I flicked through The Three Day Nanny when it arrived on my desk a few months ago, and I immediately contacted Kathryn Mewes to see if she would write an exclusive piece for My Baba on how to get toddlers to sleep properly. It seems such a hot topic with so many mothers having problem sleepers and Kathryn really does go back to basics in this exclusive piece and helps with setting out a great bedtime routine for little ones. 

I tend to find that children are always testing you in one form or another! When a child becomes a toddler they tend to get a sudden realisation that they are in charge of their own lives! They discover that they can say the word ‘No’ and this takes parenting to a whole new level. The main areas that children will test you on are involving sleep, mealtimes, behaviour and potty training. The one area where I believe it is fundamentally important to have a routine / pattern is at bedtime.

You can give your child 100% attention but once the day comes to a close it is time for them to settle to sleep in their own beds and for you to put your feet up.

There are certain things that I believe to be crucially important to ensure a calm and happy bedtime.

Window of Tiredness

Children tend to be awake for 12 hours a day and sleep for the further 12 hours.

In general the time they wake is the same number as the time you need to be saying ‘goodnight’. Ie: If they are starting the day at 06.30 you need to be leaving their room at the end of the day at 18.30 with the vision of them falling to sleep at 18.45 – 19.00.

You will find that toddlers get tired around 16.30 before dinner is served. They then fuel themselves and manage to last until bath time. After this point you will hit the ‘window of tiredness’ around 18.15 / 18.30. This is when you need to read to them and leave the room 10 – 15 minutes later.

This window is when it is easiest for them to fall to sleep.

If you pass this point they become over tired and are unlikely to settle for a further 90 minutes when they reach their next window of tiredness. These occur every 90 minutes.

For example:

A child wakes at 06.30 and you put them to bed at night at 19.30. They could have missed their ‘window’ and will then play and shout out for a further 90 minutes until at 21.00 when they fall to sleep. I go into many houses to find this scenario. It is very hard for anyone to settle to sleep when they are over tired.

A Dark Bedroom

I hear many parents telling me that their child is scared of the dark and needs a light on.

The fact of the matter is that babies grow in the dark and it is a place where they take comfort. As they get older and start to push the boundaries by asking for the door to remain open at bedtime or the light on we assume they are scared. We will say ‘It’s OK, don’t be scared’ but we don’t stop and realise that this state causes them to now believe they are scared of the dark. A thought they never considered until they heard you say it.

A room that is dark means that no light comes in through the window. A short term fix is to line the windows with tin foil. You simply sprinkle water on the glass and line the glass with the foil, allowing it to overlap the framework. I then suggest that you either close their bedroom door when you say goodnight or pull it to almost closed and ensure the hallway is dark.

A Routine

Ideally toddlers need to sleep for 12 hours before the age of 3 and after this point they need 11 hours. It is so important to give them a solid routine. They take comfort in knowing what is happening when. This is a time of the day when they are tired and you need to make the decisions and guide them accordingly.

Below is what I see to be a typical bedtime routine for a toddler on a 07.00 – 19.00 day:

17.00 / 17.30 Dinner Time together at the table.
17.30 TV time or play time while the kitchen is tidied.
18.00 Milk time if it is needed or it might have been drunk in front of the TV.
18.10 Bath time
18.25 Pyjamas and teeth brushing
18.30 Into bedroom for 2 stories while laying in bed
18.45 “I love you very much. See you at breakfast time”.Confidently walk out of the room, lights off and close or pull the door to almost closed.
19.00 The vision is of 15 minutes chatter before falling to sleep.

Top Tips for a solid nights sleep

  • Have your children’s dinner served no later than 5.30pm.
  • Bath-time between 6 – 6.20pm
  • Have the water temperature relatively warm.
  • Dim lighting and story time is always in their bedroom
  • Set the number of books you are going to read. 2 is ideal.
  • Story time is usually between 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Read the story in a calm low voice. Do not ask stimulating questions.
  • Long storybooks and interactive books remain downstairs. These are not for bedtime.
  • Make your child aware of where you are and what you are doing.
  • Tell your child you will come and check he is asleep in a little while.
  • Leave the room on a positive note.
  • Eg: “I will see you at breakfast time for some delicious croissants!”
  • Make your child aware:

“A child only grows when they are asleep.

Close your eyes and let your body grow a little.”

A calm and quiet bed time routine will have a huge impact on how your child settles to sleep. It is so important that your child is able to self settle to sleep. If they do not self settle to sleep it is almost guaranteed that they will wake in the night at some stage.

Sleep Cycles

Children tend to sleep solidly for the initial 4 hours at night ( 19.00 – 23.00). After this point they wake every 90 minutes. This is a light sleep that they can re-settle on.

The wake / light sleep timings are roughly:

  • 23.00
  • 00.30
  • 02.00
  • 03.30
  • 05.00
  • 06.30 – slow wake and start the day at 07.00

The way in which you settle your child to sleep at 19.00 will be what they might expect if they come into a light sleep and wake at any of the times below. For example if you sit with your child until they fall to sleep they will expect you still to be there when they come into a light sleep. They are likely to call out for you or come and find you. This is why it is so important to have a clear bedtime routine and for children to learn as soon as possible on how to self settle to sleep.

It really is a true fact: children only grow (both physically and mentally) when they are asleep.

By Kathryn Mewes

For further information and a clear guide on how to have your child sleeping through the night in just 3 days please see The Three Day Nanny: Your Toddler Problems Solved by Kathryn Mewes published by Vermilion or go to her website.