So your little one's bedtime is here, along with all the signs - yawning, eye rubbing, and fussing but yet your toddler takes forever to fall asleep! Minute after minute... Hour after hour... They're still awake, tossing, turning and doing anything other than sleep...
Firstly, I want you to know this... YOU'RE NOT ALONE.
Many toddlers will refuse to sleep at some point in their lives and many parents will have that dreaded feeling that their toddler will never sleep as the night is ticking away and they know that their little one will inevitably wake up at the crack of dawn.
This can be a very frustrating feeling for you, especially when you're knackered after a full day of parenting...
So, after handling many fussy toddlers and helping frustrated and exhausted parents for years, I’ve put my proven tips and tricks into one list for helping toddlers fall asleep faster than ever.
How long should it take for a toddler to fall asleep?
As is the case with adults, toddlers will differ in the amount of time it takes them to fall asleep but most toddler's should be safely in the land of nod between 10 and 20 minutes after they have been put to bed.
Some may fall asleep far more quickly, but most will not take longer than 20 minutes and if they do, you will probably have to take a careful look at their daytime nap and bedtime routines.
How much sleep does my toddler need?
The age of your child will determine how much sleep they need and how often they need to nap in the day. If your toddler takes forever to fall asleep, check the following guidelines to see if they’re having too many or too few naps:
Children between the ages of 1 - 2 years of age need about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period (including naps), and you should aim for bedtime between 6.30 and 7.30pm.
By the time they are 3 years of age, they will probably need 10 - 13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period (including naps), 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 like and how much sleep if any, your child has had during the day.
As you can see, bedtimes for the early years do not really change that much but the most important thing about it all is that the end of day routine is calm and consistent.
9 curious reasons why some toddlers take a long time to fall asleep
Sleep issues are always difficult for parents, 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 help your toddler transition to a bed, uncover the perfect day time nap schedule as well as handle the arrival of new siblings or returning to work whilst your toddler starts daycare can all throw your little one's sleep schedule out of whack and stress you out too!
The good news is that if your toddler takes forever to fall asleep at night there are definitely things that you can check and actions you can take to rectify it!
So here are some of the reasons your toddler takes forever to fall asleep:
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.
An overstimulated child in the run up to bedtime will most definitely struggle to fall asleep and their brain struggles to settle.
3. Lack of a consistent bedtime routine
A healthy consistent bedtime routine is the cornerstone to establishing strong sleep associations.
4. Too much or too little day time napping
Getting day time naps correct will go a long way in helping your toddler be primed for sleep at the end of the day.
5. Body clock is out of sync
Many toddlers have circadian rhythms that get out of sync and need resetting.
6. Anxiety and Fears
It is very natural for toddlers to suffer from separation anxiety and become fearful of the dark.
Toddlers don’t like to be left out so saying goodnight and leaving can be difficult for them.
8. Room is not conducive to sleep
Is it too hot or too cold? Too light even? This can especially be an issue in the summer months.
9. Suffering from sleep regression
From around 18 months your toddler may start to experience sleep regression. This can be triggered by teething, a period of being unwell or a change in routine such as going on holiday or moving house, the arrival of a new sibling or starting daycare.
Check out my post on Sleep Regression Causes, Solutions and Advice to learn more and get your nighttimes back on track.
What should you do when your toddler takes forever to fall asleep?
So if your toddler takes forever to fall asleep because of any of the reasons outlined above or other, here are 12 important things that you can do to fix the problem:
1. Adjust day time naps to prevent overtiredness
Adjusting daytime naps can be tricky.
Between the ages of 1 and 3 years of age your toddlers day time 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! What a nightmare!
The good news is that there are general rules to follow…
1 year olds normally need two naps per day which usually fades into one afternoon nap taken after lunch for about 2 hours by the age of 18 months.
By the time your toddler is 3 years old, they may need a 45-minute nap on some days, but this will vary from child to child and will depend on how busy their day has been.
2. 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.
Be sure to check out my post on Hacking The Bedtime Routine to learn more and establish the perfect bedtime routine for you and your little one. For the slightly older toddler, you can also utilise bedtime routine charts to help create a smooth evening routine too.
