5 Tips for Helping your Toddler Sleep

For toddlers, sleep is rarely a simple thing. Toddlers are growing so fast, both mentally and physically, that any given sleep pattern rarely lasts longer than a few weeks, and parents have to make continuous adjustments. Sometimes it can feel like a game of catch-up where you are always lagging behind. Meanwhile, toddlers are excited to explore the world and play, and they often do not want to stop doing this even when they are falling over with sleepiness. In short, unless your child is an innately great sleeper, there are no guarantees during this time. Though there are many challenges associated with toddler sleep, experienced parents have much wisdom to offer. If you talk to people who have been through this before, here are some of the tips you are likely to hear. 1. Do not trust routines: During the toddler years, uncertainty is the only certain thing. As soon as it seems like your child is settling into a predictable routine for sleep, he or she is liable to make another growth leap and require a completely different sleep pattern. So in general, it is not a good idea to structure your entire life around your child’s naps and bedtimes, because you just cannot plan for them. Try to take a relaxed attitude, and let your child be the guide. 2. Maximize night-time sleep: Naps are crucial for a toddler’s health and development, but they are not as important as getting a good night’s sleep. Of course, you will likely have difficult nights, but in general your child’s night-time sleep should be more reliable and predictable than the day-time naps. So when your child seems unwilling to take that second nap or wakes up from naps sooner than you think she should, try not to worry too much. Make up for it at night. 3. Be wary of co-sleeping: For any number of reasons, some parents get into the habit of sleeping with their toddlers or allowing their toddlers to sleep with them. This can be nice and can even promote good sleep for the child—even though, of course, pediatricians generally recommend against it—but be careful not to let it become a habit. Once your child becomes dependent on your presence for a good sleep, there is no easy way to break this dependence. 4. Get the child plenty of physical activity: As adults, we might sometimes have a full, active day and still feel not quite tired when night comes. Toddlers are not like this. If you make sure your child gets plenty of playful, physical activity during the day, he is almost certainly going to be ready to sleep well at night. So use this as yet another reason to get your child outdoors or otherwise out and active in the world. Limit television time, not just because it has no benefit for toddlers but also because it tends to be a sedentary activity. 5. Have a ritual, especially at night: Nap rituals can be difficult given that toddler nap patterns tend to stay in flux, but night sleep is much more consistent and hence can be ritualized. Have a set pattern of things that you do for an hour or two before bringing your child to bed. For example, you might have a bath followed by quiet playtime and finally some reading time before taking your child to bed. By Jamell Andrews