10 Toddler Sleep Red Flags That Parents Should Watch Out For
When you finally get your baby to sleep through the night consistently, it feels like you have conquered the absolute biggest childhood sleep challenge of all and you no longer need to worry about your child's sleep habits. Unfortunately, these 10 toddler sleep red flags can rear their ugly heads and throw you for a loop long after your baby learns not to wake you up five times a night.
I will be the first to admit that the toddler stage is full of fun moments that make you want to howl with laughter — mispronouncing words ever so adorably, putting their pants on backwards, wearing a bowl of spaghetti as a hat. Less funny are the sleep issues that creep up just when you thought the days of worrying about your kid's sleep habits were coming to an end.
The truth is, sleep-related issues that pop up during toddlerhood may not seem like that big of a deal (because everyone snores a little, right?) but they can actually point to deeper issues that deserve the attention of a medical professional or sleep consultant. Knowing what to look for can help you identify toddler sleep problems before they make a permanent impression on your child's sleep habits or wreak havoc on their health.
1. Snoring Or Noisy Breathing
If you notice your toddler snoring or breathing noisily with an open mouth at night, experts say this could be a red flag signaling a more serious problem. "This type of noise signals some type of trouble (in their airway) and should be recorded and reported to your child’s pediatrician," Tonja Bizor, a certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of Tonja B's Sleep Consulting tells Romper.
"Long-term chronic mouth breathing in children can affect their facial growth, mess with their teeth, cause gum disease, throat infections, stunted growth, and lack of quality of sleep," she continues. "If their airway is obstructed and they stop temporarily breathing (obstructive apnea), then the body will startle itself out of sleep. Keep in mind that if your baby makes noises while they are sick and congested, then it’s not cause for alarm."
2. Frequent Night Waking
Waking up throughout the night can be normal, but if your toddler is waking up frequently, you may need to further investigate to see if a problem exists.
"We all actually wake up many times during the night as we cycle through various stages of sleep, but we should be able to roll over and fall back to sleep without even registering that we were awake," Jamie Engelman, pediatric sleep consultant with Oh Baby Sleep Consulting tells Romper. "If children are waking frequently and up for prolonged periods (or need assistance in falling back to sleep), it could indicate a lack of independent sleep skills and/or a scheduling issue (such as too much or too little sleep during the day)."
3. Long Night Wakings
"Just like frequent night wakings, long night wakings can be a symptom of needing more sleep, not less," Lynelle Schneeberg, Psy.D., pediatric sleep psychologist, author of Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach, and director of the Behavioral Sleep Program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Romper. "Look at your child's overall amount of sleep and consider putting your child to sleep earlier, rather than later."
4. Falling Asleep Frequently During The Day
Does your toddler fall asleep in the middle of doing things throughout the day, even when it's nowhere close to nap time? "A person that is resting well at night and getting proper nutrition should not fall asleep frequently during the day," Dana Stone, infant and toddler sleep consultant with Rest Assured Consulting tells Romper. "Excessive tiredness on a daily basis can be an indication that even though it may appear someone is sleeping, they may not cycling properly through the stages of deep sleep. This can be easily reviewed with a sleep study."
5. Night Terrors Or Nightmares
It's pretty startling (not to mention frustrating) when your toddler wakes up scared in the middle of the night with a nightmare or a night terror, one of which could signal a sleep problem.
"[Night terrors and nightmares] are not the same thing. Children have bad dreams from time to time, but if they are so upset, inconsolable and don't seem to be awake, it could be a night terror," Christine Stevens, children's sleep consultant and owner of Sleep Solutions by Christine tells Romper. "Children are likely not to remember that they had the dream, whereas with nightmares, children will usually be able to tell you they were scared of something. Night terrors tend to be more hereditary"
6. Restless Movement During Sleep
If you notice your toddler moving a lot while sleeping, it may be a red flag, but not always. "Kids are very restless sleepers. If combined with sleep-disordered breathing though, then there is cause for concern," Schneeberg tells Romper.
"Extreme restlessness can be a symptom of RLS (restless leg syndrome) a disorder that can affect one's ability to fall asleep and stay asleep comfortably," Stone says. "Usually, it's described with an uncomfortable sensation in the legs. This can be aggravated by overexertion and exhaustion."
7. Trouble Falling Asleep
If your child struggles to fall asleep when they should be tired (like after an active day at the park or the beach), this could be cause for concern, but it could also just be a sign that they are overtired.
"There are many reasons for this stemming from scheduling issues to environment to temperament and stress," Engelman tells Romper. She recommends making sure that your child isn't exposed to "excess light or screen-time during the hours prior to or at bedtime" and to "use a calming bedtime routine and practice relaxation techniques to help calm the child's mind and body" if stress is the culprit.
8. Hard To Wake
After sleeping an appropriate amount at night, your toddler should not be extremely hard to wake up in the morning. Yes, they may protest at first, but after a few moments of adjustment, they should be able to fully wake. "Although it appears that your child slept the appropriate amount of hours based on their age, there could be some issues internal that could be affecting their ability to move through (or lack of) the stages of sleep," Bizor tells Romper.
9. Fear Of Going To Sleep
I have experienced this red flag with my own son as a toddler and it took a while for him to overcome his fear of going to sleep. "This almost always means that a child can't yet self-soothe and will demonstrate fear around bedtime because his parents may or may not be willing or able to stay nearby until the job is done," Schneeberg tells Romper.
Additionally, if your child has a fear of going back to sleep in the middle of the night, this could be another red flag. Stevens says parents can "use techniques such as breathing exercises and check-ins to reassure your child that it's OK to go back to sleep."
10. Sleep Walking
I grew up with a sister who was a sleep walker, and it was definitely a scary experience, but working with her pediatrician helped solve the issue. "Children who sleep walk get out of bed and walk around without waking up," Bizor tells Romper. "This could be dangerous because the child could hurt themselves by falling down the stairs, leaving the house, etc. Do not wake the child by shaking or shouting at them, as this could be harmful. This could also be a result of sleep deprivation."
Tonja Bizor, certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of Tonja B's Sleep Consulting
Jamie Engelman, MS and Pediatric Sleep Consultant with Oh Baby Sleep Consulting
Christine Stevens, children's sleep consultant and owner of Sleep Solutions by Christine
Dana Stone, infant and toddler sleep consultant with Rest Assured Consulting