Is Potty Training Ruining Your Child’s Sleep?

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  • December 21, 2010

toilet trainingThis week’s question for The Sleep Lady:

“Help! My 2 year old is delaying his bedtime and waking up in the middle of the night to say he has to poop on the potty. Naturally, we are torn between risking a dirty diaper and letting him get out of bed only to sit on the potty for a while and declare, “I’ll poop later”. Sometimes he will poop on the second curtain call, sometimes not. How should we approach this problem? He is getting less and less sleep with these shenanigans. I have not seen this problem addressed anywhere and would love some advice. Thanks,Mary”

Dear Mary,

With a newly potty trained child, however, the potty can itself become yet another bedtime stalling tactic. When a child says he has to “go potty” you are of course going to let him get out of bed and go potty – once and only once. But keep it boring. No talking, no games, no show and tell.  Just potty. Then put him in a diaper or pull-up (if that is what he is wearing), reassure him it’s fine to use the diaper at night, and get him to bed. Some parents decide to escort their child to the bathroom and then stand in the hallway facing away from their child and silently waiting until he is done. Don’t make it a party or that will be his favorite stall tactic!  If he says he has to go potty again five minutes later, tell him that he’s out of luck, it’s too soon to go again, he can wait until morning, and make sure he knows there is nothing wrong with using a diaper or pull up overnight.  Some parents who feel uncomfortable with this stance will tell their children to go to the potty  on their own this time. I have even had parents put a portable potty in a child’s room so they can go independently. Just hope they don’t knock it over!

Hope that helps!

Sweet dreams,

Kim

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Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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20 Comments

  • Leslie T says:

    Our daughter (now 3) went through this when she was 2 3/4 :). We were pretty firm about limiting how many times before bed we picked her up to have a try at the potty (she would want to try again and again after she was all tucked in, and we limited it to one). When she woke in the middle of the night and wanted to go potty, we took her to the potty. After about 2 weeks, she was done with the “one more time to the potty” game at bedtime, and for inexplicable reasons she turned the corner and is dry all night. But, it was about 2 weeks. If she did pee her pullup in the night, it was a bit traumatic for her, and was more drama than I think it would be worth to try to convince her it was “OK” to wet at night. My son is 6, and still soaks a pullup every night, because he sleeps so deeply without waking. When you’re in that situation with one child, and your other child wakes to use the potty at night in order to stay dry, you are a lot more amenable to getting up and helping with nighttime potty breaks. Maybe we were just lucky that she went dry after 2 weeks, but it is so awesome for her to be out of pullups that it might be worth a try. She really did have a lot of pee in those night breaks, so I don’t think it was so much a “tactic” for her as it was getting used to holding her pee. So I guess in summary, we limited the potty trips during the bedtime routine, but woke in the night for potty trips.

  • wendy boag says:

    Thanks for asking! My 2 yr old twins are doing this almost every night. My boy will “work” until he produces something, my girl will stand up, and see what she has done and claps – usually not having done anything. I like idea of “giving them permission” to use the diaper at night. I’ll try that. Thanks!!

  • Katy says:

    Hi,
    Our daughter was putting herself to sleep no problem up until a couple of weeks ago…now she crys, WILL NOT lay down and wants to be held to sleep. We don’t like her dozing off standing for safety reasons. It is almost like she doesn’t like her crib or something in her room is scaring her. We help her get to sleep only because we all need to sleep. Then we place her in her crib, but when she wakes she wants assistance again. We did do cry it out and it worked but that isn’t working this time around. Please help! Any thoughts?

  • Leila Alavi says:

    Dear Sleep Lady,

    My son is 18 months old and per our pediatrician’s advice, we’ve taken away his best buddy, his pacifier. Life was so much easier with it! He slept longer, and if he ever arose from his slumber prematurely, he’d grab his extra binkies and fall right back asleep. Now, since we’ve taken it away, we’ve gone back to rocking him to sleep. It takes such a long time since he’s grown and can’t get comfortable while we try to hold him in different positions in his rocking chair. Rocking him to sleep can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours! And, in the last month since we’ve taken away his pacifiers, he’s woken up in the middle of the night three times– and it’s taken us more than 2 hours to get him back to sleep. I miss his binky… maybe more than he does. Is giving him back his pacifier such a bad thing? How can I improve our situation?

