Childcare General How To

Why won’t my toddler sleep? (and what to do about it)

Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

If putting your toddler to sleep is an ongoing issue, you’re not alone. Here’s what can be done about it.

My little two year old, has never slept quite well. Even in her early days, she would wake up every three or four hours. I assumed this is a normal phase that would pass. Sadly, it still hasn’t. The little sleep fighter still doesn’t sleep through the night and refuses to sleep in her own room. I needed to know why this was happening and if was doing something wrong. My research (a fancy word for googling it online) gave me a couple of insights I would like to share with parents in similar situations.

Sleep-onset association disorder

My daughter behaviour led me to realise that she has a ‘sleep-onset association disorder.’ She enjoys cuddling me or holding my hand right before she falls asleep. This backfires when she repeatedly requires my physical presence to return to sleep when she awakens. All of us cycle through deep sleep, light sleep, and REM sleep many times throughout the night, often awakening briefly before falling back asleep. In an onset association disorder, the child learns that a parents physical presence is necessary for them to be able to fall back asleep. She is now unwilling to go back to sleep, until I give her physical contact, be it at the beginning or end of the night.

Tracking sleeping patterns

Most toddlers don’t require more than 10 to 11 hours of sleep a day. Including car sleep and other naps. To get a better sense of what your child’s unique sleeping requirements are, track their sleep. This, from experience, works really well. So for example, I saw that my daughter needs around 10 hours a day, so I make sure that she doesn’t nap during the day. This small little change really helps with her falling-asleep patters. When she’s sleepier, she’s likely to put up less of a fight and go to bed quicker.

Set a bed time routine

This works wonders. It is probably the best way to spend some quality time with your child and get them ready for bed. Establish a routine that signals sleep. Try to make it as pleasant as possible for the both of you. Before starting the routine, let your child know that bedtime is coming. You’ll start off on the wrong foot if you try to pull them away from whatever they’re doing because, “It’s time for bed.”In choosing the elements of a bedtime routine for your toddler, choose activities that are quiet and calming. It makes little sense to work your child into a state of excitement right before bed (something my partner struggles to understand!).

These are just  a few of my observations. I hope they help in putting your little one to bed and giving you some much needed ‘me time.’