Last Updated on February 9, 2023
When it comes to taking care of our children, parents don’t always have time for themselves. We worry about homework and ensuring our children eat well and get enough sleep. Sleep is especially important, as a lack of quality sleep can lead to many ills in the long term. But what happens when your little one doesn’t want to sleep? Your toddler just won’t go down or stay in bed all night long? That’s not good for anyone!
Getting your children on a sleep schedule is better for everyone involved. Children who get a good amount of sleep each day will be happier, more energetic, and learn new things faster than their constantly overtired peers. Parents will also be more satisfied knowing their children are rested and predictable in their behaviour.
Before we start, let me point out that it is not normal for a child to be up at night for months or years. If this has been the case for a few months, you are dealing with something bigger than just a toddler who won’t sleep. If it’s been going on for more than 3-4 months, your child might have a medical condition that needs attending to.
Understanding Why Your Toddler Won’t Sleep
Firstly, it is important to understand why your toddler is not sleeping. Your child may be displaying sleep regression – some children go through a phase at around 18 months when they refuse to nap during the day and want to go to bed later, but this can start as early as 8 months. Sleep regressions are pretty standard, and you may be experiencing one with your child, but there can be many other reasons why sleep patterns change through the years. Sleep regressions can happen at any age, but you may find that this occurs when your child is learning how to behave in certain social situations or simply becoming more aware of the world around them.
Sometimes sleep deprivation can have nothing to do with an unruly child who likes to fight sleep. It may be that your child has an illness, is grappling with a mood issue, or has just gotten into a habit they shouldn’t have.
It is also worth checking that your baby is not being affected by teething, illness or other health problems. These can all affect sleep patterns, so you must seek advice from your GP or baby clinic if you are concerned.
Is Your Toddler Not Sleeping? Try These Methods..
Besides taking your child back to see their doctor, there are some things you can do on your own that may help get your little one back on track with their sleep:
Create a daytime nap schedule
You must set a routine for daytime naps. This will help your child feel comfortable taking one when they want one and will encourage them to settle into their normal nighttime sleeping patterns.
To encourage daytime sleep:
- Try not to nap with your child during the day. If you do, you should leave the room, so they are not distracted by noise or other family members.
- Try to ensure your child has at least one nap during the day; a decent afternoon nap, or perhaps in the late morning, depending on when they woke up, can work wonders.
- Take their nap time seriously, and be sure it is something they enjoy!
However, watch for signs that it may be time to readjust nap schedules when your child wakes up during the night. This can mean they are no longer tired or have a habit of waking up at certain times every night. If this is the case, try to split up their naps and get rid of one to ensure they aren’t too rested for bedtime. If they have a habit of waking up at certain times, this may indicate their internal clock is starting to work properly. Let them enjoy naps in the afternoons and making up for lost sleep.
Listening to cues
Pick a suitable time when they look tired or when you sense it’s almost time for them to start fighting sleep. When most toddlers become overtired, they will almost certainly act up and refuse to sleep. When the battle is over, and they finally fall asleep, there’s more chance of them experiencing night wakings, which is when a toddler wakes up in the middle of the night, often crying, and won’t go back to sleep.
If you can get them on a schedule of going to bed at a certain time and waking up at a certain time (preferably when you are awake), this will also help with their nighttime sleep schedule.
Create a predictable bedtime routine
If you want your toddler to sleep through the night, following a predictable sleep routine each evening can be helpful. This will help them learn that it’s time to sleep, even if you hear them crying initially.
The idea of a “good night” ritual is important for all children. This should include a kiss from you; reading stories or singing songs together; and putting a warm blanket over them, and putting them in bed. Make sure to use their own bedding, so that it is familiar. This can be an important step for many children to build trust with their parents and feel comfortable in their own bed at night.
Try to read books or cuddle your child during these bedtime routines. Studies have shown that reading a story before bed will help them fall asleep quickly, so it is a great way to wind down at night. You could also try singing lullabies or rocking your toddler in a baby swing.
