How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep

As the old Irish proverb goes, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” Unfortunately, when you are living with a toddler, sleep can be elusive for both you and your youngster. And with sleep deprivation, it is pretty difficult to find much to laugh about.

Enough sleep is important at any age, but for your child’s mental and physical health, it is highly essential. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 11 to 14 hours of sleep for kids aged 1 to 2 years, and 10 to 13 hours for 3- to 5-year-olds. However, as children grow out of infancy and into toddlerhood, convincing them to go to bed becomes a struggle. Getting them to stay in bed could also be challenging.

In this article, we will look at the different sleep issues that can affect toddlers. You will also discover the reasons why they refuse to sleep and the best ways to deal with them. With time and patience, your little angel will stop fighting you and peace will prevail in your household again.

What are the Common Toddler Sleep Problems?

Even adults find it hard to get sufficient sleep once in a while. Whenever that happens, you get cranky and have trouble concentrating on the things that you need to do during the day. Toddlers are no different. The following sleep problems cause a lot of discord, but understanding them will help you to manage them better.

1. Waking Up in the Middle of the Night

According to historians and psychiatrists, nocturnal awakenings are normal. As an adult, you may not even notice them because you typically have no trouble going back to sleep. At the very least, you know that it is still nighttime and too early to get up yet. In contrast, toddlers need your assistance to fall asleep again. This is especially true if the cause of their awakening was a bad dream or a sore tooth.

2. Waking Up Too Early

Toddlers tend to be early risers. It is common for them to wake up at around 5:30 am or sometimes even earlier. As soon as your child is awake, she does not see any reason to stay in bed any longer. It does not matter to her whether or not the optimum amount of sleep recommended by experts has been completed. Her day has started and now yours has, too.

3. Nightmares and Night Terrors                              

A nightmare is a dream that is associated with negative emotions such as fear or anxiety. Occurrences begin in children between the ages of 3 and 6 and taper off as they get older. Because it is a brand new experience, they may find a nightmare exceptionally disturbing. Usually, you will have to explain that it is not real and cannot hurt them.

Night terrors, on the other hand, are defined by the Mayo Clinic as episodes of screaming, intense fear, and flailing while still asleep. Sleep terrors affect almost 40 percent of children and can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Although most kids outgrow them, they are definitely not fun while they are happening—either for you or your toddler.

4. Fear of the Dark

Nyctophobia, or a fear of the dark, seems to appear suddenly and inexplicably when babies become toddlers. Darkness never bothered them before, and yet turning off the light at bedtime nowadays induces dread and sometimes panic. This is because children aged 2 or 3 years are old enough to have a sense of imagination, but do not have the skills yet to distinguish fantasy from reality. As a result, the darkness starts to harbor monsters and you have to assure them that they are not really there.

5. Sleep Apnea and Snoring

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) happens when a sleeping child stops breathing due to a blockage in the airway. These obstructions are commonly caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, a patch of tissue high up in the throat and behind the nose. The pauses in breathing can rouse your toddler, resulting in a poor night’s sleep. Snoring is a sign of OSA and should be checked by your pediatrician.

6. Sleepwalking or Sleep-talking

Almost a third of all children experience somnambulance or sleepwalking at some stage. A sleepwalking toddler most often goes to the parents’ bedroom or a source of light. Occasionally, older kids can wander outside. Although it can be disconcerting since the child’s eyes are open and she can speak, be aware that she is still asleep and will not remember the incident in the morning. These events are generally harmless, but it is best to not wake her up. Just take her back to bed calmly once she has finished what she was doing. If your child sleepwalks, keep your house safe and secure, and do not allow her to sleep in the top bunk of a bunk bed in case she falls out.

Why Won’t Toddlers Go to Sleep or Stay Asleep?

When children learn to walk, they become excited by their newfound mobility. They begin to assert their independence and push boundaries. One restriction they no longer take at face value is bedtime. To find out why your toddler’s favorite reply to “Time for bed” is “No!”, read on. You might be surprised to find that the reasons apply to yourself as well.

1. Screen Time Too Close to Bedtime

Smartphones and tablets are great because they are a convenient way to occupy and distract your child. Nevertheless, the American Academy of Pediatricians suggests that all screens be turned off at least 30 minutes before bedtime—a rule that should also apply to the grownups. These devices delay the body’s internal clock and suppress the release of sleep-inducing hormones or melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.

2. Stress or Overexcitement

You know that stress can cause insomnia, but did you know that it can affect your toddler, too? Stress, excitement, and overstimulation produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Subsequently, muscles tense up, breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and the tummy gets a bit upset. Your child needs time to calm down and relax before bedtime, just like you.

