Why won’t my toddler sleep?

There can be many reasons why sleep time may be a challenge for you and your toddler. From my experience, here’s the top 10 reasons why:

1) Overtired: Catnaps (or no naps at all), late bed times, early rising, being awake for too long, and overstimulation can all lead to your toddler becoming overtired. When our toddlers become overtired, their bodies produce cortisol (stress hormone) which can lead to difficulty falling asleep, and/or staying asleep. It’s not uncommon as a result, for overtired toddlers to experience continued catnapping, early rising, frequent night wakings, nap refusal. and irritability.
Tips: Pay attention to your toddler’s tired cues, and Routine , Routine, Routine!

2) Developmental milestones (leaps): The first 12-24 months of your baby’s life is full of learning, growth, development, and progression. During this time, your baby is learning so many cool new things about the word they live in; from physical (rolling, sitting up, crawling, standing, walking, and teething), to emotional (separation anxiety), and neurological (perception, understanding, logic, reason). Sleep appears to ‘regress’ during such milestones because like us, babies process information during their sleep. Their little brains are so busy practicing new skills, perceiving, exploring and experiencing in their waking hours, that they can have difficulty ‘switching off’ when it is time to sleep.
Tips: Wind down time before naps (15 min), and bedtime (30-60min), consistent routine, and pay attention to tired cues (your toddler may need more sleep at these times, so nap times and bed times may need to be slightly earlier – e.g. 10-15min, or more). Download the Wonder weeks app, which will let you know when you can expect certain leaps according to your toddlers age.

3) Too cold – Being too cold is far more common than being too hot when it comes to sleeping difficulties. The ideal temperature for a baby’s sleeping environment is 19-22 degrees celsius, in addition to a sleeping bag and appropriate bedding layers. Cotton is preferable as it breathes more easily than polyester, fleece, or other synthetic blends; which can cause your baby to sweat and become cold.
Tip: Tizzie Hall’s Safe Bedding Guide is a great reference when it comes to appropriate bedding for varying ages, states, and room temperatures.

4) Missing the sleep window: Timing is EVERYTHING! Whilst being overtired is one of the main contributors to sleep problems, putting your toddler down to sleep when they are not tired enough can also result in them resisting sleep. It only takes 5 minutes to miss that sleep window either side, and this can mean the difference between them being able to fall asleep will little fuss (and sleep for longer), to battling with a toddler who will either stay awake protesting/babbling, scream the house down, or if they do manage to finally fall asleep, they will wake again after 30-40 mins.
Tip: A consistent routine, and paying attention to tired cues will ensure you get your toddler down at the optimal time. 

 5) Noise and Light: Household noises (e.g. older siblings, plumbing, creaky floor boards, TV, radio, talking), and outside noises (traffic, birds, garbage trucks, neighbours) can be distract your toddler from sleep, or wake them prematurely.  I always recommend white noise to improve sleep quality and duration. Having consistent background noise not only helps to soothe your toddler (as they reminisce about their comforting days in the womb), but it also prevents them from waking from any sudden noises. When it comes to darkness, I recommend having your toddler’s room around an 8/10 day and night. A dark environment signals their brains to release melatonin (sleep hormone).
Tip: I recommend Sleepy Sounds (free download on iTunes), or Conair Sound Therapy white noise machine
Cardboard, foil or garbage bags can be equally effective at blocking out light as black out blinds (and at very limited cost). For travel, the Gro Anywhere blinds are great.

 6) Teething/Illness:  Teething and illness can wreak havoc on naps and overnight sleep, and in my experience is one of the main causes for regression in sleeping habits. All children have varying thresholds for pain and illness, and therefore the impact these have on sleep will differ from one child to the next. It is not uncommon for toddlers to resist day time naps, or only catnap; as is waking frequently in the hours following bedtime (e.g. between 7pm and 12pm). However, I have known children to begin waking every 2hrs or so all night with teething pain, whilst others will sleep longer and sounder during these times! Illness will much depend on symptoms and severity.
Tip: elevate the bed head slightly, and pay attention to tired cues (your toddler may be more tired so need to go down for naps and bedtime slightly earlier than usual).  I swear by Baltic amber teething necklaces to alleviate symptoms (have used for both of my kids), and If you are administering pain medication, do so 30 mins prior to nap or bed time (the average time it takes to kick in). Always seek medical attention where required. 

7) Change in routine/life transitions: New baby, pregnancy, moving house, starting childcare, increasing childcare days, illness/teething/milestones, parents starting back at work, stress in the household, and transitioning from a cot to a a toddler bed; can all impact on sleep.
Tip: Try to keep to your routine as much as possible (structure, routine and consistency will make your toddler feel safe and secure). Communicate any upcoming changes with your toddler (they understand far more than we give them credit for), and exercise patience and love; these changes can be a big deal for little people. If you are moving house, try to set your toddler’s bedroom up as similar as possible to what they are used to (same bed, positioning, bedding and toys). 

8) Inconsistency: Just as we can’t allow jumping on the couch one day, and make it a punishable offence the next; your toddler will not know why they can come into your bed at 5am and not 2am, or on a Monday but not a Tuesday. They will become confused if you sometimes feed them every time they wake overnight, and at other times; try to re-settle by rocking/patting/shushing back to sleep, or letting them cry it out.
Tip: You must respond the same way every time to your toddler to avoid confusion, and be clear on the boundaries you are willing to set (as these create habit). If you are co-sleeping out of convenience, then try camping out instead (so your toddler remains in their room). If your toddler is still feeding overnight (and not underweight or born prem), then it is most likely out of habit and comfort rather than for nutritive needs. If you are concerned about overnight weaning, please consult your healthcare professional.

9) Habit: Co-sleeping (out of convenience, not choice), late bed times, early rising, or  rocking/feeding/patting to sleep can result in disrupted sleep for the whole family; and the longer a habit continues, the harder they are to break.
Tip: Encourage self settling by always placing your toddler to bed awake. If you need to rock/pat/shhh for comfort, just be mindful not to continue to do this until they are completely asleep (drowsy is fine). If you decide to stop co-sleeping, you can ‘camp out’ in your toddlers room or use the Sleep Lady Shuffle. One of the main reasons for early rising is being overtired. An earlier bedtime (6.30-7.30pm) can help, as well as these tips.

10) Time for a change in routine – Most toddlers drop from  two naps to one between 14 and 18 months. You may notice over this time that your toddler begins to refuse their morning and/or afternoon nap.
Tip: If nap refusal happens consistently (over a week), then I recommend pushing the morning nap a little later, perhaps by 20-30 mins until you find the ‘magic window’ where they happily fall asleep and stay asleep. 
I always recommend implementing a consistent day and night routine, and optimising your baby’s sleep environment to assist your child to sleep better during the day and overnight.
If you would like to know more on how I can help you and your family, or wish to book a consultation, please contact me at sophie@happybabysleep.com.au

 

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