Toddler Takes Forever To Fall Asleep? 14 Tricks You Must Try

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 03/14/22 •  11 min read  •  Toddler » Toddler Sleep

It’s 8pm. Your little one’s bedtime has been and gone.

Yet the yawning, eye rubbing, and fussing remains. So how come your toddler takes forever to fall asleep?

Minute after minute…

Hour after hour…

They’re awake… tossing, turning and still NOT sleeping.

So…

Let’s dive right in!

How Long Should It Take For A Toddler To Fall Asleep?

Most toddlers should be in the land of nod between 10 and 20 minutes after they have been put to bed.

Some children will fall asleep far more quickly, but most will not take longer than 25 minutes to drift off to sleep.

9 Reasons Why Your Toddler Takes Forever To Fall Asleep

Sleep issues are always difficult, especially as your baby grows into a toddler and becomes more independent.

And whether you’re a new parent or an experienced one, learning how to navigate these sleep troubles will always test you…

The good news is that if your toddler takes forever to fall asleep at night there are definitely things that you can do to get back on track! (And quickly too!)

So, to start with… Here are 9 curious reasons why your toddler takes forever to fall asleep:

9 Reasons Why A Toddler Takes Forever To Fall Asleep
  1. Your toddler is overtired. Bizarrely, if your toddler is overtired they will struggle to fall asleep. An overtired toddler’s body produces excess cortisol in order for them to keep going which in turn makes it difficult for them to doze off.
  2. They’re overstimulated. An overstimulated child in the run-up to bedtime will most definitely struggle to fall asleep as their brain struggles to settle.
  3. There is a lack of a bedtime routine. A healthy, consistent bedtime routine is the cornerstone to establishing strong sleep associations to help your toddler fall asleep faster.
  4. Your toddler’s napping routine is not balanced. Getting daytime naps correct will go a long way in helping your toddler be primed for sleep at the end of the day. Keep reading to learn more about how much sleep your toddler actually needs!
  5. Their body clock is out of sync. Many toddlers have circadian rhythms that get out of sync and need resetting.
  6. Your toddler is experiencing anxiety or bedtime fears. It is very natural for toddlers to suffer from separation anxiety and become fearful of the dark.
  7. They’re curious! Toddlers don’t like to be left out! So, saying goodnight and leaving them alone can be very difficult for them to understand.
  8. Your toddler’s room is not conducive to sleep. Is it too hot or too cold? Too light? Too loud? Creating a peaceful bedroom will go a long way to helping your toddler fall asleep faster.
  9. They may be suffering from a sleep regression. At around 18 months your toddler may start to experience a sleep regression. This can be triggered by all sort of things such as teething or the arrival of a new sibling and this will certainly make falling asleep much harder for your little one!

How Much Sleep Does A Toddler Need?

If your toddler takes forever to fall asleep, check the following guidelines to see if they’re having too much or not enough sleep:

1 to 2 Year Old Sleep Recommendations

Children between the ages of 1 and 2 years old need about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.

That includes naps and you should aim for their bedtime to be between 6.30 and 7.30pm.

3 Year Old Sleep Recommendations

By the time your toddler is 3, they will probably need 10 – 13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period although, most children will have dropped their daytime naps by this stage. 

Bedtime for this age group can fall anywhere between 6pm and 8pm depending on what the family evening routine is and how much sleep (if any) your toddler has had during the day.

What Should You Do When Your Toddler Takes Forever To Fall Asleep?

So, if you think your toddler takes forever to fall asleep because of any of the reasons I mentioned above, here are the 12 important things that you can do to fix the problem:

Adjust Daytime Naps To Prevent Overtiredness

I’m not going to lie… adjusting daytime naps can be tricky. 

Between the ages of 1 and 3, your toddler’s daytime nap needs will change and you will need to make sure that they are not getting too little or too much nap time. 

Too few daytime naps will result in your toddler becoming overtired…

And too much will mean that they are not ready for bed at the appropriate time!

Wonderful.

The good news is that there are a few general rules to follow to get the balance right… 

Ensure You Have A Stable And Regular Bedtime Routine

I am always going on about a consistent and calm bedtime routine as it goes a long way in getting your little one ready for sleep. 

If your toddler takes forever to fall asleep, then the earlier you start with a bedtime routine the better. 

As they grow your toddler will take their sleep cues from the regular nighttime routine of bath, book and bed. You can also use bedtime routine charts to help establish a consistent bedtime routine.

Gradually Adjust Bedtime To Reset Their Body Clock

Also known as the circadian rhythm, sometimes your toddler’s body clock gets out of sync and needs to be reset!

