Is your toddler fighting sleep come bedtime and naps? Toddler bedtime tantrums are never fun. Discover 5 tips you haven’t tried to help your child sleep.
Is your toddler—who usually goes to sleep with no issues—suddenly taking a long time to fall asleep?
You’re definitely not alone. Many parents wonder why their toddlers, who had never had a problem with wanting to fall asleep, are now taking a long time to doze off.
And I’m talking long. Whereas your toddler may have fallen asleep within minutes in his crib, he now takes 45 minutes to an hour and a half before finally going to sleep. He goes through separation anxiety if you so much as leave the room. And he keeps stalling, from asking for a snack to a few more goodnight kisses.
You’ve racked your brain for possible reasons for these bedtime battles but can’t think of any. Your schedule and bedtime routine are the same, and he isn’t teething or potty training or hitting any other milestone. There’s no explanation for why he’s now fighting sleep.
And fight he does. From toddler tantrums at bedtime to resisting sleep with an amused smirk on his face, he has gone from willing to defiant come bedtime.
With both you and your partner working and barely getting any sleep yourselves, you realize you seriously can’t handle this any longer. This is draining other parts of your life and, to top it off, making you bitter and cranky.
How to handle a toddler fighting sleep
If so, rest assured that not only can this go away, but that you can do plenty to help move it along quicker.
With three boys, I’ve had my share of kids resisting sleep in one way or another. I’ve learned which tricks work and that there is hope for the exhausted parent dealing with a toddler fighting sleep.
Take a look at a few ideas below to get the sleep you and your family need. As one parent said about the article:
“Hi thank you so much for the tips. My nearly 3 year old boy has started fighting sleep. We were thinking that taking a nap might be a good idea but now I know it’s what we have to do. Thanks again.” -Karen
1. Keep your toddler active during the day
Kids indeed have energy they need to get out. Staying stationary too long during the day can mean your toddler is ready to play and goof around come bedtime.
Aim for at least one outing that allows her to have physical activity during the day. Take her to the park, go for an after-dinner walk, and make sure she’s playing often.
You’d be surprised how easy it is for kids to stay stationary for long periods. TV and screen time are obvious culprits, but even calm activities like reading or crafts can prevent her from being active.
My kids’ pediatrician recommended that kids shouldn’t be in the same position for more than an hour at a time, except for sleep. That means if your toddler has been sitting playing trains for an hour, it’s time to move her into a new (and hopefully physical) activity.
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2. Rearrange your toddler’s sleep schedule
We sometimes mistake sleep for just one part of the day—the nighttime part. We forget that sleep takes into account the entire day, and sometimes several days at that. And we also overlook the possibility that they’re developmentally ready for changes in sleep.
How does this affect your toddler fighting sleep?
To fix his nighttime sleep, look into his entire sleep schedule, and for his current age and stage.
For instance, is he taking a late or long nap that might be making it hard for him to fall asleep? Perhaps he’s having a harder time falling asleep for his nap so that by the time he falls asleep (and wakes up), it’s already late in the day.
If so, see if you can transition to one nap in the middle of the day. Another option is to wake him up from the last (or only) nap by a certain time so he doesn’t sleep in too long.
Is there also a chance that he no longer needs daytime sleep? Older toddlers and preschoolers can sometimes go the whole day without a nap and instead would benefit from an earlier bedtime. That way, he won’t be overtired at bedtime (which can make it harder for him to sleep).
Learn how to create a toddler sleep schedule.
3. Create a calm sleep environment
Now that your toddler has gotten her fill of activities for the day, it’s time to create an environment conducive to sleep.
It’s the little things that can help transition her from active and alert to sleepy and calm. Make it a routine that, at a certain time of the night, you change your environment to signal it’s time to sleep. A few ideas include:
- Turning off a few lights to keep your home dark
- Speaking to her quietly and softly
- Providing relaxing activities like puzzles and art
- Scheduling regular downtime for quiet activities
- Making bath time calm and relaxing
- Reading bedtime books (save the funny ones for during the day)
- Calmly putting on PJs
- Avoiding tickling, roughhousing, or other activities that get her riled up
Learn what to do when your toddler is hysterical at bedtime.
4. Make your toddler’s bedroom a positive place to be
As you saw, creating the right environment can help your toddler go to sleep, and the same applies to her bedroom.
Start by spending time in her room during the day so she knows this is a positive place to be in. Don’t send her away and alone in her room when she misbehaves, as this paints a negative picture of it. Fill it with her favorite toys and games, and make it a privilege for her to have her own room.
Then, see if you can make simple changes to make her room more exciting. Big changes like getting a fun toddler bed can help her stay in bed. Simple ones like outfitting the mattress with new sheets can entice her to go to sleep.
Learn how to keep your toddler in her room at night.
5. Put your foot down
Frustrated when your toddler refuses to go to or stay in bed? Don’t compromise about going to bed, or at least staying in her room. Even if she says she wants water or just one more story, put your foot down on when bedtime needs to be. Be kind and calm, but firm in your decision so she knows what to expect.
Instead of accommodating her every whim, do strategic check-ins. For instance, tuck her in bed and explain that it’s bedtime. If she cries or resists, set a timer and check in every few minutes, putting her back in bed each time.
Don’t let her wander into the living room or your bedroom. And don’t give in for minor reasons that you suspect she’s making up just to get out of bed. Sometimes the issues we run into with our kids go right back to us enabling them to continue with their behavior.
Learn what to do when your toddler keeps getting out of bed.
Dealing with your toddler fighting sleep is never easy, especially when you’re so ready to call it a night. It’s especially challenging when she had been such a good sleeper until this point, leaving you clueless about what to do.
Start by making sure she’s active during the day—the lack of physical movement could be leaving her restless at night. Rearrange her schedule so that she’s neither overtired not not tired enough come bedtime. Create a calm environment in the evening to make it conducive for her to fall asleep.
This includes turning her bedroom into a positive place to be, from spending time in it during the day to getting new bedding. And finally, put your foot down—at the end of the day, you set the boundaries and establish the habits that can either help or hurt her sleep.
No more power struggles or hours of fighting sleep, mama! Now you know the tips that can help her finally fall asleep.
Get more tips:
- Top 7 Items You Need for a Smooth Toddler Bed Transition
- Why Your Toddler Is Going Through the 1 Year Old Sleep Regression
- What to Do When Your Toddler Wakes Up Too Early Crying
- 8 Tips to Help Your Toddler Stay in Bed
- 5 Ways to Stop Toddler Power Struggles Many Parents Don’t Think to Do
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Hi thank you so much for the tips. My nearly 3 year old boy has started fighting sleep. We were thinking that taking a nap might be a good idea but now I know it’s what we have to do. Thanks again.
Nina Garcia says
You’re welcome, Karen! I’m glad the tips came in handy.