Positive Sleep Habits for Toddlers
As a mum, the bane of my life these days is sleep – or lack of it. Every since my son was conceived, sleep has been thrown out the window. First in pregnancy when I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep, then as a newborn, when his hunger and colic meant he kept us up all night. As he grew, he learned to love sleep, but toddlers can regress very easily. There are so many things that a toddler wants to do, sleeping can sometimes be very low down on the list!
Sometimes he simply doesn’t want to sleep, wanting to stay up with mummy and daddy. Other times he wants to watch TV, or read another book, drink more drinks (even though he’s not really thirsty!) and snack on his favourite jelly. Sometimes he’s feeling scared and lonely, as dreams and imagination starts to develop. Other times he’s feeling unwell as we get hit by a constant parade of sniffles and coughs passed around at nursery and soft play.
To help the whole family get the sleep they need, it’s good to put into place healthy sleeping habits and routines that will stand you in good stead even when those tiny minds don’t want to quit. These positive sleep habits will help your toddler fall asleep and stay asleep – which in turns means you’ve got a better chance of a full night’s sleep too!
Positive Sleep Habits for Toddlers
Have a consistent bedtime routine
Our bed time routine is dinner, followed by watching half hour of TV. After this we have a bath, get into pyjamas, have a snack and a drink, we brush our teeth and then read a book in bed. This works well for my two year old. You may need to adjust this to suit your schedule and child, but the important thing is to have a routine that your child can get used to and look forward to. The very act of doing the same things every night will help them feel sleepy, comfortable and re-assured that everything is as it should be.
A small change in routine can cause uncertainty, confusion and fear which then interferes with the ability to sleep – so it’s really important to craft a bedtime schedule that works for your family and then stick to it where possible.
Make sure they’ve had plenty of exercise during the day
Toddlers are little balls of energy. Getting regular, daily exercise will not only help them feel more tired at the end of the day, but will set them up for healthy habits that will help them as they get older. Fresh air is also proven to increase the quality of sleep, so it’s important to get out and about every single day, even in poor weather.
Have a healthy snack and drink an hour before bedtime
My son tends to get quite hungry before bed. Hunger is one of the biggest reasons that a child will wake up, so even if your child falls asleep, if they’re hungry, it could be the reason for them waking up again by midnight. Dinner isn’t always to their liking, and I try not to worry too much if my son decides not to eat. He needs to understand that he does go hungry if he refuses food – but a healthy snack before bed will help keep hunger at way and create a good relationship with food. We usually have apple or yoghurt and a big glass of milk. It’s a good opportunity to sneak in some fruit, vegetables or that all important calcium!
Try to leave at least an hour between eating the snack and bedtime though, as by the time they are toddlers they should be weaned off the night time bottle. Drinking a bottle at night can cause tooth decay, so you want to have food and a snack – and then brush your teeth as part of the night time routine.
Check the bedroom temperature and night clothes
The wrong temperature can be a big reason that children wake up at night. It’s worth checking the temperature in the room and making sure that their night clothes and the blankets that they’re using are suitable for it. This will vary greatly depending on where you live, the temperature of your house and of course the time of year. If we’re too hot we’ll just kick off the blanket and fall back asleep, but for a toddler, they would most likely wake up and start crying as they’re uncomfortable.
Avoid the TV and screen time before bed
Screen time before bed is a no-no for everyone involved. And that mean’s iPads, phones and educational apps/tablets as well as the TV. The artificial light from the device can affect quality of sleep, and stimulating the brain can mean it’s harder to fall asleep too. The jury is still mostly out on how media affects children, although I subscribe to the TECH motto (Talk, Educate, Co-Operate, House Rules) and allow my son monitored tech usage, the studies are fairly conclusive about screens at bedtime.
Re-evaluate the nap schedule at regular intervals
Too much sleep in the day can be a reason that they’re not tired come bedtime. As a toddler gets older they’ll drop the morning nap and the afternoon nap may decrease as well. Everyone is different, so you may need to judge based on your child, but if they’re still wide awake at 8pm at night, you might benefit from cutting the afternoon nap shorter.
Check quietly if they need something when they call
Inevitably they will wake up and call out for you. Depending on their age, they might just cry – but as they grow older they will begin to verbally communicate what they want. Go into the bedroom and confirm what the problem is, solving anything like a nappy change or wet bed, checking for monsters or quenching thirst in as calm and quiet a way as possible. Be no nonsense about putting them back to bed – understanding and loving, but calm and clear about the fact that it is bedtime and time to go to sleep. Keep the lights off or dim, and installing a nightlight can help with that.
Try not to reward a child who gets out of bed, no matter how hard that might be. If they learn that they can simply come into your bed then you’re creating a habit that will be harder to break later on. That being said, I’m as guilty as the next mum of having my son sleep in our bed on occasion, when he’s very fearful, upset or wants comfort because he’s ill. We love our children and can’t stand to see them struggling – and sometimes that’s the decision you get to make as a parent, to offer them comfort and love through the night, even if the experts tell you not to!
At the end of the day, whatever sleep routine you follow will be best for your family because no one knows your child like you do
I used to feel guilty about not following all the rules and embarrassed when the health visitor told me I was doing things wrong – but now I’ve come to embrace that we’re all different and we’re all doing what we think is best for our children and our family, even if that is sometimes imperfect. I hope that these sleep habits help – but don’t beat yourself up if all your toddler wants at the end of the day is the loving embrace of mummy and to snuggle up together in bed.