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”
I am desperate!!
We have been potty trained and night trained for about six months and my daughter CAN make it through the night however now all of a sudden she is waking up five times to pee for the last two weeks and when she gets mad enough (trying to leave her in there to stop the night wakings) she will pee herself purpose! Idk what to do I am getting so angry from waking every two hours HELP ME!
Hi @Alexa – Thanks for writing to us and I’m so sorry that nights have gotten SO tough! Since she was doing so well before, and since she went from no wakings to go potty to 5 wakings (ouch!) you might want to have her checked out by her pediatrician, to make sure there is not an infection or other medical reason for her needing to go potty so often in the night!
Once you rule out all of the other causes/reasons she may be waking, you can try and encourage her to sleep through with less potty breaks again with some positive reinforcement. Here’s a link to one of our articles that has some great tips on using a sticker chart. Perhaps that would help!:
Good luck Alexa! Please feel free to contact us at any time if you need more help!
My daughter has been potty training for the last week, and she has also had a lot of difficultY going to sleep (naps and nighttime). She’s been asking for water instead of milk, asking to read multiple books, getting out of her big girl bed countless times opening all the doors to come find us, and all while seeming to understand that she shouldn’t be out of bed and it’s time to sleep. She’s still in a diaper to go to sleep and sleeps deeply once asleep, and she also has no problem pottying in her diaper during the day if we are out and about running errands so I don’t think she has anxiety about pottying in her diaper. I’m just not sure what the right approach is to put her back to bed so many times. We’ve tried being nice, yelling, etc. but I just don’t know what the right move is. Should we quietly put her back to bed without saying a word. Maybe she just wants attention. Any thoughts?
Hi @Mary – Thanks for writing to us about your little girl! Sorry to hear that she is waking up at night, having a tough time with naps, and getting out of bed so often! We completely understand and sometimes liken this to a “jack in the box!” I think you’re on to something with the quiet return to bed! Keep trying and don’t give up! This article on our blog has some info about this “jack in the box” behavior and how to help:
Good luck Mary, and please contact us if you find that you need more help!
My little boy (3 in 2 months time) is on his first 10 days of potty training which is going well during the day, he is however really overly emotional now, and still in pull-ups during the night. He’s waking very early every morning and not going back to bed, which is getting tough for us. Should we be implementing potty training through the night also as so far we have just been leaving him in the nappy, but should we be waking him in the night to go pee? He seems happy still peeing in his nappy and isn’t dry in the morning, he’s also showing no interest in using potty or big potty during the night.
Hi @Claire – Thanks for writing to us about your 3 year old! I hope that potty training continues to go well during the day! It is quite common to potty train in the daytime first, and master that, and wait until he’s waking up dry before working on nighttime training! Follow your own instincts and it will be fine! Good luck Claire!
My son is doing great with potty training during the day, but he has become so anxious at naptime and bedtime. We have resorted to locking him into his room bc he keeps escaping. He sits at the door and cries l. He won’t nap (cries the whole time) and cries for two hours last night. He finally fell asleep in front of his door and woke up three times throughout the night. I think he’s so anxious about going in his pull up. I put a little potty in his room, but I don’t think he gets it. He’s so used to going on the big potty. He constany says he needs water and go potty. I’m going insane!! He’s been such a good sleeper at night (slept through the night at 7 weeks) and has always loved sleep. Help!!
Hi @Jamee – Thank you for writing and I am sorry that you are having potty training troubles with sleep! You are not alone! This can be a tough time, so please hang in there! Keep on being consistent, and this too will pass!! You can try limiting the water right before bedtime, and hopefully that will help a bit. I do not know how long these struggles have been going on, and if they are strictly potty related, but we wold love to help and take an in depth look and help with a plan to get you back on track! Please contact us if you would like more info about how we can help!
And hang in there Jamee!!!
Babies are born with bladder control and communicate from birth the need to go. They have a strog instinct not to soil themselves. We bring our baby to the potty when he signals since he’s six weeks old and it has helped him a lot being more calm and happy, it’s just a way to meet another of his basic needs.
@Maya – Thank you for your comment – how wonderful that this early elimination communication is working so well for you all! We hope things keep going so well as your little guy continues to grow. Please keep reading and sharing!
We potty trained my 27 month old daughter with the 3 day “oh crap potty training method” also. She caught on right away and also within a week or so decided to night train herself. She has been out of diapers completely since, which is great, however definitely affecting her sleep. She wakes 1-2 times a night (she is in a toddler bed) and we have the mini potty in her room. She calls for me still and I go in and sit with her, the problem is she has such trouble going back to sleep. After rubbing her back and trying to calm her, she then stays up for 1-2 hours after crying or yelling saying “mama I want you”. We are not sure what to do and nobody has slept in weeks! I am so incredibly proud of her and happy she is not wetting the bed and using her potty and I know we are lucky she is so aware of this. I just don’t know how to go about getting her back to sleep! The poor girl is exhausted the next day at day care/school. Maybe due to her age and seeing some of the comments there is a nightmare/night terror thing happening?
Hi @Kristen – Thank you for writing! I am sorry that sleep has taken a tough turn since potty training! Sudden night wakings are so tough! It sounds like you may need some help getting to the bottom of the waking – Is is potty related? Separation fears and/or nightmares/might terrors? If you would like help getting to the bottom of these new wakings, we would love to help, and one of our consultants will take a super in-depth look at your schedule, history, and details, and can get you a detailed plan of action to help you all through this! You can check out our one on one consulting options here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/services/
Hang in there until then, and I hope that you are ALL sleeping better very soon!
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