3. Your Toddler is Not Tired

Putting children to bed when they are not tired does not make sense to them at all. There are still so many things to do, people to talk to, places to go, and energy to burn—why waste time sleeping? A toddler’s never-ending liveliness at bedtime could be a consequence of waking up too late in the morning or a nap taken too late in the afternoon. If that is the case, you should make some adjustments to your child’s sleep and nap schedule.

4. Your Child is Too Tired

Ironically, exhaustion could also trigger the production of those aforementioned stress hormones that counteract sleepiness. At the end of a busy and active day, your toddler knows she is tired. She knows that she has to go to sleep and in fact, she wants to. In spite of that, she can’t fall asleep. She just gets more and more cantankerous as the evening wears on.

5. Unfamiliar Surroundings

One possible cause of your child’s inability to sleep is a strange new bed that she is not used to. This is often the case when you are visiting relatives or taking a family vacation. There is really not much you can do in this situation. Simply do what you can to make her feel more comfortable and go back to your old routine when you get home.

6. Illness

The worst thing for any parent to see is a child suffering during an illness. When children are sick, they experience all sorts of discomforts—fever, stuffy nose, or pain. If they have trouble sleeping, you do not have to fight your parental instincts. Go ahead and comfort them. Once they recover from their illness, you can resume their normal sleep schedule.

7. Sleep Regression

Sleep regressions are common at the ages of 4 months, 8 months, 18 months, and 2 years. During these periods, a child who previously did not have any trouble sleeping begins to fight sleep at bedtime, wake up multiple times throughout the night, or rise too early in the morning. In short, they suddenly transform from adorable munchkins into diabolical gremlins. Thankfully, these are usually brief and temporary phases. Just keep telling yourself that sleep regression is a sign that your child is just developing normally.

How do You Help Your Toddler Go to Sleep?

It is a fact that sleep is important. As Dr. Rachel Dawkins of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital said, “Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health.” Insufficient sleep can lead to a plethora of problems that can harm your toddler later in life, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.

To ensure that your toddler is getting enough sleep, here are the top 9 tips according to pediatricians and sleep specialists: 

1. Set a Regular Bedtime

Now that you are aware of the optimum amount of sleep for your child, you can determine the appropriate time for her to go to bed. Communication helps her understand what you want, so tell her about the bedtime rules, but do not over-explain.

2. Set a Regular Wake-up Time

Very soon, your child will be going to school. Therefore, setting a regular wake-up time now will help both of you develop the proper morning habits to avoid adjustment difficulties later on. As an adult, you will be tempted to let her sleep in on the weekends because that is what you want to do yourself. However, this has the potential to backfire.

3. Establish a Bedtime Routine

A 2007 study asserts that routines and rituals aid in the development of academic skills, social skills, and vocabulary enrichment. Reading a book or singing a song gives your child something to look forward to at bedtime. A routine is also an excellent opportunity for you to bond with the little one.

4. Turn Off the Screens

As mentioned earlier, electronic devices suppress the sleep hormone melatonin. Ideally, you should keep your child away from the TV, tablet, or phone two hours before bedtime.

5. Reduce Stress and Activity

Avoid too much activity and don’t let your toddler get too excited before bed. A warm bath will calm her down and reduce the stress hormone cortisol in her system. Afterwards, a lullaby or a sleepy-time story will help you send her off to dreamland.

6. Create the Proper Sleep Environment

Set the stage and reduce distractions. Prepare a comfortable toddler bed with a cozy blanket. If your child is bothered by the darkness, using a night light is fine. Just make sure that her room is still dark enough so that her circadian rhythm is not disrupted.

7. Keep the Temperature Cool

The ideal sleeping temperature for babies and toddlers is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 21 degrees Celsius). To prevent overheating, use breathable fabrics for your child’s sleepwear and beddings. You can check if she is too hot by touching the back of her neck or stomach while she sleeps. If her skin is hot or sweaty, you should remove a layer of clothing rather than raising the thermostat.

8. Watch Out for Sleep Disorders

If you have exhausted all the possible remedies, but your child still has trouble sleeping, has persistent nightmares, or snores, it is time to take her to a pediatrician or sleep consultant. A disorder like obstructive sleep apnea could be the problem. When left untreated, it could lead to more serious health consequences.

9. Be Consistent and Don’t Give Up

Bedtime can be a real test of your patience and endurance. The best thing you can do is ignore your toddler’s complaints and protests. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into a full-blown argument or anything that resembles a hostage negotiation. Resist the temptation to punish her; rewards are more effective and gratifying for you both. Just stick to your guns and you will see major improvements soon.

You Can Win the Bedtime Battle  

Getting a toddler to go to bed is a common problem that many parents face. Some children will try delaying tactics, while others will fight you outright. Getting them to stay in bed throughout the night can also be difficult. Fortunately, there are some measures you can take, such as creating a calming bedtime routine and a sleep-inducing environment. Just remember that sleep is crucial for your child’s physical and mental development. All your efforts and patience will pay off in the end.

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