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Settling
1-2 years

Toddler sleep training – How to get toddler to sleep

Sleep problems are quite common in this age range and include: separation anxiety, night-time fears and nightmares. Sleeping habits change as your child develops. To promote healthy sleep habits daily routines need to match your child’s developmental stage.

Sleep problems are quite common in this age range and include: separation anxiety, night-time fears and nightmares. Sleeping habits change as your child develops. To promote healthy sleep habits daily routines need to match your child’s developmental stage.

How much sleep does my toddler need?

All children are different which means that some children will sleep more and some will sleep less.

From 12 months to 3 years children need between 12-13 hours per day over a 24 hour period with one long overnight sleep and one to two sleep/s during the day depending on their age and individual needs. Some children will not require a day sleep.

If your child is happy and displays no tired signs they may get through the day without a day sleep.  A short `nap’ or quiet time may be sufficient. 

What are the tired signs for a toddler?

When your child becomes tired or overtired you may see one or more of the following signs:

  • irritable,
  • clumsiness
  • clinginess
  • grizzling
  • crying
  • demands for constant attention
  • boredom with toys
  • fussiness with food

Respond to tired signs by reducing stimulation e.g.  putting toys away, talking quietly, closing curtains, turning off lights

Introduce a bedtime routine ‘quiet time’ to help your child wind down depending on the time of day e.g   a bath, nappy change, teeth cleaning, a cuddle, story time and tuck/wrap depending on age followed by a kiss goodnight

Having a favourite small soft toy in the cot/bed may provide comfort.  

Always ensure that the cot sides are up and securely in place

When your toddler won't settle

  • If you have tried putting your child to bed and they continue to be distressed or crying, pick them up and cuddle until calm and then reattempt to settle them.  Always check their nappy.
  • Talk quietly, reassure your child i.e. `it is time for sleep’, to encourage a state of calm and position them on their back in the cot/bed awake.
  • If they still don’t respond pick your child up and cuddle them until they are calm, give them a cup of water then try staying in the room until they fall asleep.  The length of time it takes to calm your child will decrease as your child learns to self settle.

Did you know?

Filled with sensible, reassuring advice, Tresillian’s book, Hello Baby! Parenting With Confidence - A Tresillian Guide, is an indispensable guide for the new parent.
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Transitioning from cot to bed

  1. Moving into a bed is an exciting step in your child’s life.
  2. Start by encouraging your child to climb into bed by themselves.
  3. Provide verbal reassurance, i.e. ‘time for sleep’ and tell your child what is going to happen next. In a calm firm voice give positive instruction, i.e. ‘It’s time to go to sleep’ to discourage your child from climbing out of bed.
  4. Initially keep a familiar blanket or toy (no bigger than a clenched adult fist) from the cot to help make your child feel more secure.  Remember to praise your child if they do stay in their ‘big bed’! 

Top Tip

Pillows are not recommended for children under the age of two as this can increase the risk of suffocation and should be introduced with caution. 

Sleeping and Settling FAQ's

  • The only way my baby will sleep is on me, what do I do?

    My baby won’t sleep. I can't put him into the cot/bassinet because he keeps crying. The only way he will go to sleep is on me. At 4-6 weeks of age, this is normal behaviour. Babies need to be physically close to their parents and some need help going to sleep or re-settling. Comforting with cuddles is the best way to settle your baby when he is crying. Wrapping can also help – use a light material such as cotton making sure that the arms are above waist level and there is room to move the legs. Also check how you are feeding your baby and whether or not there is a link between how the baby is feeding (i.e. fast or gulping or snacking) and his unsettled behaviour.

  • How can I help my baby have longer sleeps during the day?

    "My baby will only have 40 minute short day sleeps, but sleeps well overnight. How can I help him have longer day sleeps?" At 4-5 mths, your baby’s sleep-wake cycle is the time spent going through both deep (quiet) and light (active) stages of sleep. A sleep cycle is around 30-50 minutes and then babies can rouse. It’s very common for babies to wake up after 30-40 minutes sleep at this age. There are several ways of re-settling baby. Hands-on settling is one option where you comfort your baby with gentle ‘ssshh’ sounds, gentle rhythmic patting, rocking or stroking until baby is calm or asleep. If your baby becomes or stays distressed pick him up for a cuddle until calm or asleep before putting baby back in the cot. Stay with your baby until he/she is asleep.

  • What can I do to help my baby sleep better at night?

    "6-7mths of age. My baby has started waking more overnight and I can't re-settle him without having to rock him to sleep. What can I do to help him sleep better overnight." A: Its very common for babies to “start" night waking more often at this age, due to them becoming more aware of when they come into their light sleep cycles. When settling your baby ensure they are wrapped or use a sleeping bag with fitted arm holes and no hood. Try lots of reassurance : 1) Talk quietly and cuddle your baby until calm 2) Put your baby on their back in the cot awake (drowsy) 3) Comfort your baby with gentle ‘ssshh’ sounds, gentle rhythmic patting, rocking or stroking until baby is calm or asleep. As your baby calms, move away from the cot or leave the room but if your baby becomes or stays distressed return and comfort your baby using the steps 1-3.

