A child that is struggling to sleep can be something of a nightmare for parents and caregivers.
Let’s look at some of the causes and more importantly, what you can do about them.
To some extent, it is perfectly normal for toddlers to have a rather less predictable sleep pattern than adults. It’s also true that some children seem to need less sleep than others. The matronly idea that children must sleep a set number of hours each night and to a regimented schedule, is now largely disregarded.
So, a little disruption is inevitable and parents have had to deal with that since the first humans evolved. It’s typically not something to worry about and it goes with the territory of parenthood!
However, there may be times when things start to become cause for concern. That might be the case if your child is appearing tired during waking hours, keeps falling asleep, is struggling to concentrate or seems irritable. Of course, toddlers not sleeping well might also drain your energy reserves too.
The typical causes of disrupted toddler sleep patterns include:
- fear and insecurity in their bedroom (e.g. afraid of the dark);
- too much noise or distractions elsewhere;
- need for the toilet (real or imaginary);
- underlying health conditions;
- insufficient preparation for bedtime.
In this blog, there isn’t space to discuss all of these issues. We’ll concentrate therefore on the “Top 5” things you can do to address the last cause mentioned above – preparing for bed.
Top 5 Healthy Sleeping Habits
Before we start – a quick word of caution.
If your child has previously been sleeping well and suddenly and inexplicably starts to regularly suffer disrupted sleep, it would make sense to start off with a quick medical check by a doctor. It’s probably nothing or something trivial but be sure!
1. Prepare the environment
Children typically don’t sleep well in overly hot and stuffy rooms.
Make sure it is cool and preferably with some degree of fresh air circulation.
It’s also worth looking carefully at the bedclothes. Don’t use overly heavy covers that will cause your child to become too warm. They will just start to fidget and kick them off in their sleep and the disruption cycle has started.
2. Avoid last-minute eating and drinking (including late dinners)
The “milk and biscuits” routine is often a time of intimacy for parents and toddlers alike but some caution is needed
Giving your child lots of liquids and snacks immediately before bedtime can be an invitation to toilet trips. A small drink is all that should be considered – particularly if they have relatively recently eaten their evening meal.
Try not to give them their evening meal very close to their bedtime either.
3. Make sure the toddler has had plenty of exercise
Kids that have been running about like mad all day will usually ‘crash’ when they go to bed. If they haven’t, there’s a risk they’ll have excess energy unburned and that won’t help their sleeping.
Try to make sure they’re massively active in the hour or two before bedtime but do make sure there’s a chunk of time allocated for calming down and unwinding before trying to put them to bed.
4. Read stories
Most children adore stories. A hug and shared 10-minutes reading on their bed can have a massive settling effect.
It’s reassuring and comforting.
5. Leave the bedroom door open
Children often don’t sleep well in cathedral-like silence. Leaving a door ajar so they can subconsciously hear sounds of life around the house and feel still connected to it, can be very reassuring.
Of course, that’s a world away from saying it’s OK to have a party! Generally, children need a degree of peace and quiet and blaring music or TVs need to be avoided too.
This one is a question of balance.