Here’s a mom truth: if your toddler isn’t sleeping, nobody in the house is sleeping. Which is why we love these tips to help toddlers sleep better from Sara Westgreen, researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck Sleep Foundation. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.
Parents of toddlers know that toddler sleep isn’t always easy. While you may be out of the trenches of newborn sleep, the toddler stage brings with it a whole new world of struggles that may have you nostalgic about the nights when all you had to do was grab a bottle and rock them back to sleep. Toddlers may crawl out of bed, have nightmares, or even wake up way too early. While toddler sleep comes with its own set of challenges, there are plenty of things you can do to help toddlers sleep better and establish healthy sleep habits.
8 Tricks to Help Toddlers Sleep Better
1. Maintain a regular schedule. A consistent sleep schedule is the foundation of healthy toddler sleep. With a sleep schedule your child can count on, they’ll be easier to get down for a nap or bedtime. Their body will become accustomed to sleeping at the same time, and you’ll probably notice that they start getting sleepy around their usual sleep times as their body prepares for sleep. This makes it much easier to get them into bed happy and fall asleep quickly. However, don’t stress out about straying from your schedule now and then. Toddlers are generally resilient and can adjust for a day or two as long as most days you’re on the same schedule.
2. Develop a consistent bedtime routine. Another essential part of healthy toddler sleep, a consistent bedtime routine goes hand in hand with a regular sleep schedule. Just like going to sleep at the same time, using a bedtime routine toddlers can count on signals to their body that it’s just about time to go to sleep. As you work through your routine, your toddler will begin to understand that brushing teeth, putting on pajamas and reading a book means that soon, it will be bedtime. Following a consistent routine, however simple or complicated, can cut down on bedtime struggles as your child comes to expect what you’ll do every night.
3. Give them a healthy sleeping environment. Your toddler’s sleeping environment should be comfortable and safe. Ideally, it should be cool (but not too cold), dark and quiet. At this age, you should be especially cautious about what’s in and around their crib, as children this age can be curious and may become crafty in climbing out of their crib. Don’t leave large stuffed animals in their crib, as they can be used as a prop to get over the crib rail. Avoid putting your child’s crib near a window with blinds and remove items that could be a choking or strangulation hazard from their crib. You should also look for anything that can be reached from the crib, such as wall hangings, curtains or objects on a dresser.
4. Give your child a security object. A security object can provide comfort for your child. Like a good sleep routine and consistent bedtime, a toddler’s security object can help signal bedtime. A security item can be a blanket, stuffed animal, pillow or other object.
5. Comfort scared toddlers, but put them back in bed. Children may be scared of shadows or have a bad dream, needing comfort in the night. You should help your child calm down, but once they’re fine, be sure to put them back in their own bed so they don’t end up in yours every night. Give them comfort items including stuffed animals and soft blankets that make it easy for them to fall asleep again on their own.
6. Limit food and drink before bed. A large meal or excess liquids can interfere with sleep, causing digestive issues, wet diapers or trips to the bathroom. Be careful not to put toddlers to bed right after dinner and don’t let them drink a lot of liquids before bed. Keep in mind that caffeine, whether in drinks or in food, can interfere with good sleep and should be avoided, particularly in the afternoon and evening.
7. Move your child into a toddler bed if they’re ready. At the toddler stage, some children are ready to move out of their crib and into a bed. If they’re climbing out of their crib regularly, it will be safer. And it can help support better sleep as they become excited about their big boy or big girl bed. It can also give them the freedom to play quietly or read in the morning if they wake up earlier than expected.
8. Avoid screen time at night. Screen time before bed is a bad idea for anyone, but especially toddlers. Using screens before bed and especially in the bedroom can interfere with sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep. Don’t allow iPad or TV use in the hour or two before bed, taking care to especially avoid their use in the bedroom.
How’s your toddler sleeping? We’ve had a few bad dreams lately that have lead to some early morning wake-ups, but at two years and four months old are still happily in a crib. —Jenn