How Potty Training Affects Sleep

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Parents of toddlers or soon-to-be toddlers — this one’s for you. We’re talking potty training today!

Whether potty training’s on your horizon or something you’re right smack in the middle of, you probably already know that the whole process is less than thrilling. For everyone. My potty training experiences have always left me wondering why human beings aren’t born knowing how to use the toilet.

We’re not discussing actual potty training techniques and methods in this article; there are plenty of other resources floating around the internet that can help you with that. Rather, we’re going to talk about potty training as it relates to our favorite topic: sleep! And, potty training and sleep training are common in some ways.

So, are potty training and sleep connected? Yes. Does one affect the other? You bet. How are they related? Keep reading.

The Two Stages of Potty Training

Many pediatric experts divide potty training into two steps, or stages: daytime training and nighttime training. The idea is that a toddler first learns to use the potty and control her bladder when she’s awake. That’s the “easier” part (although calling any part of potty training “easy” seems crazy to me!)

However, it’ll likely take your toddler longer (a lot longer, in some cases) to control his bladder when he’s asleep. A few rare toddlers complete both stages at once, achieving total dryness 24 hours a day, but they’re exceptions to the rule. Most toddlers who are potty trained during their waking hours will continue to have accidents when they’re asleep.

So take heart — all those nighttime accidents your toddler may be experiencing? They’re normal. Frustrating, but normal.

Sleep Affects Potty Training

You may find yourself wondering why, if your toddler can control his bladder when he’s awake, he can’t also control it during sleep. Our adult bodies wake us up when it’s time to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Why don’t our toddlers’ bodies do the same?

The answer is that they will — eventually. Remember that your toddler’s body is still growing and developing. Over time, your toddler will develop the mind-body connection he needs to wake during the night in order to go potty. For some toddlers, this happens quickly. For others (particularly for toddlers who are very deep sleepers), it may take a lot longer.

Potty Training Affects Sleep

You know by now that there are lots of elements that’ll affect your toddler’s sleep — teething, illness, sleep regressions… Just when you get into a nice “sleep groove”, it feels like another issue comes along and ruins it.

Let’s add potty training to that list. Potty training can be murder on a todder’s sleep! This is in part because it’s a huge, new skill, and just as other big skills (walking, talking, etc.) disrupt sleep, potty training will disturb your toddler’s naptime and nighttime sleep.

Potty training can also cause more toddler naptime and nighttime waking because it’s teaching your toddler a new awareness of her body. She’s learning the sensation connected with having to pee, or having to poop, and that sensation may start waking her early in the morning, or in the middle of the night. It may also cause her to wake early from her naps.

Your potty-training toddler is also becoming more and more aware of how a wet or dirty diaper (or pull-up) feels. So even if he isn’t waking in the middle of the night to actually use the potty, he may wake because his wet or dirty pull-up is making him uncomfortable (even though prior to potty training, he would’ve slept right through that sensation.)

Potty Training Will (Probably) Mean A Little Less Sleep

Just know that during the potty training process, you’re probably going to get a little less sleep than usual. So will your toddler. And that’s normal. Potty training’s a bit like sleep training in this way — during the process itself, no one’s going to sleep very well, but in the end, it’s worth it.

There are ways you can help minimize nighttime, naptime, and early-morning waking during potty training (more on that later!) But remember that at this point, you’ll want to prioritize the potty training. This is a skill you WANT your kid to have, after all! And the lack of sleep should be short-lived.

How To Make Sure Everyone Gets Enough Sleep While Potty Training

I’ve always found that term “nighttime potty training” a bit misleading. You can’t “train” a person to do anything when they’re asleep, after all. Rather, the nighttime part of potty training has to come on its own.

