Last updated on April 3rd, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Weekly Toddler Sleep Problem for The Sleep Lady:

“My 3 1/2 year old, who was a fabulous sleeper in the crib, has progressively gotten worse with her sleep habits since moving into a bed a year ago. Recently, she has been getting up multiple times in the middle of the night, going back to bed when Mommy puts her down and covers her up. She has also been waking as early as 5:30 (with a 7pm bedtime).   She will only nap if exhausted  or in the car and when she does bedtime becomes a battle! Her 5 year old brother, who is in kindergarten and exhausted, requires the 7pm bedtime (wakes around 6:30) so I prefer that both kids have this bedtime (otherwise he refuses to go to sleep knowing she is still up). Help me with my toddler sleep problem!” Erin
Dear Erin-
Sometimes moving a child to a bed can make their sleep habits worse- especially if you do it before 3 years old or if a parent starts new habits such as lying down with them or rubbing their back or offering lots of “bed side service” as I joking like to call it. It can start with a small “tuck in” and quickly regress to multiple wakings a night.
In your case Erin, it sounds like it makes sense to keep with a 7pm bedtime and either skip the nap or  limit it to 45mins and end it (or wake her)  by 3pm.
I recommend you read Chapter 11 for 2.5-5year olds in “Good Night, Sleep Tight” (GNST), start a sleep manners chart and hold a family meeting as I outline in that chapter. I would explain to her that Mommy will tuck her in at bedtime only and that during the night when she wakes up and her wake up light or music is not on she needs to cover herself up. I would also recommend a wake up light (see www.goodnitelite.com or www.mytotclock.com) and put on her sleep manner chart “Stay in bed quietly until your wake up light comes on”. Set the light to go on at 6am.
Each time she wakes during the night remind her that her light is not on and that she must lie quietly in her bed.  Remind her that she must pull up her blankets herself. If you keep doing it (no matter how quick it is) it will reinforce the waking. Hard to believe but SO true! Be prepared for her to fight you on this. Reassure her, remind her of her sleep manners but stand your ground. She may add on other requests to “test” you.
You can modify the Shuffle depending on what you are currently doing at bedtime or during the night. For instance if you leave and do checks at bedtime, continue with this. If during the night you sit in her room or lay with her then you may need to sit in a chair by her door for a few nights until she is back asleep and then move to the hall in view and then finally out of view. Its all outlined in great detail in GNST.
In the morning review her sleep manner chart—praise her progress and point out what she needs to “practice”. I prefer starting with positive reinforcement before taking away privileges.  If you are consistent, things should vastly improve in a couple of weeks with some lingering struggles with early rising as this can take longer. There is sleep at the end of the tunnel so don’t give up!
Sweet dreams,
Kim, The Sleep Lady

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Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!