Seven tips for coping with your sleepless toddler

Occasionally I'm going to repost my favourite or most useful posts from my old blogs updated to share with you here.

Sleep, it can become something of an obsession once we become parents, can't it?  How much you are (or more likely aren't) getting, what's normal? Shouldn't they be sleeping by this age? 

7 tips for coping with your sleepless toddler via Lila Wolff

Maybe your little one has resisted sleep from the get go, or maybe this is a new shift in their behaviour. Either way by the toddler stage you were more than likely expecting that, by now, you'd have your full nights rest back on a regular basis.

Not all of these tips are easy and they certainly aren't guaranteed. They work to some degree for us but not always, regardless I'll share the things that help, sometimes...

1. Hold them tightly 

Depending on the cues your little one is already giving you, you may have noticed they need extra help drowning out the outside world and all the sensory static that is keeping them awake.  In our case Eve needs to be held firmly, chest to chest as one part of drowning out the distractions that are keeping her stimulated and therefore awake.  We hold her arms in firmly, but loosely enough that if she needs she can move a little.  The need for skin to skin contact doesn't leave us as we move from baby to toddler, this and the comfort of your heart beat could be what your toddler needs to feel safe enough to surrender to sleep.

How it helps you cope:

Remember how I said the need for skin to skin contact doesn't end with babyhood, guess what it actually doesn't end. I'm a firm believer that if a lot of the people in our world got the warm hugs that their senses and souls crave a lot less unhappiness would exist.  It's also a lot easier to empathise with your tired screaming little one if you're doing it chest to chest than sitting on the other side of a door hoping they'll crack and sleep before your heart breaks. It's natural and okay to hold your child until they sleep.

2. Lullaby 

Open up your mouth and heart then sing, it doesn't have to be a nursery rhyme and you don't have to be a fabulous singer.  A lullaby is about more than that, it's the comfort of a parents voice and places another sensory layer between your toddler and that distracting noise that is the outside world.  Fair warning choose songs you like and try a variety of them because if these work there is a good chance you could be stuck singing these songs for some time.  If you're worried about the content of what you're singing do some research into the meaning of nursery rhymes, you'll find they're darker than most things you'd come up with!

How it helps you cope: 

It's much harder to lose your mind when you're losing yourself in song.  Trying to get a sleepless toddler to sleep is trying and even the most patient of parent is at times going to be pushed to their limits. If you sing songs that make you happy it will help you adjust your mindset from frustrated to calm or even joyful. If that's failing you can always change the words to narrate your frustration, there's a twisted satisfaction in a bit like a certain bedtime story.

3. Cut the crap 

Get those preservatives and artificial colours out of your home. You don't have to become a vegan, follow the paleo diet or a raw food diet for food changes to be meaningful in your home.

A great deal of children show improvement in regulating their behaviour and emotion when preservatives and colourings are removed from their everyday diet. Obviously if they're able to better process their emotions and behaviour they'll be better able to settle at the end of the day.

Not everybody has sensitivities to these things but none of them are necessary or beneficial to your little ones' growing body. It already has enough to do without processing empty ingredients, so why cling to them? Caring about the impact of what you eat doesn't make you a #foodwanker it just means you're trying to do the best by your family and their growing bodies.

 How it helps you cope: 

It might seem easier to grab packet foods and prepared meals and to be honest I viewed making a major dietary shift with a mixture of horror and suspicion before we had Eve. But while colourings and preservatives don't make me hyperactive I can feel the difference since our diet has changed. Even more so after those days where I've had some sneaky junk food it's like some gross bloaty food hangover, and who needs that when they've got a mini tornado to run around after?

4. and the nap 

I am loathe to say this and I was loathe to do it but letting go of a regular daily nap will help burn that extra energy that needs to dissipate before bedtime. There will be days where you really really  wish that you'd made sure they had a nap. I'm not saying force them to stay awake if they are still at a stage where a nap comes easily and regularly, but if they are fighting nap time with a passion as well as bedtime cutting the nap is the smarter choice. If you let them find a natural rhythm you'll find that there are napping days on the occasion still (which you'll appreciate even more because of their rarity) and you'll have one less struggle to overcome at bedtime on the days that there wasn't a nap. 

How it helps you cope:

I know this one seems counter intuitive especially if you're still using that nap time to catch up on some much needed you-time that you aren't getting of an evening.  But it really is a matter of choosing your battles and this is one that just might make the end of the day when you're totally out of fight a little bit easier on you.

5. Melatonin

While Melatonin tablets or liquid are something you can get over the counter I would strongly advise consulting a doctor or paediatrician first. But these have been a lifesaver for us, it will only work if your little one has a deficiency that it is addressing. But if they do it's a great way to get their natural rhythms back in order.  I also recommend that you check the brand is reputable, the looser regulations on natural and alternative medication means that the dose you are actually getting and the promised dose on the label may not be the same.

How it helps you cope

It's another tool in your sleep toolkit if it works and if it doesn't you can at least reassure yourself that your child hasn't got an imbalance and focus on other sleep inducing tricks.

6. Let it go

So your coworker / best friend / neighbours' baby slept through the night from six weeks old? They could be one of the lucky ones (or maybe a liar just sayin'). Guess what? Babies don't follow a scripted development timeline for sleep or anything else no matter how many charts you read, you can even show the baby it won't help. Babies are surprise! tiny humans and all of us sleep differently, some of us sleep easily others have trouble shutting down, why should they be different because they're a baby? Let go of comparing them to anyone but themselves.

How it helps you cope: 

Are you familiar with the saying 'comparison is the thief of joy' this is one of those times that it becomes deeply meaningful. I know from the top of my bleary eyed head to the tip of my hall pacing toes that it is tough when your babe doesn't sleep for years, I promise you I know. But and it's a big but while any sensible person would choose more sleep the memories that have been built in the depths of sleep deprivation hell are some that I treasure most. Listening as my husband sings our littlest one ballads until she surrenders to sleep, the softness of holding her tight and her fingers twining around mine, and oh my there is nothing quite like the mixture of relief and disbelief when she pops off to sleep of her own accord. 

Sure sleep is awesome, I think I can't quite remember, but I've got some memories that I wouldn't have had if Eve was an easy sleeper. While it might be hard to enjoy the memories in the moment one day I'm sure you will.

7. Be gentle with yourself 

This one is all about you coping.  

Take time out, find things that nourish your soul and sense of peace. It could be yoga or it could be a really good venting session over coffee with your bestie. But a little one not sleeping does all kinds of awful things to your mind and soul and to continue to work through that positively you must prioritise looking after yourself. With all the expectations we heap on ourselves this one can be hard to do but I promise it's the most important. Because in the end there may be no tip that helps your little one sleep easily or consistently and if you don't recharge your batteries you'll put yourself in a place where it's just too much to cope with.

So do be gentle with yourself, you and your sleepless toddler need you to be the happiest you to get through a hard time. 

and remember eventually they'll sleep, or you know move out of home...