    Thanks,

    Leila Alavi

    • KimWest says:

      Leila-
      Professionally speaking I think 18months is a VERY difficult age to get rid of a pacifier. I recommend before one year or after language development. If you are committed to not getting the pacifier back then you have to stop rocking him to sleep and back to sleep. Try the Shuffle…its perfect for his age and this situation! Replacing rocking with the pacifier is just creating a new problem. Make a decision about which way you want to go and be consistent and you WILL see progress! Kim

  • Mary Shapiro says:

    Thanks to Kim and the others for responding. I am still a bit confused about my particular situation because my child says he needs to “poop”. I can’t then tell him it is ok to use a diaper for this and not change him until the morning. I guess I will just have to call his bluff and see if he gives up and goes to sleep or if he just goes ahead and poops in his diaper. This seems to then be sending a mixed message about his progress towards using the toilet.
    He is also still in a crib, so going by himself is not an option, nor is cleaning himself afterward. He is literally losing an hour or more of sleep a night. Who knew one would have to choose between potty training and sleep training.

    • KimWest says:

      Mary-
      I am guessing he is just using the “I need to poop” as a stall tactic or engagement tactic since he is young, still in a crib and in a diaper. So in some senses you have to give him one shot on the potty and then say that’s it you have a diaper. You can always go back and check later and change him if you want or if he is the kind of child who it really bothers. There is really no such thing as potty training at night….it is more biological and physical (bladder size, hormone secretion and genetics). I have also not come across any magical solutions to changing a poop schedule….but please hear that what you are describing does not sound like a child who has a poop schedule during the night but more a two year old who is figuring out what and who he can control. I think you don’t have an option but to “call his bluff”. Good luck! Kim

  • Kaeja Korty says:

    It’s just my opinion, but I think that maybe 2 is too young for some kids to stay dry all night. My son is 3.5 and is just now keeping his diaper dry at night. I guess I don’t see what the rush is in potty training at night. Why make more work for myself. It’s like putting a 2 year old in a bed too soon. Much easier just to keep my twins in their cribs. I don’t want my kids to be 10 and still wearing a diaper at night, but at 2 I say who cares! (Unless of course it’s the kid who really cares. One of my three kids is uncomfortable with wet diapers, the other 2 could care less. SO I assume she will be the first to push towards night time potty training).

  • KRISTA says:

    Help! Last night, again, I was up with my 12 mo old for in the middle of the night. He just can’t/won’t go back to sleep. It happens about 1-2 times a week where he wakes up and stays up until I either nurse him or he gets so exhausted (after 3 hrs) that he finally falls asleep. Is there something wrong with him? Does he have a sleep disorder? This has been a problem since we first started sleep training him at 6 mo. The other nights he sleeps fine, usually about 7:45 – 5:50. I leave him in his crib till about 6:15 or later though. We’ve been trying to push back his wake up time for weeks now and it’s not working either. I’ve read your whole book over and over again for an answer and I’m at a loss. I feel that he’s not getting enough sleep. He has 2 naps, one from 9:00-10:30 or 11:00 and the other about 1:30 or 2:00-3:00. Please help!

  • Nona Mills says:

    Leila- Professionally speaking I think 18months is a VERY difficult age to get rid of a pacifier. I recommend before one year or after language development. If you are committed to not getting the pacifier back then you have to stop rocking him to sleep and back to sleep. Try the Shuffle…its perfect for his age and this situation! Replacing rocking with the pacifier is just creating a new problem. Make a decision about which way you want to go and be consistent and you WILL see progress! Kim

  • Norma Vargas says:

    Hi, Our daughter was putting herself to sleep no problem up until a couple of weeks ago…now she crys, WILL NOT lay down and wants to be held to sleep. We don’t like her dozing off standing for safety reasons. It is almost like she doesn’t like her crib or something in her room is scaring her. We help her get to sleep only because we all need to sleep. Then we place her in her crib, but when she wakes she wants assistance again. We did do cry it out and it worked but that isn’t working this time around. Please help! Any thoughts?

  • Naomi says:

    Hi! My toddler is 22 months old and with baby number 2 on the way I knew I needed to start some sleep training. I’ve unfortunately always rocked him completely to sleep and set him in his crib up until now. I make sure to have a long soothing pre-sleep routine including dim lights, books, music, and a few snuggles in the rocking chair. I then put him down awake and it’s taking him anywhere from 1-2 hours to fall asleep for nap (playing the whole time)…and there’s been several times where he just doesn’t fall asleep at all! I’ve been trying to find the right timing for his sleep window but it’s hard when he doesn’t show me any sleep signs anymore and also trying to leave time for him to take forever to fall asleep has just got me confused. I’ve basically been basing it on your suggested windows of wakefulness of 5-6hrs. So I will put him down awake after 5 hours of being awake, then as I said he will take 1-2 hours to fall asleep. Am I timing this wrong? Do I need to put him down later? earlier? I feel like there’s no consistency when one day he will be up by 1 and another at 3 depending on how long it takes him to fall asleep and then how long he actually sleeps; which then throws off any consistency at bedtime when I aim to get him asleep by 7 because on days he’s up at 3, for example, he’s not tired enough yet and will take an hour at bedtime to fall asleep when usually it only takes 30 mins. It’s a crazy cycle and I can’t figure it out. Any help would be appreciated, thanks and Merry Christmas!!!

