Begin by reviewing what you can expect from your child. Generally, a child under two sleeps eleven to twelve hours split between nighttime sleep and naps. Then ask yourself, “Is my child getting too much or too little sleep?” Either situation can be altering your child’s sleep pattern.
Next, start a journal of your child's sleep patterns and the associations she makes to fall asleep. Look at these sleep associations. Is your child only falling asleep if you rock her to sleep or after an elaborate routine? If that´s the case, try simplifying the routine—one story or song and then bed. Also, limit daytime sleep to no longer than one or two sleep cycles which are approximately fifty minutes each. Your child may need to sleep in longer periods less often.
Finally, reassure her if crying is prolonged or distressed, but continue with the routine of placing her in bed awake and leaving the room. Whatever plan you have used to get her to sleep early in the evening is the same plan you should use in the middle of the night. Resist the temptation to change the middle of the night plan because you are tired. You will unfortunately be giving your child a mixed message about needing to go to sleep and stay there.
By the time you move your child from crib to bed, you may see bedtime battles in full swing. Your child’s growing independence, coupled with the lack of the physical boundary the crib provides, can make going to sleep difficult for you and your child. Sometimes, you may find that complex sleep associations have developed--the most troublesome having to do with a child not being able to fall asleep without you in the room.
Start by simplifying the routine—one story or song, then bed, and then you leave. Use the same routine each time your child goes to bed. Your child will respond to the predictability of a solid routine. If your child cries or needs reassurance, go in after two to three minutes, but don't talk—just lay her back down and leave. Then extend the length of time you wait to go in again, because your child needs time to learn to rely on herself. Be sure to make these changes to the routine when you know you can follow through, not before a vacation or if you're going out the next evening. This common sleep problem can be solved quickly as long as you are consistent and stick with your plan. Remember, keep the talking to a minimum during this bedtime battle. If you talk you are giving your child the message that going to bed is negotiable.
Of course, even the best sleep habits on your part won't guarantee success. So what do you do if sleep becomes a struggle? Start by keeping a journal of bedtime routines and your child's sleep patterns. The problem may reveal itself to you if you can observe patterns in behavior. For example, you might notice that your child falls asleep while you rock and sing to her, and you always put her to bed while she's already sleeping. If you do notice that your child always goes to bed asleep and then wakes crying for you, you may want to change your child's sleep associations and encourage her to learn to put herself to sleep.
Also, don't forget to muster the support of your pediatrician or parenting professional. Sleep issues in a young child are generally easy to correct, and the sleep patterns you establish now set the stage for sleep patterns later in childhood. Regulating sleep issues early can save you many stressful nights.