How to Get Your Unruly Toddler to Sleep

Get seen Two babies turning from caterpillars to walking, and talking was one of the greatest gifts of my life. I love their wobbly steps and cheerfully expressed opinions – except when it comes to bedtime. Their brains are dripping from their ears, I’m exhausted, and the sink is still full of dirty dishes. These kids need to sleep.

Every parent has experienced this particular flavor of despair, whether they’re trapped in a bed in the dark with a 3-year-old suffering from separation anxiety, or when a young child pops up in a particularly bloody moment in their lives. The last of us He asks for just one drink of water. I spoke to certified sleep counselors to get some tips on how to get your kids to sleep.

Messing with bedtime

As a sleep consultant and founder of Baby Sleep Answers, a company that provides customized, scientifically-backed sleep solutions for newborns and toddlers, Andrea De La Torre says that a toddler’s tiredness is dictated by two biological processes—the internal circadian rhythm and sleep pressure, or what we call fatigue.

The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that may get your toddler out of bed in the morning, but a child’s ability to tolerate fatigue increases as he gets older. This is why kids nap so much, while adults can enjoy post-dinner drinks (sometimes). If your child has trouble falling asleep at the end of the day, you may have to adjust his daily schedule to match his ever-changing natural rhythms.

“A lot of people assume their kids aren’t sleeping because they’re not tired, and they put their kids to bed too late,” says sleep consultant Molly Tartaglia, founder of MMT Sleep, which offers supportive one-on-one and digital courses for parents of kids up to 7 years old. “But an early bedtime is always a good idea.” A good rule of thumb is to aim for 10 to 12 hours of sleep for a 3 or 4-year-old, so if your child wakes up at 7 a.m., try to put him to bed around 7:30 or 8 p.m.

This is also the age when babies start to need naps less. If your child seems quite energetic at 8 p.m., you can try eliminating or shortening daytime naps. “If they’re still napping, do one nap. If they’ve been sleeping for an hour, try a 10-minute nap,” says de la Torre. “Some parents don’t realize they can take a 10-minute drive around town.”

Establish a consistent routine

When so much of the brain and body changes on a daily basis, it’s no wonder young children crave predictability. “Your routine can really consist of anything, as long as it’s done over and over so your child knows what to expect,” says Tartaglia. Even at ages 5 and 8, my kids have the same bedtime routine as they did when they were kids — baths, books, and bedtime. The nightlight also soothes fears of the dark, and the white noise drowns out mom’s voice as she talks to her friend on the phone as she comes down the stairs.

The overarching goal is that you can put your toddler to bed the same way you put a preschooler or primary schooler – with a hug, a kiss to sleep and out the door. No sleep swings, no endless nighttime snacks, or lying there for hours, staring at the ceiling. To that end, you generally want to keep your response to nighttime outages consistent. “Don’t say one time, ‘Go back to bed, it’s okay,’ and then the next time, ‘Come to bed with me,'” says Tartaglia. “It sends mixed messages to your child.”


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