Baby having trouble sleeping? Here’s the easiest way to help your baby and toddler sleep later. Whatever you do, don’t fall for the baby sleeping myth that backfires every time.
You know the story. A relaxed woman with glossy blow dried hair who slept until 7 or 7:30 each morning to be leisurely woken up by her alarm which snoozed and played Norah Jones or tropical rainforest rain sounds. She opened her eyes and smiled, excited to get dressed up and set off for a day. Already at her best she set off about her beauty routine, ate breakfast and left the house.
Fast forward a few years and a child or two or four later. A frazzled woman with ponytail bed-head that may or may not be matted in a few places gets awakened at 5:30am by screaming, crying or a toddler’s hand on her face shouting “mommy, up, up, up.”
Having been startled to consciousness and long forgotten her beauty routine she stumbles to the kitchen to give her hungry kids some food. Sound familiar? I hope that isn’t the case for your sake, but if it is then take heart.
If you did sleep training then you will likely have chosen the time your children wake up in the morning. We chose 7:30am and both of my children (update: now all 5 of them) tend to wake between 7:15 and 7:45am every day. However, if you didn’t sleep train and are now regretting it, but trying to establish some consistent – and later, for goodness sake later – sleep and nap times then try to implement these things.
If they are quite a bit older now and set in their ways this may be a difficult process, but there are things you can do. Though you can’t make a horse drink you can lead it to water and make it sit there until it’s good and thirsty!
Set the scene
It’s important that your babies and toddlers have positive sleep associations. Whether for nap or bedtime it’s a good idea to have a relaxing and calming routine in place to help prepare your children to sleep. It’s amazing how much easier it is to put kids to bed when they are “in the mood” so to speak. One way of doing this is by reading a few books, diffusing essential oils or applying some oils to the bottoms of their feet (find out about essential oils and kids and babies here), turning down the lights, and singing a song or praying.
Breakfast and milk should be given at a time of your choosing, not theirs
From birth, the way to establish the time of day you want your baby to wake is by setting their metabolism to eat at a certain time. Think on it, if you get up 5 days a week and eat breakfast at 7am, on the weekends do you find it hard to sleep in? It’s because your body clock is set to wake and eat and you get in a rhythm. So, if they are getting fed at 6am and you want to move it to 7am, then stop feeding them at 6am. Go until 6:15 or 6:20am for a week and then keep moving it back until you hit 7am. In the meantime, see the below tips.
This doesn’t mean starve them if it isn’t breakfast time. Feed a hungry baby. However, toddlers and preschoolers can wait 30 minutes without needing child services to intervene.
28 Things To Try If Your Baby Can’t Sleep
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Don’t rush right in to their crib or room when you hear sounds and don’t let them get out of their crib/bed without your okay
Often babies, toddlers and, okay fine, all humans, make noises in their sleep. We go through sleep cycles and babies and younger children do so in 45 minute increments. 45 minutes active sleep, 45 minutes passive sleep. This means if they are trained and used to waking up and being taken out of their crib after only a 45 minute nap then that is what they will get accustomed to.
If they wake up, leave them for at least 15 minutes, and if they’re happy, leave them for longer. If they have a bed and try to get out, don’t let them. Tell them they must remain in their bed until you give them permission to leave. If they’re older they won’t like this, but we already agreed that children don’t necessarily know what’s best for them, so it’s okay. Once your babies/toddlers realize they can’t just jump up and play because they opened their eyes, the allure of waking up early will start to gradually pass.
Give them an earlier bedtime
Parents all around the world think, mistakenly, that getting their children all worked up and super tired before bed will make them sleep like logs. That usually isn’t the case. If their bedtime is 9pm and they wake up at 5am then they are not getting enough sleep. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers and young children need between 10-12 hours of nightly sleep. Less than that, they aren’t sleeping enough.Wait, I’m sure they seem fine. I’m sure they don’t act tired… but look a little closer. Are they disobedient, hyper, hard to settle, hard to focus and wild?
Many bad behaviors are tied to insufficient sleep time. Start to move their bedtime up by 15 minute increments. When mine are overtired I will move up their bedtime and 9 times out of 10 they sleep until at least the same time if not later the next morning. And, at the end of the day, if they still wake up at 5am, at least they got more sleep by going to bed earlier.
Help them practice resting
This is a matter of self-control. Self-control is one of the single most important things you can help teach your child because it will benefit them in every area of their lives. The same self-control that helps them sit still and wait for you is the same self-control they’ll use to not walk across the road when you tell them to stop and will help them to not kick their siblings out of frustration. Choose five or ten minutes and get a timer.
Tell your child they are going to sit/lay down and rest. Turn off background noise and distraction and have them practice being still. Once they can do 5 minutes, go to 10, 15 and 20. If they can sit still and rest for 20 minutes – at a time of your choosing – this should go a long way in helping to get the horse to drink the water, if you know what I mean. Often, they are so overstimulated they simply can’t calm down when it’s time to sleep. This will help.
Let them remain in their crib/bed and read, but no active play
If they boycott sleeping later or napping, avoid letting them get up and wild and free play. Have them sit in their cribs or on their beds with books. If it’s early morning, don’t feed them, but put a toy or two and a book in their crib and, without eye contact and cuddles, walk away.
If they begin to understand (and trust me they will) that they can’t just pop out of bed as soon as they want, their own need to sleep and rest will overpower their hope that it’s already time to play and start the day. When they phase into giving up napping, initiate a rest time on their beds where they are not allowed to leave, but are allowed to sit quietly and read. It will be calm and restful and, when they are truly tired, they will sleep.
These methods will require a lot of explaining, consistency and follow through. Most children will only do what you say if they know they have to. Unless, of course, they are super compliant firstborns. Set a goal and, little by little, work towards it. It may take a month or two for any change but it will eventually happen.
Children are made to follow your lead and sleep is very very important.
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- fighting sleep to embracing it
- night wakings to sleeping through
- needing you to jump through hoops to going to sleep on their own
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