on only a few hours of sleep, however, even an hour less of the recommended amounts, can start a child’s body and brain into a downward spiral.

In response, the brain releases stimulating hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) to try and fight the fatigue, and parents are left with a hyper, defiant child, doing naked somersaults on their bed.


Just my child?

Alright, let’s carry on then.

Having a sleep debt is extremely common, so common in fact that we almost don’t even seem to recognize it as a society. We say things like ” the terrible twos, or threenager threes” to describe the behaviour that comes with this age group, not taking into account how much of that unruly behaviour is due to sleep deprivation.

To counter this, it’s important to get your child on an age-appropriate routine. That usually means having a nap if the child is under three to four years of age and a bedtime that isn’t too late.

Reason #2 Why Your Toddler Won’t Go To Sleep

The second reason for a bedtime that drags on is because your child is undertired.

Say what?

I know, I know.

It may sound confusing, and it can be, when you’re a tired parent. But from this sleep consultant’s eyes, certain patterns emerge when a bedtime that is going on for-evah, that help me tell if the child is over or undertired.

This most frequently happens to kids who love to take long afternoon naps (of which, I was never blessed with). Understandably, the caregiver wants to enjoy this much deserved downtime.

But if the nap goes on for too long, it can not only shortchange the nighttime sleep, but it sets us parents up for failure come bedtime.

They child just hasn’t accumulated enough wake time from the end of the nap until bedtime. They aren’t tired yet, but rather, they are undertired.

Again, we may or may not see naked somersaults.

For example, if your three year old naps from 12pm-3:30pm and then bedtime is around 7pm, this is only about three and a half hours of wake time for that child.

And while a typical toddler’s day is usually lopsided, (meaning that there is a longer wake period in the morning before the nap than there is in the afternoon), three and a half hours is too short for a child this age. They won’t be tired and you may see a lot of protesting, stalling and negotiating.

Similarly, a toddler won’t go to sleep when the nap has gone too late into the afternoon.

We all have certain points in the day when our body’s internal clock makes it more receptive to sleeping. This clock, called the circadian sleep rhythm, promotes ideal times sleep times within your child’s body by lowering your child’s core temperature and releasing sleep hormones (melatonin) into the bloodstream. This occurs during the day to promote a nap, and then again in the evening to encourage the onset of night sleep.


Toddler Sleep Troubles Got You Down? Sign up for the FREE Toddler Sleep Solutions Guide. Easy tips for exhausted parents!

However, if the child is being put down for a nap too late into this ideal time, then it will affect the bedtime circadian rhythms.

Once again, without having accrued enough wake time in the late afternoon, and now sleeping against the body’s natural sleep clock, the child will have a very difficult time falling asleep.

Some parents choose to do a later afternoon nap so that their child can stay up late; usually in the summer months when schedules are more relaxed.

And while, this can be beneficial when we have an event or occasion that we would like our kids to attend in the evening, overtime, a bedtime that is too late will start to cause problems.

The reason for this is due to how the brain cycles through sleep at night.

Early evening sleep allows the brain to cycle through more deep sleep (called Non-Rem) which is cut off with a late bedtime and doesn’t reappear even if a child sleeps in the next morning. Deep sleep is needed for a child’s brain to fully refresh and restore itself each night.

You can see an example of this below as illustrated by the thick, colourful line.

Over time, with too many late bedtimes and a shortened supply of Non-Rem sleep, the body and brain become sleep deprived.

Night wakings start to occur and the child, not feeling well-rested will start to act out, have tantrums or meltdowns.

It can create a vicious cycle, so it’s best to move bedtime up a touch earlier if you start to see this happen.

Reason #3 Why Your Toddler Won’t Go To Sleep

Finally, the last reason that bedtime can be extended is when expectations aren’t crystal clear.

In this article about how to end toddler bedtime battles, I talked about how kids need parents to be a confident pilot to steer them through the storm (of their big emotions, reactions, limit testing, etc). And this applies in particular to the whole bedtime wind down process.

It needs to be well-defined and consistently implemented.

If there is a lot of inconsistency each night, your child will feel insecure without structure. And what do they do when they feel like this?

They test the limits in an effort to define the rules for themselves.Boundaries will be pushed further and further to see where they end.

At first it might seem funny or cute (*cough*, *cough* naked somersaults *cough*) when such antics emerge, but it can quickly spiral out of control.

Unfortunately, if we allow things to go too far, then we get annoyed and react out of anger and frustration. Not really what we want during bedtime, right?

