Why won't my toddler sleep? 8 things to try

Why Won’t My Toddler Sleep? 8 Things to Try

10 September 2020 • Words by Sharon Brandwein 4 mins

Sleep training your baby was undoubtedly a labor of love, and for a while, things were going so well. However, once your little one hit toddlerhood, he’s now doing everything in his power to delay bedtime. If it feels like you took three steps forward and two steps back, rest assured that you’re not alone. In fact, it’s quite common for toddlers to experience sleep disturbances ranging from bedtime resistance to nighttime waking

At this stage of their development, toddlers tend to exhibit a fierce sense of independence. Pair that with developing motor, cognitive and social skills, and you have a recipe for sleep disruption. 

Moreover, your child’s newfound ability to get themselves out of bed and active imaginations could further exacerbate the issue. Truth be told, sleep interferences in toddlers could even be a simple case of FOMO (or the fear of missing out). It would seem there are plenty of kids who think that the party starts as soon as they’re off to bed — little do they know. Helping your child develop healthy sleep habits might feel like a long game.

Here are eight tips to help you get your toddler to sleep that you can try right now:

Stick to a consistent schedule 

When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, sticking to a consistent schedule is crucial. A regular sleep pattern is important, even on the weekends. Be sure to put your toddler down at the same time every night and wake them at the same hour every morning. Any disruption to waking and bedtime schedules can set the stage for disastrous bedtime showdowns. 

Keep them active during the day 

Physical activity is essential. If your child isn’t expending all of their energy during the day, it stands to reason that they won’t be tired at night. Regular play dates are great, running around the backyard is a ton of fun and don’t forget that challenging them mentally will also tucker them out. 

Mind daytime napping

Although your child might slowly begin to fight naptime, the fact remains that at this stage, it’s still necessary. Toddlers need approximately 11-14 hours of sleep per day, and while they’ll eventually move away from naptime, chances are they’re probably not quite there yet. 

By 18 months, your child should be down to one nap per day. In that case, parents are reminded to be mindful of the timing for their child’s nap. Ideally, it should be early in the afternoon. Any later and you run the risk of your child not being tired when bedtime rolls around. In that case, prepare yourself for the deployment of all sorts of shenanigans in an effort to stall. 

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine

Toddlers have difficulty understanding the idea of bedtime, which stands to reason; they also don’t have any concept of time. For those reasons, bedtime routines are a crucial part of healthy sleep habits. A consistent bedtime routine signals your child that the party is over, and it’s time for bed. 

Commons cues for bedtime include bathtime, turning off the television, reading to your child, and even dimming the lights. When these things happen in the same pattern night after night, your child will begin to associate them with bedtime soon enough.  

Make time for your child’s bedtime routine

Kids are pretty intuitive. Those little guys and gals know when they’re being short-changed. So, not only should you establish a solid bedtime routine, but you must take the time to go through the process each and every night.  Of course, life happens, and there will be times where you just can’t get it done — totally understandable. But if you consistently rush the routine, your little one might not take that too kindly. Subtle protests will probably look like getting out of bed in search of more kisses and hugs.  And while there’s no doubt that you have kisses and hugs in abundance, your patience might be another story.

Try to stay one step ahead

Anyone who has ever tried to put a toddler to sleep knows that they’re really quite clever. Your child can (and will) find every possible excuse to delay bedtime. Whether it’s a glass of water, going to the potty (after said water), a missing blankie, or a discussion about the angle of the moon in the night sky, they’ll find a way. 

The trick here is to stay one step ahead of them. Be sure to have a glass of water at the ready, take care of trips to the potty before putting them down, and close the window blinds if you have to. Call on your parental superpowers, try to anticipate their every need, and meet every request with an immediate response. 

Accept a quiet activity in lieu of sleep  

If your toddler just isn’t settling down, perhaps it’s time to pick your battles and settle for a quiet activity in lieu of sleep. Allow your child to look through his/her favorite book or play quietly with a toy. As long as they’re not disruptive, it could be a win-win for everyone. The one caveat here is to steer clear of TV or other stimulating activities for obvious reasons.

Put on a brave face and don’t engage

When your child stares at you with that sweet baby face (that you just can’t resist), do your best not to give in to crying and pleading. That only teaches your child that persistence pays off. Instead, when your little one is fighting the good fight, meet their objections calmly. If they’re on the move, guide them back to bed without too much interaction. It’s hard to be steely, but sometimes that’s what the situation calls for. 

While the thought of battling with your toddler to get them to sleep might seem exhausting, the only way around, in this case, is through. The keys are to establish a solid bedtime routine, don’t give in, be consistent, and be firm. Ideally, you want your child to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, both of which are hallmarks of good (lifelong) sleep habits. If you’re stuck, Moshi can help you create a soothing bedtime routine with calming stories and meditations designed precisely to help your little one drift off to dreamland. 

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein is a writer specializing in all things parenting. Her work has also appeared on ABCNews, Motherly, and, Scary Mommy, and Parents. When she’s not busy curating a wardrobe for her puppy, you can find her writing about motherhood, among other things, on SharonBrandwein.com, and of course right here on Moshi.