Baby sleep challenges often continue in the toddler years
It’s a common misconception that sleep challenges are confined to the baby years. If you’re the sleep-deprived parent of a baby, it’s hard to imagine it could get more challenging. The reality is, it can. (Sorry! I know it may not be what you want to hear right now.) Toddler sleep problems frequently have different causes than baby sleep challenges and the approach to improved sleep is ENTIRELY different.
Baby sleep challenges frequently turn into toddler challenges
Babies frequently don’t “eventually” grow out of their sleep problems. “More than 40% of infants who have sleep disorders at the age 8 months also have sleep disorders at age 3 years.” (Zuckerman B et al. 1987). According to another study, “84% of infants who suffered sleep disorders at the age of 15-48 months had these findings by the age of 3 years, while only 3% of infants without the signs of sleep problems at initial inspection were found to have these problems at 3 years.” (Kataria S et al. 1987)
My own (completely unscientific) study would confirm these studies. With the toddlers and young children I’ve worked with (15 months – age 6), I can’t remember one child that didn’t also have a history of sleep challenges as a baby.
Again, I promise I don’t say this to make you feel worse. I know it may seem really discouraging if you have a baby who won’t sleep. I certainly wish I had known this with my oldest son and his sleep struggles. Not focusing and resolving his sleep challenges while he was a baby is one of my biggest parenting regrets. I also see it almost daily with the families that I work with. I’ve heard over and over “I thought they would grow out of it but he’s 2.5 now and still waking up multiple times a night. I’m so exhausted and at my wits end.”
I say it because I don’t want you to struggle for years on end, especially if there are things you can do about it now.
Improved sleep doesn’t have to mean “sleep training” or CIO
I promise that it’s not the ONLY answer. There are so many factors involved in sleep and the first step is always to figure out the cause of the sleep challenge first. Often, the basics of sleep science are completely opposite to common sense. A prime example would be; “My 18-month-old doesn’t fall asleep until late and wakes up multiple times a night. He obviously doesn’t need as much sleep and we’re going to cut out his naps so that he sleeps better at night.”
I hear those words constantly, whether from families I work with or in parenting groups on Facebook. It would make common sense that if a little one is not sleeping at night that keeping them up in the day would help. Reality (and science) says, the opposite is true.
When babies and toddlers (and adults) are overtired, their little bodies produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. When these stress hormones flood the system, it gives them a second wind, causing them to fight going to sleep, sleep more restlessly and wake up sooner.
Have you noticed that you kept your toddler up later than usual and thought; “They’ve had an extra exhausting day. I’m sure they’ll sleep well tonight and hopefully sleep in later in the morning.” What typically happens? They can wake up more often and wake at the same time, or even earlier. That’s due to the stress hormones.
FREE help is on the way!
This week I’ll be releasing a new FREE video “How to help your little one sleep better, WITHOUT sleep training.” The video will give you tools that you can implement immediately to help your baby, toddler or young child sleep better.
Keep an eye out on our Facebook page for more details. Also, if you have a toddler, check out today’s weekly “Your Sleep Questions Answered” video, where I answer several questions from tired parents and their toddler sleep challenges. If you have your own sleep question that you’d like me to answer, just submit it here.
Mary Foster is a certified sleep consultant and founder of Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consulting and the popular Sleepy Lambs Sleep Academy. She had 3 little ones in 3 years (along with an international move at 7 months pregnant with #3, which just means she’s a little crazy and adventurous). Her little “lambs” keep her busy, with her oldest just turned 6, middle one almost 5 and the youngest is almost 3.
Mary is Canadian and is based in Surrey, UK, near the Hampshire and Berkshire border. She has supported hundreds of families in 11 countries. Mary’s unique approach is always holistic and focuses on emotional wellness, always respectful of parenting choices. Click here to send her an email.