It may not seem logical, but when toddlers start negotiating, pleading or stalling, it’s their way of asking for limits. If bedtime is taking too long, what they really need are fair, firm and consistent rules.

The other component to this is that there needs to be follow through with implementing those rules. If bedtime is 7:00 pm and it’s 6:59 pm, and they haven’t settled down yet for story time, then follow through.  It’s essential that you stick to the rules that you have implemented and forgo those stories.

Will your child joyfully accept your decision, and hop gleefully into bed?

Uh, no. Not a chance.

But! They will quickly learn that you mean what you say and in turn, you will see a dramatic reduction to the stalling.In fact, this age group can respond much quicker to sleep training, expectations and changes than a baby will. Even though they can protest louder and longer, if you implement things correctly, it will quickly dissipate.

So there you have it.

Three of the most common reasons why our little ones resist bedtime and how to solve each of them.

If you have other issues with your toddler’s or preschooler’s sleep, be sure to join the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page for more resources as well as grabbing your copy of the Sleep Solutions Guide for Toddlers and Preschoolers; Easy Tips for the Exhausted Parent. 

Too tired to read anything else? Just want a plan of action that’s done for you? Book a mini consult under the A La Carte options and we can plan out a step-by-step method that’s right for your family.









16 08, 2017

The End of Toddler Bedtime Battles

August 16th, 2017|Categories: Preschooler Sleep, Toddler Sleep|

It’s bedtime.

You have a two year old…

“Let the (toddler bedtime) gamessssssss, BEGIN!

You see your toddler yawn and rub her eyes. Glancing at the clock you realize bedtime is on its way.

You decide to get her to pick up her toys by “making it a game” like the last parenting blog you read had suggested, but it only results in you playing the “game” alone as she starts to dance around you.

After bath, she proceeds to run around naked while you desperately try to get her dressed. Finally catching her you get her PJs on in a manner that you imagine it would be like to dress a goat.

Next comes potty time. You’re getting more tired and it’s not even your bedtime, but she seems to have even more energy-how is that possible? But you see her rub her eyes again.

Bedtime snack follows. She complains about it and starts crying. And yawns again. You quickly get her another snack and then take her to her room.

There (and after finally getting her to stop jumping on the bed), you think your work is done. But you hear;

One more story

“I have to pee”

“Why is the sky blue?”

“I need a hug”

“I have to pee again”

After honouring all the requests, you leave the room.

Collapsing on the couch, you marvel at your child’s ability to stall. Putting your feet up, you turn on the TV and hear her door open. You meet her in the hallway and decide that it may be easier to just lie down with her.

“It’ll only be for a few minutes” you say to yourself, but aren’t able to leave until forty-five minutes later.

Annnnnd *scene*.

Did I just describe your nightly ritual?

Most of the parents I help experience some, if not all, of the previous scenario during bedtime. The good news is that this can be a thing of the past.

Change Your Frame of Mind

When I help parents, the first issue we work on, is mom and dad’s mindset.

They have been stuck in a cycle of doing all the work during their toddler’s bedtime and (understandably) truly believe their child needs 37 glasses of water and 24 songs, in order to fall asleep.

But there is a difference between a need and a want. The child doesn’t need the water, they want it.

Because the parent has (out of love and desperation) regularly been accommodating their wants, the child begins to expect it each night, and it quickly develops into what is called a sleep association.

To be able to fall asleep independently though, without the sleep associations, parents must believe that their child  is capable of learning this valuable skill.  Before they can change their child’s habits, they must change their own.

The transition from constantly helping a baby, to, stepping back and allowing a toddler to be more independent, can be a little scary and let’s be honest; a little bittersweet. But the good news is that parents don’t have to do all the work anymore. Their child can start to take ownership of bedtime.


When mom and dad are able to trust in their child’s ability, we see amazing progress in a very short time. Children begin to feel their parents confidence. So set the bar higher and be amazed when they rise to the occasion!

If you find yourself worrying that your toddler can’t sleep without you, or without all the “stuff” you’ve been doing for her, ask yourself these two questions;

“Does my child behave differently for me than for other family members?”

“Does my child go to sleep easier for another caregiver such as a daycare worker, grandparent or relative?”

95% of the parents I work with say yes to one or both questions. Why is that? It’s not that your child likes them better, that they are more skilled or have a magical formula.

