Toddler Sleep Mistakes.

I admit I am one of these annoying smug bastard mothers whose baby slept through the night.  Ollie really did sleep through from either 6 or 8 weeks, I can’t remember exactly but I know it was early!  He used to go to bed at 11pm, wake up at 7am for a bottle and then back to sleep and we used to get up at 10.30am most days.


As he got a bit older, probably around walking age, maybe crawling age so somewhere between 7-11months he used to go to bed about 9pm, get up around 7am and then just stay up and have a nap later in the day.  This carried on until he was 18 months.

Then at the start of this year, he decided not to sleep.  He was waking up at 3am every night and staying awake for a couple of hours, this went on for a week and then I decided NO!  I’ve read about mothers that don’t sleep and that is not the life for me.  I cannot function without sleep and up until very recently I was running a nightclub so I needed sleep in advance so that I could last at work.

I could actually write a book on how Ollie has slept from newborn to now but for now I’m just going to tell you about some mistakes I made when Ollie hit the toddler sleep stage. This is based on me reading every possible theory published on sleep and actually implementing certain things and now, at almost 21 months Ollie sleeps through and he has been doing so for about 2 months.  He goes to bed by 7pm every night and wakes up around 6am.

Wear them out before bed.

I’m not the only idiot that thought if we stay up playing, running, jumping etc he’ll be so knackered that bedtime will come along and he’ll just pass out and stay asleep… WRONG!  All this does is makes them overtired and then they can’t cope and they’re too miserable to go to sleep. They need to get in bed when they’re getting tired but not knackered. Ollie takes anywhere from 5 mins – 45 mins to actually fall asleep but he’s in bed for that time.

Keep them up late.

If you keep them up until midnight surely they’ll stay in bed until at least 9am?  No.  Toddlers are naturally early risers, they naturally wake up early.  They need 11-12 hours sleep but they will naturally wake up early so the answer is, they go to bed early.  Ollie’s bedtime routine starts around 5.30pm and he is usually in bed by 6pm and asleep by 7pm.

Talking means they’re not tired.

I made the mistake of thinking that Ollie lying there babbling meant he was active and too awake for bedtime.  This is actually a sign that they are tired.  It’s like they’re winding down and processing their day, no different to how we’d lie in bed thinking about our day! I was getting him out of bed and letting him have longer playtime… Bad move because then it goes to point number one and they’re just overtired!

Let them fall asleep to music.

Or TV.  During this no sleep week, the only way Ollie would calm down was to go downstairs and watch Paw Patrol then he’d fall asleep in his pram and we’d try and carry him upstairs without waking him up and have to start the Paw Patrol sleep over again.  All this does is creates a Sleep Stimulus.  So he basically needs Paw Patrol as a condition of sleep.  Screw that.  I love Chase but not at 3am, thats not how we’re having bedtime.  So I created a much better Sleep Stimulus… Bedtime Bunny (BB) a little bunny comforter, so now every night he gets in bed, I say, “Give bunny a cuddle!” and that’s the signal for sleep.  I was expecting it to take a while to catch on but I kid you not, 2 days in he was getting into bed and cuddling BB without me needing to ask.  So now, if he wakes up in the night which he does occasionally, really wet nappies or being poorly are the only reasons he wakes up.  But when that does happen, he gets a fresh nappy and then I say, “Where’s Bunny?” and he cuddles him and lies down again so he knows it’s still sleep time because BB is still there.  BB stays in bed, so when Ollie gets up we leave him to guard the bed and don’t see him again until bedtime.  BB goes to Nanny’s if he has a sleepover! Now he actually walks over and asks for BB straight after his last milk before bed.

BB at Nanny's for a sleepover.
BB at Nanny’s for a sleepover.

Let them fall asleep downstairs.

Or car, pram, wherever.  It’s easy to just give in and let them sleep where you know they’ll sleep.  For Ollie it’s the pram, he still has his daytime naps in there but during no sleep week it was the only place he’d fall asleep and by giving in all I was doing was teaching him that he’s right and that is where he must sleep.  He had to learn that the bed is the main sleep place and for two days he cried when I put him in bed and didn’t give in and let him out and then… He just understood,  he gets in bed and lies down.

Nap time club!
Nap time club!

Toddler bed too soon.

This was the biggest mistake I made and I think probably triggered the sleep issues.  Ollie had a bedroom makeover for Christmas and he did love his new bed and his cool new Thomas room but at bedtime all I’d succeeded in doing was over-stimulate him. Through our eyes we’ve moved a bit of furniture, fresh new bedding and think wow this will make a good pinterest board.  Through their eyes it’s… WTF has happened to my bed.  Everything had changed and it’s something I didn’t even think about until afterwards.  His view from the bed was different, the bed and bedding smelt and felt different, the lighting in the room was different due to new curtains and new lamp, everything was different!  It was too much too soon.  So I changed my mind and we’re forgetting about the toddler bed for now and instead he’s simply learning what bedtime is.  He has a quilt in his cot now and the bed is still in the room so in a few months time, the bedding and BB will move over to the bed and he’ll be used to everything else in the room so in theory he’ll just understand it’s bedtime and it’s time to sleep.  He is starting to talk more now and he definitely understands me more now so I might just wait until he can tell me that he understands what bed is and then it won’t be a big deal for bed to be Thomas instead of the cot (which looks like Annie or Clarabels carriage sitting next to the Thomas bed, I’ve considered painting it brown!)

So these are the mistakes I made and how I got Ollie back to sleeping through.  Of course, every theory has that get out of jail free card… “Remember, every child is different and this technique might not work for you.”  All I would advise is, be open minded and try it but don’t give up too easily.  If you have the attitude that there’s no way your kid will go to bed and stay in bed 6pm-6am, then they won’t! You’ll just give up to convince yourself that you’re right.

I was hesitant about removing the music, Ollie liked his projector and used to have a mobile and I like to sleep with the radio on so what’s the harm.  Once I got over my own barriers, I took the music away and replaced it with a bunny and it’s working!

Oh and did I mention that we co-slept when he was newborn, that lie in until 10.30am was in my bed so when people say you’ll make it difficult for yourselves, you won’t!  There are stages along the way but I won’t get into that now.

One of the stages...
One of the stages…

When he moves into the toddler bed maybe I will write a book…