We’ve got a whole section on the Good Night Sleep Site website dedicated to toddler sleep. Why? Because getting through the baby phase certainly doesn’t mean all your sleep issues disappear! Far from it, actually. In fact, some of the toughest sleep challenges can happen in those toddler years (see 18 month regression), even if your baby was a dream sleeper in their first 12 months.
The truth of the matter is that sleep problems don’t go away when babies grow into toddlers. And having a good sleeper at one stage doesn’t make you immune to sleep issues at another. While some sleep challenges may resolve on their own, unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case.
Sleep And The Toddler Years
There are some sleep challenges that can pop up at any age and any stage. However, the toddler years are unique and challenging for so many reasons, and these special circumstances tend to spill over into the sleep sphere as well. If you’re already firmly in the toddler trenches or are approaching this stage with your little one, keep reading to find out more about the five top sleep issues you may face in this distinctive stage.
1 – Not Staying in Bed.
Moving your toddler out of their crib and into a big kid bed will rarely solve your sleep issues. In fact, moving them too early can even make things worse. However, when your toddler does move to a big bed, be prepared for them to marvel at their new found freedom and for them to test the limits when it comes to getting out of bed.
To deal with their new freedom and mobility, you need to be persistent and consistent. A very effective method for dealing with this behaviour is called the silent return. Every time your child gets up, calmly return them to bed. There is no need to speak to them or engage, just guide them back to bed. If you show no reaction, the less likely they’ll be to repeat the behavior. But remember, be persistent, in some cases you may have to do this many, many times before they get the message.
2 – Nap Changes and Challenges.
The toddler years are full of developmental milestones and transitions. When it comes to sleep, your toddler will transition from two naps to one (typically around 15-18 months of age), and eventually give up napping altogether by the time they are 4 years old. These transitions can take quite a toll, and in the process of sorting things out, you can count on short, late, or skipped naps which leads to an overtired child and bedtime drama.
Start by recognizing that it may be time for a change and adjust accordingly until things even out. This may mean having an earlier bedtime for a while, moving up that afternoon nap time or planning your days to have some afternoon quiet time to get through those overtired afternoons.
3 – Stalling.
Toddlers are never thirstier than at bedtime, right? From needing just one more drink, to a fifth trip to the bathroom or the need to say goodnight to everyone one of their stuffed animals, toddlers can stall like it’s their job! To deal with nightly stalling, learn more about our bedtime pass or setting up a bedtime routine chart. Now is also a good time to set limits around bedtime which can help your child understand that they are expected to follow the bedtime rules and routine.
4 – Afraid of the dark.
You’ve surely noticed the wonderful imagination your toddler has sprouted as they’ve grown. Their big ideas are great for play, but can bring about worries and fears at bedtime making it harder to go to sleep. The most popular cause for concern is a new fear relating to the dark.
Read more about using a night light with your toddler – how it can help and what you need to know.
5 – Early rising.
It may be their changing sleep needs or their new found excitement about the world around them, but toddlers can often start waking early. To start, do an audit of their room and make sure it stays dark, especially in those early morning hours. In addition, early morning sounds like birds chirping can also cause them to wake. Make sure the windows are nice and dark keeping out early morning light, and try using a sound machine to drown out those birds! This can also be a great time to introduce a toddler clock.
Remember Who The Bedtime Boss Is
A lot of toddler sleep issues stem from your little one pushing boundaries and exerting their independence. While both of these are healthy and age appropriate, it can result in a chaotic and frustrating bedtime. It can be really helpful to take a step back and make a plan to get things back on track before you end up in another battle of wills at eight o’clock at night. Plan to set limits, be consistent and follow through so that you set your child up for success. A little planning and patience will go a long way in making bedtime a positive nightly routine again.