Why Toddlers Fight Sleep & How to Help Them
When things are going well, nighttime tuck-ins are a pure pleasure—but when they are not, it is natural to start to fear seeing the sun go down.
Running after your little wild child, wrestling her into pyjamas, shutting the bedroom door while she is shrieking on the other side—Urrgh!
Many of our little energetic toddlers resist bedtime. They hate leaving the thrill of running, climbing, and touching. Around 18 months they start to go through a very independent phase, where “No!” is their favourite word. And the more tired they get, the more rigid, hyper, and irritable they become.
In fact, the 2004 Sleep in America poll reported that a third of toddlers—and half of preschoolers—regularly stall at bedtime…and many downright fight it.
Besides this normal defiance, below are common reasons why toddlers fight bedtime.
Reasons Toddlers Refuse to Sleep Through the Night
- He is over excited—too wound up from the telly, roughhousing, or something he is consuming (like sugary juice, sweets, artificial colours and flavours, cold medicine, or a dose of caffeine from colas, Dr Pepper, Mountain Dew, tea or chocolate).
- Something is bugging him—bright lights, loud noises, or discomfort (he is teething, too hot, too cold, has a stuffy nose or itchy pyjamas, ate dinner too late, etc.).
- He is nosy and stubborn—does not want to go to his room because he wants to see what everyone else is doing.
- He is hooked on your help—has not yet learned how to fall asleep without you rocking, feeding, and holding him.
- He is going through a fearful stage—having difficulty being alone and dealing with a smorgasbord of worries from strangers to dogs to thunder.
- Your bedtime timing is off—you are putting him to bed too early (he is not tired) or too late (he is overtired and wired).
But no matter what the reason, there are lots of ways to help him get past these sleep hurdles. And one of the best ways is to work on bedtime skills—all day long.
How to Get 2 and 3 Year Old Toddlers to Sleep
It is natural for toddlers to refuse to sleep. If you are trying to figure out how to get your toddler to sleep, then use the tips below.
- Stick to a routine. Make sure your toddler has the same wake up and sleep times each day. Also, make sure that their nap time is not too late in the day to avoid any interference with their sleepy time.
- Create a calm environment. At least 30 minutes prior to sleep time, make sure to create a calm environment for your toddler. Try reading a book or having them take a bath as part of this routine, avoid high stimulation activities like the telly or cinema.
- Keep a dark and calm bedroom environment. Don’t allow your child to watch telly in their bedroom or have any screen time in their bed (iPads, iPhones, etc). You can have a dim nightlight and soft music, but avoid anything with a screen.
- Limit food and drink before bedtime. Do you remember the movie ‘Gremlins’? One of the rules was not to feed or give them water after a certain time. Practice this rule with your toddler to avoid having him go from cute and cuddly to full Gremlin.
- Tuck your child into bed. Make sure to tuck your child into bed while they are in a sleepy state, but still awake. You want them to learn to put themselves to sleep.
- Nightmares. If your toddler has a nightmare and runs into your bed, then that is perfectly ok. However, once he has calmed down then he should be placed back into his own bed. Try surrounding him with various items of comfort to make him feel safe and learn to fall asleep on his own.
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.