It’s because;

  •  your child feels the most safe with you (really, her tantrums are a compliment 😉 ),
  • she knows what buttons to push (It’s not manipulation, it’s nature. Toddlers are hard-wired to test limits.) and
  • your child is incredibly smart by this age and understands cause and effect

To begin, start working on your mindset when it comes to your child.  Every time you catch yourself thinking “my child needs me to….”, reframe the sentence to “my child wants me to…”.  

As simple as it sounds, by consciously thinking about the situation differently, your brain will begin to frame your thinking about bedtime differently. too. It will give you the clarity in the moment, stopping you from responding on autopilot.

Toddler Bedtime Battles Got You Down?

Get your FREE copy of Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night

Next, make a list of all the things your toddler can do. If they can follow instructions through the day, list that off, if they can play independently, write that down. Whatever it is, even the smallest task, make a note of it.

Third, review it and see how those skills can transfer to bedtime.

Recognize that if your little one usually is able to get their shoes or jacket out when you ask, they will also be able to get their toothbrush out when you ask.

If they can choose a shirt in the morning, they can choose their PJs or a stuffed animal to sleep with at night.

Finally, pick one or two areas that your child can start doing and implement that each night. Not only will this give your child some ownership, but it will help you to see how quickly they can learn a new skill.

Understand, Acknowledge and Deal With Your Fear

“Wait, what?!? I’m tired, not scared.

Well, maybe I’m scared I’ll never sleep again…”

Ok, so hear me out.

Often we feel that there are many external reasons why our children aren’t sleeping well such as;

  • Molars,
  • Not enough outdoor time,
  • Weren’t at daycare that day and aren’t tired out
  • Were at daycare that day and are overstimulated
  • Company stayed late,
  • Another sibling/parent/friend revved them up.

The list goes on.

But as much as we want to blame external factors, most of the time, it’s because of us.

And I lovingly say this without judgement because I’ve gone down this road, too and speak from experience. But us parents are usually the main reason why bedtime spirals out of control. And the reasoning lies deeply-seated, almost unconsciously in fear.

The fear of the unknown, of our child’s outburst, of other parent’s judgement of us, of resistance, but most of all, fear that our children will stop loving us.

It can be hearbreaking to think we may do something to lose the love/bond/attachment that we have with our children and from that, stems the inability to set and enforce limits.

However, as crazy as it sounds, children feel MORE secure and MORE loved, when there are clearly defined limits. They feel confident in our abilities and that reduces their need to test them.

Think about this; who would you trust more to fly you through a storm?  A pilot that was nervous, skittish, and indecisive or, one who was confident, had a concrete plan and was secure in their decisions?

Our children are the same way. If they see you as a nervous pilot, they are going to be nervous travelers who are going to question your every move.


Take some time to think about what is holding you back from enforcing limits around bedtime and through the night. Then find ways to deal with that fear.

If your child’s potential to tantrum is scaring you, then seek out and research parenting experts that can put your mind at ease. If you’re worried about others’ opinions of your parenting style, then this isn’t the time to post your intentions on social media.

If having no plan is scaring you, then let’s work together to create one that suits your family.

Whatever it is, consciously acknowledging and accepting what is preventing you from getting your child on a solid sleep routine is an important step towards seeing success. Don’t let fear stop you from what needs to be done.

Spend Quality Time Together

Sometimes parents find themselves feeling guilty at bedtime. It can stem from many areas, but a common one is when a new sibling enters the picture.

We can’t avoid it-newborns require a lot of attention.  And it’s normal to worry that the older child may feel displaced, left out or ignored.

However, when parents allow guilt to dominate their decision making at bedtime, problems can emerge.

As the stalling begins or the requests are made, parents feel obliged to honour them which they hope shows their love. Unfortunately this leads to reinforcing the very patterns they are hoping to change.


To get out of this loop, first focus on spending quality time with your little one during the day. It doesn’t need to be long, just twenty minutes of dedicated one-on-one time can help strengthen your bond.

It also doesn’t need to be complex outings; just sitting together and reading a book, taking a walk, doing a puzzle, or playing with toys is enough to strengthen the bond between the two of you.

But quality time, means quality time.

Be present in the moment. Focus on them without any interruptions. Put away the electronics. 

They are little people, but like us, they like to talk, share, complain to an active listener. They don’t always need you to solve their problems, but they do need to feel like they are being heard.

Second, when you are talking with your child, don’t shy away from discussing how having a new sibling makes them feel (or whatever the issue is). Listen and empathize. It’s normal for the older siblings to not love the changes, and like us, they want to feel validated.

