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Common Struggles with Toddler and Preschool Sleep

Do you have a toddler or preschooler and deal with frustrating bedtimes, multiple wake ups or maybe they need your assistance to fall asleep?

It can be extremely frustrating when you spend hours trying to get your toddler or preschooler to go to sleep just to find them awake again in the middle of the night! It can be extremely frustrating when you spend hours trying to get your toddler or preschooler to sleep just to find them awake again in the middle of the night!

Once your toddler or preschooler is out of a crib and in a bed it creates another set of obstacles compared to when they were just babies.

The good news is you're not alone! Many parents struggle with their toddler or preschoolers' sleep and just aren't equipped with the tools to solve the problem.

Common Problems with Toddler and Preschool Sleep

Most toddlers need an average of around 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Preschool aged children need anywhere from 10-12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Unfortunately for many families it's not as easy as just tucking your child into bed and walking away. However, if that is your goal it is absolutely possible!

Here are some of the most common struggles when it comes to toddler and preschoolers' sleep.

1. Long, drawn out bedtime routines

The Problem: Many parents struggle with the continuous, "I need one more drink," or "Just one more book" and the next thing they know it's an hour past their actual bedtime!

The Solution: A solid bedtime routine for a toddler or preschooler should be between 15-30 minutes before they are tucked into bed for the night. Establish a bedtime routine and make sure to consistently implement it each night at the same time. Young children don't always respond to verbal directions from their parents so make it fun and interactive by using a visual bedtime checklist or reading a story about bedtime. Before your child gets into bed make sure they have used the bathroom, had a drink, or complete whatever else they typically try to do after bedtime. By having your child complete these things ahead of time you will eliminate the "need" for them to get out of bed. Hold firm with your boundary that it is time to go to sleep and after a few nights your child should start adjusting to this new arrangement.

2. Night Wakings

The Problem: Your child is waking up multiple times during the night and cannot go back to sleep without your assistance.

The Solution: It's completely normal for children to wake up in the middle of the night. Even adults wake up throughout the night but we quietly put ourselves back to sleep. If your child wakes in the middle of the night and you hear them, don't immediately rush into their room. Give them a few minutes and see if they are able to fall back asleep. Now, if your child wakes up crying loudly it’s ok go in and reassure them that they are safe and you are there. Keep these interactions short and sweet and make sure you allow your child to fall back to sleep on their own. There are a few culprits to night wakings with toddlers and preschoolers. One of the most common culprits is that bedtime is too late. Try moving bedtime up by 15-30 minutes and see if this helps. Another common culprit is they are getting too much daytime sleep. If your child naps, try reducing their nap by 15-30 minutes and see if that helps with these night wakings.

3. Nightmares

The Problem: When toddlers and preschoolers start to have nightmares it's a scary occurrence for them if they haven't ever experienced one. Nightmares typically happen in the REM stage of sleep when your toddler or preschooler is processing everything they did earlier that day. If they watched something scary it's likely to present itself as a nightmare.

The Solution: Go into your child's room and comfort them if they have a nightmare. It may be hard for your child to explain what happened so reassure them that they are safe and the nightmare was not real. If nightmares are a common occurrence for your child make sure they have a security item like a stuffed animal, blanket, or lovey. Some children will easily be able to grab their security item and go back to sleep. However, some will struggle and repeatedly call out for mommy and daddy. In order to help your child overcome their fear of the nightmares practice during the day what they should do if they have a nightmare. Use their stuffed animals to role play the encouraged behavior when waking up from a nightmare (grab a security item and try to fall back to sleep).

4. Child can't fall asleep without your assistance

The Problem: Your child has become dependent on you to lay with them in order to fall asleep and wakes up repeatedly throughout the night and requires you to lay (or sleep) with them in order to fall back asleep.

The Solution: Bedtime snuggles are some of the sweetest and most cherished moments of the day but snuggling until your child falls asleep can lead to a dependency on you to sleep. If your child is struggling with falling asleep on their own and requires your assistance, it could be time to teach independent sleep skills. Instead of laying with them until they are fast asleep, try deciding on a time increment you will lay with your child and discuss this ahead of time with them. The goal is to leave their bedroom before they are asleep so they can put themselves to sleep, otherwise they will more than likely wake up in the middle of the night and require your assistance to fall asleep.

5 Tips to Establishing Healthy Sleep For Your Toddler or Preschooler

There are lots of easy ways you can help encourage healthy sleep habits for your child. With time and consistency you can get your child and entire family the much needed sleep you all need!

  1. Establish a consistent bedtime routine.

Establish a soothing, calm bedtime routine. Make this time special between you and your child. Dim the lights, read a book, and talk about their day. Try singing a song after you've tucked them in to help cue them it's time to sleep.

2. Set boundaries with your child and stick to them.

Discuss the changes you are making with your child and the reasons behind them. Children need rules and routines to learn and setting boundaries at bedtime is no different than setting boundaries for their behavior.

3. Keep naps and quiet time consistent.

If your child naps or has quiet time, try to keep it consistent. Consistency will help your child adjust to a sleep schedule. An inconsistent sleep schedule can lead to difficulties falling asleep.

4. Don't assist your child to sleep or let them in your bed.

Let your child learn how to fall asleep on their own. It's completely okay to snuggle for a bit or comfort your child but if you want them to learn how to sleep independently you have to be willing to let go of some of these sleep crutches.

5. No screen time too close to bedtime.

TV, video games, and tablets all emit blue ray light which can actually turn the brain back on and make it harder for your child to fall asleep. Make sure your child is not in front of a screen 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

If you stay consistent with these tips and tricks your child will establish a solid foundation for sleep and allow everyone to get the restful nights they need!

If your child struggles with sleep and you need support and guidance, I have created a specific sleep program for toddlers and preschoolers. My “Blueprint to Toddler and Preschool Sleep” program uses the Healthy H.A.B.I.T.S. Sleep System to get your child and entire family back to better sleep. Getting your child to sleep better is no easy task and it's okay to seek support to reach your sleep goals for your child and yourself!

I'm Kellie Davis, a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant through the Center of Pediatric Sleep Management. I have worked with children for over 15 years including 7 years of teaching preschool special education.

After conquering sleep with my three little boys, my mission has become to help other families establish healthy sleep habits so they can achieve a healthy lifestyle for their entire family and enjoy these early years of parenthood.

If you want to establish healthy sleep habits from the start with your newborn or if you have a preschooler struggling with sleep my Blueprint to Healthy Sleep Program may just be the answer to your sleep struggles!

If you're interested in learning more about my programs, schedule your Free Sleep Assessment Call to discuss your child's sleep struggles and I will tell you how I can help you achieve your sleep goals for your child.

-Kellie Davis

Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

A Brighter Night

Follow me on TikTok for more sleep tips!

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