Q&A: Sleepless nights
My 18-month-old just won't sleep at night and I'm exhausted. We put him in bed at 6pm and he's asleep by 7pm, but I'm wondering if a later bedtime will get him to sleep through?

Meg Faure (sleep consultant) answers:

Let’s look at the underlying reasons your toddler may be waking at night:

NUTRITION If your little one is not eating well, you may need to make changes in an attempt to cover the nutrition bases needed for sleep. Firstly, to ensure he has a good appetite for the types of food that help with sleep (iron and protein- rich solids), limit his milk intake to only one milk bottle at bedtime and a drink of milky tea in the morning.

HEALTH If your little one has been ill or had a cold, he may have residual mucus in his ear tubes causing glue ear, which can disrupt sleep. Deworm your little boy. It is possible that if he has a pinworm infestation these may keep him up at night.

DAY SLEEPS Limit day sleeps to one sleep, over midday. Wake him by 3pm if he has not woken.

FEARS Irrational fears and nightmares begin at around this age and can be disruptive. Leave a night light on for him and deal with fears compassionately.

SEPARATION ISSUES If your toddler has recently started playschool or if you have gone back to work, you may be dealing with separation anxiety. Play hide and seek and always say goodbye (don’t sneak out). Encourage a sleep attachment object such as a teddy or blanky with tags.

BEDTIME ROUTINE Have a very settled bedtime routine and do not leave his room between bath time and bedtime. Definitely do not allow any TV viewing before bed. Your toddler should fall asleep in the same manner you expect in the middle of the night (independently).

DAILY ACTIVITY Make sure your toddler moves a lot during the daylight hours. Movement and exercise improve sleep.

BEHAVIOUR If having ruled out all the basics, you are still dealing with sleep problems, it is time to rule out behaviour issues. Do not move bedtime later. Decide where he must sleep and consistently but lovingly reinforce this at night and don’t give in to crutches, such as lying with him or a bottle.
Be consistent and know that this phase will pass.

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