If they say they hate having a new sibling, empathize; “Yes, having a new baby in the family is hard.”

Although our gut reaction is to try to convince them that they don’t really mean it, by empathizing, we allow space for their feelings and show them that we respect and  honour what they’re going through.

Crystal Clear Expectations

Have you ever had a boss reprimand you for not doing your job properly, even though expectations were never clearly explained?

If so, then you can relate to how your toddler may feel about bedtime.

Many parents mistakenly assume that their child knows what is expected in the hour leading up to sleep. But you know what they say about assuming. 😉

Sometimes parents aren’t really sure either, and this is like a personal invitation for a power struggle to develop.

Toddlers can find our triggers quite easily, namely the  “Big Three”;

  • saying they are hungry/thirsty,
  • needing the washroom and
  • needing love (hugs, kisses).

Children can sense the indecision, and as soon as that door is cracked open, the pleading and negotiation begins.


So, what does your perfect bedtime routine look like? Does your child know this? Have you ever specifically told them what you expect? If not, now is the time to start.

Begin by having a short, positive, and encouraging conversation about sleep; why your child needs a good night’s sleep, why *you* do as well (it’s important for your child to understand that mommy and daddy need rest, too) and how each member of the family can help support each other in achieving this.

Clearly and with love, communicate your expectations around bedtime for your child so they always know what to expect. Ask for their suggestions too, which encourages and empowers them to take ownership of their sleep routine.

Talk about how bedtime should go and what each person’s job or responsibility is such as;

  • Dad finishes up the cleaning the kitchen
  • Mom starts the bath,
  • Kids pick up four toys each and then brush their teeth
  • Have bath and start wind down routine
  • Read two books
  • Cuddle for five minutes
  • Parent leaves room by 7:00pm

Make this into a fun chart and post it where everyone can see and follow it.

Remember to only commit to what you feel comfortable doing though, because it’s vitally important that you are able to follow through.

If bedtime is 7:00pm but your toddler has taken fifteen minutes getting their PJs on and there is only time for one book, then one book it is.

Will there be protests? You bet.

But that’s normal, so take it in stride. Don’t take their protests personally or engage in a power struggle. Empathize, encourage them to move faster tomorrow, but don’t go back on your word. The more consistent you are in following the expectations, the more they will be too.

Watch the Clock

If you go back and read the opening scenario, you will see that as the night routine moves along, the child continues to shows sleep signs, but yet is hyper and energetic. This is a classic over-tired sign in toddlers and preschoolers.

When children become exhasuted, their body will begin to produce extra stimulant hormones to fight the fatigue. This is why in theory they should be tired according to the clock, yet are doing cartwheels and somersaults in their bedroom.


Avoid creating a sleep debt like the plague! Sleep debt/exhaustion/sleep deprivation; different terms to describe the same thing. Kids that are over-tired. You can read more about how over-tiredness impacts children here.

The culprit?

A bedtime that is too late.

Most two and three year olds, can only handle about four hours to four and a half hours of awake time after their nap has ended. Meaning a mid-day nap that ends between 2-3 pm, places bedtime by 7:30pm at the latest.

However for children who have been chronically over-tired, they may benefit from an even earlier bedtime for awhile.

Moving bedtime earlier helps to capitalize on how the brain cycles through sleep. Since there are more deep NREM sleep cycles in the first part of the night (the kind the body needs to rid itself of the sleep debt), early bedtimes provide more opportunity for this restorative type of sleep.

Children whose bedtime is too late, lose out on the maximum amount of this deep sleep because the brain doesn’t replace it later on in their sleep cycle. Even if they sleep in (which is not common unless extremely sleep deprived), the quality of sleep is not the same.

You Can End the Toddler Bedtime Battles!

You really can. Don’t be scared of your child’s big emotions. Change your mindset, face your fears and put a plan into place that gives your toddler structure and limits. As crazy as it may sound at first, one of the most loving things you can do as a parent is to say “no”.

Sleep is essential for your child’s development (not to mention your sanity), and by allowing them to get to sleep more independently, you are taking care of their most basic and fundamental need.  You got this!

Have a question about your toddler’s bedtime routine? Feel free to ask it during one of my FREE Q & A sessions on the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook Page, most Wednesday nights between 8-9pm CST.

30 01, 2017

Sleeping Through the Night; Two Mistakes Most Parents Make and How to Avoid Them

January 30th, 2017|Categories: Baby Sleep, Toddler Sleep|

Sleeping Through the Night

Whenever I teach workshops or talk to parent groups, I will hear “I just have a quick question-why isn’t my child sleeping through the night?”.

