In those early baby days with Leo, I prioritised caring for him and his big brother Toby. I wasn’t working out of the home or worrying about exercise and having a social life. It was challenging but my expectations were low. I napped when I could, and if I had a shower, a walk and a coffee; I considered this a very good day.
Leo is no longer a helpless little baby, but he continues to wake at least once most nights. The difficulty now is that I am back at work and life is ‘back to normal’.
Parents of toddlers translated… here’s what they really mean.
Toby has homework to do and the dinner needs cooking. There are the daily drop-offs at school, pick-ups from day-care or after school activities. There are weekend social events and exercise classes or date nights. I am mostly a happy, functional human, but I am also constantly knackered.
Natalie Ebrill, a registered child and family health nurse with over twenty years of experience, is also an infant sleep ‘detective’. She founded her child sleep consultancy business, Sleep and Settle to help tired families understand and solve sleep issues with practical solutions. She is also a busy mum of three daughters.
I was eager to talk to Natalie about the many contributory factors that she believes explain why toddlers might sleep poorly.
“A toddler’s exciting developmental stage will directly impact on their ability to go to sleep and stay asleep for the night. Toddlers are learning to verbalise and negotiate and they will try to delay bedtime by asking a million questions, demanding more attention or creating clever diversions that wear tired parents down at sleep time,” Natalie says.
“Overnight, their sleep may be interrupted by teething, the weather, nightmares, night terrors, storms, illness, worms, household light and noise, their ability to get out of their beds or a fear of ‘monsters’.”
Aside from the developmental stage, Natalie believes factors such as diet and activity levels, play a role in how a toddler sleeps.
“There is increasing evidence that food intolerances and allergies may affect sleep and behaviour. I encourage families to eat seasonally and healthily and avoid excessive amounts of preservatives, colours and flavours in processed foods.
“Screen time prevents active play, meaning that your toddler has less time to explore the environment, get physically active and have their five senses stimulated. The artificial light of a screen also interferes with circadian rhythms and sleep time readiness.”
It seems that I am not alone in experiencing poor sleep thanks to a toddler. According to Natalie, her sleep deprived clients are 60 per cent parents to babies under 12-month-olds and 40 per cent parents to aged one – five-year-old infants.