Establishing good sleep habits: 24 to 36 months
What sleep problems happen at this age?
As your toddler gets older, you may face fresh challenges when it comes to settling him down at night and getting him to sleep through. Here are a few issues that may arise, and tips on how to cope.
Moving to a big bed
Between the age of two years and three years, your toddler is likely to be ready to make the move to a big bed. He may have grown too big for his cot, or he may be potty training, in which case he’ll need easy access to the potty during the night.
Alternatively, perhaps you need the cot for a new arrival. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to move your toddler into his new bed six weeks to eight weeks before you’re due. This will give your toddler time to get settled into his new bed, so that he doesn’t feel that the baby is taking his place.
If you find that your toddler is frequently climbing out of his cot, it may be safer to put him in a bed that’s easier to get out of.
To ease your toddler’s transition to a big bed, put the bed in the same place as the cot if you have the space. Your toddler may also find it soothing to sleep with his old cot blanket for a while. Make sure his new bed is fitted with a guard rail to stop him from falling out. And don’t forget to toddler-proof his bedroom, if you haven’t already, to prevent any accidents if he does get up in the night.
Always give your child plenty of praise when he stays in his bed at bedtime. If he does get up, take him back to bed and settle him back down. Tell him calmly but firmly that it’s time for sleep and leave the room. It may take him a while to get used to this new routine but it will soon sink in.
If you’re worried about your toddler wandering about in the dark at night, you could fit a stair gate across his bedroom door or across the top of the staircase to make sure that he’s safer.
Resisting bedtime can be another common problem at this age. It may sometimes seem as if your toddler will try anything to stay up a little later. He may stall for time by asking for one more story, another lullaby, or an extra drink of water.
Anticipating these requests may help to avoid frustration. You can make sure he has a drink of water, change his nappy, or take him to the toilet before it’s time to settle down. Or you can help him to pick out two or three stories before he gets into bed. There’s no harm in reading an extra story or having a longer cuddle. But be clear and firm about when it’s time to sleep.
If your toddler is getting too much sleep during the day, then this could have an impact on how well he sleeps at night. Try making sure any naps he does have are before 3pm, so that your toddler is tired enough when it’s time for bed. Speak to his childminder or nursery too, to make sure that he’s not sleeping too late in the day.
Being afraid of the dark, worrying about monsters under the bed, or feeling anxious about being alone in his bedroom is common at this age. If your toddler is anxious or afraid, reassure him that he’s perfectly safe in his bedroom, all is well, and that you are nearby. A dim night-light, or leaving the door ajar with a light on outside, may also help him to feel less frightened.
Your toddler’s developing imagination may cause the occasional nightmare. If he wakes up crying or screaming, go to him right away and comfort him until he is calm. If he can remember his dream he may want to talk about it. Otherwise, just reassure him until he is settled once more.
Nightmares tend to happen in the second half of the night. This is when your toddler’s most likely to experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep or dream sleep. If bad dreams persist, look for possible sources of anxiety. It could be separation from you that is troubling him, a scary story, or he may simply be overtired.
If your toddler is crying or screaming during his sleep and seems disoriented or confused, he may be having a night terror.
Night terrors are different from nightmares. They usually occur during the first few hours of deep sleep, called non-REM sleep. They can cause your child to suddenly cry out, scream and thrash about even though he isn’t fully awake. He may not recognise you if you try to comfort him. If your child has a night terror, don’t attempt to wake him unless he’s in danger of hurting himself. Sit or stand with him until the episode passes, then gently guide him back to bed.
A night terror can be very frightening to witness but it does no harm to your child. He probably won’t remember anything about it the next morning. Night terrors are more likely to happen when your toddler is feeling overtired or anxious. Try talking to him to see if anything in particular is bothering him. Helping him to share his worries or fears may stop the night terrors from happening.