Keep them calm before bedtime
Children who have had a bad night’s sleep tend to be tense throughout the day, so calming them down during their bedtime routine will help their mood. Therefore, some experts recommend playing white noise at a low volume to create a calm environment, while many parents swear by some soft music in the background. Trial and error will determine which works best for your child.
One of the best ways to calm a toddler is with a relaxing bath. Baths are incredibly relaxing and can help children wind down, giving them the chance to put all their worries and get ready for lights out.
It can also be helpful to have a warm drink. Recent studies have shown that just having a cup of hot milk before bedtime will help you sleep longer during the night. While this might not work for older children, it could be an idea to introduce it to your little one’s bedtime routine.
Offer a nice sleep environment
Make sure the room you are trying to get your toddler to sleep in is comfortable and inviting for them. Some children become more difficult if their bedding is not nice, or if there is a horrible bedroom odour. You can get rid of all of this to help your child fall asleep without a fuss, and ultimately stay asleep for longer periods at night.
Whether it’s an early bedtime in your household or the sun hasn’t yet gone down, it’s good to have blackout curtains. A dark room can make a huge difference in a child’s perception of whether or not it’s time to knock out for the night or if it’s a quick nap time. If it seems too dark, leave the bedroom door open a crack to let a tiny amount of light in.
Also, ensure your child’s room is not too stimulating before bedtime. Make sure all toys are put away, and there are no televisions, computers or electronic devices turned on around. Less stimulation can mean more sleep for children and babies.
Check they are getting enough exercise
Spend time with your toddler and give them plenty of opportunities to play and burn energy during the day. A good long outdoor activity is a great idea and will provide them with some time to let down their guard and relax.
They will also be able to have fun with you, so ensure they get enough exercise and fresh air before bedtime, as this may help prevent physical cravings during their sleep time. Kids who are inactive during the day may crave activities such as moving around or playing games at night.
Check their diet is not stressing them out
Some food may be hard to digest or just not provide enough nutrition for sleep. You can also check to see if your child is eating foods that upset their stomachs, such as dairy and wheat. If you are finding this difficult to manage, you should find a dietitian who has experience in baby-led weaning. They will be able to work out if foods are a problem and provide suggestions for managing your child’s diet over time.
You may also want to talk to your doctor about a vitamin D deficiency. This common problem can cause sleep issues in children, mood swings and other issues.
Consider your own habits
It is also important to consider your own habits. If you are still doing stimulating things like watching TV or playing loud music after your baby has been taken to bed, this can keep them awake. Move these activities to another room in the house and try not to make any noise so you do not disturb them.
Share your experiences
Many toddlers go through phases when they refuse to sleep, so you’ll be happy to know you’re not alone with this issue.
So, don’t be afraid to talk with other parents. They may be able to offer advice or even good stories from their own children about how they got back on track with sleep. Online forums are also a great place to share experiences and seek advice from other parents. It can be frustrating when a child doesn’t sleep well, but don’t get down about it. Many parents have gone through the same problems, so don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong if it’s difficult to get your baby or toddler to sleep.
The Final Word
When we start to train our children, it is tempting to be over-protective or harsh with them but remembering that they can learn new things just like adults teaches us patience, tolerance and confidence in them.
Consistency is the most important thing you can remember when teaching your child good sleep habits. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember that most children will behave poorly when they are not well-rested. Keep your sense of humour and keep trying – you may find that a few of these tips just take some time to get used to.
A final tip is to be patient, as it can take a few weeks for your toddler to become more accustomed to the changes that you have made. By following a variety of the above advice, you can get your toddler back on track with sleep.
If you are concerned about your toddler’s sleep problem, please consult a doctor for professional medical advice to ensure they are healthy. As always, follow safety guidelines and use common sense.
Sources and References
- Why Toddlers Won’t Sleep (Plus, How to Help Them Fall & Stay Asleep) – happiestbaby.com
- Sleep Problems In Young Children – nhs.uk
Ash is a proud father of two wonderful kids; a hyperactive young toddler and her sports-crazy older brother. When Ash isn’t running around doing fatherly duties, he’s researching and writing up articles on improving the well-being of children and their parents.