I would argue that getting a toddler to sleep can be more challenging than it is with an infant. While infants will often sleep if you're holding them or if you've just fed them, toddlers usually want a specific song, story, snack, and stuffed animal before they'll even consider getting some shut-eye. If you have struggled at all to get your toddler to sleep, you probably have received advice concerning old wives' tales that have been around for ages. There are some old wives' tales about getting toddlers to sleep that work, some that don't work at all, and others that really just depend on your toddler.
These 10 tips are basically tried and true home remedies for toddler sleep issues that you can take to the bank. Obviously, every child is different, but having these tricks up your sleeve when your toddler is fighting sleep can really help to ensure that both you and your toddler get the best rest possible. As I'm sure you're delightfully aware — when your toddler doesn't sleep, you don't sleep either. So, try one of these 10 old wives' tales about getting toddlers to sleep that work the next time you're ready to seriously snooze.
1. Dim Lighting & Soft Noise
It might seem natural to turn the lights off and get everything as quiet as possible once your child lays down for bed. But according to Dana Stone, infant and toddler sleep consultant with Rest Assured Consulting, you should really try to start this process even earlier to ensure your toddler is ready to rest when it is actually time for bed. "If you make a habit of this each day at the same time, it will start to signal the brain that sleep is coming," Stone tells Romper. "It allows the melatonin to be built up in the system and this helps with the onset of sleep."
With my own kids, I have found it helpful since the time they were toddlers to leave only a lamp on in the room whenever they're gearing up for bedtime. There's still light and we're still interacting with each other, but we keep our voices soft and the TV off as well. It may seem simple, but it truly helps.
2. Pre-Bedtime Snack
A pre-bedtime snack is one old wives' tale that gets plenty of attention when it comes to toddlers and sleep. Stone tells Romper that one of the best combinations for helping toddlers settle in for restful sleep is turkey and cherries. "Turkey and cherries make the best bedtime snack," Stone says. "They actually help with serotonin release, which in turns helps to signal melatonin production in the body."
This also explains why you usually need a nap after you eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But for toddlers, a piece of deli turkey or a few cherries before bed may just do the trick.
3. Warm Milk
This old wives' tale is one that I've personally heard so many times. Although my own kids prefer having cold milk before bedtime, according to Baby Center, the effect that warm milk has on a toddler helps to remind them of being comforted by nursing or having a bottle as an infant. This notion, combined with the small amount of the amino acid L-tryptophan which can raise serotonin and melatonin levels to encourage sleep, can help a toddler sleep.
4. One-On-One Attention
You might have had a well-intentioned family member suggest that your toddler is fighting sleep because they want your attention. According to Stone, they may not be entirely off base. "The biggest thing I see with toddlers is that they are generally struggling with two things — one is power the other is attention," Stone says. "Adding 10 minutes each day of one-on-one child-led play with a parent can do wonders for the attention need."
5. Counting Sheep
So, technically a study done by Oxford University found that counting sheep required more mental energy than visually imagining peaceful scenarios to help people with insomnia fall asleep, but for toddlers without actual insomnia, it may still work. For toddlers struggling to fall asleep, simple repetitious visualizations like guided meditation can help relax their mind and encourage them to drift off, according to a report by Motherly. If your child likes sheep and you can guide them through visualizing sheep frolicking or happily grazing on a warm sunny day, it may help them rest easy.
6. Having A Routine
You've undoubtedly heard this advice more than you would like to admit, but for toddlers resisting sleep, a routine is crucial. Stone explains that there is more behind a bedtime routine than meets the eye. "Although it may seem counter-intuitive, having a good schedule and routine helps toddlers feel like they have more control, because they know what is coming next," Stone tells Romper. "There are no surprises." This aspect of control helps a toddler feel secure and understand that sleep is necessary.
Although nobody really wants to be stuck rocking their elementary school-aged child to sleep every night (because they're heavy!) some parents swear that their toddlers are still comforted by rocking the way that infants are. This is especially true if your toddler was rocked to sleep a lot as a baby, according to Baby Center. I know my youngest son needed to be rocked through age 2, so I can certainly attest to the fact that this did work for my toddler.
8. Fresh Air & Exercise
When my kids play outside all day (or even for just an hour or two), I notice a significant difference in how well they sleep. Aha! Parenting reported that getting enough outdoor exercise and play time is essential for helping toddlers get to sleep. Their bodies are likely worn out, and their minds have been hard at work as well and in need of a re-charge, so sleep may come more easily.
9. Using A Nightlight
Experts at the Baby Sleep Site recommend using a nightlight to help your toddler sleep, especially if they show concern over being left alone in the dark at night. While a light with a blue hue may disturb their sleep, soft yellow or dim red nightlights can comfort a toddler and provide them with reassurance if they awake during the middle of the night.
10. Cuddling Stuffed Animals
Snuggling up with a teddy bear or hugging a lovey while a toddler is falling asleep can help them feel safe and secure. If your toddler is feeling anxious about being alone at night, try allowing your toddler to select a favorite stuffed animal to keep them company at nighttime, and let them know that they'll be there with them if they get scared.