City of Sleep Mailbag: How to Sleep Train a Toddler?
I’m in a bind – wondering if you can help me out? I live in a small 2 bedroom apartment, and have 3 kids now sleeping in the same room (ages 5, 3 and 7 months). They all, THANK G-D, sleep through the night…well minus the baby that needs to nurse a few times. The problem I’m having though is in the morning. They wake up super early, sometimes even at 5 or 5:30 am! I simply can’t start out my day so soon. Plus, they’re still tired when they get up then. Bedtime is around 7 pm consistently, and only the baby naps. They used to sleep with the door open, but when light was streaming in during the winter, I started closing their door. Now they have a nightlight with the door closed, so I thought keeping it dark in there would help them sleep longer. I WAS WRONG! It’s been going on now for a few weeks and I’m really feeling tired and frustrated. I know you specialize in babies, but I was hoping you could maybe offer me some advice? Thanks in advance!
-Brenda, South Africa
Early Rising is definitely a tough one to handle with one baby…let alone 3! My first question is always about kids’ general sleep distribution (if they’re sleeping enough, at the proper times, etc), but it sounds like you’re very on top of that. So first and foremost, great job at offering consistency!
Let’s start off by first discussing a bit about how light can affect our sleep. As babies, we begin producing various types of hormones that are secreted through our bodies to help us naturally wind down for sleep. These chemicals have a direct correlation with light and dark association, so when there is bright sunshine streaming on our faces, it’s a lot more difficult to sleep (except when we’re sunbathing, of course – that’s just plain relaxing!).
Therefore, it’s obvious that your kids aren’t being woken by the light streaming IN, but rather waking up out of confusion. Clearly they’re still tired (as you mentioned), and they all sleep through the night… so sleep dependency problems are not an issue here at all.
Let me ask you something: if you were to wake up in a COMPLETELY dark room, with the door closed, no alarm clock, and no one to tell you what time it was, would you feel confused? If your body had already completed a certain number of sleep cycles, then it would be very difficult to determine whether or not it should go back to sleep. Well, your kids feel the same way! The only light they have in the room is from the night light, and it’s simply impossible for them to know if it’s 1 am or 5 am! Sure they’re still tired, but they’ve slept enough that their little bodies “wake up” because they’re not sure what else to do. You have to just teach them how to tell kid time . No, I’m not talking about a special alarm clock that sings, but I recommend doing the following:
-Set up a special light (I like green personally because it reminds my kids of a traffic light!) on a timer in their room. Explain to them that when it’s off, it’s still the middle of the night and they have to stay in their beds. Once it turns on, it’s officially morning and it’s fine to wake up. During the first initial days they will probably still wake up out of habit, but as time progresses their bodies will adapt and they’ll have a better sense of night/morning association. You may have to get a bit creative with tactics of ensuring you can enforce that they don’t get up before it turns on, but I’ve found it’s extremely successful in helping little ones sleep longer in the morning.
Batya Sherizen is a professional baby sleep coach who has been helping tired families sleep since 2007. She creates personalized sleep plans catered to your family and your child's needs. To learn more about her gentle, proven method visit: batyathebabycoach.com
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