The Blog

The Three Most Common Toddler Sleep Problems

When you first find out you’re going to have a baby, your mind paints this adorable little picture of what it’s going to involve.

For me, I think my brain drew most of its inspiration from a variety of 80s sitcoms. My little ones would have a minor crisis maybe once a week, my husband and I would sit them down, we would discuss it as a family and impart a little sagely wisdom, lightly seasoned with a few moments of comic relief, and that would be the end of that story line. Tune in next week when Georgia learns a valuable lesson about the value of being yourself.

But as I found out in a hurry, life does not always imitate art. (Assuming you can apply that label to shows like ALF and Kate and Allie.)

The truth is, motherhood more closely resembles a full season of the Kieffer Sutherland spy thriller “24.” It’s a perpetual race-against-time struggle against a clever adversary who seems to be out-thinking you at every turn, and just when you think you’ve finally got the situation under control, a whole new set of unforeseeable circumstances arises and you’re worse off than when you started. It’s like that, only with poopy diapers instead of handguns.

Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but as many of us know, kids don’t just overcome their issues over a half an hour, never to be revisited. It takes time, patience, and a diligent effort on the part of both parents and child.

And, of course, just when you think you’ve got it all under control, they grow up a little, and the rules all change.

So for all the moms out there who are wondering why their little angel who slept so well for so long is suddenly bucking the program, we’ve got a few tips for the most common bedtime issues for toddlers.

  • Won’t stay in his own bed

As I mentioned, this is the age when your little one is going to start testing some boundaries and checking to see what happens when… well, when anything. “What happens if I touch the stove? What happens if I flush a sock down the toilet? I know I’m not supposed to, but what if I did?

And since they’re probably making the switch over to a bed that doesn’t keep them secured, they’re prone to getting up and looking around. After all, they’ve never really seen what goes on outside of their rooms at nighttime.

You can hardly blame them for wanting to take a peek at this undiscovered wilderness. There’s no problem with allowing your toddler to explore the world a little bit. They’re going to have to sooner or later, after all. But let them know that now is not the time, take him back to his room and put him back in his bed.

Toddler Sleep Tip: Establish a consequence for leaving their bed and make good on it if they get out of bed again. I find the most effective consequences are closing the door all the way, or taking away the lovie, both for longer increments of time each time they get out of bed.

I know the temptation to allow him to just snuggle up next to you and go back to sleep is next to impossible to resist, but believe me; you’ll just be creating a habit that will perpetuate until you finally put an end to it, and the longer you let it go on, the more he’s going to giving it up.

  • Scared of the Dark

Do we ever really outgrow this? The horrifying things that can creep into our minds when we turn out the light seem to keep us up no matter how old we get. I can’t go for nighttime swims due to my (completely rational) concern that somewhere in the dark, unknowable waters of the deep end, there’s a hungry shark in the pool with me.

For whatever reason, if I can’t see, I just assume something evil is lurking just outside of my reach. So if it’s that bad for an adult, imagine how it must feel to a toddler.

Unfortunately, darkness is pretty essential to restful sleep. (Just as long as you’re actually sleeping and not sitting awake, keeping an eye out for monsters.) Leaving the light on might settle him down, but chances are he won’t sleep very well, so you’re better off tackling the anxiety at its source.

Just remember, for your child, this isn’t something they can just laugh off. It’s a rational fear in their mind, so don’t be dismissive of it. Be calm, be reassuring, but be receptive to their concerns. Laughing it off doesn’t make them feel any safer, and can actually leave them with the feeling that, “Not only are there monsters under my bed, but Mom’s not going to do anything about it!”

Toddler Sleep Tip: A soft yellow night light can work wonders in this scenario. It provides just enough light to allow your child to survey the room, but not so much that it will have an impact on his sleep. I recommend a yellow one because they won’t inhibit melatonin production.

  • Not Wanting to Nap

Toddlers are great negotiators when it comes to bedtime. And because they so enjoy the time they spend with you, they’ll do what they can to prolong it. Your child may take his time doing his nightly routine, ask repeatedly for a glass of water, or think of some urgent task he must do.

Try to anticipate all of your child’s usual (and reasonable) requests and make them part of the bedtime routine. Put a glass of water on his night table, remind him to use the potty one last time, and give him lots of extra hugs to last him the whole night.

If you suspect he’s stalling, don’t let him. Tell him it’s time for bed and that he can finish working on his art project the next day or find his stuffed bunny in the morning.

Toddler Sleep Tip: Try referring to nap time as “quiet time.” Tell your toddler he doesn’t have to sleep if he doesn’t want to, but he must go to his bed and rest for a set period of time. Chances are, once it’s not a battle of wills, he’ll end up falling asleep anyway.

Really, if parenthood was a TV show, they should call it “24/7/365.” There’s no downtime, there’s no end to the season, and the cliffhanger endings just keep on coming. But if you do your best to anticipate some of the changes that your little one is going to be going through, and plan some strategy, chances are there’s plenty of happy, love-filled moments in the schedule, and lots of restful, sleep filled nights for the both of you.

If you’re struggling with your toddler’s sleep habits, it’s time to pick up a copy of The Sleep Sense Program. It’s an easy-to-follow, no-nonsense guide to getting your kids to sleep straight through the night. It’s worked for over 109,000 families, and I guarantee it will work for you too!

Baby Not Sleeping Through The Night?

Get One-On-One Help!

Yes, The Sleep Sense™ Program is a great Do-It-Yourself guide for solving your baby or toddler’s sleep problems!

But if you’re looking for full-service, one-on-one help, I’m here to help!

The Sleep Sense Philosophy

Cry-it-out? Coddle? Co-sleep? Attachment parenting? Ferberizing?
If you’re going to let me help you with something as precious as your child’s sleep, you probably want to know a little bit about who I am and exactly how I think...

Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

  • Free Baby Sleep Class: Tip #2

    Welcome to Tip #2 of my free baby sleep class! If you missed Tip…

    View Post
  • Free Baby Sleep Class: Tip #3

    Welcome to Tip #3 of my free baby sleep class! If you missed Tip…

    View Post
  • Free Baby Sleep Class: Tip #4

    Welcome to Tip #4 of my free baby sleep class! If you missed Tip…

    View Post

Client Testimonials