After your little one blows out the candles on her first birthday cake, you don't have a baby anymore—it's time to welcome her to toddlerhood. She's learning to walk, trying new foods, and even testing a few first words. Of course, a complete lack of sleep can definitely put a damper on your excitement.
The good news? Your toddler's old enough to sleep in her own bed and through the night, however resistant she might be. A 2006 study from Pediatrics found that 10 percent of kids are still struggling with sleep at the 12-18 months mark. Addressing common early toddler sleep woes can help you get shuteye so you can actually those toddler firsts.
- Separation anxiety. At this age, your toddler can become extremely anxious when you leave. "Youngsters at this age are transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood," says physician and parenting expert, Dr. Fran Walfish. "18 months marks the beginning of 'rapproachment'—the back-and-forth rhythmic movement between attachment and separation." While your little one wants to assert her independence, she's still firmly attached to your presence. This issue can get worse at night, when you try to turn out the lights. Unfortunately, giving into her could end making the problem worse by reinforcing the behavior. Walfish suggests being firm. Go into your toddler's bedroom and let her know that you're in the room, but don't pick her up out of her crib. Instead, sit in a nearby chair for a few moments, and then head back out again. If your little one continues to fuss, give her a few moments before going back in, making your presence known, but staying a shorter amount of time. Continue the process until your toddler has calmed down.
- Getting up. Your toddler probably thinks jumping out of bed or climbing up the sides is a hilarious game, especially when it spawns a midnight visit from you. When she tries to pop out of bed, it's important that you make it a complete non-event. If you hear your bouncing babe testing the mattress springs, head in and lay your baby down. Firmly tell her that it's bedtime, and head back out. If it continues to happen, follow the same routine, doing so wordlessly. Soon, your baby learns that jumping up in bed doesn't get her the attention she wants, and she'll finally drift off to dreamland.
- Nap changes. When your baby hits the 12- to 18-month mark, you can expect her to drop one of her naps from her daily schedule. Unfortunately, the change can leave her tired, cranky, and prone to a bedtime battle. Pediatric sleep coach Cate McKee recommends delaying the transition to one nap as long as you can. "The average age a toddler moves from two naps to one nap varies depending on who you ask, but most experts agree that it typically falls between 14 and 16 months of age," she notes. "Err on the conservative side; keep the morning nap as long as possible."
- Early rising. If the early bird catches the worm, it's the early toddler who catches a sleep-derived mom. Some toddlers are simply more prone to waking up before the sun. Unfortunately, some parents resort to keeping baby up late to make her sleep longer, when the opposite effect can happen, making the problem even worse. Try playing around with bed times to find the time of the evening that works best for easy sleep and later wakeup calls.
- Crib stimulation. That teddy bear that Grandma gave your little one for her first birthday is adorable, right? Maybe so, but it doesn't belong in the crib. Besides the fact that oversized quilts, pillows, and toys can still be an asphyxiation hazard for your babe, they also make bedtime, playtime! The crib should be used for sleep only, never as a playtime tool or a place to store extra stuff. Clear out your toddler's crib so she's not stimulated by toys, blankets, and pillows at nighttime, and doesn't run any risk of suffocation during the night.
- New bed. Anxious to ditch the crib? Not so fast! Switching your child to a toddler bed can seriously disrupt sleep training. She'll also be able to get out of her own bed, which could lead to a few unwelcome visits in the middle of the night. Make sure your toddler is really ready to make the switch; climbing out of her crib and showing interest in big-girl beds are two major milestones. Still, it's totally fine to leave your baby in a crib as long as it's safe and she's secure—even if all of your friends are already making the switch with their kids.
- Toddler tantrums. If sleep turns into an all-out war at bedtime, no one is going to be getting much rest. By making sure that bedtime is less of a power struggle, you'll both be able to head to bed in a calm state of mind. Try giving your headstrong toddler choices at bedtime; she can choose her pajamas, the book you read, and even the song you sing. Giving options can help head off the knock-down-drag-outs that can occur when you take away her independence at bedtime.
The older your toddler gets, the more you'll see of her personality every day. Stubborn, funny, charming, silly, shy; they can all add to your little one's sleep issues. By treating your toddler as the individual that she is, you can deal with common sleep problems so you have the energy you need to keep up with her during the day!