Toddlers and sleep can have a complicated relationship. My sister used to hightail it downstairs if she heard popcorn popping or something good on TV after my parents put us to bed, convinced that they were having fun without her. Toddlers aren't babies; they're becoming more verbal, more social, and more interested in interacting with the world around them. Let's face it though, if toddlers don't sleep at night, nobody does. If your toddler is struggling with sleep, you need to know about some common toddler sleep problems (and how to fix them) so that the whole family experiences more peaceful evenings and wake up feeling much more well-rested.
Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3 tend to be more ready for independence. They want to make decisions about what happens in their little lives. For some things, like what they're going to wear tomorrow or which park they want to play at, it may be fine for you to hand over decision-making to them. For other things, like when they go to bed, you're still in charge. Some of the sleep problems that commonly plague toddlers come from this new-found sense of autonomy, while others have to do with physical or developmental changes happening around this age. No matter why they're struggling at bedtime, there are things you can do to get them back on the right track.
1. They're Overtired
"Toddlers still do need 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period," Lauren Stauffer, pediatric sleep consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby, tells Romper. If parents scrap daytime naps too soon and aren't able to make up for that loss at night, it's possible that the toddler just isn't getting enough sleep total. Sleep is cyclical, according to Stauffer, so napping during the day can help them sleep better at night.
2. They Get Out Of Bed
Lots of tots get out of bed at night. Some of this, according to Stauffer, has to do with the desire to exert control over the situation. Taking them by the hand, leading them back to bed, and reiterating that it's bedtime can help them eventually recognize that they're not going to get the attention that they want, which will keep them in their bed. Stauffer also says that not looking them in the eye too much during this process can help becaus , otherwise, it shows them that they are getting the attention they want, which will just encourage them to get up again.
3. They're Breathing Through Their Mouths All Night
Although you might think it's no big deal, if your toddler breathes through his mouth while he's sleeping, that could be a sign of negative things to come. In an email exchange with Romper, dental sleep medicine dentist Dr. Mark Burhenne says that both mouth breathing and snoring could point to facial and brain development issues down the road. Talk to your child's doctor and dentist to come up with a solution.
4. They Battle You At Bedtime
"A lot of times when the child becomes verbal, they start the bedtime stalling," Stauffer says. Once your toddler starts that habit, and you start negotiating with them to get them to bed, you can frustrated and your little one can start to inch toward that dreaded overtired state. If you and your toddler start to square off before bedtime, Stauffer recommends starting their bedtime routine sooner so that there's time for negotiations — and time for them to fall asleep — before they get too tired.
5. You're Inconsistent
Of course, you'll sometimes want to give in when they ask for "just one more hug" before you leave their room at night. If you do so too often, however, it'll be difficult for them to understand why you refuse other times. Additionally, according to Stauffer, if you give in and they recognize that they're likely to get what they want if they push you, they'll push more, which will result in even more frequent bedtime battling.
6. They Get Hungry In The Middle Of The Night
If your toddler regularly asks for a snack at bedtime, it might be a stalling tactic. It could also be a sign that they truly are hungry. According to The Baby Sleep Site, children going through growth spurts are hungrier than usual, which could mean that they're hungry again by the time they go to bed. Rather than assuming they're trying to trick you, grab a snack that's low in sugar and encourages sleep to help fill their little tummy without waking them up too much. Just make sure that if they're already brushed their teeth, they do so again after chowing down.
7. They Don't Know What You Expect Them To Do At Bedtime
Toddlers crave routine and structure. If they aren't sure what's expected of them at bedtime — and what rules they're supposed to follow — Stauffer says it can cause a little bit of chaos to erupt. Creating a chart where they can track their responsibilities and review bedtime rules is a good way to help them understand what they're supposed to do, which can help make bedtime go more smoothly.
8. They're Scared
This is the age that kids start to have and express legitimate fears. If they're acting clingy because they say they're scared of something, Stauffer recommends talking about it during non-sleep times. At this time, she suggests validating the way they're feeling and making sure that they know that you're still there for them, even once you leave the room. "Even if it is a fear, we don't want to show them that there is something to be fearful of," Stauffer says. "Instead, we want to show them that we're really confident [that they can get themselves to sleep]."
9. They Have Separation Anxiety
According to the previously-mentioned article on The Baby Sleep Site, separation anxiety can become more of an issue again around 18 months to 2 years of age. If you notice your toddler getting exceptionally clingy around bedtime or crying when you try to leave the room, it's OK to comfort him, but don't linger too long or he'll come to expect it.