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Written by Mark Hansen
baby girl is sleeping

My toddler has trouble sleeping at night

Are you a parent or guardian of a precious toddler? Is your toddler having issues sleeping at night? Don’t worry, you’re not alone and we are here to help you with this problem.

It is estimated that a toddler sleeps for 11- 14 hours a day. Sleep is an essential part of the growth and development of your baby. Just like adults, even toddlers can suffer from sleep disturbances. Research shows that 20-30% parents of toddlers and young children have reported that their child faces significant difficulty falling or staying asleep. Although sleep issues are common, they are often misinterpreted. There is a perception that by around 6 months of age, if not sooner, babies should be sleeping through the night. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night at 6 months, or even at 12 months, it’s perfectly normal. Having said that, its it necessary for toddlers to get a sleep of 8 hours without waking in the night.

There are several reasons that could cause sleep disorders in toddlers. Some toddlers have trouble because there isn’t any set sleep schedule, some have separation anxiety and does not fall asleep without their parents, and some are simply growing older and won’t sleep as many hours as they did before.

Disturbed sleep or improper sleeping pattern can have an effect on the Child’s overall health and hence, It is important to recognize the problem at the right time. Some common signs that your toddler may show if they suffer from sleep disorders are:

  • Snoring.
  • Paused breathing
  • Continuous body movements in sleep and change in positions.
  • Problems with sleeping through the night.
  • Daytime sleepiness.
  • Unexplained lack of activity during the day.

Any of these signs can be an indication that your child isn’t getting good sleep. Some parents quickly start considering sleep training. But many of these issues can be solved with simple tricks and changes in sleep schedule. Your toddler could be having problems when trying to sleep due to a variety of reasons, and it’s important to first understand the problem before you can fix it. Let’s take a look at some common sleep issues that toddlers face, their reason, and how to fix or cope with them.

Common sleep problems in toddlers

Excitement due to change in bed

Sometimes children have trouble falling asleep due to a recent change in their sleep habitat. Your toddler may have just moved to their new bed from a baby crib. The new, larger bed and the newly acquired ability to crawl or walk gets them excited. They are curious about everything, and it gives them a rush. You might observe that they continuously try to get out of bed and want you to indulge with them during sleep time at night.

Solution:

Many kids show incredible persistence in their excitement and insist on the play. If this happens during their bed or nap time, you need to acquire an equally opposite behavior. Try not to indulge them, and every time they crawl out of bed, calmly tuck them back in. Do not show signs of disappointments or say that you’re upset. This will teach them that bedtime is designated for only sleep, and they’ll slowly get used to it. 

Additionally, make sure you turn off any lights and electronic devices that might be distracting them. This problem is often well managed by parents.

Shorter or fewer naps

Toddlers go through a lot of transitions in terms of naps and their total sleep time. If your toddler is between 15 to 18 months old, then they’re likely to undergo transition from two naps in the daytime to only one a day. After the age of 3, they may entirely stop taking naps.

This change in napping schedule can take a toll on your child and may shorten their naps, or decrease the number of times they take them.

Solution:

This problem can be a bit tricky to deal with in the beginning. There’s no quick fix to it, as your child needs to go through these transitions. However, you can keep a sleep schedule for them and keep track of the number of hours they sleep. Due to lack of sleep, they may act cranky and feel a drain in their energy. Therefore, it’s important to send them to bed at a set time consistently.  

Here are the recommended amounts of sleep your child must get:

  • Infants: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
  • Toddlers: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
  • Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
  • Grade school-aged children: 9 to 12 hours
  • Teens: 8 to 10 hours

Separation anxiety

Many children go through separation anxiety when transitioning from their baby phase into their toddler years. It is equally difficult for new parents just as it is for the children. Around the age of 1, children start distinguishing between their primary caretakers and any new characters. You need to treat your child gently, but you’ll also have to be firm about a few things to help them grow out of it.

Solution:

Consistency in bedtime rituals and routines play a vital role in helping your child cope up with separation anxiety. Make sure their surrounding is calm, noise-free, and ensures sound sleep. It’s also essential to not give in to your child every time they become upset or start crying. DO NOT cry with them, as it reinforces their belief that something terrible is being done to them.

We would also strongly recommend against sneaking out quietly once they start feeling sleepy because it might worsen their anxieties further. They could become more alert towards any movement and will develop trust issues.

Bedtime stalling

Some toddlers just simply don’t like the idea of sleep and show obvious disappointment each time you mention bedtime. They start making silly excuses, so you don’t put them back. Beware! These excuses can also be extremely adorable and might fall into the trap.

