Is Potty Training Going to Affect Sleep?

potty training girl
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

I’m just going to come right out and say it – potty training twin boys was my kryptonite.  I would wake up every Saturday morning with gusto and by 10:30 am, I was wondering if it was too early for wine.  Literally – ask my husband.  Plus, as a child sleep consultant, you can imagine that I was also thinking “how is potty training going to affect sleep?!”

In all honesty, my anxiety level was through the roof around anything potty training.  Internally freaking out doesn’t bring out the patient teacher in me, so you can imagine my kids didn’t think potty training was fun!

They did think the M&Ms we were using as a reward were awesome.  I quickly learned that red-dye and my children is no-no.  Off the walls is my only way to describe it!  The combination of red-dye; pee and poop everywhere; countless Clorox wipes; and a stressed-out mama is not the recipe for potty training success.

The Background

Let me back up a minute and give a little background.  I was getting a lot of pressure from family on why I wasn’t actively potty training my boys.  My dear aunt was all gung-ho about how she had her sons potty trained by the time they were two and asked “what are you doing?” Another family member “gifted” us training pants for my boys…unsolicited. ? I know that they were trying to be helpful, but I was feeling judged and rushed, which isn’t when I’m at my parenting best.

If you are up against this type of pressure from family and friends, don’t take it personally like I did and don’t let them pressure you. I should have taken a deep breath, smile and “yes-ed” them. You know your children best and you’ll know when they are ready.  When I originally embarked on potty training, my boys simply weren’t ready.  Once they were, it was EASY. More on that below.

Today, I’m going to share some of my learnings from adventures in potty training and how to preserve sleep while your littles are navigating this major milestone.

Determining Potty Training Readiness

Did you know that you can’t potty train your child UNLESS they are developmentally ready to learn this new skill? If they don’t understand the sensations of needing to go and haven’t put together what is really happening on the toilet, they aren’t ready.

Also, if your child is in the midst of a lot of change or there are stressors, like new siblings, changing schools or moving, I recommend holding off.  Children have an easier time with learning and change when life is calm and predictable.

Once they are showing signs of readiness, that’s when the process of learning can begin. Many children have the physical and emotional development to be ready to start potty training between 18 months and 3 years of age.

If you start trying too soon and pushing them beyond their capabilities, it can backfire with a complete potty refusal and you can risk health problems from dysfunctional voiding.  Plus, a LOT of pee and poop accidents for your little one and lots of tears and Clorox wipes for you. (trust me!)

You can use the following checklist to determine if your child appears to be ready:

Potty Training Readiness Checklist

Your child:

  • Shows an interest and a desire to learn to use the potty. You can encourage interest by reading books or watching videos about using the potty.  We are huge fans of the Elmo potty training book and video.
  • Stays dry for two hours or more or wakes up dry from naps
  • Knows when he or she is going and shows this by either telling you or hiding / going into another room when going
  • Begins asserting independence and saying things like “I can do this myself”
  • Says they are uncomfortable in a dirty diaper or showing discomfort, like pulling at the diaper or trying to take it off
  • Can undress, pulling their pants up and down
  • Follow simple directions
  • Will sit still long enough to poop, without becoming distracted
  • Can walk and run well – skills needed to get to the bathroom before an accident

Potty Training Methods

If you are wondering about the ins and outs of potty training, there are many potty-training methods and philosophies available.  Google search “potty training” and you will uncover a lot of resources available to you.

My best advice – go with something that is child led and takes into account developmental readiness.  Also, beware of promises that seem really ambitious.  When anyone is learning something new, it takes time and patience.  If you set yourself and your child up with unrealistic expectations, you may find yourself frustrated and disappointed.

Potty Training Progression

Many families embark on potty training and go all in – days and nights at the same time.  That sounds mighty ambitious to me!  From my perspective, potty training is a progression, which looks like this:

  1. Daytime awake training – first help your little one to master feeling the sensations of needing to go potty and actually making it to the bathroom consistently.
  2. Nap time training – once daytime awake time is mostly mastered and your little one is able to stay dry for at least two hours (the length of an average nap), begin potty training at nap time. Forgo the pull-up and be patient if there are accidents.  Continue using pull-ups at night.
  3. Nighttime training – once your kiddos begins consistently waking dry in the morning, you know they are ready for nighttime training. Nighttime readiness is 100% developmental.  It isn’t something you can train because when little ones are asleep, they may not be able to hold it or wake themselves up to go.

Preserving Sleep While Potty Training

Potty training can definitely affect sleep, but it is something that we want to embrace because our little ones are learning something new and growing!  Plus think of how many lattes and how much dry shampoo you can buy with the diaper and pull-up savings!

Here Are My Tops Tips for Limiting the Affects on Sleep While Potty Training:

  • Limit food and drinks 1.5-2 hours before bedtime
  • Encourage visits to the potty before bed – make potty the last stop in your bedtime routine before tucking your little one in for the night
  • Consider a dream potty. Bringing your child to the bathroom before you go to bed can help them to stay accident-free until morning.
  • Use pull-ups without shame – until your toddler is ready for nighttime training, pull-ups are your BFF.
  • When your little one wakes at night and needs to go potty, quickly and quietly bring them to the bathroom and then right straight back to bed. This isn’t a time for conversation or 5,000 requests.  Middle of the night potty breaks are all business. Set the limit and stick with it.
  • Ensure that the nightlight you have in your hall and in the bathroom are sleep safe. Stay away from white and blue lights and go for reds, oranges and yellows.
  • Be prepared for accidents – it is easier if you are prepared vs. scrambling in the middle of the night. Consider layering mattress pads and sheets so you can quickly change the bed.  Keep baby wipes and pajamas out so you can quickly clean and change your child.

How Did My Potty Training Adventure End?

My boys successfully finished potty training and the effects on their sleep were manageable!

Once I realized that they weren’t ready and I was putting too much pressure on them and me, I chilled out.  We took a break and waited for them to be ready.  Once that happened, it was easy peasy lemon squeezy.  One twin took to it immediately and the other twin wasn’t too far behind.  They started at a new school with a swimming pool and were told if they had accidents two weeks before swim started, they couldn’t go swimming.  From that point forward, we didn’t have any more daytime accidents!

I share my story so you can learn from my mistakes.  Potty training is all about readiness, patience and embracing the change.  You’ve got this!

If you need help with sleep or behavior challenges, please reach out!  As a child sleep consultant and a child behavior specialist, I specialize in toddlers and preschoolers, in addition to baby sleep.  Please book a 15-minute intro call to learn about working together and see if we are a good fit!  If you want to learn more about what it’s like to work with us and typical results, check out our reviews.

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