  • My baby has started waking and screaming at night, he used to be a good sleeper. What do I do?

    This is also very common, when babies start to move around more or standing up in their cot, this can disturb their sleep, so they wake up more often. At this age babies understand your tone of voice, and you can guide them by gently saying things like "It’s time to lay down to go to sleep" and then showing or guiding them how to do that.

  • My baby takes hours to settle in the evening, what can I do to make him go to sleep sooner?

    Check if your baby is content and chatting etc. or screaming and restless. If chatting, leave him. If screaming, check how he is used to settling…. is he needing some help with learning new ways to settle? A predictable bedtime routine (sequence of activities) including a wind-down period (for example, meal, bath, cleaning teeth, story time, brief cuddle and kiss, and into bed) is important to help your child recognise and establish good sleep patterns. In preparation for sleep, a bedtime routine (depending on day or night) encourages a wind-down period and ensures that your child’s physical needs are met.

  • My toddler wakes at 5am every morning. Any tips how to get him to sleep a bit longer?

    The early riser is a common concern and it can be challenging to change this. It often improves with age and as the day naps lessen. It helps to consider how your child settles to sleep and support them to learn self settling skills. Also this is a time of the morning when the basal body temperature is at its lowest so ensure they are warm enough. It can take time for children to sleep longer in the morning so set realistic goals and be consistent with self settling methods.

  • My newborn cries on and off all day. Nothing I have tried works. What can I do to make baby sleep?

    This is a common concern for many new parents. Being unsettled and crying are very normal behaviours for newborn babies and part of their development during this time. Things usually improve after baby is around three months. We suggest you offer lots of hands on support like patting, body rocking and a soothing voice. Going out for a walk in the pram or drive in a car can be helpful. This is a time to get support from partner, family and friends as these methods take up a lot of energy and can be very exhausting.

  • I recently had my second baby but now find my 3 year old is having sleep problems and waking up overnight. Any tips?

    A new baby in the family can cause lots of change in the household especially for an older sibling. It can take up to 6 months for older children to adjust to a new baby. Being mindful of the adjustments your older child needs to make to a new baby in the household and demands on your time, is helpful. If possible involve your older child with caring for the new baby and there are lots of ways you can do this (i.e. at nappy change time, bathing time etc.). Set limits and be clear about boundaries with the older child.

  • My baby likes to sleep in my arms. Will I spoil my baby by doing this?

    Newborn babies love being held close against their parents. This position promotes bonding. Developmentally babies are not capable to learn routines at this time. Hands-on support is very appropriate at this age, especially if baby is distressed and you definitely won’t spoil baby. A feed, play and sleep routine can help to support younger babies to develop better sleeping behaviours.

  • My baby is difficult to get to sleep, should I use a bottle to help get her down?

    Firstly, most babies have an unsettled period each day which can vary from one to three hours. Giving your baby a bottle is usually not the answer. In fact, it may even make your baby more unsettled. Firstly, start by visiting your child and family health nurse and asking her to assess one of your feeds. The nurse will observe a breastfeed and possibly also weigh your baby. She may suggest strategies to increase your milk supply if your baby is not gaining adequate weight. These might include increasing the number of times you breastfeed, expressing a small amount of milk before the feed, resting more and drinking more water. However the issue may be the way you are currently settling your baby to sleep. So, it would also be worthwhile explaining to the Nurse how you put baby to sleep (for example do you wrap baby, and are you consistent in the way you put baby to sleep every time. Again, your Child and Family Health Nurse can advise you on some new strategies to try at home. The nurse may ask you to visit your doctor to check there is not a medical reason behind your baby’s crying. However, once any medical cause is ruled out, parents can be reassured that normal crying peaks at this age and will decrease naturally from about 5 months of age.

  • I feel like a failure because my baby does not sleep through the night like other babies in my mother's group

    There are lots of variations in the sleep patterns of infants. No two babies are alike. For many babies waking once or twice during the night is normal. It does not mean you are a failure in anyway. Perhaps you could ask the mothers what they mean by ‘sleeping through the night’. You might find that they feed before midnight and again at around 4.00am to 5.00am.

  • Does Tresillian believe in controlled crying?

    No, Tresillian does not recommend or use controlled crying. Parents are encouraged to learn to identify their baby’s cues and state of wakefulness and recognise the intensity of the baby’s cry; this may include picking the baby up and cuddling and soothing baby, repositioning and patting baby or offering a feed or trying to settle at a later time.

  • Is 'crying it out' a good method to use to help my baby learn to sleep?

    Crying it out seems to be the new name to describe ‘controlled crying’ which was a popular teaching to sleep method used in the 1980's. But since then new research about infant mental health has shown that there are more gentler and effective ways to support good sleep behaviours. Tresillian uses an evidenced based method called responsive settling where we encourage parents to gently practice the skills for independent sleep with their baby by soothing baby if they get distressed. Many parents find this approach much easier to use and less stressful as baby does not have to cry for prolonged periods.

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Parenting with Confidence

Parenting with Confidence

Filled with sensible, reassuring advice, Tresillian’s book, Hello Baby! Parenting With Confidence - A Tresillian Guide, is an indispensable guide for the new parent.