The days that fill the toddler years are full of excitement and wonder, but the nights can often be full of sleep problems and overtired (but awake) children. We reached out to parents to find out what types of sleep problems they encountered with their toddlers, and here is what they had to say.
An Undiscovered Allergy Caused Sleepless Nights
My first daughter was a great sleeper and slept through the night even as a small baby, so the sleep issues we encountered with my second child came as a big shock. It got particularly bad during the winter of her second year. She would wake up screaming multiple times during the night without any apparent schedule to the awakenings. We tried everything from changing her dinnertime, adjusting bedtime, getting rid of the daytime nap, and running laps with her to tire her out. Nothing seemed to help.
Then our family went on vacation to Egypt and she slept amazingly well. It turns out that she is allergic to dust mites (there are fewer in the dry Egyptian climate). The allergy was making her get snotty (which we attributed to the screaming and crying) and causing her to wake up. We have to do an insane amount of laundry every week to keep the dust mites under control, but at least she is sleeping well now.
Transitioning from Crib to Toddler Bed
The biggest challenge that I have faced regarding my toddler’s sleep was when we transitioned from a crib to a toddler bed. My toddler was, of course, more interested in playing and reading his books than in staying in bed once he was given the freedom to move about his room. It is a problem that has been ongoing but has improved quite a bit with time.
When he first transitioned into the toddler bed it would be an hour or more before he would finally lie down and go to sleep. Now that it has been several months and the novelty has worn off it will still take him a little bit before he lays down, but it is a large improvement from where we started.
Irrational Fears May Have Developed
When my son turned two years old he started to wake up in the middle of the night crying. We weren’t sure why and would comfort him until he fell back asleep. When we went to his two-year-old checkup, our pediatrician informed us that at age two is when they start to develop irrational fears like being afraid of the dark and starting to have nightmares.
His advice was to stick to a routine as much as possible while also comforting our son when he needed it, and eventually it would sort itself out. We stuck to our normal bedtime routine and within a few weeks, we were back to our normal schedule without the middle of the night wakeups.
At three years old we are just starting to transition to a toddler bed and are having some difficulty. Our son is very attached to his crib and is not a fan of a toddler bed with free access to come and go as he pleases. One of our main reasons to transition is that he is potty trained and has been pushing to skip diapers during naps and bedtime.
In order to do that, we have to give him access to leave his bed if needed to use the potty. The crib is all he has known since he was born and is a sense of comfort for him. We have struggled with making him feel the same comfort level in a toddler bed as he does a crib and not waking us up in the middle of the night as he struggles to sleep.
They Needed Mom Near
One of the sleep problems that I have encountered with my toddlers was when they did not want to be left by themselves to fall asleep. I didn’t have to lay down with them, just be in their rooms to fall asleep. It helped them feel safe to fall asleep, but it also extended bedtime every night depending on how long it took them to fall asleep.
Overtired and Cranky During Bedtime
My elder one was a very light sleeper and barely ever slept in the night. The only way to keep him asleep was to keep breastfeeding him. It gave me a severe backache, being stuck to him to keep him asleep. In the daytime, he’d wake up at the slightest sound and not fall back asleep. This overtired him and we’d all be cranky by evening. I am thankful that he eventually grew out of it and sleeps better now.
My younger one has been a better sleeper and wakes up only once in the night. However, he doesn’t nurse to sleep and I find it difficult to rock him until he falls asleep. He takes a long time to get into a deep sleep despite making the room pitch dark and rocking and patting him incessantly.
Red-Light, Green-Light System
The most frequent problem my wife and I encountered was simply having our toddler wake up incredibly early in the morning. If there were any sounds, noises, or lights after around 5:00 am he would take that as a notice that it was time to wake up. Needless to say, as parents, it’s difficult to be consistently awoken earlier and earlier each morning.
My wife and I solved this problem with a simple RGB smart bulb. We put the bulb in a lamp and set a timer. At 5:00 am the light would flip on and turn to a solid red. At 7:15 am the light would change from red to green. The light would also turn red at 8:00 pm (his bedtime).
We coupled this light scheme with verbal reinforcement so he knew that when the light turned green it was time to get up and when it was red he needed to stay in bed. While the red-light, green-light system took a few weeks, for the most part he respected and understood the system.
As he’s gotten older we’ve set a few books and other small toys aside so that he knows he can play with them if he wakes up and the light is still red, but he needs to stay in his room (except to go to the bathroom).
In my view, the earlier you can start the red-light, green-light wake-up system, the easier it will be for the kids to adopt it. At that point, it simply becomes part of their routine and your kids can become accustomed to waking up at a slightly later time, helping parents get a little more sleep that we all need.
Toddler Suddenly Wants to Co-Sleep
The sleep problem that we encountered with our toddler is after sleeping through the night in his own bed for nearly two and a half years, our toddler has decided to now wake up every night to get in the bed with us. We didn’t co-sleep with him as a baby, but now at three years old, he won’t sleep through the night in his own bed. Every morning we wake up and he is in the bed with us.
Sleepwalking and Bad Dreams
As a toddler, my daughter did not have a hard time falling asleep, but she struggled with staying asleep. She had bad dreams and would sleepwalk. After trying weighted blankets, night lights, white noise, and meditation, we found the only thing that seemed to work was co-sleeping.
Insomnia, Bedtime Fears, and Nightmares
Sleep problems are common among children. To function appropriately, infants should have 12 to 16 hours of sleep, toddlers should have 11 to 14 hours of sleep, children ages three to five should have 10 to 13 hours of sleep, and children ages six to twelve years old should have 9 to 12 hours of sleep. Sleeping less than they should affects their mood and growth. Some of the sleep problems in children are:
- Insomnia. This is the difficulty of falling asleep. It may be caused by stress in school, sugar drinks, or medication side effects.
- Bedtime fears. Many children have difficulty separating imagination from reality at a young age. The monsters under the bed may be funny, but they can be very real and frightening for children, causing sleep problems.
- Nightmares. At preschool age, fear of so many things tends to set in, making them more prone to nightmares. Make sure to talk to your children and explain the reason for the changes happening around them or in them.