The Sleep Research
Our first step was to develop a Gentle Sleep Training Method, was to learn how much sleep our daughter really needed. According to WebMD, “toddlers (1 to 3 years old) need 10 to 14 hours of sleep a day”1. Ideally a good sleep routine is established when they are a baby because the earlier you start the easier it is; you will have less bad habits to overcome. Sleep is one of the big struggles between parents and toddlers.
If you have an easy going toddler that falls sleep on their own and has great natural sleep patterns, I am happy for you. My toddler sure put up a fight to go to sleep. Good thing for her, she gets her stubbornness from me, so I was up for the challenge. Also, my toddler does go to daycare and was on an consistent sleep routine at daycare. This clued me into the fact that we, the parents, were the problem, not our toddler.
Sleep Training Methods
After using a gentle sleep training method, we reduced to about 1 awakening a night, and all without using any “cry it out”. A lot of my gentle sleep training knowledge comes from reading the baby sleep site. Several references are attached below and I used these to come up with my method to help my toddler sleep through the night. However, to really get our toddler to commit to sleeping through the night we also had to utilize some of The Ferber Method. For our daughter we only had to do 2 intervals of the Ferber Method.
Sleep Training Method
First, we would let her remain frustrated for 5 minutes, then we would then comfort her. Second, if still not sleeping, let her remain frustrated for 10 minutes. By the end of the 10 minute second interval she figured out how to go to sleep on her own. We never had to go longer than 10 minutes for her to figure out how to go back to sleep on her own. Now at 22 months our toddler sleeps soundly through the night every normal night. She might cry in her sleep for a few seconds to about a minute, but nothing that is overly concerning for her or us.
Before Bed Tips
- Make sure you establish a consistent food schedule throughout the day so your toddler gets all their calories in during the day.
- Do not feed your toddler right before bed. If they fall asleep while or near eating that will become a sleep association that you and your toddler will have to overcome later.
- Make sure the toddler’s room is a good temperature for sleeping
- If your toddler is sick, address as many symptoms as you can before bedtime.
Before Bed Routine
It is important to have a consistent bedtime routine so that your toddler knows that bedtime is approaching in a gradual manner. Since they have limited oral communication methods, the routine becomes a communication tool to get them in the right mind set for sleep. Here is an example of our routine. We started it because our daughter woke up at 5:30AM every morning whether she slept well or not. So I back calculated the start of her routine based on her circadian rhythm.
- Calm activity (e.g. coloring or reading)
- Bath Time
- Brush Teeth
- Saline & Nosefrida, if she is congested
- Get her into warm PJs and socks
- Dry her hair if we washed it
- Read a storybook
- Say prayers
- Both parents give hugs and say good night
- Place toddler in the crib awake
- Parents leave toddler’s room making sure to smile and look positive when leaving, even if she is upset.
After Bedtime Tips
- When troubleshooting an awakening episode, try your best to keep your toddler in crib as much as possible. If you consistently take them out of the crib when you come into the room in the middle of the night, they will come to rely on that interaction to have contact with you.
- It is normal for children to cry between cycles. Unlike us adults that have figured out how to deal with our sleep disturbances by just falling back asleep, they are less familiar with this and express frustration. If my toddler wakes up and has a non-distressed cry (i.e. not a nightmare or night terror) I try to give her a full 5 minutes before stepping in to troubleshoot the awakening.
If your toddler wakes up and you have gone through the mental checklist and given her a full 5 minutes to try to work through it, there is still hope!
I recommend quietly walking in the room without turning on any lights or saying anything to your toddler. Lay your toddler back down on the bed and pat their back while saying shh…. 9 times out of 10 this works. Sometimes I have to sing a nursery rhyme to get her to listen to my voice and calm down. When your toddler calms down you can gradually fade out patting them on the back and slowly step away from the crib.
At this point two things could happen, the ideal option is they have fallen asleep and you can leave the room or they notice you step away and start to fuss again. If they start to fuss when I step away from the crib I try to say shh… or even sing a nursery rhyme from a distance. This is a good reminder for the toddler to know it is time to sleep. I have had to do the lay down, pat, and shh… routine a couple of times on a difficult night to get my toddler to go to sleep and stay asleep. But hang in there as eventually they do understand.
If you have ruled out other potential issues and tried the lay down, pat, and shh… routine a couple of times. I highly recommend The Ferber Method. This is what sealed the deal and got my toddler to know that sleep time means sleep time. Go To Sleep!
I hope all these tips and tricks from my gentle sleep training method help you get your baby or toddler to go to bed and sleep through the night.