Wee Experts: Potty Training Through the Night

How to help that kid stay dry overnight without wrecking everyone’s sleep? We asked a pro. Read more

potty training and sleep

This post comes courtesy of Erica Desper* of Confident Parenting. 


Is potty training threatening to disrupt your child’s sleep habits? Are they suddenly stalling at bedtime or waking too quickly? Here are my tips for maximizing sleep and maintaining your sanity while potty training.

Tip 1: Remember, Potty Training is a Major Developmental Milestone
As with any milestone, potty training is likely to cause temporary disruptions in sleep and eating habits as well as in your child’s overall mood and behavior. Try to keep in mind that potty training is a major developmental milestone and, while frustrating, disturbances or regressions in other areas are to be expected. And this, too, shall pass!

Tip 2: Tackle Daytime Training First
A child can be taught to recognize and act on the sensation of needing to go while awake. Doing the same when asleep though cannot be taught, depends on many factors, and is often attained long after daytime training is complete. Many cannot manage this consistently until age 5 or later. Until your child can stay dry while asleep for 7 to 10 consecutive nights and naps, take the path of least resistance and put them in a pull up for sleep. Let them know it is okay to use the pull up at sleep times.

Tip 3: Normal Sleep Patterns May Be Interrupted
Because your child is beginning to recognize the sensations of being wet or soiled and needing to go, he or she may begin to wake overnight, during naps or too early in the morning. Ultimately this level of body awareness is what will get you both out of this training process, so try to see this mind-body connection and the disruptions it causes as a good thing.

Tip 4: Limit Beverages Before Bed To Head Accidents Off at the Pass
Give your child a better chance at staying dry overnight by avoiding or limiting beverages in the 1.5 to 2 hours before bed. Also, be sure to make a potty stop at the beginning of the bedtime routine and even once more before lights out.

Tip 5: Set Limits and Strike a Balance
Many children realize they can use this milestone as an opportunity to stall at bedtime. Your child may ask to go over and over, and bedtime may start to slip later and later. I suggest setting limits on potty trips and striking a balance between respecting their need/desire to go and prioritizing their sleep needs. For example, you could have a rule of “one more” at bedtime and honor that first potty request, but at some point, you’re going to need to say “enough is enough” … and stick to it. Tell your child that potty trips are all done or that “one-mores” are all done, and it’s time to sleep. And remind them that it’s okay to use their pull-up or diaper.

If your child wakes overnight asking to go you can use the same one-trip rule. Be sure to keep it boring! Walk them to the potty as silently as possible, put their pull-up or diaper back on when they’re done and march them back to bed. Do not redo the bedtime routine. Some children are ready to take themselves to the potty and back to bed overnight, and of course you can let your child know that is okay and encourage it. Some parents will place a potty in their child’s bedroom to make that scenario a bit more manageable. It may lead to an unwanted mess though! Other parents find it helpful to wake their child to use the potty before they go to bed themselves. Not all children can wake enough for this to be effective but it’s worth a shot if you’re willing to try it.

Tip 6: Prepare for Accidents!
No matter how well you prepare, accidents are inevitable and part of the learning process. Once your child can stay dry for 7 to 10 consecutive nights, try going pull-up free. When you do, you may want to be proactive about preparing for accidents. Anticipating some middle of the night bedding changes, it might help to double up the crib or bedding layers. Place a waterproof mattress protector and sheet over another layer of the same. That way when you need to remake the bed overnight, you strip the first layer off and…viola… a fresh, dry bed is ready and waiting underneath!

Most of all, remember to breathe and pat yourself on the back every time you hold it together in the face of this challenge. And to be kind to yourself when you don’t.


*About our author: Erica is a certified child and infant sleep consultant who has worked with hundreds of parents in and around the Philadelphia area and internationally to improve their family’s sleep. Having struggled with colic, feeding issues and more than a year of massive sleep deprivation with her own son, Erica launched her business Confident Parenting in 2012 with the goal of helping other parents better understand and survive their baby’s developmental stages and sleep patterns while maintaining their sanity. Erica works with parents to understand the science of sleep, to set the stage for healthy sleep habits and to remove common obstacles that interfere with sleep. Her philosophy is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution or method but rather the right one for you and your family. She offers a range of options so you can address sleep with a plan and timeline that feels comfortable for you and follows you through the process of implementing the plan through phone and email support. She also teaches several group classes including Why Won’t My Child Sleep, Newborn Sleep 101, Introduction to Infant Massage and Fussy Baby Solutions. To learn more about the options for one on one support or to see what parents are saying about their experience, visit BeAConfidentParent.com.