There are steps you can take, however, to minimize the sleeplessness that comes with potty training:

  • Limit food and drinks before bed. 1.5 to 2 hours before bedtime, declare a ban on all beverages. This’ll help ensure your toddler has an empty bladder when she goes to bed.
  • Encourage visits to the potty before bed. Make a potty trip part of your bedtime routine; this’ll help him empty his bladder completely.
  • Consider waking your child before you go to bed. This works well for some parents — they wake their toddler around 10 or 11 p.m. (before they go to bed themselves) and make one final trip to the potty. If you have a deep sleeper, however, this won’t work at all, simply because you won’t be able to wake him up (I’m speaking from first-hand experience here!)
  • Use pull-ups without shame. Sticking your potty-trained toddler in a pull-up at night can feel like failure. But remember, you can’t “teach” your toddler how to not pee or poop while she’s unconscious. Her body just needs time to catch up. So, while you’re waiting for that catch-up to happen, consider using pull-ups. It’ll keep everyone more sane.
  • Try to embrace the waking. Again, prioritize the potty training. Yes, it stinks that your toddler was up twice last night, but that’s less important right now than the fact that she’s learning this important skill.

Nicole’s Note:
“One thing we see sometimes with potty training toddlers is they have a little anxiety about having an accident. They may take longer to fall asleep or wake too early in the morning. Also, some don’t grasp the concept that it is OK to get out of bed, if they have to go, so they lay there and hold it, but can’t sleep. Finally, toddlers learn VERY quickly just how happy we are they are going to the bathroom and boy do they use that to their advantage stalling bedtime by going potty 5 times! And, of course, we are so worried they will really have to go, that we take them. At some point, you do have to say ‘last time’ and make sleep the priority. Find that balance.”

A Note About Chronic Bedwetting

The majority of children are fully potty trained (day and night) by the time they start kindergarten (around 5 or 6 years old), if not before. However, a few will continue to have chronic bedwetting (also called “enuresis.”) This is generally a harmless condition, but if your child has this problem, you should consult a healthcare provider, since it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

We want to hear from you — how did potty training affect your toddler’s sleep? Share all your potty training advice and stories below!

Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of Toddler Sleep Secrets, our e-Book offering tips to help your toddler sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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18 Responses to How Potty Training Affects Sleep

  1. elu says:

    I started to train my baby girl as early as 7 months old. Now if we saw the sign when she wants to pee or poop when i am going to bring the potty, i said “potty, potty” she will hold it. And she uses after each nap or sleep very well if we follow her. Even if she is sleepy, she is OK with it. She doesn’t wet when she is fall a sleep. What i want to ask is, is that too early for my baby to use potty and does it have any effects on her? Because the pediatrician doesn’t like it. But my baby seemed to enjoy it. She is now 11 months & 2 weeks old. And doing well.

  2. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ elu — Congratulations on having such potty training success at such a young age! Very exciting :) There’s probably no harm in starting potty training early, although many experts are quick to point out that a toddler isn’t fully potty trained until they’re able to initiate their own trips to the bathroom (in other words, if the toddler needs to be taken to the potty every 20 minutes in order to not have accidents, then she’s not fully potty trained.)

    I’d say, though, that you’ve probably laid a good foundation here! Should be easy to make the transition to your daughter going potty all by herself, when she’s ready for that.

  3. maggie gawelko says:

    I am surprised to hear a seven month old is starting to potty train. My daughter is thinking about starting and he is 22months. He will say pee and poops and he is right. She boought a potty chair and he sits on it but with a daper on. Just to sit. We wondered if he is to young? He is still in his crib. Please suggest good potty training articles.

  4. Monique says:

    My daughter (18 months this weekend) has been showing the signs of being aware of pee and poo coming out. We bought two potties (one for downstairs and one for upstairs) for her to play with and get comfortable with it. When we use the bathroom she follows us and sits on her potty. With a diaper change she is now sitting on it without her diaper on for a few minutes and we talk about pee and poo… I asked her if she needs to do more pee or poo, and when she shakes her head no, then I ask if she wants a clean diaper back on. Sometimes it’s a no (= not yet), and sometimes she stands up and turns around for me to put her diaper on (I change her standing up). It works well. Currently she is pointing at her diaper front or back after she has done something, says oh oh and walks to the bathroom. She is moving to the toddler class this week and there they have the facilities to potty train her (not in her infant class). I think once she is settled in to the toddler class, this can work because she is so aware and getting used to it already. Hope this experience will give some ideas to others. Cheers, Monique

  5. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ maggie gawelko — 7 months is definitely young. Most families don’t start until somewhere between 18 months and 3 years (quite the age range, isn’t it?) Sounds like your daughter is right where she should be at 22 months — gaining an awareness of her body, and figuring out what the potty chair is for and how it works. At this point, that’s perfect! In another few months, you may want to start actually having her try to pee in the potty chair; that’ll start the real potty training.

