Asking for one more story, a drink or food… Yet another toilet trip… Begging you to stay… Toddlers have all the tricks for NOT going to sleep! As any tired parent can tell you, it can take up to three hours to settle a lively toddler. Toddlebox sleep expert Lucy Wolfe has five simple steps to help you win your bedtime battles!
1. Get the timing right.
It’s exhausting and stressful when bedtime turns into a long drawn-out battle. Most sleep struggles get worse when bedtime starts too late. Even 7.30-8pm can be too late for some toddlers. A good rule of thumb is to get your toddler to sleep within four-to-five hours of the end of their daytime nap. This includes a 20-30 minute bedtime routine and 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. It can take time to get into a new routine, but this is a good place to start. If your toddler looks tired earlier in the evening, don’t be afraid of a 6pm bedtime, especially if they have recently given up their nap and/or often wake at night. The earlier bedtime can be a good short-term solution to the bedtime battle.
2. Set a routine and stick to it.
Set the scene by making sure the bedroom is dark, cool and comfortable. Remove distractions that may over-excite your toddler. Make sure ALL the bedtime routine happens in the bedroom in dim lighting. This helps release their natural sleep hormones. Follow the same routine every night. Toddlers like routine and this will help cut out all the last minute ‘I need…’ requests. You don’t want your toddler going to sleep upset. If you move the goal posts, you could be setting yourself up for a tantrum at bedtime.
3. Stay in the zone.
Make a chill-out space in the bedroom. Put down a rug, cushions and fairy lights, or maybe get a tent or canopy. Make sure your bedtime routine happens OUTSIDE the bed. Only when it’s time for sleep should your toddler get into bed and pull up the covers. Doing your bedtime routine on the bed can cause a row when you start to leave, which could undo all your hard work! Keeping the sleep space separate helps you leave the bedroom when your toddler is actually going to sleep. (Although there is nothing wrong with staying until your toddler is asleep, it may have a big part to play in frequent night waking.)
4. Involve your toddler.
This can be a big help. Create a booklet or photo album that shows what the routine involves in your house. Make a simple checklist and stick it to the wall.
5. Set a timer.
Use a timer plugged into a lamp to signal the end of the bedtime routine. You can set the timer for the amount of time you want to give the routine. Once the light goes out, the routine is finished. This is a great way to tell your toddler that it’s now time to get into bed and sleep.
So what happens when your routine is working and your toddler is going to bed easily, but won’t sleep well? The most common reasons are:
Food and drink.
Your toddler may not sleep well if they are not having three balanced meals a day with enough milk and water and healthy snacks.
Too much milk at the wrong time.
If your toddler drinks more milk than they need just before bedtime, then they may also want unnecessary nighttime feeds. Because the liquid makes them feel full, their appetite for solid food during the day can go down.
Too much screen time.
Your toddler finds it hard to switch off and have deep sleep if they have been exposed to too much television and electronic media during the day, especially in the final few hours before bed.
Not enough time outdoors.
Your toddler may not sleep well if they are not getting enough outside activity and fresh air. An hour a day is recommended.
Getting bedtime working smoothly can take a while. But once you get the timing right and are consistent with your routine, it can become your favourite part of the day!