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Toddlers and sleeping

Toddlers are full of fun and energy but they as they grow, develop and explore they can really test your patience to the limit.

Find out where to get advice, guidance and support to help you respond to and deal with the challenges and demands of looking after a toddler.

Toddlers sleep

Read time: 3 minutes

Toddlers are all individuals! They will all have different sleep needs. But they are also growing very quickly so need to get enough sleep! Toddlers need a good night's sleep and some may need a nap in the day too. Your toddler's behaviour will let you know when they're tired!

Lots of toddlers have trouble going to sleep. And many wake up in the middle of the night and can't settle themselves. If they are not sleeping at night it means that you are not sleeping well either. This is exhausting, stressful and not good for either of you.

Why can't my toddler sleep?

There are many reasons why your toddler may not be getting to sleep.

Many toddlers suffer from bedtime fears, such as being afraid of the dark. If this is the case, try using a night light, or leaving a light on outside their bedroom door. Others might be napping too much during the day. When this happens too often it can affect your toddler's sleep patterns.

Another common cause is too much screen time before they go to bed. This could be watching TV, or spending time on a mobile phone or tablet. If your toddler spends a lot of time in front of a screen and then struggles to wind down for bed, that's a good place to start!

It's also worth thinking about your bedtime wind-down. Is it calm and reassuring? Toddlers are comforted by routine. Establishing a nice, predictable routine will help them feel safe and secure.

A warm bath can help calm a toddler. As can having warm milk (milk contains tryptophan, which really does help us sleep!) Remember to avoid sugary drinks and any fizzy drinks containing caffeine!

Quiet bedtime stories and songs can be a great part of your toddlers bedtime routine. As long as they don't get them too overexcited!

Reassuring cuddles and goodnight kisses are also comforting. Some toddlers like to say goodnight to their favourite toy too!

Most toddler will still be waking in the night sometimes - this is completely normal! When it happens, try to settle them with the light off and just enough comfort to get them settled. Toddlers don't have the same understanding of time as us, and you don't want them thinking it's playtime!

Remember that all children are different, so try to not compare your toddler with others. Are you worried about your toddler's lack of sleep, or you and your family are becoming sleep deprived? Don't suffer alone, you can get expert help. We suggest calling the Surrey-Wide 0-19 advice line on 01883 340 922.

Top tips from the NHS

Read time: 3 minutes

Establishing a time for bed!

  • What time do you want your toddler to go to bed? Are they always tired at that time? Are they over-tired? Make sure the time you choose is right for your toddler!
  • Start your bedtime routine 20 minutes before your toddler usually falls asleep. Bring this forward by 5 to 10 minutes each week until you get to the bedtime you want.
  • Set a limit on how much time you spend with your toddler when you put them to bed.
  • Make sure your toddler has their favourite toy or comforter before settling into bed.
  • Leave a beaker of water within reach and a dim light on if your toddler is scared of the dark.
  • If they get up, keep taking them back to bed again with as little fuss as possible. They need to feel safe and secure. But they also need to know it's not playtime!
  • Try to be consistent. And be patient! You may have to repeat this routine for several nights.

A Bedtime Routine

Getting your toddler into a simple, soothing bedtime routine is helpful for everyone! And it helps prevent sleeping problems later on. It's also a great opportunity to have one-to-one time with your toddler.
Your routine could consist of:

  • giving your toddler a warm bath
  • brushing their teeth
  • changing them into night clothes and a fresh nappy if not dry during the night
  • reading a bedtime story or two
  • dimming the lights in the room to create a calm and cosy atmosphere
  • having goodnight kisses and cuddles and sing a lullaby

When your toddler wakes in the night

This method is not a quick fix! Be prepared for your child to take a long time to settle when you first start.

  • Follow a regular calming bedtime routine.
  • Respond quickly - you want to put your toddler back to bed when they're drowsy not fully awake!
  • Promise to go back in a few moments to give them another kiss.
  • Return almost immediately to give a kiss.
  • Take a few steps to the door, then return immediately to give a kiss.
  • Promise to return in a few moments to give them another kiss.
  • Put something away or do something in the room then give them a kiss.
  • As long as your toddler stays in bed, keep returning to give more kisses.
  • Do something outside their room and return to give kisses.
  • If your toddler gets out of bed or shouts from their cot say: "Back to bed and I'll give you a kiss".
  • Keep going back often to give kisses until they're asleep.
  • Repeat every time your child wakes during the night!

(If your toddler sleeps in a cot you can use strokes or pats instead of kisses).

Look after yourself

Being a parent to a toddler is always challenging. But a lack of sleep can make it even tougher. The NCT shares top tips on coping with a lack of sleep. And there are many helpful websites and support services for you too. Try to stay positive, your baby will start sleeping for longer! If you feel you need a helping hand, reach out. And remember to look after yourself.

Information from external websites

The NHS website has healthy sleep tips for children, including advice about establishing a bedtime routine and dealing with sleep problems.

Action for Children has a helpful section on sleep, with information on how to help your toddler's bedtime fears, what to do if they have nightmares and top tips for when they won't sleep.

CBeebies have some practical tips, advice and ideas on handling toddler sleep problems.

The NCT have a 6 minute read on toddler sleep: 'How to help with any problems' and a really helpful five-minute read on how to survive nights when your toddler keeps waking up.

The Sleep Charity have lots of practical information and support about children's sleep.

Family Space Barnardo's have a really helpful page on managing toddler behaviour. It talks you through the Pause for Thought system, which you might find useful.

Struggling and need to talk?

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.

Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922

Face-to-face support

You could also talk to your health visitor or your GP.

Helpful tools and apps

If you struggle to get back to sleep after your toddler has woken you in the night, you could try the NHS approved app Pzizz.

The NSPCC has a great guide on positive parenting with a helpful section on setting boundaries.

Surrey Early Support have some great sleep advice. They recommend using a sleep diary too. It's a handy resource for you to learn about your toddler's sleep and wake patterns and what might influence this. It's really helpful to take this to your GP (or other professionals supporting your child) if you do have concerns about your toddler's sleep.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to an online guide that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guide.

Access to the guide is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021