How to Nighttime Potty Train and Not Lose Sleep
This is it, mama. This is the final boss. The last level. The icing on the parenting cake.
Well, I suppose you still have about 15 or 16 years of parenting left before you send them off to college, but those are a day at the park compared to this.
I’m talking, of course, about nighttime potty training.
This is another one of those parenting milestones that can look peculiar to outsiders, but for those of you that have been through it, you know that a celebration of epic proportions is in order on the day you finally say our final farewell to diapers. It’s not as sexy as completing your Master’s degree or landing a big promotion, but handing down that Diaper Genie to one of your friends after getting your toddler 100% potty trained feels pretty similar on the old accomplishment-o-meter, I am told!
While I’m just entering the world of potty training personally, with Solomon (2.5), I’ve talked with and supported countless parents when they question if nighttime potty training and sleep training can work together.
Sometimes our enthusiasm to say “see-ya-later” to those diapers for good can cause us to rush into it before our little ones are ready. And when that happens, we can end up setting the process back a bit. We get a little frustrated, our little one gets disheartened, and we end up calling it off rather than dealing with any more teary-eyed wake ups and wet sheets in the middle of the night.
So today, I’ve got some tips for you to determine whether or not your toddler’s ready to nighttime potty train, and if they are, how to maximize your chances for success without sacrificing all of the progress you’ve made with their sleep.
So, jumping right in, is your little one ready to go the night without using the potty?
Notice how I phrased that kind of specifically? I’ve seen nighttime potty training approaches that involve actually going into your child’s bedroom at regular intervals during the night, and waking them up to go to the bathroom!
All the nopes to this approach. Every last nope in the nope collection. We do not sacrifice sleep for potty training. It’s way too confusing to a toddler, to be told after all of the work they’ve done to finally start sleeping peacefully through the night, that they now have to wake up every three or four hours to go to the bathroom.
If your toddler can’t get through the night without needing to pee, they’re not ready for this. Leave their diaper on at night and tackle this at a later date.
If, however, your little one’s had a few nights of waking up with a dry diaper, that could mean that they’re up to the challenge. That’s really the prime indicator that this might be a good time to give it a shot. Two or three dry mornings in a week suggests that their bladder muscles have developed to the point where they can hold it for the night, so if that’s the case, let’s give it a shot.
Now, prepare yourself. I’m sure there are stories out there about "The Toddler Who Potty Trained Without a Single Accident," but the odds of that happening are not in your favor. Not even close. So pick a week when you don’t have a whole lot going on, get some extra sheets and PJs at the ready, and get your zen on, because the most important thing here is patience. There are going to be some accidents, and accepting that reality ahead of time will help make this process bearable for you and your little one.
Keep this mindset when you’re explaining what’s going on to your toddler. It’s great to be enthusiastic and super-positive, but don’t make it sound too monumental. We’ve got to keep in mind that this isn’t something they have control over and building up expectations on them can result in some feelings of failure and disappointment if they do have an accident in the night. This is also something to consider if you’re looking at a “reward chart” or some such thing for nights without an accident. I’m not inherently against them, but if your toddler tends to get really upset if they don’t make the grade, it might be better to let them succeed or fail without rewards and consequences.
When an accident happens, as it probably will a few times at least, don’t act disappointed or irritated. (Go ahead and feel that way, sure, but you keep that noise to yourself.) Just take your toddler by the hand and walk them back to their room, get them cleaned up and into some fresh pajamas, and change their bed with the clean sheets you’ve prepared ahead of time.
I do have one really sweet pro tip for you here. Grab yourself some plastic sheeting, lay a layer of that over the mattress, then a set of bed sheets, then another layer of plastic, then another set of bed sheets. That way, if there’s an accident in the night, you just go in, strip off the top layer, and bam! There’s a clean, dry, freshly made bed waiting underneath. That’ll help get you and your little one back to bed in no time flat.
Keep the room as dark as possible, keep the process short, and don’t put your little one in the bath unless it’s vitally necessary. Getting into the tub is likely to throw a wrench in your child’s sleep for the night, and they might just get it into their heads that wetting the bed gets them fifteen minutes in the bath, which, for some kids, might sound like a pretty sweet proposition.
So what happens if it doesn’t take? Well, if you’re still seeing regular accidents after a week or two, give it some consideration. Is your toddler ready and just not willing, or willing but not ready? And when you’re deciding, consider whether your own desire to see an end to diapers is weighing in on your decision. Any sane parent would love to say goodbye to diapers as soon as possible, but there really is no rushing this process. If they’re not ready, they’re not ready, and you’re just putting a lot of unnecessary stress on both of you by trying to get it done before its time.
One last time just to emphasize the point, getting your toddler out of their diaper is not worth sacrificing their sleep routine. Don’t attempt this crazy “dream-potty” routine where you try to get them to pee while they’re still sleeping, don’t wake them up halfway through the night to go to the bathroom, and don’t drop two hundred bucks on a bed-wetting alarm. (How is that even a thing?) You’ll just be trading one issue for another, and since you’ve already put the work in to get them sleeping through the night, you’re much better off just waiting until the moment is right.