Getting toddlers to go to sleep and stay asleep is just one of those parenting problems that nobody tells you about. We all know about the sleep deprivation associated with newborn babies. But the brutal two-hourly feeding cycle eventually ends and baby will start to sleep longer. Getting toddlers to go to sleep – and stay asleep – is a different parenting problem entirely.
Keep reading to discover 5 simple habits that will improve your toddler’s sleep.
It’s only a week since the clocks went forward. How typical that we lost an hour of sleep on Mother’s Day of all days. Urgh.
Whilst we might have been yearning for the longer days and lighter evenings of Spring and Summer, there are downsides too. The clocks going forward seems to awaken a whole new side to our darling toddlers that we may not have encountered before. Or forgotten existed until now.
Yes, the lighter evenings trick our little ones into thinking it’s still daytime. When, in actual fact, it’s waaaayyyyy past wine-o-clock.
The CBeebies bedtime hour finished ages ago, and yet our little darlings are still running wild. Eyes wide. Full of mischief. Definitely not looking sleepy. And what makes it even more depressing is that it wasn’t even Tom Hardy reading the bedtime story :'(
It doesn’t have to be like this. And we don’t have to wait until the end of October for the clocks to change back to see the return of our post-7pm toddler-free time.
There are some simple things we can do to keep up the all-important bedtime routine and help improve our toddler’s sleep.
There are affiliate links within this post and so as an Amazon Associate I might earn from qualifying purchases. There is absolutely no additional cost to you.
1. Plenty of Fresh Air
Being cooped up inside is not great for toddlers. Or humans in general for that matter. We need to make sure that our kids have enough playtime outside.
This can be as simple as:
- exploring the back garden
- going to play in the park
- walking with older siblings on the school run, even if you leave the car further away and walk just part of the way
- heading to the local pond and feeding the ducks (please take duck feed, or frozen peas, and not bread!)
- a simple stroll round where you live
It’s great for a child’s development to have lots of fresh air and natural sunlight. Our bodies need Vitamin D. It’s essential for bone development and for our immune system, amongst other health benefits. Do be sure to protect your little one from harmful UV rays, even on an overcast day. But avoid using sun-block as that kind of defeats the purpose of being outside. You can read more about the benefits of outside play here.
Research shows that children who regularly play outside also develop better language and communication skills. Plus, children who play outside regularly are less likely to develop behavioural problems and are less likely to become obese too. It’s a win, win, win!
Our toddlers take in so much new information from playing outdoors. It helps to familiarise them with the world beyond their home. It gives them new experiences. New things to see, smell, hear and touch. It will give them a chance to socialise. To learn to take risks.
And their brains will need sleep to be able to process all of that new information. The increased stimuli from playing outside will help your toddler to fall asleep naturally.
Playing outdoors is a great way to improve your toddler’s sleep.
2. Nap Time
Now this might seem counter-intuitive if you’re having trouble getting your toddler to sleep at night. But, an over-tired child is less likely to sleep.
So, if you’re little one is reluctant to go to sleep at night, don’t be tempted to cut out nap time from your daily routine.
It won’t help. In fact it’ll probably make it worse.
And your toddler will be extra grouchy because they’re too tired. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than a cantankerous two-year-old!
You might want to try moving nap time to earlier in the day. Just before or just after lunch is probably ideal. And you might want to limit the amount of time your toddler spends napping.
A three-hour long nap is probably too much!
But 30-60 minutes is ideal for some much-needed rest. This will allow your toddler to process all the information they’ve accumulated during morning play. And yet it’s still long enough away from bedtime so that it shouldn’t interfere with the longer sleep needed at night.
So don’t cut out nap time from your child’s daily routine. Get them into the habit of having one nap near the middle of the day. Doing this should help to improve your toddler’s sleep at bedtime.
3. Eat Well
Have you ever gone to bed on an empty stomach? Too full tummy? Gassy belly?
I bet it wasn’t very comfortable, was it?
And it’s exactly the same for your toddler.
The one thing that is guaranteed to keep Roo awake longer than usual at nighttime is a sore tummy. Usually a spoonful of gripe water, a gentle belly rub and a few farts later and she’s snoring away happily.
(Sorry to the teenager Roo who may be reading this one day!)
Take a look at this handy guide from the British Nutrition Foundation if you’re unsure about meal times for toddlers. There’s some really useful advice on how much of the four main food groups your toddler should be eating each day.
Although all children are different – and your own child’s hunger levels will differ from day-to-day – in general children aged 1-3 years old should be eating three main meals PLUS two or three healthy snacks per day. Moreover, they should be offered 6-8 beakers (100ml) of drink per day.
“Tap water is a good choice and should always be made available, throughout the day.” (Advice courtesy of the BNF, 2017)
If your toddler is eating well – and healthily – and is sufficiently hydrated, then they will be pooing and weeing regularly too. All of this helps to keep your child’s tummy feeling tip-top.
On the days where Roo is resisting sleep, the first thing I do is check her nappy for stealth poos that may have gone unnoticed. Assuming she’s got a clean bum, the second thing I do is offer her a spoon of gripe water.
