Common Toddler Sleep Problems (And How To Fix Them!)

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If you thought toddlers were difficult creatures to tame during the day – wait until you have to put them to bed! We’ve called in the experts to help solve some of the most common toddler sleep problems plaguing parents across Australia!

toddler sleep problems

From teething, food intolerances and nightmares to bed transitioning – three of Australia’s leading sleep experts have revealed how to to tackle common toddler sleep issues.

Tara Mitchell – The Gentle Sleep Specialist

Toddlerhood is a time of transition – for your little one and for your family. The Gentle Sleep Specialist, Tara Mitchell, says there are three main issues that she sees with toddlers who struggle at bedtime.

Problem: Moving to a bed too early

“For some, making this transition at any age goes smoothly, for others it opens up a whole new world of boundaries to test and often falls around the age that toddlers are testing boundaries at every turn,” Tara explains to The Healthy Mummy.

Solution: Wait until your toddler is over two-years-old

“I recommend waiting for your little one to be closer to two and a half years of age (as long as he/she isn’t climbing out of the cot). By this age your little one has a greater ability of understanding rules and consequence. This in turn allows you to put boundaries in place and be confident your little one understands them. Holding boundaries around bedtime is paramount when transitioning.”

Problem: Toddler in charge

Tara says the most common issue she finds with families who have toddler troubles at bedtime is that their child has taken over.

“They are dictating, when bedtime is, how it will run and what role their parents will play in the process of them falling off to sleep. Children aren’t developmentally ready to dictate the bedtime process and your role in it.

“As a result it often ends up in a lot of protest, tantrums and pushing of boundaries usually beginning around dinner time and then into bed. Signs your child is trying to take control of bedtime might appear in the form of constant requests (one more book, one more drink etc), refusal to follow simple instruction (hop into bed, for example), ‘playing up’ and coming out of their room a number of times once in bed.”

Solution: Have a solid bedtime plan

“Children thrive off boundaries and consistency and they love structure. These things allow them familiarity and a sense of control. Parent guided negotiation such as ‘which pair of these three pyjamas would you like to wear’ or ‘pick two books’ is often a great way to allow them some sense of control at this time in the evening.”

Problem: Tired toddler

“When our little ones are consistently going to bed over tired we are really setting them up to bring out their worst behaviour right before it. We all know the saying ‘you’re beside yourself’ in relation to an overtired child. This usually means a little one is hyperactive, pushing every boundary possible and prone to constant meltdowns.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of making sleep a priority and have an early consistent bedtime. Your toddler’s mood will thank you for it.”

Solution: Put these tips into place!

  • Don’t be in a rush to drop a nap or naps. Transitioning from two naps to one or one to none can often take a period of time. Refusal of a nap here and there doesn’t usually mean it isn’t necessary. There will be days they won’t take them and days they desperately need them, so take it on a day-to-day basis during times of transition.
  • Stay in charge. I really cannot stress this enough, be mindful of attempts to take control of bedtime. Toddlers are smarter than we think!
  • Predictability through routine and consistency is paramount. Never underestimate the power of a solid bedtime routine and an early night.
  • Get sleep sorted. Sleep plays a vital role in your little ones ability to develop well, concentrate, their physical health and attention span. The effects of poor sleep can impact the entire family units physical and mental well-being.

toddler sleep problems

Pinky McKay – Best-Selling Author

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby and Toddler Tactics Pinky McKay says there are four key issues to address for a more settled toddler slumber.

Problem: Dreams and nightmares

“Toddlers have lots of REM sleep, so now dreams and possibly even nightmares can influence sleep (and night-waking),” Pinky explains to The Healthy Mummy.

“Young toddlers will be processing all of their amazing development in light sleep – this is when you find them waking up chatting or pulling themselves up in the cot then waking. They don’t want to wake up but their busy brain is practicing the new skills they are learning. And, as imagination comes on board, your child may wake from a scary dream.”

Solution: Offer comfort and cuddles

“If your little one is frightened, respect her fears – they are real to her. Hold her and reassure her, ‘I am here, you are safe.’ Stay with her as long as she needs you to help her relax, whether this means waiting until she falls asleep or cuddling her back to sleep in her bed or yours.

“A nightlight or for an older toddler, a dream-catcher (to catch scary dreams) may help her feel more confident about going to sleep if she has experienced nightmares. And do consider the role television can play in creating frightening images and scary noises to a small child: try to finish boisterous games early in the evening, turn off the television and create a calm, quiet time before bed.”

Problem: Teething

“Although you are sure to be told ‘teething begets teeth’ (and that is all, so it’s no reason for disturbed sleep), some toddlers seem to have an awful time, especially as they cut molars – the first set will usually appear between 12 and 18 months, and the ‘two year old’ molars can erupt around two but for some children this may be a bit sooner or as late as almost three years.”

Solution: Think about your toddler’s sleep space

Pinky says: “Lying flat means more circulation to the head and jaw area and this can create more pressure and pain for teething infants. There is also more saliva during teething to gag on and cause waking. So, a simple solution is to elevate your toddler’s head – either with a folded towel under the mattress or, if you have an older toddler (over 18 months) and feel comfortable about his safety, you can give him a small pillow (try this during the daytime to see how he manages).”

Problem: Food intolerance

“Food additives are present in ever-increasing numbers in almost all processed foods and these can dramatically affect sleep patterns. Some children can also become restless after eating foods containing salicylates. These are naturally occurring chemicals which are found in otherwise healthy foods such as berries, grapes, apples, citrus and tomatoes, as well as in some processed foods.”

Solution: Professional help

“If you suspect food allergies or intolerance, seek professional help from a dietician and try eliminating suspect foods. Lots of parents find that cutting out foods high in salicylates can make a difference within a few days. To find out more about this and helpful professionals, check out the Food Intolerance Network.”

6 Tips To Keep Your Toddler In Their Bed At Night

Tizzie Hall – The International Baby Whisperer

Tizzie Hall says the two most common toddler sleep problems she deals with are little ones getting up too early, and refusing to go to bed at night.

Problem: Early riser/late to bed

“Some toddlers rise early or have problems settling at 7 pm, and in some instances, I have found the toddler needs less day sleep than other toddlers his age.”

Solution: Move nap times

“If you are having problems with early rising or the 7 pm settling, moving the day sleep 20 minutes later while still getting your toddler up at the same time may help. For example, if your toddler is currently having one day sleep from 1 pm to 3 pm, I would suggest you move the sleep to 1.20 pm and get him up at 3 pm.

“This reduction in total day sleep should help your toddler go back to sleeping in until 7 am and/or settling better at 7 pm.”

Of course, every toddler is different and if bedtime battles are getting beyond your control, make sure you seek help, either from your family doctor or a professional sleep consultant.

And if you also have a newborn in the mix, you may want to read our expert newborn sleep secrets!

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