And you thought your sleepless nights were behind you! All of a sudden, your lovable tot won’t go to bed or — perhaps even worse — won’t sleep through the night. What’s up?
Well, a lot, actually. Toddlers are going through a ton of transitions — from new siblings and skills to dropping naps. Even if there isn’t some obvious offender to blame, there could be other issues at play, like too much screen time or not enough winding down before lights out.
Here’s how much sleep your child needs, some insight into sleep issues you might be having, and what to do so you’ll all rest better at night.
Sleep issues impact about
How much sleep is enough?
- Toddlers ages 1 and 2 years old generally need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day. For example, a 2-year-old may take a 2-hour nap during the day and sleep 12 hours at night.
- Slightly older children, ages 3 to 5, need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. So, a 4-year-old may only take a 1-hour nap or no nap and may sleep 10 to 12 hours at night.
Exactly how much sleep your child needs is highly individual. And it may vary depending on a number of factors, like whether your child is sick or if they’re having an off day. If your child is consistently getting far less sleep than is recommended, you may want to contact your pediatrician.
Here are a few signs to make an appointment:
- Your tot snores or seems to have difficulty breathing while asleep.
- Your child acts differently at night, wakes up frequently all throughout the night, or has fear of sleep or the night.
- Your tot’s behavior during the day is impacted by sleep issues at night.
Related: Sleep disorders in children: Symptoms, causes, and treatments
Aside from recognized sleep disorders, there are more benign (harmless) issues that may cause trouble at bedtime. If you can identify what’s going on, you may be able to help your child snooze with a few tweaks to their routine.
Your child’s bedtime isn’t relaxing
Is bedtime chaotic in your household? You’re not alone. Between bath time, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, combing hair, packing everything for the next day — everyone may be running around at Mach speed.
If you’re feeling stressed from all the rushing around, your toddler may also be picking up and holding onto that energy versus winding down.
Your child is going through big changes or transitions
Toddlers face a lot of change. New siblings. New preschool or babysitting situations. Moving from a crib to a big kid bed. Dropped naps. Potty training. The list goes on.
With change comes disruption. You may notice along with sleep issues that your child is crankier and clingier than normal, not eating as much, or has some other type of difference in their day.
Your child isn’t tired
Toddlers are full of life. If they don’t have a proper outlet to play and burn energy, they may not be tired at bedtime.
Some well-meaning parents try tiring out their kids by letting them run circles around the house before lights out. There’s a fine line between super energized and overtired, however. If you cross it, your tot may not be able to fall asleep because they’re so exhausted they don’t know what to do with themselves.
Your child’s naps are to blame
Your toddler may not be tired if they’re napping too much. Look at the sleep requirements for their age and tally up the hours they’re getting between daytime and nighttime sleep.
That said, resist the urge to drop naps too soon. If your child does still need daytime rest, they may actually be overtired at bedtime, leading to that difficult-to-calm conundrum.
Your child won’t sleep alone
Truth is, your toddler may not love bedtime because they miss you. Young children may not want to be separated from their caregivers. Or they may wonder what goes on after they go to bed. All that fear of missing out (yes — toddlers can get FOMO!) can lead to bedtime resistance.
And if you’re lucky enough to get your little one into bed, they might want you to hang out while they fall asleep. They may not even let you leave the room without a struggle, leading to quite a bedtime battle.
Your child is having nightmares
Whether you’ve realized it or not, your tot has an active imagination. Those cute stories they tell you during the day can turn sinister in their mind at night.
Monsters under the bed, nightmares, and night terrors may work against sleep in two ways. First, they may wake your child from an otherwise sound sleep. Second, your child may grow fearful of sleeping because they’re worried they’ll have more nightmares.
Sleep hygiene can help reset and shift circadian rhythm so your child is tired at bedtime. And you may be surprised at how simple it is to create good habits that stick.
Maybe your tot has a set bedtime. Maybe they don’t. Whatever the case, it’s a good idea to get into a routine with a goal bedtime that’s the same each and every night, even on weekends.
Not only will it help you as the parent, but it will also set the expectation for your child. Younger toddlers won’t necessarily have a concept of time, but they’ll feel it. After all, their internal clock is always ticking.
Tip: If you’re attempting to shift a very late bedtime earlier, try moving it forward by just 5 to 15 minutes at a time until you reach your goal.
Once you set bedtime, create a whole routine around it. You may want to start helping your child relax about 30 minutes before lights out. During this winding-down time, dim the lights, play soothing music, and give your child a warm bath.
Switching off screens in the hours before bed is also critical. Screen time in the 2 hours before bed may lower the level of melatonin (sleep hormone) in the body.
After changing into PJs and brushing teeth, read a favorite book, tell a story, or sing a song. Then it’s lights off, a quick kiss, and goodnight.
Part of the nighttime routine may also be choosing a lovey that your child sleeps with. This may be a favorite stuffed animal or blanket — something to provide comfort when you eventually leave the room.
If your child is afraid of the dark, you might consider looking for a dim night light to ease worry.
Even the best routines can fall victim to your child’s demands. “Just one more story, mommy!” Does that sound familiar? Or maybe in your household, it’s one more glass of water, one more song, or one more snuggle. This last request, especially, can be hard to resist.
Whatever the case may be, try setting a limit. You may want to create the expectation that you read one story, give one goodnight kiss, and then tuck your little one in to sleep.
Limits also apply to when your child gets out of bed. If your tot is constantly leaving their room, consider giving them a “hall pass” of sorts. Tell them they’re allowed just one extra glass of water or one extra kiss — but it’s one-and-done. Doing so may help them feel that they have some control over the matter.
Consider the environment
Is your child’s room too warm or cold? Too bright or dark? Too noisy or quiet? Your toddler may have trouble sleeping because they’re uncomfortable or overstimulated in some way.
The best sleep environment is cool, dark, and quiet. Take a look around and see if there are any glaring issues. If outdoor light is pouring in from the windows, try blackout curtains. If you can hear lots of noise, try a white noise machine to drown it out. If it’s too hot or cold, try a fan or turn up the heat.
Look at naps
Your child may need some modification to their napping schedule. If they seem overtired at the end of the day, consider prioritizing naps so you get closer to their daily sleep goal. If your child doesn’t seem tired enough at bedtime, consider shortening naps or cutting them altogether.
Regardless, make sure the nap is early enough in the day that your child has a long enough wake window before bedtime. And if your tot seems to need rest but will not nap during the day, consider offering quiet time in his room instead.
No matter what you choose to do, stick with it. Even if your new plan doesn’t seem to be working, try it for at least for a few nights. You’re working to create a predictable rhythm and an expectation. It can take some time for your child’s habits to shift in response.
If your tactics still aren’t making any change after a week, then you can reevaluate.
Related: 10 tips to get your kids to sleep
Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician with any concerns you may have regarding your child’s sleep habits. If it isn’t something medical, just know that this, too, shall pass.
However, helping your child create good sleep hygiene is something that will benefit them for the rest of their life (and help you rest a bit easier, too!).