My child hates to take naps but gets so cranky when he's tired. How much sleep does he really need?
An 18-month-old should be getting 13 to 14 hours of sleep per day. Because your toddler probably can't sleep that much at night, a nap or two during the day is essential for everyone's sanity. But if you put him down when he's very alert (as opposed to when he's in a post lunch slump), you'll be fighting a very powerful internal clock—and will naturally meet with some resistance. Developmental bursts can also make your toddler less willing to sleep. "Your 1-year-old may be caught up in learning new things—like walking, climbing, or talking—and not be ready to rest," says Breena Holmes, M.D., a pediatrician in Middlebury, Vermont. Try skipping his morning nap for a few days. He'll probably make up for an active morning by taking an extra-long nap in the afternoon. Whether he ends up needing one rest or two, be consistent and he'll soon learn that naptime isn't negotiable.
My kids share a room. When the baby wakes up at night to be fed, my toddler thinks it's time to play. What can I do?
If you can, keep your infant in your room until she's sleeping through the night. But if the children must share living quarters, limit your midnight interactions with your toddler. "Soothe him briefly, lay him back down, and say it's time to sleep," suggests Judith Owens, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital, in Providence. Then take your baby out of the room to feed (or change) her. If your toddler wants a snack too, give him some water instead. Children this age don't need to eat in the middle of the night but may wake up for the attention. If you minimize the commotion, your toddler should fall right back to sleep.
Last month, when my toddler was sick and waking up several times during the night, we let her sleep in our bed. Now she won't leave!
Um, who's in charge here? If you decide that your toddler should sleep in her own bed, she'll do so as long as you follow through. The quickest and most effective way to break a bad sleep habit is to go cold turkey: Follow her old, presickness nighttime routine—bath, book, then bed, for example. Put her in her crib, and leave the room. She'll probably cry (or even scream), but let her work through her feelings on her own for a few minutes before you head back to check on her. "If you give in and take her out, nobody wins," Dr. Owens says. Stick with your routine. It'll probably take no more than a day or two for your child to get used to her crib again.
Is it okay for my toddler to sleep with a pacifier?
Sleeping with a pacifier—as opposed to sucking on one all day—is unlikely to hinder speech development or cause dental problems in children under 3, Dr. Owens says. (Letting your baby sleep with a bottle of milk or juice, however, does promote cavities.) It becomes a problem if your child depends on one to fall asleep. If she wakes during the night to find that her Binky has fallen out of her mouth, guess who has to get up to replace it? Some sleep-deprived parents choose to scatter several pacifiers in the crib, in hopes that their toddler will be able to retrieve one herself. Never tie a pacifier on a string to your child's neck—the string can pose a strangulation risk. The best approach? Pull the plug on the pacifier habit (or avoid getting her started in the first place).
My child sleeps through the night but wakes up at the crack of dawn. How can I get him to sleep in later?
You'll need to tweak your child's body clock, but changes won't happen overnight. Gradually setting a later bedtime often works. Or try shortening one or both of your toddler's naps—they could be eating into his nightly sleep quota. If he wakes up early only to conk out by 8 a.m., delay his morning nap a little each day, Dr. Holmes suggests. "This may reprogram his internal clock and shift his daily sleep-wake cycle so that he gets up later." Similarly, if he's used to eating as soon as he wakes up, reprogram his tummy by delaying breakfast by ten minutes each morning until he's eating at a more acceptable hour. Or give him a light snack before bed.
Keep his room quiet and dark in the mornings. Exposure to darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our body clock, Dr. Owens explains. If you hear rustling at 5 a.m., wait a few minutes before rushing in to pick him up—he may fall back to sleep or learn to play quietly on his own. But if it looks like you're stuck with an early bird, go to bed earlier yourself and enjoy watching the sunrise together.
5 steps to lull your child to sleep
- Keep your toddler active during the day with plenty of outdoor play.
- Create a consistent, calming bedtime ritual. Start with a warm bath, for instance, then play quietly together in his room.
- Cuddle your toddler in your lap as you read a story or sing songs together.
- Don't let your child get used to sleeping with a bottle or dozing off in your arms. Offer her a comfort object instead, such as a stuffed doll or a blanket.
- Play a tape or CD of soft lullabies or soothing music as you leave the room.