Hosted by SISP student committee, McGill University
& Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology
Jamie Cassoff obtained her PhD in experimental Psychology from McGill University and completed her training in the Family Sleep Institute Sleep consulting program. Presently, she works as a sleep provider at the Kid’s Sleep Clinic, where she works with families of babies and toddlers. She also holds a position as a professor in the psychology department of Concordia University.
Although sleep in toddlerhood is one of the most talked about subjects by parents and educators, it is also the most misunderstood. This is due to common myths and misperceptions related to sleep in young people. As a sleep provider, my goal is to offer caregivers evidenced-based advice to promote healthy sleep habits in their young children. This includes realigning their views on sleep to match the science rather than anecdotal experiences or personal opinions.
Here are the top ten myths about sleep in toddlers:
1. Sleep quantity is more important than sleep quality
It is more important for your child to go to sleep at the same times every day, rather than to offer very long naps in locations that promote high quality sleep (e.g., strollers). For example, it is preferred that your child take regular but shorter naps in the crib, rather than inconsistent but longer naps in the stroller.
2. You can make up for lost sleep at night by offering a longer nap the next day
If your child does not have a good night’s sleep, you can offer a longer nap the following day. However, you do not want them to oversleep to the point that it will affect their sleep at bedtime. There are two sleep systems – the homeostatic system, which is a sleep bank and a circadian system, which is a sleep clock. A long nap will please the homeostatic system but will send the circadian system out of whack!
3. Young children are often scared of the dark
Babies and young toddlers typically do not need a night light or any light in their bedrooms as they are not afraid of the dark. It is optimal to have a very dark bedroom to promote as much melatonin secretion as possible.
4. Toddlers should not crawl or walk in the crib
It is healthy for children to explore their sleep environments. This is especially common during the development of certain motor skills such as rolling, crawling, and walking. It is recommended to encourage these movements in the crib rather than minimize movement (e.g., by restricting movement with swaddles or intervening by moving your child if they have rolled over or are standing up).
5. As soon as your child can pull themselves up in the crib, they should move to a bed
It is recommended to move your child into a bed at approximately 3 years old and when they can comprehend very simple rules about staying in bed overnight. It is not recommended to change from a crib to a bed for behavioral reasons such as climbing out of the crib or pulling to stand.
6. Sleep sacs are only used for young babies
Sleep sacs are important to use for two reasons – they are a powerful cue that sleep is coming and act as a safe wearable blanket for children. Most children have the motor skills to cover themselves at approximately 2 years old, when it becomes safe to use a blanket and pillow. When your child starts to move it is recommended to use a bigger sized sleep sac so that they can easily move around in it (even walk!).
7. Toddlers should have a later bedtime than they did when they were babies
Somewhere between 14 and 18 months, your child will drop the morning nap and only have one nap per day. Given that they are only napping once (which will likely occur earlier than the previous second nap), an earlier bedtime is recommended. Therefore, it is possible that toddlers’ bedtime will become earlier than it was when they were babies.
8. Children should nap the same duration at daycare as they do at home
Daycare is a very stimulating environment for children – often more stimulating than at home. For that reason, it is possible that children will nap longer at daycare than at home. The other way is possible too – children could be more distracted at daycare, which could prevent them from falling asleep or staying asleep as they do in their home environment.
9. Toddlers should decide what they do during their bedtime routine
It is recommended to offer toddlers as much autonomy as possible, while also providing structure along the way. For this reason, you should try to establish a step-by-step bedtime routine, allowing your children to make decisions when possible. For example, children can choose which bath toys they play with but not whether they take a bath. Children can choose which pyjamas they wear but not the time to change into them. Children can choose which bedtime books to read, but not how many. Toddlers love predictability and consistency – following through with a regular bedtime routine is the first step to healthy sleep.
10. On vacation, toddlers’ sleep should NOT be prioritized
It is possible to be flexible with your children’s sleep without throwing all sleep skills out of the window. It is all about finding a happy middle ground during this time. Late nights are common on vacation but, when possible, try to stay within an hour of the child’s usual bedtime. For children who are napping, try to maintain their regular nap schedule as best as possible. Keep in mind that without their naps, later nights are considerably more difficult to manage. If you are travelling during your vacation, consider your child’s new environment by making it as similar as possible to their home bedroom. Finally, if you are traveling to an area with a different time zone, ensure that your child is exposed to sunlight during the day and to darkness at night.
Prioritizing Sleep in Young Children – Could it be the Greatest Gift of 2022?
By Jamie Cassoff, PhD
Let's Talk: Youth Psychology Blog