What To Do When Your Toddler Won't Sleep
STORY: Priyanka Elhence
07 November 2022
If your toddler is snoozing too much during the day, drifting off in and out of slumber without getting a full nap in, or doesn’t want to miss out on anything the older siblings get to do because of a later bedtime, your toddler is likely to be either not sleepy enough by bedtime or too tired to wind down.
Either way, he’ll fight for the chance to stay up. But don’t lose heart. Sleep struggles are a normal part of growing up.
Here's how to deal with them:
1. Consider your child’s bedroom environment
Despite your best effort, your toddler may have trouble sleeping because they’re uncomfortable or overstimulated in some way. Is your child’s room too warm or cold? Too bright or dark? Too noisy or quiet? Take a look around and see if there are any obvious issues that might be keeping your little one up. Usual culprits include outdoor light coming in from a window, traffic noises or a very hot or cold room. The best sleep environment should be cool, quiet and dark (with the exception of a night light, perhaps).
2. Monitor the length of your toddler’s naps
Most toddlers do better with an early bedtime (usually between 6:30pm and 7:30pm), so help your child set their biological clock by adjusting nap times during the day. Tempting as it is to get your toddler to sleep later so that he sleeps till longer in the morning, be warned that when toddlers stay up later, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol kick in to keep them going, which quickly over-tires them. Watch for those yawns! Once ‘overdrive’ mode starts, their body will be pumping out adrenaline, and getting them into bed will be much harder. If they seem overtired by the end of the day, consider increasing the afternoon nap slightly. Likewise, if your toddler isn’t tired enough by bedtime, it’s time to shorten the nap. But don't give up naps too early either because going completely napless is just going to make them crankier much faster, making bedtime much more challenging.
3. Look at their daytime activities
Happy, healthy kids need fresh air, sunshine and exercise during the day, so make sure they get enough outdoor play. But don’t let it be just before bedtime. And avoid over-stimulating them with ‘running around the house games’ too close to bedtime as well. While it’s lovely to hear a toddler giggling and squealing away in delight, kids have a hard time settling at bedtime when they have a "full emotional backpack", and will most likely have a big cry (meltdown) before they can settle down to sleep.
4. Stick to a routine
Toddlers thrive with a set routine, and setting a regular bedtime routine is key to getting them to sleep. Children with consistent bedtimes are more likely to get sufficient sleep and less likely to show signs of exhaustion, crankiness and clinginess.
Once you set bedtime, create a whole routine around it. Before bed every night, set aside up to an hour for fun and calm activities, such as listening to quiet music, reading a book in a dim light or taking a warm bath. Dim lights before bedtime, as well as slow, calm routines, help kids' bodies know that it's time to sleep. After changing into PJs and brushing teeth, read a favorite book, tell a story, or sing a song. Tip: It’s important for toddlers to be able to put themselves to sleep, so after tucking them in and giving them a quick goodnight kiss, turn off the lights and let them get to sleep on their own.
But even the best routines can fall victim to your little demands such as “Just one more story, mommy!” Sound familiar? Whatever the case, resist the temptation to extend bedtime and get your toddler to stick to the routine.
5. Leave the door slightly open
Some some toddlers can still be afraid of the dark at bedtime. Consider something as small as a little night light to keep the room from being totally pitch black, or even keep the bedroom door slightly ajar so that the light peeking in from the rest of the house is reassuring.
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