Although the question may be quick, the answer isn’t. It’s difficult to give a short summary in a sentence or two.

There are a plethora of reasons for night wakings, and in order to be able to offer advice, I need to know specifics about that child; age, personality, sleep temperament, napping routine, bedtime, plus more.

What’s Your Definition?

“Sleeping through the night” means something different to every parent. And it can look different at various ages.

We have different expectations for a four month old versus a four year old. The first one will likely still need to wake up to feed during the night, whereas the latter won’t.

If the four month old wakes up to eat twice a night but goes right back to sleep and overall sleeps 11-12 hours each night, I would consider that sleeping through the night. If the four year old did the same thing, I would not.

Keep in mind that children and adults alike, do not technically sleep straight through the night, without waking. We all wake up throughout our sleep cycles, however most of the time it is not a full, conscious, “gee, I’m awake and it’s 3am” type of waking.

We shift our position, get comfortable and go back to sleep. This will occur in children as well. This a normal and healthy sleep pattern. The trouble happens when a baby or child fully wakes up and signals, cries or calls for a parent multiple times a night.

A Tale of Two Culprits

But putting those details aside, and assuming a child is healthy, and I can summarize the two main mistakes that parents inadvertently make that can cause and encourage night wakings.

First, I want to preface the information with the caveat that you should always check with your child’s doctor if you believe there may be a medical reason for the sleep issues.

This can include (but is not limited to) severe reflux, poor weight gain due to breastfeeding difficulties, insufficient transfer of milk, tongue or lip ties, snoring, mouth breathing, food or environmental allergies, restless leg syndrome or obstructed sleep apnea.

If no medical issues are present, then one of the following two issues may be at play;

  • Sleep debt accumulation: the child is chronically sleep deprived and exhausted
  • Sleep Associations: the child is unable to fall asleep independently

What is a Sleep Debt?

Sleep debt is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep, and leaves your baby, toddler or preschooler feeling mentally worn-out, physically exhausted, and can dramatically impact their mood, thought, and behaviours.

In most cases sleep debt occurs when a child habitually does not get the required amount of sleep each day and night, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.

This occurs most often when children are;

  • being kept awake for too long during the day,
  • naps that may not be occurring at the right biological times,
  • or bedtimes that are too late.

A sleep debt can be thought of like a financial debt; the more money you take out, the greater the debt becomes. If you don’t replenish the money, the debt remains.

Similarly, the longer the child goes without the proper amount of rest, the more overtired they are and the bigger the sleep debt becomes.

In both examples, if the debt is large, making a small one-time deposit doesn’t clear up the debt.

How Do I Know if My Child Has Sleep Debt?

When children are overtired, they can get revved up as their body releases more stimulating hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in an effort to counter the exhaustion.

It is common for parents to tell me that their toddler will have a ton of energy in the evening, or as they try to rock their baby to sleep, the child is crying in their arms, pushing away and arching their bodies. The harder the parent works, the harder the child resists the attempts to soothe her.

Being overtired also manifests itself as;

  • seemingly scared of or,
  • hating their crib/bed,
  • excess crying,
  • taking extended periods to go to sleep.
  • Appears to not be tired and acts hyper, almost manic
  • Clingy behavior
  • Unable to settle

Getting Out of Debt

Luckily, these issues can be resolved by adjusting the child’s routine so that they are getting more sleep. One of the easiest ways to do this is by moving bedtime earlier in the evening.

For children under the age of 5, regular bedtimes earlier than 7:30PM work best. If you suspect your child has a sleep debt, then moving bedtime up by 20 – 30 minutes may help them feel more rested.

Some children even need a bedtime closer to 45 minutes to an hour earlier. If you’re not sure, this wake time infographic below can help you determine the right bedtime for your child.


Can you guess what the number one follow up question is, when I suggest an earlier bedtime? Parents wonder if it means their child will now wake up earlier in the morning.

To that I say a resounding “no”.

The reason is that when a child is overtired, doing an earlier bedtime allows their brain to acquire more cycles of sleep, which is like putting money into their sleep bank and reducing the sleep debt.

Why Your Child Needs an Early Bed Time

During a child’s sleep, their brain cycles through REM and Non-REM (NREM) types of sleep.

REM sleep is light, active, helps to consolidate memories and results in dreaming.

