Toddler Sleep Troubles

by | Sep 9, 2019

When I speak with exhausted parents for the first time, it’s not uncommon for them to say to me, “I need help with my infant but I have a toddler too… it’s probably too late for them isn’t it?” They sound incredulous when I tell them it is certainly NOT too late to help their toddler become a better sleeper.

Let me say it louder for the people in the back: I can help your toddler become a sleep superstar!

There are many reasons why a toddler might be having sleep issues. Maybe they were never a great sleeper to begin with, maybe things changed after a vacation, an illness, or the transition from crib to bed. Maybe your toddler has prematurely given up their nap, is going to bed too late, or waking up much too early in the morning. Whatever the reason and whatever the challenges, I can help get to the bottom of it and help your toddler become a great sleeper.

There are several common complaints I hear from toddler parents that I want to address. If you’re struggling with one of the following issues, there may be a few tweaks that you can make to your current habits that will go a long way in helping your toddler sleep better.

My Toddler Doesn’t Get Tired Until 10-11 p.m.

My answer to that is: yes, yes they do. It may be slightly confusing because it is common for toddlers not to seem tired at an earlier hour, but that is usually because they’ve gone past “tired” and are now “overtired.” And when it comes to sleep, overtiredness is your worst enemy. Toddlers who have gone past their optimal bedtime window often appear very energetic and hyper, so don’t be fooled. They may seem totally wound up with the stamina to pull an all-nighter, but they really should have been sleeping hours ago.

There also may some schedule adjustments that need to be considered. Is your toddler still napping for longer periods during the day and/or taking a nap that extends late into the afternoon? If so, there is a chance that this nap needs to be dropped. Usually, I don’t recommend dropping the nap altogether until between 3-4 years, but in the meantime, you might think about capping it and making sure your child doesn’t nap past 2/2:30 p.m. to preserve an early bedtime. That way, your little one has the time to build up the sleep pressure needed to fall asleep at a decent hour (as long as you are enforcing that early bedtime!)

My Toddler is Stalling at Bedtime

Toddlers like to test boundaries. Period. They push and push to see how far you will bend, but in actuality, they are very fearful of what would happen if those boundaries suddenly disappeared. Toddlers truly crave structure and predictability in their lives as well as in their bedtime routines.

Trying to delay bedtime is the quintessential way toddlers test the water at this age. They may resist getting out of the tub, ask for “just one more story”, endlessly request more water, the fan on, their socks off, etc. just to see how much they can get from you. The only way to prevent this incessant negotiating is to not negotiate at all! Set up your bedtime routine and stick to it like glue, right down to the number of books you will read each night. As long as your toddler can get a little extra from you during the bedtime routine, they will continue to play the game.

Since you will be laying down the law in some areas, give your toddler an element of choice in other areas; which pajamas would they like to wear? Which TWO books would they like to read? What speed do they want the fan on? Giving them a bit of control over benign things like this can help minimize protests over things that are non-negotiable: like going to bed in general.

My Toddler Keeps Getting Out of Bed

Your little one may have begun this habit slowly by coming out and asking for just one more hug, but chances are they upped their game and after the nineteenth time they appear in your doorway, you’re all out of cuddly hugs.

The key to managing this is to set clear expectations around bedtime behavior once your little one is tucked in. Use rewards and consequences to your advantage and avoid getting suckered in to just one more thing.

I also frequently help my clients create “social stories” to help their child buy in to the bedtime process. You can do this too by creating a book featuring your child that takes him through his bedtime routine, the expectations around bedtime, what to do if he wakes in the middle of the night, and when he is allowed to get up in the morning. This can be a very positive and non-threatening way to help your child understand the boundaries around sleep.

My Toddler is Experiencing Separation Anxiety at Bedtime

Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do to prevent this phenomenon because it’s a pretty common phase many toddlers go through and will most likely pass with time. Having said that, there are a couple do’s and don’ts that are important to follow if you want to survive this phase with a great sleeper still intact.

DO be sensitive to their seemingly real fears and anxieties. If your toddler is getting anxious when you turn out the light to leave, you can tell them that you’ll be back to check on them in a few minutes as long as they are quiet. This can help them to feel safe and secure while also maintaining a healthy environment for them to fall asleep independently.

DON’T give into the temptation to bring them into your bed or lay with them until they fall asleep. This will most certainly cause a permanent issue that you will be expected to continue long after the true separation anxiety phase is over.

My Toddler Was Previously A Great Sleeper Until We Transitioned To A Big-Kid Bed

Many parents are anxious to make the switch from a crib to a bed, but I’d recommend holding off until your child is at least 3 years old. By this age, toddlers are a bit more developmentally able to understand the boundaries, consequences, and limits that come along with the freedom of a big-kid bed.

If you are nearing this transition or have made it and are struggling, I have a guide that walks you through all the details you need to know to help your toddler stay in bed all night long.

Toddlers are tough cookies; they are fiercely independent, are very opinionated, and have a ton of stamina. I always joke with my toddler families that the sleep-training process is going to be a battle of will: who can outlast the other.

Consistency is vitally important when making sleep changes with toddlers and this can get exhausting. If things seem too overwhelming and you would like some support to get your family back on track, my toddler sleep packages will help everyone finally get the sleep they need. 

If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!