Just when your toddler begins outgrowing the sleep troubles of babyhood, along comes a significant sleep speedbump: potty training. This exciting milestone can disrupt sleep for months, giving opportunistic tots one more reason to delay bedtime (“I need to go potty—AGAIN!”) and climb out of bed at night. And parents suddenly find themselves on midnight laundry duty with endless bedding and pajama changes to contend with. Usually, nighttime potty trips and sheet changes necessitate turning on a light, which further hinders sleep by disrupting melatonin production.
It’s enough to make a tired potty-training parent yearn for the ease of diapers…OK, not quite. We all want our kids to learn to use the toilet successfully. But we don’t want potty training to happen at the expense of healthy sleep.
Here are some tips to smooth out this sleep obstacle:
- Doctors don’t define “bedwetting” until six years of age. In fact, nighttime dryness often lags behind daytime dryness by months or years. Don’t automatically assume your daytime-dry child is ready to ditch diapers at night. If she is wetting the bed most nights, she may lack the developmental maturity to stay dry all night—this is normal. Contrary to what you may have heard, putting her to bed in underwear before she’s ready won’t speed this maturational process. Using training pants at night can help save everyone’s sleep, and it won’t compromise daytime potty training success.
- Chips, pretzels, soda, and chocolate aren’t great choices for bedtime snacks: salty foods and caffeine have been shown to increase nighttime urination.
- Speed through nighttime sheet changes by lining your child’s mattress with several layers of fitted sheets and waterproof mattress pads. When a sheet gets wet, simply strip it off along with the mattress pad, and your child will have a fresh, dry sheet (and you can deal with the laundry in the morning).
- Even small amounts of nighttime light exposure impact the brain’s production of melatonin and make it difficult for children to fall back to sleep after awakening. During nighttime potty training, install dim nightlights with an on-off switch (like this one) in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms. These nightlights will cast a soft glow that will help light the way to the loo without flooding the room with light.
- Don't let bedtime potty requests disrupt an otherwise solid bedtime routine. Avoid exessive drinking an hour before bed, make pottying a part of your nightly wind-down routine, and set a firm limit on the number of potty trips you'll indulge during bedtime (your child probably doesn't need to use the bathroom if he just went 30 minutes ago).
My article “Potty Training After Dark: The Road To Clean, Dry Nights” appeared in a number of publications including Findlay Area Family Magazine, San Diego Family Magazine, and Chesapeake Family Magazine, and covers this topic in more detail.
The best thing about nighttime potty training: all kids get there eventually. I'm forecasing more dry nights in your future.