Hi. I’m Kim West, the Sleep Lady, and in this video, I’m going to answer Samantha’s question about her toddler who wakes every night. She posted the following on my Facebook page:
My son is two and a half and doesn’t sleep a lot in the day, and goes from 5:00 am to 6:00 p.m. He has a bottle and falls asleep and I put him in his cot. He stays there until about 1:30 in the morning, and then he wakes up pretty hysterically crying, calling for mommy. So, then I’m so tired. I bring him into my bed where he sleeps ’till around 5:00 a.m. Please help me have him sleep in his cot from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am.
A Nap Is Essential Before Sleep Coaching
Okay, Samantha. I can’t guarantee that he’ll sleep for 12 hours at night, but it’s very possible, especially since he is not napping. But, first things first.
I would start off by helping him learn how to put himself to sleep at bedtime. I noticed that you say he doesn’t sleep a lot during the day. So, when you start sleep coaching—let’s say it’s Friday night—I would do whatever you can to get him at least a short nap in the afternoon. Try for at least 45 minutes so that he can make it to a slightly later bedtime.
As you can see, if he were to sleep from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. that is 11 hours. That’s a good amount of uninterrupted sleep at his age.
A Soothing Bedtime Routine
I’d love to see if you can keep him awake till 7 pm, at least. If he went from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. that would be an 11-hour period of sleep. The best way to do that is to have him nap in the afternoon. Then he needs a soothing bedtime routine.
Keep Him Awake At Bedtime
During his bedtime routine you give him a bottle and he falls asleep. Your sleep coaching plan needs to start here. Eventually, you would want to have milk with dinner and then switch the bottle to water at bedtime—especially for his teeth. In the meantime you can start to offer him milk at dinner and reduce the number of ounces in the bottle at bedtime. Don’t let him fall asleep with the bottle even if you have to change his diaper, give him a kiss, and feed him the bottle with the light on.
Switch From Milk to Water
If it’s eight ounces in the bottle now, you will reduce it to six ounces, then four ounces, and finally two ounces. Then offer him a sippy cup of water if you really think that he needs it. But don’t refill the sippy cup with water a million times throughout the night; that will create a new sleep crutch..
Sleep Coaching At Bedtime
Bedtime is the easiest time to teach your child to fall asleep on his own. If you do all the work for him, then he won’t know how to do it at that harder time such as 1 o’clock or 5 o’clock in the morning, as you’re seeing now.
Of course, he’s waking up hysterical because when he wakes up at 1:30 a.m. the last thing he remembers is that he was in your arms and having a bottle. When he wakes up and you’re not there, he panics, cries and calls for you.
That’s what you have to focus on at bedtime—helping him learn how to put himself to sleep.
Wean Him From the Bottle
If you are giving him a bottle in the middle of the night I would recommend that you wean him from this bottle, assuming he doesn’t need it nutritionally. You can reduce the ounces every night until finally you just get to a sippy cup of water.
The Shuffle — A Gentle Method
Once you start putting him in his cot awake you will begin sleep coaching.
I would encourage you to be strict about the 5 a.m. wake time and not get him out of the crib until 6am. It’s usually dark in most places at 5 a.m. I know in some areas of the world it’s not, so hopefully you have room-darkening shades and you can make it until 6 a.m.