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Toddlers Who Get Up… (and up and up!)

Is your toddler hopping out of bed or climbing out of their cot? If so, then what you are experiencing is called “Toddler versus Sleep”, a situation where your toddler is having difficulty falling or staying asleep during the night. It is a common sleep issue many toddlers experience between the 18-24 month marks (1.5 to 2 years), in which toddlers may cry out, or climb out of cots or beds and wander around and out of their rooms. 

This is not only disruptive and potentially dangerous but can set a precedent of bad sleep habits extending well into their early childhood.

Why is my toddler hopping out of bed or climbing out of the cot?

  • To assert their independence on a world they are starting to understand, explore and learn about
  • Separation anxiety
  • External cues which have been rewarded with certain behaviours, for example your toddler calling out for no reason- and you coming into the room. Calling out will then be associated with your toddler getting his or her way: you coming back into the room and giving attention
  • Real and imagined fears

Toddlers are sleepy little creatures! They need 10-12 hours sleep in the evening and in addition to this will often need a 2 hour nap during the day. A lack of a consistent, calm bedtime routine can be a leading cause of sleep issues. Hopping out of bed soon after being put down is linked with a difficulty in falling asleep. Frequent night waking occurs if your toddler wakes up during the night and is unable to get back to sleep on their own.

If your toddler is continually wandering out of their bed and into yours; then you need an action plan stat!

There are some things you can implement to make night time sleep time, not stress time.

What can I do?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that consistency is key!

A consistent bedtime routine helps to prepare your toddler for sleep. Your toddler’s sleep routine should involve quiet time, relaxation techniques- especially if your toddler is prone to separation anxiety- and above all else your toddler’s bedtime routine needs to be consistent. Toddlers will be ready for bed between 6:30 and 7:30. It is between 8pm and 12pm when deep (REM) sleep occurs. During deep sleep cells are replenished and your little ones  grow and develop. Being healthy and happy is inextricably linked to sleep, for all ages and stages of life.

Some things to consider:

  • Avoid loud, boisterous playing before bedtime
  • Limit TV watching before bed
  • Avoid asking open ended questions such as “Do you want to go to bed?” as this can often be met with a resounding “No!”

Bath Time Routine

Relaxation helps to move your toddler from quiet time to sleep time. Introduce calming essential oils into the evening bath to soothe and relax your toddler before bedtime. Lavender in small quantities is calming and is often used to relax the body and aid sleep in both adults and children.

Reading Time

Reading a quiet book with a child before bed is a great way to help establish that quiet time and sleep go hand in hand. Your voice is a comforting sound, and when lowered will calm and soothe a child.

Reduce External Stimulus

Avoid TV and bright lights because too much stimulation can lead to difficulties falling asleep.

There are often pre-conceived ideas that there is a one size fits all approach when addressing sleep issues; this is truly not the case.

Remember that this is a common issue amongst toddler and you are not alone. If trying the above techniques are not helping why not call on a professional? They will work with you to set you on the track to guaranteed sleep, for your bub, toddler and yourself! Some things which your sleep consultant may trial includes:

  • Pick up and put back down: this is about comforting but still making sure the toddler falls asleep without the aid of a parent.
  • Controlled crying: this is where you allow your child to cry for one or two minutes, and then gradually increase the intervals between crying and checking until she/he falls asleep.
  • Gradual retreat: or also known as the gradual withdrawal, gives your toddler time to adjust to falling asleep alone. Simply start by sitting by the cot or bed until your toddler falls asleep, and then after three nights move a little further away, and so on until your child is able to fall asleep without you in the room.
  • Resetting the body clock and making sure naps are before 3pm as this can interfere with a full night’s sleep.

This article was published in Issue 6 of our print magazine, October/November 2014.

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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