    In terms of potty training articles and resources, I’d suggest you google “potty training.” You’ll be amazed at how many articles crop up! We don’t really have a set of resources we recommend to parents, although Nicole used this method: http://www.3daypottytraining.com

  6. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Monique — Thanks for sharing your experience so far! Sounds like your daughter is making good progress; being aware of her bodily functions is the first step towards her becoming independent when it comes to the potty.

    Hope your potty-training journey is a good one!

  7. Yung says:

    This is how I trained my first boy, who is 7 year old, and will do the same with my 2nd boy, 11 month old. I started with day time potty. First, put him in the potty every 2 hours and tell him to pee and poop once he pass his first birthday. He was in daycare at that time and the caregiver did that to him and followed the same at home. Then after a few months, around 18 months with my boy, i started with night time training by empty his bladder before bed and when I was up in the middle night, I would pick him up and let him stand with head on my shoulder, while he was sleeping, i pulled his pant down and put a cup in and tell him to pee. But you have to be careful when put the cup down cause you don’t want to spill the floor. I had no accident to spill at all. Then pull his pant up and lay him down to sleep. He will learn after a few times and will never fully awake. he was out of diaper around a little over 2 years completely, had about 3 accident without diaper after that. I got a waterproof bed after and no more accident and he is 7 year old now.

  8. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Yung — thanks for sharing these tips! Sounds like potty training happened quickly for your son, which is awesome! Getting our toddlers out of diapers and into underwear is always a good thing. :)

  9. Jennifer says:

    Daytime potty-training my son was a breeze. He decided at 28 months that he wanted to wear underwear instead of a diaper and took matters into his own hands.
    We did try night-time training for awhile at about 30 months but have since reverted to pull-ups which we call nighttime underwear. I think that the biggest problem that we were having is related to night terrors. I wonder if the anxiety about staying dry at night contributed to night terrors. Regardless, we’re still dealing with night terrors now, so pull-ups are easier for the time being – He just turned three in August.

  10. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Jennifer — reading your comment is like reading about my own experience! Both of my boys have been a snap to potty train, but one still struggles with nighttime wetness. I’ve done a bit of reading on it, and I’m finding that it can be related to a variety of things, including genetics (more likely to happen if dad/uncle had the same problem), nightmares/night terrors (as you mentioned), having a small bladder, and even having enlarged tonsils!

    I’m hoping the problem resolves itself in time. We do the same thing you do; we use Underjams and call then nighttime undies.

  11. Jen B says:

    We started with our son at 24 months old. We used what Nicole used 3 day potty training. For us it was more like 8 day potty training though. It really meshed with our parenting style: it doesn’t use coercion or “trying” to go every hour. It promotes empowerment. Night time he is in nighttime underwear (pull up) because he sleeps too deeply to wake up to go and he was waking up soaking wet. That just didn’t seem right. It did temporarily disrupt his sleep and he definitely used it to stall. At the beginning after I knew he had emptied his bladder before bed we would put the potty to bed (give it a blanket and a Teddy bear and say night night.) that helped with the stalling. Also, if he was still asking for it and I knew he didn’t need to go, I’d say “try to go to sleep. If you still need to go in 5 minutes, I will come and get you.” he would always fall asleep. :-) I’m really very proud of him for picking it up so quickly. Especially because he wasn’t doing much talking at the time, but he certainly could communicate hs need to go. It probably took 3 weeks to get his sleep back on track. A small price to pay to have him out of diapers!