NREM is a deep sleep that helps the body to repair itself, release growth hormones and helps to clear the sleep debt.

The structure of night time sleep is such that there are more cycles of the deep NREM sleep in the first part of the night than there are later on.

When a child is overtired, an early bedtime helps to take advantage of this.

When we put a child to bed too late, the potential maximum cycles of Non-Rem sleep that they could be receiving, is cut off.

Part of this is due to the fact that a child’s morning wake up time is biologically set. A young child that goes to bed at 7pm has a better night and more cycles of NREM than a child that goes to bed at 9pm.

They will both likely still wake up at the same time in the morning. And if they don’t, for many children, if they do sleep in (past 7/7:30am), it can be a red flag that their body is extremely overtired and the quality of their sleep is already compromised.

Naps Are Necessary For Sleeping Through the Night

How many of you have been given the advice to skip your child’s nap because it will help them sleep better at night?Did you know that doing so will almost guarantee the opposite to happen?

Ensuring your child is taking long, regular naps is a crucial component for a healthy, debt-free and sleeping though the night, routine.

This is much easier said than done, I know. Helping a child to nap better can be a challenge because it takes much longer for a child’s brain to consolidate naps than it does for night time sleep. Whereas night sleep starts to get on track within a week of dedicated work and problem solving, naps take closer to 2-3 weeks.



The good news is that it absolutely can be done! By maintaining a regular napping routine that matches a child’s natural sleep rhythm, we can help a child get the maximum amount of sleep cycles they need for a healthy nap.

The timing of when a nap happens is just as important as how long the child naps. This important fact is often overlooked when sleep problems are discussed.

To begin with, consider how long your child can stay awake in between naps. It will slightly increase the older your child gets, but only slightly.

For more tips on napping, see here and here.

The Skill of Falling Asleep Independently

The second area that commonly causes sleep problems in children over four months of age are sleep associations. Around four months of age your baby’s circadian rhythms will begin to mature, allowing your baby to develop the ability to fall asleep on their own. However, sometimes as parents we don’t realize that this transition is taking place. Out of love, we continue to “help” until our child becomes so dependent on our methods, that it feels like they “need” it to get to sleep.

These can include:

  • Physical stimulation, such as rocking, holding, or bouncing
  • External props, such as feeding, soothers, or bottles

When we begin to remove the extra help, this can produce tears of frustration in our little ones. If you’re a parent overwhelmed with sleep deprivation yourself, it can be difficult to recognize this. But keeping the context of the crying in mind can be helpful. If you’ve taken your child’s daytime routine into proper consideration, have fed and changed your child, then the crying that is happening is a result of being frustrated.

Consistency is Key

Once you’ve determined which external factors are at play you can start to remove them. This is the act of sleep training.

Sleep training is ONLY helpful in these situations. It does not fix a child that is waking and crying at night because of a poor daytime routine-that will continue to happen long after a sleep association has been weaned if the sleep debt is not first addressed.

Now, I know that the term most people are familiar with is Crying-It-Out (CIO) (AKA Extinction), but that isn’t your only option. You can choose to wean sleep associations slowly or quickly, depending on your preferences.

The key here is consistency: every day, every nap, every bedtime, and every night waking (minus the one or two that are for true nutritional purposes). For more information see my sleep training series here.

Ensuring that you remove bedtime “associations” not only helps establish a healthy bedtime pattern, but children who fall asleep without a sleep association experience better night sleep cycle transitions. This, combined with an age-appropriate daytime routine, in turns leads to children sleeping through the night.

Compare the dotted line with the solid line in the image below and you will see how a child that can move through sleep cycles easily has a deeper and more restorative sleep.




Removing all the sleep associations in the world won’t help if you don’t address an underlying sleep deficit and keep your child on a healthy sleep routine. It’s also important to introduce these changes during times when you are distraction-free and can focus on the task at hand, so avoid attempting to implement any changes during vacations, travel, when you are hosting visitors or doing home renovations.

If you find yourself slipping back into old habits then break the changes up into small, manageable steps. The easiest first step is to make sure that your child is napping at appropriate intervals, and that bedtime is consistent and meets their needs. This is the foundation for any sleep training that you may want to implement later on.

If you have a child that isn’t sleeping through the night, you may be too tired to make any changes yourself. Are you feeling overwhelmed and want someone to make a plan for you and guide you through the process? Book your consultation today and save yourself time and frustration or join me during one of my free Q and A sessions every Wednesday night from 8-9pm CST on the Baby Sleep 101 Facebook page.