Why your toddler needs to go to bed early

As we head towards the end of the year, everyone is exhausted. And no one more than your ever-growing and incredibly active toddler! Despite this exhaustion, there always seems to be some kind of battle to convince a toddler that going to bed is a good idea. How I wish they would understand how going to bed is just the most wonderful luxury!

So why do toddlers resist going to bed, and why, when they finally do go to sleep, are they waking very early in the morning? This is the million-dollar question!

There are a few reasons why this might be happening but a good place to start is to know how toddlers work. Toddlers are designed to push back. This is a big thing. They are in a phase of their life where their brain development is rapid and they are learning to be a separate person from their parents. They are experimenting with this independence and this can mean that they will start to want to assert this independence around bedtime.

One way to deal with this is to have a lovely strong bedtime ritual. Having rituals provide security and if you stick with the bedtime ritual you have always used, even though they might be pushing against it, it will be something for you to fall back on and they will understand it.

We also know that because toddlers are always on the go, they can get very tired in the evening. If your toddler is also going to childcare during the day, they can often be totally exhausted by the time dinner and bath time come around. When a toddler is tired, they can be a whole lot more resistant to following directions and are also way more prone to having melt-downs and tantrums.

So, getting your toddler to bed early is a great way to help reduce all this resistance. Having a toddler up until 9 or 10pm isn’t a good idea, even if they don’t agree! Remember you are in charge here. Toddlers need about 11 to 12 hours of sleep over night. If they don’t get all this lovely sleep then they will be extra tired the following day and being overtired means it will be much harder for them to be able to regulate their emotions, leading to those dreaded toddler tantrums.

If you put your tired toddler to bed early or before they become very overtired and wired, then they tend to go off to sleep more easily and sleep better overnight rather than wake and need some help from you to get back to sleep.

And unfortunately the opposite is also true – when you put an unsettled and overtired child to bed late, they will have an unsettled sleep and are likely to wake more. They might even wake earlier in the morning.

Getting more sleep before midnight seems to be very good for young children and there is science to back this up. Baby sleep cycles in the early part of a child’s night are deeper and more restful. This is where they actually have their deepest sleep of the night. There is also something about the quality of that sleep early in the evening that is hugely beneficial.

So if they have had a long day, and especially if they’re a toddler who is transitioning to one sleep a day, or even resisting that day nap, then there’s nothing wrong with getting them to bed early. Chances are, it won’t have them waking up early; they will still sleep until the same time they normally do and hopefully, they will wake a little more refreshed.

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