Are they fighting naps, stalling at bedtime, getting out of bed repeatedly, or waking up early? If this goes on at your house, it’s no surprise. We all know that developmental milestones can wreak havoc with sleep – and using the potty is a very major milestone!
Potty-related sleep problems can be especially confusing and frustrating for parents. Of course, we want to encourage our children to pay attention to their body’s signals and are happy when they recognize the need to go – but in the middle of the night, after two or three false alarms, “I need to go potty” starts to feel like just another an excuse to get up and out of bed. It can be very difficult to sort through what’s actually going on.
The truth is that there’s really no such thing as potty training at night. A child is either developmentally capable of staying dry while sleeping, or they aren’t. Rewards, cajoling, or threats won’t speed up the process. In most cases, children master daytime potty training long before they’re capable of staying dry at night.
So what can parents do to make sure that everyone gets as much sleep as possible during the potty training process?
1. Cut back on drinks before bedtime.
Try not to offer liquids for the last hour or two before lights out so that your child can start the night with an empty bladder. If a bottle or cup of milk is currently part of your child’s bedtime routine, offer it earlier in the evening, perhaps with dinner or dessert.
2. Encourage a potty visit right before lights out.
Make using the potty one of the final steps in your child’s bedtime routine. Bath, potty, book, lights out might work for your child, or bath, book, potty, bed. If your child asks to use the potty 10 minutes after you tuck them in, give them one last opportunity, and then that’s it. If they ask again, tell them it’s time to sleep and that they can try again in the morning. The same holds true if your child wakes up in the night or early in the morning. One trip to the bathroom per wake up (within reason), then back to sleep. It’s important to set boundaries. Just let your child know exactly what they are, and be sure to enforce them consistently.
3. Use diapers or pull-ups at night.
Until your child demonstrates the ability to stay dry for a few weeks in a row, continue to allow them to use diapers or pull-ups for sleep. Children that lie awake worrying about accidents or children that actually hold it in because they’re afraid to get out of bed will be relieved, those that use the potty as an excuse to get up won’t have an excuse anymore, and you’ll save yourself the hassle of changing bedsheets at 3:00 a.m. If your child questions why they’re wearing a diaper or pull-up, reassure them that it’s perfectly fine to wear them so that they can sleep better at night. Using diapers or pull-ups until they’re physically ready to stay dry won’t get in the way of developing night-time bladder control.
During potty training, some children become quite sensitive to the feeling of having a wet or dirty diaper and will start to wake up because they’re aware that they’re wet or uncomfortable. If this is the reason your child is waking up, of course, you’ll want to change them – make it as boring and non-eventful as possible. Toddlers and pre-schoolers will take any opportunity to chat about all sorts of things at 2:00 a.m. Don’t get drawn into the conversation. Send the message that it’s time to sleep, not chat.
4. Think through the “wake them up to pee” strategy.
Some experts recommend that parents wake their child up before they go to bed at ten or eleven pm for a final trip to the potty. This strategy may help keep the sheets dry, but it does nothing to help your child develop the brain/bladder connection required to be truly potty trained at night. The danger, of course, is that waking your child may interfere with their ability to go back to sleep or may actually cause wake-ups later on in the night. If it works for your child, there’s obviously not a problem with this approach. If it doesn’t, just rely on pull-ups until your child is truly ready to stay dry for the entire night.
5. Have realistic expectations.
It’s not unusual for some children to be six or seven years of age before they have complete control of their bladders at night. Every child is different. Don’t think that because your first child was dry at three, there’s something wrong with your six-year-old because they still have occasional accidents. Bedwetting isn’t typically considered a problem until a child is about seven years of age. If you’re worried about the chronic nature of your child’s bedwetting, consult with your pediatrician, who will do a thorough evaluation to determine if there’s cause for concern.