Sleep Study: Getting Toddlers to Sleep

You made it through your infants’ frequent awakenings and have adjusted to getting a full night’s sleep again. Then, your baby becomes a toddler, and you get a new set of sleep problems!

Toddler Sleep Patterns

Toddlers need between twelve and fourteen hours of sleep per day, including naps. Some children will take a three-hour nap, while an hour is a great nap for others. The key to getting your child to sleep well is consistency, both with naps and at bedtime. Have a set naptime and bedtime. As your toddler gets older, her naps may not last as long as they used to, but having her lay down at the same time is important.

For those children who are resistant to napping, having a set “quiet time” is a good alternative. This way, they still have time to relax and recharge, without feeling that they are being forced to sleep. Many of them will still fall asleep during this time if they are tired. If they don’t sleep, they may go to bed a little earlier.

Make Bedtime Go Smoothly:

  • Turn off the TV and video games an hour before bedtime.
  • Have a bedtime routine so your child knows what to expect. Start it at the same time every night.
  • Have some one-on-one time with your child—read, talk about your day or upcoming plans, or even play “I Spy.” If you have more than one child, try rotating whose night it is for this special time.
  • Make sure bedtime is consistent, meaning your child should be in bed at roughly the same time every night.
  • Anticipate requests that could delay bedtime: another drink, a tissue, another hug or kiss. Try to go through all of these as part of your routine, so when your child asks, you can remind him that you’ve already done that.
  • Deal with requests quietly and firmly. It can be helpful to wait a little bit longer before responding to each request to give your child a chance to fall asleep on her own.

Nighttime Wanderers

What about the children that will not stay in their bedroom? First, do not let them sleep in your bed. Once they know that is an option, it will be hard to convince them to stay in their room. If you have fallen into this habit already, let your child know he will not be allowed to sleep in your bed anymore, and then follow through. Every time your child comes into your room, take him back to his bed without saying anything, even if it means doing it 20 times in a row. If you give in and let him stay, he knows he just has to be persistent and he will get his away. It normally only takes a few nights to break this habit, if you stick with it.

Another option is to put a baby gate in the doorway of your child’s room. She or he can still call to you and you can easily enter the room in case of an emergency, but your child cannot leave her or his room. If your child can go over the gate, try an extra tall gate or stacking one on top of the other.

Hopefully, these tips will help you and your toddler get a good night’s rest. In my next post, I will discuss school-age children and teenagers’ sleep needs.

By Dr. Shari Eich

Pediatrician at Avera Medical Group McGreevy Clinic, Sioux Falls

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