  • Sarah says:

    Dear Kim,

    my 4 months old recently battled a cold and she ended up sleeping in her swing to help with her breathing. The swing was off but she slept in it for a couple of days. Now every time I put her back in her crib she is wimpering, she seems to be sleeping but she will not quiet down. I know you say to give it 15-20 minutes but after 20-30 minutes I end up picking her up and she immediately quiets down. If I try to lay her back in her crib the wimpering/now full blown crying starts back up. Any advice on how to break this trap I created for myself?

    Thanks, Sarah

  • Emily says:

    My 2.5 year old daughter’s sleep habits seem to be getting worse. She has generally been the easiest baby and toddler when it comes to sleep, but she recently began waking in the wee hours of the night (between 1 and 4am) and screaming at the top of her lungs until either my husband or I go into her room. Once we’re in there, it’s like a switch is turned off, she stops crying, and then searches for something to ask for–water, where’s the binky, a different toy, a blanket over her legs. We try not to take the bait, but often end up in a long discussion with her. How do we stop these awakenings from escalating and get her to self-soothe again? Nothing has changed in her bedtime or sleep rituals: 3 stories, 2 binkies, 2 animals, sleep sack, same time, same bed. Please help!

    • Mary Shapiro says:

      I feel for you Emily. I think Kim would remind you to make the return visits brief and boring. No long discussion. Just verify she is not hurt or sick and then leave. If she is not rewarded for the wake up, she will stop. The alternative is to redo the shuffle, but not talk or even look at her, until she is asleep and then leave. I also thought that she might need an earlier bedtime. Sometimes overtired kids wake up more in the night. This might be the case if she is napping less these days.

      good luck, Mary

  • Suzann says:

    We have are going to begin the shuffle this weekend but I had a question regarding waking issues. Currently our daughter (8 months) wakes every hour throughout the night. The shuffle makes sense but I had a question about how to handle night waking due to teething, hunger or developmental issues. When I go in at night sometimes I find her standing, sometimes sitting up and sometimes she is hungry. (We are trying to get her to eat more during the day but currently she still eats ravenously 2 times a night.)

    How do we handle these night wakings? Should I go in, pick her up and if she is hungry feed her (I can tell when I pick her up), lay her back down and then sit by the crib (or where we are at that point) until she falls asleep again? What if she is waking due to teething pain? She has reacted badly to Tylenol so we aren’t giving her anything for the pain.

    Help!

  • Lana Snider says:

    Mary- I am guessing he is just using the “I need to poop” as a stall tactic or engagement tactic since he is young, still in a crib and in a diaper. So in some senses you have to give him one shot on the potty and then say that’s it you have a diaper. You can always go back and check later and change him if you want or if he is the kind of child who it really bothers. There is really no such thing as potty training at night….it is more biological and physical (bladder size, hormone secretion and genetics). I have also not come across any magical solutions to changing a poop schedule….but please hear that what you are describing does not sound like a child who has a poop schedule during the night but more a two year old who is figuring out what and who he can control. I think you don’t have an option but to “call his bluff”. Good luck! Kim

  • wbprincipi says:

    that makes me feel better. We just started to potty train our 2 3/4 y.o. son 3 days ago and he’s done great. Only one accident the first night (in underwear) and no accidents the past 2 nights. Last night he needed to pee at 415 but woke up dry at 630. Our issue is the bedtime delay. he asks again and again to go potty after being tucked in. Problem is that he actually does do a little pee each time. He’s so proud of himself that I hate to squash that but after being put down at 730, he didn’t actually go to sleep until about 930 last night. In total he only slept abuot 9 hours last night. This is a boy who normally sleeps about 11-12 hours at night. His naps are shorter now, too, by about 30-60 minutes. They’re dry though. Any thoughts on this situation? I’m also pregnant and need MY sleep, too!;) I’m exhausted!

  • CandiceRobinson says:

    My son has been daytime potty trained since he was two and is now waking up earlier in the morning because he has pooped or says he has to poop and he is unable to go back to sleep. Do you have any ideas or tactics that could help our little guy get back to sleep once he wakes up. He will wake up and tell me that he is still sleepy but is unable to get back to sleep. Please help.

  • Trish Mahon says:

    My son who is now nearly three has been toilet trained for four months. Since being toilet trained he now wakes two to three times a night. I am wondering if he senses he has wet himself and then wakes. He wears pull ups at night but doesn’t ask to go to the toilet. Any ideas?