Updated: Feb 23, 2021
“My daughter is almost 3, has always been a great sleeper, for naps & night-time. She never needed any help getting to sleep, we would just read a book & say goodnight & all good. But the last few weeks it’s been a battle to get her to sleep, for both naps and bedtime. She gets upset, wants me or daddy to lay with her in bed and comes out of her room. I’m due to have another baby in four weeks. What do I do?”
Sound familiar? I hear from parents in similar situations all the time. Even if you’re not expecting another baby, a change in your toddler’s sleep can be concerning and exhausting.
Our children grow and learn so much in those early years, it’s not hard to see why their behaviour can seem a bit like a roller coaster ride.
Toddlers like to test limits and boundaries and they like to be in control. Trust me, I know. Our son has just turned three and I’m amazed by how much attitude can be packed into such a small person. They have an opinion about everything and all of a sudden they have a million and one reasons why it can’t possibly be time for bed.
So, what can you do to ease some of these bedtime battles?
Is your little one also a fussy eater? Let’s be honest, what toddler isn’t!? Nutrition plays a big role in quality of sleep. So, if sleep isn’t your only battle during the day, it might be worth working on meal-times first.
Time to get creative to boost your child’s diet with some sleep-inducing nutrients. Foods rich in iron, magnesium and tryptophan all promote better sleep.
Iron helps carry oxygen around the body while magnesium helps muscles relax and promotes more restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of sleep-inducing neurotransmitters. If you are having trouble including magnesium in your toddler’s diet, adding some Epsom salts to their evening bath can help.
Tryptophan increases serotonin levels which aids the production of melatonin (sleepy hormone). Foods rich in tryptophan include salmon, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, spinach etc.
Naps and Bedtime
The timing of naps and bedtime can make a big difference in how long it takes your little one to settle at the beginning of the night and their ability to stay asleep all night.
Somewhere between the age of 2.5 to 3 years your toddler will most likely be ready to completely drop their nap. Too much day sleep will simply mean they are not tired enough come bedtime. This will either result in an array of delay tactics to avoid going to bed, or a middle of the night party session.
(More on split nights).
Environment is the basis of healthy sleep for babies of all ages (and for adults too for that matter). You may find that one excuse that starts being thrown around at bedtime is a fear of the dark. Although this might sound like just an excuse, there is likely some truth behind it. At this age their imagination goes wild. It’s important not to dismiss their fear as it’s completely real for them. Acknowledge their feelings and support them to help them feel safe. Night lights can be a lifesaver in these situations. The best night lights have an orange or red glow which doesn’t block the production of melatonin.
If it's still light outside at bedtime, and you start hearing the excuse "but it's still daytime..." put up some block out blinds in their bedroom. You can also and start closing the curtains and blinds around the house in the lead up to bedtime to set a relaxing scene.
Read more about the perfect sleep environment here.
Children love predictability. It gives them the comfort of knowing what to expect. In saying that, they also love to push boundaries. Make sure you have a consistent bedtime routine and clear rules around what is expected. Allow enough time for your little one to completely unwind. This might be an hour-long process starting after dinner including quiet play, bath, teeth, pyjamas, books and bed.
Be strict with the routine and be firm if they start deviating and procrastinating to avoid bedtime becoming a marathon. While you are the one maintaining control, let them have some choices over the rituals like picking out their pyjamas or letting them choose the bedtime stories.
One on one consultations and downloadable sleep guides are all available online x