As parents and child caregivers, we all know what a lack of sleep can do to a toddler. In the past, we covered the importance of sleep in early childhood, as well as the pros and cons of co-sleeping with your child. But, now that you have that information, how do you put it to use? In this article, we’ll give you some tips to help your toddler get a good night’s sleep.
Tip 1) Take your toddler to bed early, and allow for naps – they need lots of sleep!
According to WebMD, toddlers need 12-14 hours of sleep per day. That includes naps. But, we all know how hard napping can be for an active, bouncy little one. They may just play (or cry!) their way through ‘nap time.’ If that happens for you, try calculating how much sleep they’re actually getting.
If your toddler is in bed by 7 – 9 p.m., and waking up at 6 – 8 p.m., that may be about 10 hours. If you can squeeze in an extra hour in the evening, without creating an unwelcome, 5 a.m. human alarm clock for yourself, give that a try.
Otherwise, keep time for napping, and try to make it as regular as possible. Maybe car rides or stroller rides help. While we don’t want to encourage more damage to the environment, see if you can schedule your shopping trips, or other errands, right around the time you may have reserved for naps. Even if you get 20 minutes in, that may be better than nothing!
Tip 2) Keep a consistent bedtime routine for toddlers
According to the Cleveland Clinic, routine, on a regular schedule, is important for a toddler’s good sleep. This means planning ahead for bedtime, so that there is enough time for a calming bath, story time, cuddles, and so on.
Don’t expect your kids will be asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. Establish the mental ‘signals’ that it’s time to wind down. This can at least an hour or so (30 minutes for bath, 30 minutes of story time and cuddles, plus all the meltdowns, sibling fights, pyjama crises, last-minute bathroom poop and pee, and other mishaps in between). Even then, being in bed may not equal being asleep. That can take time (just like with us grown-ups).
It’s important for toddlers to learn how to fall asleep. This means putting their mind at ease (i.e. not being worried about missing out on fun that mom and dad are having without them). It also means learning to close their eyes and relax in the dark.
Falling asleep quickly can be slightly harder if a young one shares a room with a sibling. That said, the cute little chats they have in the dark can help them build bonds (we hope!). So it’s not a terrible idea. But just allow time for it, to ensure they get adequate hours of sleep.
Tip 3) Watch a toddler’s diet before bed; it can affect their sleep
According to one scientific study, food problems and sleep problems likely go together with toddlers. If they’re not eating well, they’re probably not sleeping well either, or are suffering from some sort of insomnia.
It goes without saying that you want to feed your children with the healthiest food you can get them to eat. This affects many other parts of their lives too – not just sleep. We know that’s hard for picky eaters. And for those toddlers with very specific taste preferences, ‘tricking’ them with food recipes that ‘hide’ their unfavoured foods may help.
But back to the essentials of diet and sleep, you’ll want to know that some foods can act as a sedative, because of the tryptophan in them, which releases chemicals like melatonin (a sleep inducer). According to LiveStrong.com, these can be milk, cheese, whole grains and bananas. So think: whole wheat crackers and cheese, shredded wheat cereal with milk, banana and peanut butter sandwich, oatmeal with bananas, and so on. This article lists several other foods that contain tryptophan too.
Also related to diet and sleep in toddlers: try to avoid liquids, which can cause bedwetting problems, according to WebMD. And obviously, no caffeinated drinks or foods (like chocolate)!
Tip 4) Create a sleep-inducing environment to help your toddler get a good night’s sleep
You may have seen around the news lately that blue light from our electronics, as well as our ‘regular’ electric lights, are giving us all sleep problems. That goes for toddlers too, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Remember that hour before bedtime to establish a route? The one we mentioned above? That’s also the time to start dimming the lights and eliminating the electronics. In fact, an article in the Huffington Post also claims that children’s night lights can be a culprit, keeping toddlers up at night. If you have to use a light, opt for a red-toned one, which is more opposite the blue light, which is the ‘big one’ to stay away from if you’re trying to fall asleep. Think: sunset versus sunrise in nature.
If you want to learn more about the very real science of lights and our circadian rhythms (body clocks), see this article in the Scientific American.
Apart from the absence of light, you’ll want to keep the room cool (see Cleveland Clinic article linked to above), and the bed comfortable. Give your toddler something to hug, and make sure they’re tucked in nice, with no hard toys they can roll over onto in the middle of the night. Some parents also use white-noise simulators, to drown out the outside sound. If allergies are a problem, of course, keep the room dust free, and clean too.
To conclude: helping toddlers get good sleep requires discipline
As you can see from the points above, for effective toddler sleep, a lot depends on the caregiver. Sticking to a schedule, managing diet, limiting lights and ensuring there’s enough time for adequate amounts of sleep are important. The good news is, these things are not all that hard to do! They simply take a bit of practice, and discipline. Eventually, it can feel like your routine too, and not an inconvenience at all.