My Child Won’t Sleep!

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie, My child won’t sleep! My daughter is one, and I can’t get her on a decent sleeping schedule. Any suggestions?  Michelle.

My child won't sleepHello Michelle,  Thanks for the question. I don’t have a lot of information to go on here, so I’m going to do my best to guess what may be happening to you. One year olds generally need around 12–13 hours of sleep, and as they move towards 18 months old, they can usually drop their need for their morning nap and just go with the afternoon one.

If you’re having an issue and you wake up at night thinking, “My child won’t sleep,” there could be several areas that are causing a problem.

Here’s a list of the most likely culprits.

My child won’t sleep: Check these for the source of the problem.

  • Giving her two naps, which is beginning to interfere with her need for nighttime rest.
  • A bedtime routine that is all over the place
  • Eating and/or attention during the night.
  • Missing the sleepy cue and putting her to bed too late.

Ok, let’s address each one of them. The first one, “Giving her two naps, which is beginning to interfere with her need for nighttime rest,” is just a matter of beginning to notice a change in her needs. During this phase, she’s likely to be grumpy because she’s adapting to a new schedule. To deal with it, persevere, but keep in mind what your daughter expects from you. She wants you to feel confident about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. She wants to feel that in your movements, your calm demeanour and your voice. If you’re sure you’re doing the right thing, she’ll likely adapt quickly. Learning these things isn’t difficult, but it is important to have them in place right from the start of your parenting adventure, which is why parenting support is a key part of my service structure.

My child won’t sleep:  Have a predicable bedtime routine.

The second one I’ve mentioned is a bedtime routine that’s all over the place. Children are essentially creatures of habit. Knowing what comes next makes them feel warm and cozy, and they enjoy the fact that life is predictable. So, to make little people happy, have an unwavering routine. Don’t put them to bed at different times or in different places. Try and build a routine that works for you; it might look something like bath time, jammies, snacks, teeth brushing, stories, cuddling, and sleeping. Don’t lie down with them one night and not the next. Be firm and confident about your expectations. If you want them to sleep with you, fine, but if you don’t, try hard not to give them mixed messages.

Don’t give negative attention.

The next one, giving undue nighttime attention, occurs frequently. Children have several periods of light sleep each night. During these periods, they wake up and have to relax enough to go straight back to sleep. As adults, we do it all the time. We drop a pillow off the end of the bed, and we reach over, grab it, and stick it back under our head again. We know that if we want to sleep again, we must not think about the gas bill. If we do, we’re hooped. That means that relaxing and going back to sleep during those light sleep phases is a skill that can be learned.

If your child wakes up in the night and you cuddle them and give them a bottle or breastfeed them (past when they need it for nutrition), you are actively giving them something to wake up for. If someone rubbed my head and cuddled me in the night, I’d wake up too. The way to handle this, then, is to stop being your child’s de facto soother and allow them to learn the process of relaxation. This process is often called sleep training, and although it’s difficult, I haven’t met one child who, once they’re sleeping properly, would have it any other way.

My child won’t sleep:  Don’t miss the cue.

The last one, missing the sleepy cue, is also a common problem. Toddlers need at least 11 to 12 hours of sleep a night, and many need more than that, so you want to make sure they are wrapped up in bed somewhere between 6 and 7.30 p.m. To make sure they’re happy, kids should ensure an afternoon nap isn’t taken so late that they aren’t sleepy at that time. Then, have a good routine and try to keep things on the slow side for 1–2 hours before bed. Try not to have a great fun game of Dad tossing them in the air just before bed, or your little one will find it difficult to wind down. Turn off the TV too, as the images are often stimulating enough to keep toddlers awake. Watch out for the sleep cues of rubbing eyes, being clumsy, or staring into space. Little people may not know when they are tired, but we do.

To get more of your parenting questions answered, please visit my parenting services page.

Hope that helps.


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