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Wakeful Nights with a Toddler

Toddler sleep
Wakeful nights with a toddler who won't stay asleep? You can solve it!
A tired toddler or child is cranky, fussy and demanding, and one who wakes up a lot at night can make you into the same sort of adult. But it's normal for everyone to wake in the night. Toddlers wake their parents because they can't fall asleep again without some sort of help.
That may be a feed, a drink, a cuddle, a stopover in the big bed - but each form of help has the same aim, to 'switch off' and get back to sleep once more.
It doesn't have to be like that...
What can you do?
If your toddler's sleepless nights are really making it hard for you, it's worth asking your GP or your health visitor if there is any health professional near you offering a sleep clinic or a sleep programme. They can support you, and help you work out a way of coping with, or solving the problem, in a way that suits you.

Most programmes or clinics will ask you to keep a sleep diary for a week or so, so you and the professional can have a clear account of what needs to be changed. You may be asked to keep a diary through the programme, as a means of keeping up your motivation, and so you can see if something is making a difference.

You don't need to be enrolled in a formal sleep programme. You can keep a diary yourself, and follow your child's progress in this way.

The main drawback to the 'training' involved in a sleep programme - whether it's one you work out yourself, or one with a clinic - is that it needs effort and commitment from you . It's essential to make sure you can keep the training going for at least a few weeks (though many problems are solved in just a few nights).
Don't start a programme when you're dealing with other pressures in your life. You also need to make sure that everyone involved in the routine care of your child knows what you're doing and agrees with it.

Your programme will mean you

  • establish a settling routine for your child which you stick to
  • insist on your child staying upstairs and not getting out of bed
  • help your toddler learn he can get to sleep by himself, not by ignoring his cries, but by doing the minimum you need to soothe him, and then leaving him - each time, no matter how many times you have to do it
  • stick to your plan by not getting your toddler out of bed to feed, cuddle or play

But what about sleeping in the big bed?
Co-sleeping is a very normal and natural way for parents to care for their children, and you may want to keep this up. What can be confusing for a toddler is to be allowed in the big bed sometimes, and not other times. No wonder they make a fuss!
You may feel okay about adapting the sleep training - making sure your child settles in the earlier part of the evening, and accepting co-sleeping later when you've gone to bed.
Is Your Toddler Having Nightmares?
When your toddler has bad dreams, how can you comfort them?
Most importantly, don't worry. Everyone dreams every night. Bad dreams may be frightening but they are quite normal.
'The monster's gone...'
After a nightmare, your child will be wide-awake. Don't leave him alone. He needs comfort and reassurance, so cuddle him back to sleep. Be as understanding as possible. Talk through the nightmare, as it will make it seem less scarey.
What's causing the nightmares?
Did he watch something scarey on TV before going to bed? Has moving house or a change in routine upset him? Maybe his brother or sister or a friend told him something frightening. Maybe he imagines frightening things in the dark. Tell him that sometimes we have bad dreams if we are worried and ask him if he is frightened or worried about anything.
Make going to bed a happy event
If your toddler is sent to his room every time he does something 'naughty', he's unlikely to feel relaxed about going to bed at night. Make time to settle him down, tuck him in and tell him to think about something happy as he goes to sleep.


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