Toddler sleep

by Dawn Kelly. Top tips and advice so that you and your toddler both get a good night's sleep.

toddler sleeping


So many toddlers have difficulty sleeping - and they can use an array of cheeky tactics to delay bedtime. Sometimes they refuse to go bed or they emerge from their room wanting another cuddle, more drink, a different teddy... their reasons are endless.

Other times, they refuse to settle, have to be rocked off or fall asleep on the sofa. In addition, many toddlers think that 4am is a great wake-up time!

Toddlers & older children not sleeping is incredibly common, but can have a disastrous affect on family life.

It can leave you feeling disorientated, confused and irritable. You may have angry feelings towards your toddler because you blame your little one for your lack of sleep. And because your patience is so over-stretched, you lose your temper more easily.The atmosphere at home can become tense and uncomfortable.

How CBeebies can help

All toddlers should be allowed around an hour of 'wind down' time before bed.

This could be quiet, gentle play or watching something like Mr Bloom's Nursery or In The Night Garden, which feature characters settling down to sleep at the end of the show.

CBeebies Bedtime Hour is a good choice as it ends with a story and quiet time and then ceases transmission at 7pm, which is a common bedtime for a lot of children.

Whether they watch TV or play games, try to ensure that the hour before bed is relatively calm and relaxing. Aim to avoid anything exciting, noisy, or frightening.

How to make a magic moment

It's so wonderful when the bedtime routine is calm and gentle and our child feels loved, nurtured and ready to drift off to sleep.

Children should enjoy going to sleep and we should enjoy putting our children to bed. We can create this by having a bedtime routine with lots of gentle stories, cuddles and kisses (but no excitement).

Extra information

Predictable Bedtime Routine

Children thrive on predictability. Every parent knows the importance of bedtime consistency with babies, and how a routine triggers various cues for sleep. Yet the rituals often seem to diminish as children get older. We especially ignore the bedtime routine when we are out and about on a busy day or on holiday. Sleep problems can improve when the build-up to bedtime is the same each night. Try establishing (or re-establishing) a bedtime routine. A typical routine may be: having a bath, brushing teeth, pyjamas on, bright lights off (night light on), into bed, story and cuddle. What the routine consists of is irrelevant, but it should be the same every night.

Busy, busy, busy

Packing more physical activity into the day may also help. Let them run riot in the garden or schedule trips to local playgrounds, take long walks, etc. to help tire children. But try to allow around an hour to relax and unwind before bedtime.

Light and melatonin

Sleep problems and an abundance of light can go hand in hand because light interferes with the body's natural sleep process. We produce the hormone melatonin to help bring on sleep, but exposure to light reduces melatonin production and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. The same happens in the morning - a reduced amount of melatonin wakes you up. Thus, the summer sun or any light can interfere with melatonin production and create sleep problems for children by preventing sleep at night and making them wake early in the morning. So keep up those heavy winter curtains or use blackout blinds to keep the room dark. If your child hates the dark then a night light with a gentle glow may be worth considering.

Noisy evenings

The sounds of summer can also be problematic. Evening traffic, lawn mowers, chirping birds, and the chatting of grown-ups on the patio can make it difficult for children to settle. One rather novel solution is to use a white noise machine to create a constant, soothing sound that will block out all the interference that would otherwise prevent sleep. Sometimes referred to as relaxation machines or soundscape machines, such devices are plugged in and create a soothing constant sound that will mask environmental noise. If it's particularly warm, it may be better to keep windows closed to block out the noise and use a fan to keep the room cool (they also produce their own white noise!).

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Expert opinion

Some sleep problems are well established and very tricky for parents to overcome.

If your little one is not sleeping well, it affects the whole family in so many ways. There are lots of gentle techniques that work brilliantly for toddler and older children and don't involve controlled crying.

Dawn Kelly, Baby & Child Development Expert, (RGN, RSCN, BSc, PGDipHV, PGDipEd, RNT, PGDipRes)

Top tips

  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Start to wind down at least an hour before bedtime.Keep your child's bedroom dark. If they are scared of the dark, use a night light. Encourage you child to settle in their own bed every night (rather than a sofa, for example).Try to put your child them to bed when they are sleepy but not actually asleep - this helps them learn to fall asleep by themselves.Sticker charts, clapping and big hugs are great rewards when your child has achieved a small (or big) step in the right direction!

Parent's tale

In summer, when it's still light at bedtime, I close all the curtains and put the lights on upstairs before the children come up. This gives it a much more night-time feel.

Lee, from London

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