  12. Marisa says:

    Our won is just over 2 1/2, and signs are good! He has a potty, and we sit him on it, naked, for a few minutes each night before his bath (read books, etc.). No ‘action’ yet, though. He also likes to stand at the toilet and try to pee ‘like daddy’. Our current issue is that at bedtime he will poo and pee several times, tell us, and want a diaper change. Obviously not an issue for the poops, but after the 2nd or 3rd time changing him for a bit of pee, I start to get frustrated. He always has peed, so he’s not lying, but it could still be a stall tactic. But we don’t want him to stop paying attention to his body, or to stop telling us. I sometimes tell him ‘the next pee can stay in your diaper for a while until the next change’, but my hubby disagrees and thinks we should honor each request for a change. Thoughts???

  13. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Jen B — So glad potty training was easy for your family! I like the 3 day method, too; we did something similar in our house (although like you, I found it was more like a week or two, instead of just 3 days!) I’m not the most patient person, and I couldn’t bear the thought of having to “remind” my kids every 20 minutes to use the potty, so I liked that the 3 day method put control into their hands (instead of mine.)

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience, Jen!

  14. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Marisa — Based on what you’re saying here (about your son letting you know right away once he’s peed just a bit in his diaper), it sounds like it might be time to take the next step and try to get him to pee in the potty.

    Here’s what I’d try — when he lets you know he’s peed in his diaper, say something like, “We’re going to start putting pee in the potty!” Then, set him on the potty, wait a few minutes, and have him get up. He likely won’t do anything (since he’s just peed in his diaper), but it’s a good way to get him to associate the feeling of having to (or actually going) pee with using the potty. I’d do that every time he lets you know he’s peed in his diaper.

    When he manages to actually get some pee in the potty, go crazy — clap, tell him how wonderful he is, give him some kind of treat, etc. You want to make him feel like he’s just climbed Everest or something.

    That’s generally how potty training starts; from there, you can keep using diapers and pull-ups and slowly weaning him off of them. Or, you can use the 3 day method (see comments above) and simply go straight to underwear. That’s a messier option, but it usually takes WAY less time to get a child completely potty trained.

    Let us know what ends up working for you! And thanks for commenting, Marisa. :)

  15. Marisa says:

    Follow – up question: our son used to wake around 6:30, nap at 1pm (for 2ish hours), and bed at 7:30. Now with all the diaper changes that he needs/requests before falling asleep, and taking time to sit him on the potty each time, those times often end up being close to an hour later (all except the wake time, of course!). How do we handle this? We can’t feasibly get him into bed an hour earlier at either time, but he ends up being over tired (and has now started to wake up at 5:30am…). Thoughts? Thanks!

  16. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Marisa — could you start the before-nap and before-bed process earlier? Starting an hour earlier might not be possible, but what about starting 30 minutes earlier? Then, naptime and bedtime would be pushed back by 20 or 30 minutes, and that might cause fewer problems. Just a thought? Let us know if this works!

  17. Lori says:

    Love this article and all of the comments. My son will soon be 27 months and I have been trying to get all of the information I can. He will sometimes (not all the time) tell me when he is in the process of pooping. He doesn’t tell me when he’s wet. If he does not have a diaper on, he will tell me when he is peeing. If he has a diaper leak, he will want cleaned up right away. Otherwise, he is usually content to stay in a wet or dirty diaper. I’m thinking going straight to underwear might be the way to go for us. However, I am 35 weeks pregnant and am thinking it might be better to start potty training after he has adjusted to the baby. Any thoughts? Any articles on here to help maximize my toddler’s sleep while he adjusts? Thanks!

  18. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lori — so glad you liked the article! In terms of when to start potty training, it could be a good idea to wait until after the baby’s born, and things are “back to normal” (although “normal” kind of changes when you have multiple kids, I’ve found!) It’ll only mean waiting a few extra months, and that won’t make a big difference to your son, I’ll bet. But it might mean a lot less stress for you! :)

    As for maximizing his sleep during potty training, my approach has always been to kind of test out nighttime dryness. If underwear worked at night, and there weren’t accidents every night, then we got rid of diapers altogether. But if accidents were happening nightly, and were interrupting sleep, then we’d stick with diapers at night for awhile. Naps may or may not be an issue; I’ve found that my kids sleep lightly enough during naps that they wake if they have to use the potty.

    Good luck to you, Lori! Potty training’s definitely no fun, but once it’s done, it’s great. Fewer diapers to buy = a very, very good thing! ;)