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Toddler Sleep Routines and Problems

For parents or other caregivers, sleep issues can be a source of frustration, fatigue and stress.

Pediatricians recommend creating a bedtime routine—engaging your child in the same activities in the same order (for example, taking a bath, reading a book, singing) every night before turning out the light. Routines create less stressful environments for children.

Tips for Dealing with Common Toddler Sleep Problems

Resisting Bedtime

Some toddlers regularly and energetically resist the idea of going to bed at night, which can be frustrating when you are tired at the end of a long day. It could be your child’s way of asserting independence. It could also be his fear of the dark and being left alone in his room.

Try these strategies for getting your little one to dreamland, and stick with them every night, for as long as it takes:

Create a consistent bedtime routine

For instance:

  1. Bath and teeth-brushing
  2. Snuggle and story time
  3. Bedtime, perhaps with a soft lullaby

Offer Choices

Counteract your child’s need for independence and control by offering choices. Let him pick between 2 books, 2 different types of pajamas, etc.

If your toddler gets up out of bed, calmly walk her back—saying as little as possible—tuck her in and leave the room. Do this every single time she gets up—until she realizes this is all pretty boring and you aren’t going to let her stay up.

Waking in the Night

Is your child starting to wake up in the middle of the night again?

A toddler who had been sleeping through the night can start waking up before dawn for a variety of reasons, from coping with developmental milestones to taking too many or too long daytime naps:

Developmental milestones

A toddler on the verge of achieving a new skill—walking, learning to talk more, etc.—may wake more than usual at night. As his new skill becomes old hat, his sleep should settle down as well.

Feeling cold

Kicking off the blanket and getting chilled can also wake a toddler. When the temperature drops, dress him in warm pajamas or a sleeping suit rather than relying on a blanket to keep out the cold.

Daytime naps

Napping too much during the day may interfere with sleeping at night. Every child is different, but 2- to 3-hour naps in the afternoon may be too much and too close to the evening. You may need to experiment with your toddler’s schedule to see what combination and length of naps works best for her and for you.

Irregular bedtimes

Research suggests that a regular bedtime routine—same time each night, providing a bath, reading a story, etc.—may help your child sleep through the night better. Learn more about creating bedtime routines.

Fear of the Dark

Has your child suddenly developed a fear of the dark? Are they refusing to sleep at night without a light on?

Fear of the dark is common, particularly for toddlers still having trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

Thinking about something that may have scared them—a story, the dog down the street, a costumed character—while lying in bed in the dark can cause a little panic.

Here’s how to help your child cope:

  • Don’t tease your child or dismiss their fears.
  • Don’t show frustration or annoyance, even if this has happened several nights in a row.
  • Choose a doll or favorite stuffed animal as their guard or “protector” (you can even tell stories during the day in which that “protector” watches over others).
  • Invest in a night light, or leave a hallway light on with their bedroom door partially open.

Sleep Safety

Now that you have a toddler, are you wondering whether to continue placing your child on their back to sleep—a practice recommended during infancy to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

The statistical likelihood of SIDS plummets once a child reaches 12 months of age. Plus, once a baby can roll over, he’s not likely to stay on his back all night anyway.

You can continue to place your toddler on her back to sleep—that’s still the safest position—but at this age, she’ll end up sleeping in a position she prefers. Here are some other safety guidelines:

  • If your child likes a covering, use only a thin blanket, tucked firmly around both sides and one end of the crib mattress.
  • Place your toddler under the blanket so that his feet and lower half are covered, but his chest and head are fully exposed. Place the top edge of the blanket no higher than his belly button.
  • Alternatively, instead of using a blanket, dress your child in a blanket-type sleeper to keep her warm.