5 common toddler sleep problems and how to deal with them

You would think when you are past the baby stage, that the sleep problems would well and truly be over. Well think again! If your baby wasn’t a great sleeper (day and night) then your toddler might also not be a great sleeper. There are also some big developmental changes that happen in toddlerhood that can also affect their sleep.

Here are some of the problems you may face with your toddler and how to cope when faced with them.

  1. Not wanting a day sleep

This is a big transitional time for day sleeping. Toddlers will often transition from two naps to one nap between 12 and 18 months. Then from the ages or 3 to 4 they will want to drop the nap altogether.  Transitioning from two to one sleep can cause a toddler to be particularly tired in the afternoon and evening, so my advice is to try and get them to bed as early as possible. When they are resisting a nap altogether, you should encourage ‘rest time.’ With rest time there is no playing, just quiet activities such as lying on their bed, or the sofa, perhaps reading a book, watching something calm on the television or listening to music. I encourage parents to really try and keep this rest period going for as long as you can!

  1. Stalling at bedtime

Some toddlers learn that stalling is a great way to keep you in the bedroom with them and therefore delay going to sleep. ‘Just one more drink’ or ‘Just one more cuddle’ or ‘One more book,’ these are all classic toddler stalling requests. A great way to manage this is the have a really great bedtime routine. You can even have a chart in the bedroom that your child can tick off when they do the task. Everything should be on that chart, e.g. read 2 books, kiss the teddy’s, do a wee, have a drink etc. so that when it is done you can refer to the chart if your child tries to stall.

  1. Coming out of the bedroom to find you

Another common toddler behaviour is them coming out to find you after they have been put to bed. This can be extremely frustrating, particularly if you have sat down to have your dinner or watch your favourite TV show. You need to deal with this calmly and exactly the same way every time. Just walk your child back to their bed and ask them to stay and go to sleep. Don’t get mad, don’t say too much, just keep doing it and eventually they will get the message and go off to sleep.

  1. Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety usually starts around 10 to 12 months and peaks around 18 months. It is a developmental stage where young children learn ‘object permanence.’ This is when they understand that you still exist even though they might not see you. In the case of young children, even if they can’t see you, they still want you and will cry and be distressed if you are not around. Bedtime can be a time when separation anxiety can peak. Toddlers who were once able to go off to sleep on their own, will want you to stay with them until they fall asleep. This can cause all kinds of disruptions to their sleeping, with them often falling asleep much later than they usually would and waking more overnight. Having a very good bedtime routine can help with this. Make sure you stick with what you have been doing so they know how things will go. After going to bed, you can assure them you will pop back and check on them every 5 minutes or so, which can help put their mind at ease. Don’t try and sneak out of the room as this will only cause more anxiety. Comfort your child but don’t introduce anything new. By that I mean, don’t start lying with your child if you weren’t previously. It should pass after a bit.

  1. Early morning waking

Some toddlers just want to start their day as soon as the birds start chirping. This can be WAY too early for a lot of families. There are some things you can try to fix this but some children are just early morning risers. If this is your child then it is best to teach them to stay in bed until the sun is up or until you come to get them. A toddler clock that comes on when it is time to get up can help with this. For the other early risers, you can try adjusting their day naps. If they are getting too much sleep in the day, they can start to wake early in the morning. You could also try getting them to bed a bit earlier, around 7pm, as toddlers who go to bed too late tend to shorten their nights and wake early.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.