3. 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 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!
If your toddler is constantly not ready for bed until 9 o’clock then bring bedtime forward gradually by 15 minutes each night in conjunction with the other tips mentioned until the desired bedtime is reached.
You cannot just jump and dramatically change the timing of bedtime and expect them to stick to it. Toddlers have to experience a consistent gradual change in order to adapt to the new routine.
4. Avoid overstimulation
Check the lead up to bedtime to see what could be going wrong. Is your toddler using screens in the lead up to bedtime? Is the bedtime routine happening at the same time every day? Is your toddler given the opportunity to wind down at the end of the day?
Are older siblings or family members creating excitement and energy in the evenings?
If so, these could all be reasons why your toddler takes forever to fall asleep once put to bed or is staying awake until 10pm.
6. Make sure the bedroom is at the right temperature
Even as adults, we all have preferences on how hot or cold our bedrooms should be.
If your toddler is struggling to settle then check that they are comfortable.
They might be too hot or too cold, the room may be too light, too dark or too noisy.
Test a few different settings and see if this fixes the issues of your toddler taking forever to fall asleep.
7. Check the room isn’t too bright
As briefly mentioned in the previous point, in summer you may have to consider using blackout blinds to help your little one fall asleep.
8. Check teatime food for hidden stimulants
Yes. Some foods and drinks can contain foods that can overstimulate your toddler and get them hyper just when you want them to start calming down. These can include caffeine, sugar and refined salt, so be sure to check food labels for these ingredients and aim to cook evening meals from scratch where you can.
9. Help your toddler deal with 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, a night light and a spray bottle full of monster repellent (or water to you and I!).
10. 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.
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11. Try an audiobook
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 lull your little one to sleep very successfully. My own son had great success with this trick too!
12. 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!
Having a regular and consistent bedtime routine where getting out of bed is non-negotiable will help them to fall asleep easier too.
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.
13. Adjust to changes in the daily schedule
Sometimes life events can flip your little one’s sleep schedule on its head.
Starting daycare, the arrival of new siblings or periods of being unwell can all upset the bedtime routine.
A toddler that has dropped their daytime nap after lunch may need to take one again as they adjust to spending a morning at daycare or you may need to bring bedtime forward if they have been in daycare all day until they get used to the new routine.
Any major change in a toddlers life can make them extra tired and you will need to make adjustments to naps and bedtimes to accommodate this and avoid them becoming overtired. Which as already mentioned, and contradictory as it sounds, is a major reason why your toddler takes forever to fall asleep!
14. 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 toddler's will witness baby behaviours such as waking up every few hours, crying, getting mum or dad's attention and extra fuss which can cause them to copy these behaviours to get more attention too.
Occasionally, this can mean your toddler takes forever to fall asleep as they want to spend as much time with you as possible. Be sure to watch this video about how to help your toddler adjust to live with a new sibling to learn more about navigating this phase.
10 Ridiculously Simple ways to help your child fall asleep faster
The best way to help your child fall asleep faster is to establish a healthy and consistent bedtime routine and stick to it.
Here are 10 extra super simple ways to help your little one to fall asleep faster too:
- No screens before bed.
- Consider using a night light.
- Consider using a white noise machine.
- Make sure the room is the right temperature and not too bright.
- Create strong sleep associations.
- Have a consistent and structured bedtime routine.
- Make sure your toddler is comfortable wearing suitable nightwear and the correct bedding for the time of year.
- Try using audiobooks to lull your toddler to sleep.
- Offer a soft toy friend to keep them company.
- Praise them a lot the next day for staying in bed and falling asleep on time.
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, know it is NOT a hopeless situation!
The main thing to remember with toddler sleep issues is that you can 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.
Try not to give in and think that one night of letting your little one get up won't matter.
Trust me, it only takes once for your toddler to think that this is a great way to spend every evening as they get to hang out with you for longer!
Always remember that getting your toddler into bed at a reasonable hour and giving yourself that well earned evening to yourself is your investment in your parenting for tomorrow.
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Thank you for your reading! And until next time, with love and support, Happy Parenting!