10 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Sleep Better

10 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Sleep Better

Is your toddler testing you at bedtime? Try these tips to make sleep come easier.

By: Marisa Torrieri Bloom

For the past 18 months, ever since my toddler turned 1, he has slept like a sleep-trained baby -- beautifully, peacefully, and rarely fewer than 11 hours at a stretch. In fact, I was so focused on sleep training my new, 10-month-old baby that I never stopped to appreciate how nice it is to not have to deal with two kids waking up in the middle of the night.

For about a month after the last night my infant woke up three times to nurse, my nights were perfect, restful events. But then, all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere, my now-2-and-1/2-year-old toddler decided he was scared of the dark.

“Hold my hand, Mama,” he’d say at bedtime. Every time I tried to leave, he cried. Once, I ate dinner in his bedroom.

While the night frights dissipated after one seriously tough week for Mom and Dad, sleep consultants tell me I’m in for many more nighttime nuisances as my toddler ages.

“A toddler’s job is to test,” says pediatric sleep consultant Kerrin Edmonds. “They will test us in just about everything, and that includes sleep.”

So how can you keep your toddler well rested while he tests the waters? Here are some helpful tips:

1. Stick with a routine. Having a predictable and soothing bedtime and nap routine is the first step to a good night’s sleep for the under-4 set. Many children need a period to calm down before bed and a bedtime ritual fills the bill,” says physician Robert S. Rosenberg, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona. “Give them a warm bath followed by brushing their teeth and putting on pajamas and reading a story.” While the routine doesn't necessarily put your toddler to sleep, it provides cues that sleep is coming, says Edmonds. “Keep to this routine and don't let a testing toddler derail you. Cover all the little things they might ask for later such as using the potty, and getting a sip of water,” she says.

2. Avoid roughhousing. It might be fun to run around with your naked toddler and play a game of hide and seek upstairs before bedtime. But if you want your 2-, 3-, or 4-year-old to snooze soundly, it’s best to avoid vigorous physical activity close to bedtime. “This will increase body temperature and get hormones like adrenaline and cortisol going,” says Rosenberg. “Both of these are counterproductive when it comes to sleep.”

3. Make a “sleep rules” chart. If your child is old enough, a “sleep rules” chart can be helpful in setting the bedtime routine in stone. “Get your craft supplies out, along with some poster board,” suggests Edmonds. “Sit and decorate your poster and write down your sleep routine and your bedtime rules. Ask your child to tell you what you do to get ready for bed.” Talk about the importance of sleep – how it keeps your body strong and gives you the energy to play.

More from P&G everyday: The Secret to Getting Little Kids to Go to Sleep at Night

4. Set the right environment. Making sure your toddler’s room is conducive to sleep is really important. “Get that room as dark as you can,” says Edmonds. Her suggestions: Use blackout shades or black contact paper on the windows, and remove night lights, digital clocks, and other sources of light. Consider using a white-noise machine or fan to create some light background noise, and be sure to keep the room between 68-70 degrees – and don't overdress with too-warm pajamas or bedding. In addition, “dimming the lights and turning off the TV an hour before bedtime helps set the mood and prepares the brain and body to start slowing down,” says Edmonds. Rosenberg suggests using red night lights instead of standard white ones. “In the visible color spectrum, red light is the least likely to inhibit melatonin production and disturb sleep,” he says.


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5. Time bedtime appropriately. Putting our kids to bed in sync with their biological clocks is key, says Edmonds. “A normal bedtime for a toddler is between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and 8 p.m. is on the late side,” says Edmonds. “That would be for a child who is still taking a really long nap. Most kids who are taking no nap or a short nap need to be in bed between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.”

6. Don't give up on naps. “It is so common for toddlers to test nap time,” says Edmonds. “I hear from so many clients that their baby stopped napping at 18, 24, or 30 months of age. But just because they test us doesn't mean they still don't need it. Keep offering that nap. Usually it takes a week or two and they will go back to napping. We can't force our kids to sleep but it is our job to provide the opportunity.”

7. Hold off on getting a toddler bed. Getting your little one to transition out of the crib is an understandable urge, but try not to give in to it until he’s out of diapers (or longer). “This just creates temptation for young toddlers to test bedtime boundaries even more,” says Edmonds. “A big kid bed is just that, for big kids! I recommend parents get a big kid or toddler bed when their child is old enough to ask for one and to exhibit big kid behavior. It is privileged and shouldn't be something we do because they are climbing out of their bed or acting crazy at bed- or naptime. If you are having trouble with your toddler climbing out of bed, use a sleep sack with no feet. This doesn't allow them to hike their leg up enough to climb out. If they can unzip it, then just put it on backwards.”

8. Consider a weighted blanket. If your child has a hard time settling for the night and/or has sensory issues, a weighted blanket — one that is heavy and designed to keep the body still — can calm antsy toddlers, suggests Edmonds. However, parents should be sure to review all safety recommendations on weighted blankets and use age-appropriate blankets. “Never put anything in the crib with a baby 12 months and younger,” she adds.

9. Choose bedtime snacks carefully. Parents need to be mindful of the effects of the food and beverages they choose, as some can impede sleep. Rosenberg says parents should avoid serving dark chocolate (it has caffeine), and nix spicy, acidic foods like pizza because they raise body temperature and can cause acid reflux. Finally, don’t give your toddlers sugary sweets, which “set in motion a seesawing of blood sugar levels, resulting in the release of sleep-inhibiting stress hormones,” he says.

10. Get your toddler out in the sun in the morning. “Sunlight in the morning is a great stimulus for falling asleep more easily the following night,” says Rosenberg. “The closer the exposure to wakeup time, the stronger the effect.”

What do you like to do when your child is having trouble getting to sleep?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Image ©iStock.com/Voisine

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