In order to fix this, use a morning light to help wake your toddler earlier, avoid screens before bedtime as these really mess up nature’s circadian rhythm and keep bedtimes consistent and calm… even at weekends! 

Avoid Overstimulation And Limit Screen Time Before Bed

Check the lead up to bedtime and ask yourself these questions:

If so, these could all be reasons why your toddler takes forever to fall asleep once put to bed or is staying awake until late.

To help your toddler fall asleep faster, try to reduce screen time before bed, keep consistent routines and maintain calm energy throughout the house in the evenings.

Help Your Toddler Process Their Anxiety And Fears

It is not uncommon for toddlers to become anxious about being left alone or fearful of the dark and this can be one of the reasons why your toddler takes forever to fall asleep.

You will need to be very patient if this is the case and you will come up with some strategies that make them feel safe. 

Children of this age often feel more settled with a favourite toy to sleep with (I’ve yet to find a child who does not love a GUND teddy!), a nightlight and a spray bottle full of monster repellent (or water to you and I)!

GUND "Toothpick" Soft Plush Teddy Bear
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Make Sure Their Bedroom Is At The Right Temperature And Brightness

Even as adults, we all have preferences on how hot or cold our bedrooms should be. 

So, if your toddler is struggling to fall asleep then check that they are comfortable. 

They might be too hot or cold or the room may be too light.

Test a few different settings and see if this fixes the issues of your toddler taking forever to fall asleep.

Check Your Toddler’s Food For Hidden Stimulants

Yes. You heard that right.

Some foods and drinks contain ingredients that overstimulate your toddler and get them hyper just when you want them to start calming down.

These include caffeine, sugar and refined salt. So, be sure to check food labels for these ingredients and aim to cook evening meals from scratch whenever you can.

Use A Night Light And White Noise Machine

A nightlight and white noise machine can also go a long way in helping your little one settle to sleep. 

The night light will reduce fears of the dark without being too bright to prevent sleep and a white noise machine can be very soothing and block out disturbing and distracting noises.

This nightlight by LICKLIP is a firm favourite with toddlers as it projects pretty images on the walls and has a range of colours!

Our Pick
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There are a lot of night lights out there but I love this one. The perfect bedside lamp is easy to use and projects onto the ceiling. It comes in a range of colours, soft lighting and a timer.

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Try Listening To An Audiobook Together

I have always found playing an audiobook a great way to settle a toddler that struggles to fall asleep.

They will probably want you to play the same one over and over again each night… but listening to the comforting and familiar story can help your little one to fall asleep very successfully!

Understand Their Natural Curiosity

Toddlers are naturally curious and their brains are like sponges. 

Put simply, your toddler takes forever to fall asleep as they often struggle to switch off at the end of the day and think they are missing out on whatever it is you might be doing once they have gone to bed!

Explain to them that you are now having some grown-up time that they will find really boring and talk about something exciting that they can look forward to the next day that you can do together.

Be Adaptable To Changes In Your Family’s Schedule

Sometimes events can flip your little one’s sleep schedule on its head. 

So, whether that’s starting daycare, anticipating the arrival of a new sibling or being unwell… Sleep often takes a hit and needs some attention to get back on track.

So, if your toddler has dropped their daytime nap you may need to bring it back as they adjust to spending a morning at daycare.

You can also bring their bedtime forward if they have been in daycare all day until they get used to the new routine! 

Help Them Understand That Having A New Sibling Does Not Mean They Can Return To Baby Behaviours

When a new sibling joins the family, a lot of toddlers will witness baby behaviours such as waking up every few hours, crying, getting extra attention and fussing which can cause them to copy these behaviours to get more attention too… 

These are perfectly normal behaviours.

However, it’s how we react to these behaviours that will make the difference to months of sleepless nights or just a few days of out of character behaviour.

So, be sure to watch this video about helping your toddler adjust to a new sibling to learn more about navigating this phase.

Toddler Takes Forever To Fall Asleep Recap

So if your toddler takes forever to fall asleep and you feel that you have lost control of the bedtime routine…

I want you to know that it’s NOT a hopeless situation!

The main thing to remember with toddler sleep issues is that you can ALWAYS do something about it and that it is important to address these issues before they become bad habits.

Remember to stay calm and be loving and supportive towards your toddler. 

Check the areas covered in this post to see which may apply to your little one and then take steps to re-establish a healthy, consistent bedtime routine that limits screen time and reinforces strong sleep associations, backed up by age-appropriate daytime naps.

If you enjoyed this post and know other parents who would enjoy this content, be sure to give it a share!

And if you have any blog recommendations that you’d like me to write about, then be sure to drop me an email at [email protected] and let me know!

Thank you for your reading! And until next time, with love and support, Happy Parenting!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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