How to cope if your toddler doesn’t sleep

Gabe is 22 and a half months old, and I don’t want to shout to loudly about it, but his sleep seems to finally be improving. In fact as I write this he has slept all night, in his own bed, until at least 6:30 am for four nights in a row! Unfortunately he didn’t make it to five nights but this is very much new territory for Gabe. Everyone expects a lot of sleepless nights when they have a new baby, but when that baby gets to 6, 12, then 18 months old and they still aren’t sleeping it gets harder and harder, so how do you cope if your toddler doesn’t sleep?

I’m going to start this post by saying I only have one piece of advice to give you, and I pretty much guarantee it will work. It may not be the advice that you want to hear but after having two babies who became toddlers who didn’t sleep it is the only thing I know that will help.

How to cope when your toddler doesn't sleep

But we’ll get to that in bit, first a bit of background.

I like to sleep. Anyone who knew me before I had children will tell you how much I like to sleep. I was renowned for it. I was mocked for it. I could easily have a three hour nap in the afternoon, sleep for 10 hours or more at night and still fancy a little snooze on the sofa an hour after I got up.

When we decided to have a baby I knew that sleep would probably be one of the first things to go. But nothing prepared me for that first night at home, awake at 3 am with a baby who would only sleep upright on my chest, and too scared to move in case he woke up. With Toby though it actually got better pretty quickly. At 8 weeks he started sleeping from 6:30 pm to 8 am every single night. I was one of those smug mummies who had a baby who slept. But it wasn’t long before I got my comeuppance – at 18 weeks he had his slightly late four month vaccinations, he caught a cold the same day….and he never slept again! I exaggerate slightly but his sleep was terrible from that point on.

There was one slight silver lining – from about 3 months we were able to put Toby down awake in his cot, say ‘Night night, sleepy time now’ and then leave him to go to sleep by himself. That lasted until about 18 months when he took to screaming as soon as I tried to leave the room.

The worst part with Toby was probably between 18 and 22 months. I was pregnant and getting more pregnant by the day, I was working full time as a secondary school teacher and commuting 50 miles every day, and Toby was up three or four times a night. It was, quite frankly, horrendous and I don’t know how I coped.

It turned out that terrible few months with Toby was mostly down to his reflux and we got him back on his medication it did start to improve. Even so Toby didn’t consistently sleep through the night until he was two and a half – which meant we had 6 months of both boys waking regularly in the night. I think trying to breastfeed an unsettled newborn, while your toddler screams ‘mummy, mummy’ over and over again at 3 am has got to be one of the hardest things ever as a mother.

So that’s Toby. When we realised, at one week old, that Gabe had reflux too I kind of knew we would not be in for an easy ride with our second baby either. Actually in the early days he slept reasonably well, even if it was mostly in bed with me, attached to my boob! In fact, at two and a half months old he slept through the night for the first time – a full 10 hours and I very proudly took this picture…

Gabe slept through the night

And it was at least a year before he did it again! In the last six months Gabe has slept through literally a handful of times.

So the big question – after four years of broken sleep how do you cope when your toddler doesn’t sleep?

My only real advice is to accept the sleepless nights, and wait. (Or, if you cant wait, my other advice would be to take a look at this guide from Parenting Pod on sleeping problems).

That’s it.

A consistent bedtime routine will help. But that only really helps with getting your baby or toddler to go to sleep, it doesn’t really help them stay asleep. And despite having had the same bedtime routine for at least 18 months now it nearly always takes an hour for Gabe to go to sleep and I have to sit with him on my knee while that happens.

You can try any number of sleep training methods, there are plenty – controlled crying, shush and pat, pick up put down… with Toby we tried most of them and you might get lucky and find one that works, but in my experience all they really serve to do is get everyone a bit more stressed and upset by the lack of sleep.

You could spend £180 on a Sleepyhead, and believe me there have been many times when I am sitting with a toddler who is refusing to sleep at 2 am when I am sorely tempted. It might help, or it might be a complete waste of £180.

You can co-sleep – and with Gabe co-sleeping has completely saved my sanity. It doesn’t stop him waking up but he always (well up until this week anyway) spends at least half the night in bed with us. It isn’t my ideal scenario, and after nearly two years I am pretty desperate to reclaim my bed – for a little boy he takes up an awful lot of space! But co-sleeping has allowed us all to get a lot more sleep than we would otherwise. I don’t know why we didn’t do it with Toby – it certainly would have saved my pregnant hips from so many nights sleeping on his bedroom floor!

So you could try any number of things but I am being completely honest when I say that just accepting that this is the way of things, trusting that eventually my children will sleep all night, and just waiting for that to happen is the only way I have coped with the last four years of sleepless nights.

If your toddler doesn’t sleep and you’ve found this post looking for some magic fix then I’m afraid, in my experience, there just isn’t one.

Just accept it and wait. That’s all you can do.

If your experience is different and you’ve actually found a way to get your toddler to sleep then I’d love to hear it. Or even if you’re in the same boat as me then please do let me know about your experiences too.

How to cope when your toddler doesn't sleep

7 thoughts on “How to cope if your toddler doesn’t sleep

  1. Luckily, Ben is a brilliant sleeper just like me. however I honestly believe having some sort of a routine helped at the start. My friend started a bath, bottle bed routine that I copied but Ben (again like me) became more awake after a bath so we cut that out and for some reason just a bottle and being put in his crib with music playing helped. I also think I could be chatting rubbish and he’s just a fluke when it comes to bed hahaha. #sharingthebloglove

  2. This is so true there is no magical fix and every child is different. Alice went through the night from 4 months old. Then Holly came along and I followed the same routine and she didn’t go through the night until 17 months. Same routine, same mum doing the same things. But a different child! Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

  3. Ahh sleep deprivation is the worst!! Such a great post, I’m sure those who are suffering with the same will relate. We had two good sleepers and two terrible sleepers, now I struggle to wake them up each morning! Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

  4. Thanks Sarah. I have a three year old who doesn’t sleep well so feel your pain. He is getting better as he gets older and begins to understand the concept of sleep. In the mornings he asks me ‘did I sleep all through the night?’ And I often have to say ‘no sweetheart not last night but maybe you will tonight’. I have found the click that shows night and day helps now he is older.

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