The Truth About The Toddler Sleep Battle


If your baby went down for naps and bedtime easily but has suddenly started fighting sleep in every possible way, rest assured that you’re not alone. Here at Toby and Friends we wanted to explain a little about the toddler sleep issues that so many parents are familiar with and give practical advice on how to deal with them. Most importantly, we want to remind you that the situation is temporary and will get better – and that even if your toddler suddenly won’t sleep, you’re a great mom or dad!

Why Do Toddlers Fight Sleep So Much?

The main reason tots of two and three are suddenly so much harder to put down for bedtimes and naps is that they’re going through serious developmental changes. They genuinely might not need as much shuteye as they did when they were a little younger, and you might be settling them for the night too early, or having them nap too much during the day. Interestingly, toddler sleep can be just as affected by getting too little rest, as by getting too much. If they’re overtired, they’ll get too wired to be able to drift off.

As your little ones learn to walk and talk, and their cots are replaced with “big kids’ beds” that don’t have bars, they’ll often also want to assert their independence. In other words, they’ll want to get up and explore, just because they can. Their expanding mental and verbal skills could also have them negotiating sleep terms with you, or exercising expert-level-stalling techniques. If they’ve got older siblings who are allowed to stay up later, the reason your toddler suddenly won’t sleep may be as simple as not wanting to miss any of the action with their big brother or sister.

Discomfort can also be the culprit here. If your child is unwell, has itchy pyjamas or another physical issue, they might well struggle to drift off. Night terrors, such as a fear of monsters under the bed, might keep them awake. In the same way, nightmares might frighten them into waking and then staying up. And if they’ve become too dependent on you, they might struggle to nod off if you’re not rocking them, singing to them, reading them a Toby and Friends book, or at least just being in their vicinity.

What Can You Do to Encourage Sleep?

The thing about toddler sleep is, it’s not just about your own sanity – as essential as that fringe benefit becomes! These little tykes need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep each day, for optimal mental, physical and emotional development. So how can you ensure that they – and you – are as well-rested as possible?

The first step is establishing and sticking to a good sleep routine. This could consist of a bath, some cuddles and a read through a Toby and Friends book or two. When you’re putting them down during the day, try to recreate a calm atmosphere – dim the lights, close the curtains, and read the same books as in the evening.

You should also consider cutting total daily sleep by reducing or even eliminating naps, or shifting them to earlier in the day. The more time a child has to run around and expend energy before bed, the better they’ll sleep. If they experience nightmares or terrors, come in and comfort them but leave the room while they’re still awake so that they can self-soothe.

The old rules of thumb regarding limiting screen time, sugar and other stimulants before lying them down still apply, and you can manage their negotiations by planning ahead. Give children some choice about what happens in the evening – allowing them to choose what pyjamas they want to wear, for instance – to empower them while still holding control.

Above All, Be Consistent

No matter how many times your tot gets up and comes through to your bedroom, comfort them and then calmly and firmly take them back to their own beds. Keep bedtimes as regular as possible, and go through the same routines to help their little bodies wind down and prepare to enter dreamland.

Ultimately, toddler sleep is like all aspects of parenting little ones; they’re pushing boundaries, and you’re showing them where they are. They’re learning what’s okay, and forming good habits, by watching the behaviour that you demonstrate. With that in mind, try to be as consistent as you can with what you show them and hopefully soon you’ll both be sleeping through the night.

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