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.
“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.
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34 thoughts on “How Potty Training Affects Sleep”
This is great. I’ve always loved your site… and now onto PT….
My daughter is 2.5 and nailed the “oh crap” method in three days and has been daytime trained since January. She’s starting preschool June 11 and they won’t put pull-ups on at nap… which is causing me major anxiety. I am also 32 weeks pregnant. In the “oh crap” book she says to “wake your kid up 2x in the middle of the night” and that there is no nap training without night training. My daughter wakes fully even if I try to dream wake her and then is up for hours… any advice?
@Courtney Talbot – Congrats on the quick success for potty training!! I used the “Oh Crap” method as well, it was great. I will tell you that personally – I ignored “Oh Crap’s” advise on the naps/nights. My son still sleeps in a pull up at night but not for his nap (and he is not ready for nights, I can tell). Your daughter may have success, you may just have to try and see what happens and she may pick it up quickly! Try to remember it’s a skill she will learn in her own time, and hopefully her preschool will understand if she has a few accidents while she figures it out. Good luck and congrats on your pregnancy!
My daughter started potty training my granddaughter Ava at age 9 months by sitting her on a potty chair immediately when she woke up in the morning and saying the “psssss” sound. Surprisingly, Ava would usually pee right away. She wore diapers during the day and night but her mother would also put her on the potty chair for a little while right after a nap and during a bedtime story. Ava gradually started asking to use the potty at other times and she was fully daytime trained at 26 months. Ava is now 28 months old and just stopped wearing diapers at night. About 90 minutes after Ava goes to sleep (with a night gown but no panties), her mother lifts her out of bed and sits her on a potty chair in her room and makes the “pssss” sound. Ava usually pees right away without completely waking up, and her mom lays her back in bed and she is asleep in seconds. Ava stays dry the rest of the night, so no more diapers!
@ Angie – great comment! Thanks for sharing what worked well for your daughter and your granddaughter. Much appreciated! 🙂
@ 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! 😉
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!
@ 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!
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!
@ 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. 🙂
@ 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!
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???
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!
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