The small drop of gripe water won’t do her any harm if it’s not tummy trouble keeping her awake. But it’ll do a whole load of good if she does have stomachache.
So providing a healthy diet, and the odd splash of gripe water when needed, is key to improving your toddler’s sleep at bedtime.
4. Too Hot or Too Cold
I can’t sleep if I’m too cold. And I have trouble sleeping if I’m too hot. Call me Goldilocks if you like, but the temperature has to be just right for me to be able to sleep.
The optimum temperature for your child’s bedroom is between 16-20 degrees Celsius. I don’t want to freak you out, but temperatures that are too hot or too cold pose real dangers to your child’s health. And this includes a very real risk of death.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to keep a check on the temperature of the room where your child sleeps.
There are some great products on the market for this.We used the Gro Egg when GinGin was a baby. And we still had it when Roo arrived five years later. The best thing we found about it was that we didn’t even have to be able to read the digital temperature on the front of the egg to see if the room was at the right temperature.
Just the colour of the egg let us know whether the room was too hot or too cold.
Do you know how to check your little one’s body temperature? Most of us would probably just check our child’s forehead, or arms, to see if they’re too hot or cold.
But, actually, it’s the back of the neck that we should check.
Your child’s hands or feet may feel cold to the touch even when they’re perfectly warm. So checking the back of the neck, or chest if it’s accessible, is a more accurate way to check if your child is too hot or too cold.
If you’re child is looking blueish then they’re too cold. If they’re looking flushed with red or pink cheeks, they’re too warm.
Sweaty hair is a sign that your child is too hot, and so is rapid breathing.
If you can see that the room temperature is ideal – indicated by orange on the gro egg – then it’ll be easier to see if your toddler should put a vest on under his PJs at night or not.
4.1 The Alternative to Blankets
I wanted to offer a short add-on to number 4 above. I was always a bit afraid of using blankets when GinGin and Roo were babies. And toddlers. In fact, at nearly two-years-old, Roo still doesn’t have a blanket at night.
Just the thought of the loose fabric becoming wrapped round their faces or necks was enough to make me look for alternatives.
Thank goodness for Gro Bags!
If you’ve not heard of them before, Gro Bags are simply wonderful. They’re like sleeping bags for babies and small children. You put them on like a coat, with proper arm and neck holes, and zip your little one into them.
There’s absolutely no chance that baby can slip down inside the bag, if you’ve bought the correct size. Plus your toddler can’t kick it off at night like they can with a blanket. So their temperature should stay pretty constant, which will help improve your toddler’s sleep.
And so there’s none of the danger of the gro bag becoming wrapped around your little one’s neck or face.
Safe and snug. This is the perfect alternative to blankets for me.
I don’t spend my nights half awake listening for sounds coming from Roo’s room to make sure she’s still breathing.
The other great thing about Gro Bags is that they come in different tog ratings, so they can be used safely all year round.
We used Gro Bags with GinGin and Roo. And I’d recommend them wholeheartedly to all my mummy friends. Perfect for helping your baby or toddler sleep soundly through the night.
5. Bedtime Routine
This, above all else, is so important when you’re trying to get your toddler to sleep. Children are creatures of habit. They like routine. It makes them feel safe. And if they feel safe, they’re much more likely to go to sleep and stay sleeping.
Our bedtimes always include milk, a rich tea biscuit, snuggle time, a story and more snuggling. The girls have a bath every-other day. And we always start calming GinGin and Roo down at roughly the same time every evening.
Roo still likes to fall asleep in her little chair. Once she’s nodded off, we move her straight up to bed and zip her into her gro bag. She doesn’t have a nightlight. And this was a conscious decision because, at nearly seven-years old, GinGin still cannot sleep without a lamp on.
GinGin had the same routine as Roo when she was a toddler (except she had a nightlight and Roo doesn’t). I wondered whether we would have trouble with her settling herself to sleep once she went into her big girl bed.
But GinGin settled into having a story in bed and then falling to sleep naturally by herself before she was three years old. Very rarely did we have to repeatedly put her back to bed.
We’ve never had the drama of arguments about bedtime. And we’ve never experienced any real resistance to sleep from either GinGin or Roo.
Admittedly Roo is more difficult to settle on the days when she’s been to our childminder. And I think this is because her daily routine is different on those two days. But for the five other days of the week, we keep to Roo’s routine as much as possible and she is easily settled.
I cannot stress enough how important a regular bedtime routine is to improving your toddler’s sleep. Your routine may look very different to mine but, so long as you stick to it everyday, you should start to see improvement in your toddler’s sleeping habits.
So there you have it. 5 simple habits that will improve your toddler’s sleep. I’d love to hear your tips and advice too, so leave them in the comments below. I’d also love to hear from you if you’ve had some success after following my parenting advice.
If you enjoyed reading this, then you might also enjoy:
- My 5 Top Picks: Gifts for a One-Year Old
- Just Have Fun With Me!
- 7 Things I Want My Daughters To Learn
* Featured cover image courtesy of Галина Шарапова from Pixabay