Tackling Toddler Sleep: Expert Advice From Gentle Sleep Coach Tracy Spackman

Are you feeling like you haven’t had a good night’s rest in years? Perhaps your once perfect-little-sleeper is now waking you up multiple times a night, climbing out of the crib, and has you left wondering what to do for you to all get some good sleep.

Tracy Spackman—Phoenix mom of five, certified Gentle Sleep Coach, and owner of Get Quiet Nights—has been offering compassionate and personalized sleep training to families since 2013, and is here to tackle some of the most commonly asked toddler sleep questions.

As a Gentle Sleep Coach (GSC), Tracy said she approaches sleep training a lot less harshly than traditional sleep training methods.

“People would describe me as more gentle than even a gentle sleep coach,” said Tracy. “A lot of people think sleep training is ‘cry it out.’ I like to say that my approach is ‘responsive and hands on.’”

Even if you’ve never done any formal sleep training with your toddler before, Tracy says it’s not too late to start.

“Families of toddlers in the age range of 18 months to 3 years old are who I get the most calls from,” said Tracy. “It might be a little harder since that child hasn’t been sleeping well and habits might have been formed, but the brain is still developing and it’s not too late.”

Wondering where to begin? Here are three starting points Tracy recommends:

1. Evaluate the Sleep Environment

Is there too much light? Is the room too dark? Is your child telling you they are afraid of the dark?

If your child is 2 years old or older, a small night light (with a red or yellow bulb that’s 4 watts or less) can be helpful if they are afraid of the dark. Tracy also advises adding in some sort of sound machine playing white, brown, or pink noise.

2. Look at Daytime Sleep

Is your child getting enough daytime sleep? An overly tired child can have trouble sleeping at night, Tracy says. On the flip side, if they’re getting too much sleep during the day, they might not be tired enough at bedtime.

3. Timing of bedtime

Another factor to look at is what time you’re putting your child to bed. Tracy calls this “a bedtime formula” which she says relates to how many hours it’s been since the child’s nap ended and what time they woke up in the morning. Times will vary depending on the age of your child.

Toddlers also tend to undergo many major milestones that can have an impact on their sleep such as exploring their independence, potty training, and experiencing nightmares or night terrors. Here are some ways Tracy advises to handle these instances:

Transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed

“It’s helpful to note that with brain development, the ability to understand the concept to stay in bed develops around 2 and a half,” says Tracy. “So if they’re put in a toddler bed under 2 and a half, they might not yet have the brain development to get that ‘stay in bed’ concept.”

If your little one is frequently climbing out of the crib but you feel they’re not quite ready to be in a toddler bed, Tracy recommends lowering the mattress all the way to the floor (if it’s safe).

Another option, she says, is to turn the whole bedroom into one big crib.

“Remove anything that’s not safe in the room (this will include some furniture) and let them fall asleep wherever they want in their room,” said Tracy.

Sometimes, Tracy says as a child is transitioning to a toddler bed, it can be helpful to have a parent stay with the child while they fall asleep and eventually work on transitioning the parent out of the room.

Potty training and sleep

When it comes to potty training, Tracy says that daytime potty training and nighttime potty training can be approached separately and don’t have to be done at the same time.

“Nighttime potty training is developmental,” she said. “You’re waiting until your child’s body is ready. In the meantime, use a pull-up until the child wakes up dry multiple nights in a row.”

Nightmares and night terrors

Nightmares and night terrors can be frightening experiences for both the child and the parent.

Tracy says it’s important to note the difference: Nightmares typically happen in the later part of the night whereas night terrors tend to happen in the earlier part of the night.

When comforting your child during a nightmare or night terror Tracy says to, “Give them what they need, not necessarily what they want. Don’t make major changes to what you’ve been doing and have a plan,” she advises.

If they are happening frequently, think back to the day: Is there something they’re watching or seeing that’s scary? The news, perhaps? Try limiting their exposure to any potential triggers and know if your child is particularly sensitive.

Tracy says it’s also worth noting that night terrors could be related to a nutritional imbalance and might be something to bring up to the pediatrician at your next visit.

Sleep struggles can be rough. But with some adjustments, practice, and commitment, you can get your toddler on track and you can all get some much needed rest!

For specific questions, personalized guidance, or to sign up for one of Tracy’s sleep training classes, visit getquietnights.com