Solution:

There are many ways you can encourage your child not to avoid nap or bedtime. You can hang a sticker board and use their favorite sticker to check-mark each night they go to bed on time.

Another fun way to prepare them for sleep time is having a pre-bedtime routine. You can try reading bedtime stories, sing lullabies, or say goodnight to all their favorite toys and stuffed animals.

Having a sleep-time countdown is another excellent way of mentally preparing them for bedtime. You can start this countdown 20 or 30 minutes before they need to be in bed. Keep announcing the passing of each 5- or 10-minute interval, so it feels like a challenge to them.   

Nightmares and bedtime fears

Children have a sharp imagination, and they pick on things quickly. This can result in nightmares during their sleep or bedtime fears. These troubles can leave your child dreading bedtime, and it can be noticed in the anxiety that they show during bedtime.

Your child could be struggling to distinguish their dreams from reality or could be consuming content that’s directing their imagination towards fearsome creatures. Therefore, it’s essential to be mindful of these things and not just ignore these signs so your kids can fall asleep feeling safe at night.  

Solution:

First and foremost, you need to monitor all the content that your child might be exposed to. This includes the stories that they listen to and how other people communicate with them. You need to strictly prohibit the mention of imaginary creatures like “boogeyman” in your house.

You can counter these nightmares by introducing your child to happier and more colorful stories. Another useful trick is to invent make-believe “magic-monster repellent.” It will calm your child once you show them that you’ve used it, and now it’s safe to sleep.  

Not feeling sleepy at bedtime

As babies grow into toddlers, there sleep schedule changes. Babies nap much longer hours and sleep most of the time. But as they grow older, this requirement will decrease. So, you’ll have to design their sleep schedule accordingly.

Solution:

If your child still naps, you’ll probably have to push back on the bedtime a little. There needs to be at least a five-hour gap between their nap and bedtime so that they feel sleepy. For example, if they wake up from their nap at 4 pm, bedtime can’t be possible before 9 pm. You can change their nap times to fit your desired schedule.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1.  What causes sleep problems in toddlers?

There is no one reason that may be causing sleeping issues in your toddler. Several factors such as growing older, change of environment, change in routine, separation anxiety from parents, nightmares and bedtime fears, etc. contribute to sleep problems in toddlers.

In rare cases, sleep issues in children can indicate an underlying disorder or could signal future problems.

2.  What do you do when your toddler won’t sleep?

There are several remedies and tricks that you can incorporate to make sleep time more comfortable for your child. First, you need to identify the cause of sleep problems. Is your toddler’s bedtime routine consistent? Do you make them sleep on schedule everyday? Are they scared of bedtime? Is their energy and excitement level too high around bedtime to sleep?

Once you identify the problem, it would be easier to deal with it. In most cases, keeping a fixed sleep schedule helps tremendously. If your child is scared of bedtime, you need to monitor the content that they are consuming and the way others interact with them.    

3.  Why does my toddler keep waking up at night?

The commonest reason why toddlers wake up in the nigh are nightmares or disturbances such as noises. It’s very important to provide your kids with a soothing environment at night. Despite doing that, if you feel that your child still tends to wake up in the night, then a consultation with a pediatrician is recommended.

Another common reason for kids waking up at night is because they’ve had their required hours sleep. You need to realize that your kid isn’t a baby anymore and doesn’t require as many hours of sleep as before. By reducing the hours of nap time during the day, you can fix this problem. 

4.  Why does my 2-year-old take so long to fall asleep?

As kids grow older, their required hours of sleep become shorter. Babies sleep all the time, but toddlers don’t. This transition sometimes causes a problem falling asleep. Make sure you keep a fixed sleep schedule to help them get used to a routine.

5. Should I consider visiting a doctor?

Sleep issues are common among toddlers and they are often not a reason to worry. If your toddler shows signs of severe sleep deprivation despite your efforts to get them good sleep by following these tips, you may want to get an appointment with your pediatrician.

Conclusion

It’s normal for children to have sleep issues, and it’s all part of the growing up journey. You shouldn’t be too consumed with worry unless you feel it’s seriously affecting your child’s development, and no remedy is useful.

However, most of these issues can be solved by simple tricks and methods that we discussed above. With the right environment and little bit of attention, your child will grow out of these problems.

According to the Harvard Medical School recommendations, your toddler can get good sleep by practicing these:

  1. Prioritizing sleep
  2. Starting bedtime routines earlier
  3. Reducing screen time
  4. Maintain the routines even on vacations and weekends

If you have any other questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment below and let us know!