As with all sleep-related issues, the key is getting to the source of the problem.
When it comes to toddlers, there could be many reasons for resisting sleep at bedtime.
Let’s take a look at a couple of the more likely reasons for resisting sleep at bedtime…
1 | Sleep Regressions
Babies and toddlers go through a number of sleep regressions during the first months of life – usually at around 4 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months and then at 2 years.
This regression could be caused by many things. Your baby is growing up, they have become a toddler. Their awake time is stretching which can disrupt sleep. Major changes are taking place; learning language, environment, new hobbies, potty training and even experiencing nightmares.
This one may be tough as your little one will want some comforting which you need to balance with not picking up a sleep association!
For more help and information on Sleep Regressions, download my handy guide here.
2 | Bedtime Anxiety
Firstly let’s look at anxiety.
‘’Anxiety is defined as a feeling of being nervous or worried, often as a result of fear of a possible future event’’.
Anxiety is different in adults and in children. It can be normal in children and they usually grow out of it. Some may grow up with character traits such as being shy, more introverted, nervous in social situations or just generally quiet and that doesn’t always mean they are anxious!
Anxiety is bidirectional so an anxious child will find it hard to fall asleep. The best way your body can deal with anxiety is to rest and sleep. So a vicious cycle starts; the mind won’t switch off because they are anxious, they can’t get to sleep and then their mind is overtired and that increases anxiety.
An anxious brain is an active brain. ‘’Need to sleep and can’t sleep’’. This is when bedtimes get extended, which is called ‘’Sleep Latency’’.
Children generally take 15 – 20 minutes to fall asleep which is normal. Sleep issues arise when this becomes extended. Quality of sleep is also affected because the deep, restorative and restful sleep that we have is compromised; where all our learning consolidation, development and healing happens. So instead what happens is more of the lighter REM sleep which is why children wake more at night. They can be tired, grumpy or act out during the day. This can be extremely difficult with school and nursery where they become even more tired. Towards the end of the day meltdowns can occur and bedtime battles!
So, how do we fix these bedtime battles?
The key here is preparation and consistency.
Starting with during the day:
- Get enough sunlight in the day (this applies to both adults and all children!) When sunlight enters our retina, it produces Serotonin. In the dark, Serotonin is converted into the sleep hormone Melatonin. So if we do not have enough Serotonin in the day, it can become difficult to produce Melatonin – aim for 30 minutes a day.
- Create a calm corner in the play area or living room where they can sit for 15 minutes before bed. This is also good for calming tantrums and emotions. You can stick 4 choices up on the wall in the calm corner and anytime our child feels angry or upset they can go to the corner and choose how they would like to calm down.
- Have a set time during the evening to talk to your children about their day, how was nursery/school, did anything in particular happen, is there something they would like to talk about?
Then, at bedtime it is important to create a calming, consistent bedtime routine:
- Create the perfect bedroom environment to encourage sleep.
- Talk to your child. Explore feelings around bedtime, open up a space for them to communicate with you, to discuss fears and label and acknowledge anxiety. Acknowledge delays, procrastination and latency with them. So you can say things like “I know it takes a while for you to fall asleep, is there something wrong or is there something you need? How can I help you at bedtime?”
- Feel/be strong yourself around bedtimes – use a mantra, wind down before school runs, try to remain calm and grounded so you can hold a space for them and be an example for them. They will pick up on your energy.
- Avoid giving them instructions like “Go to sleep”. It’s difficult for an anxious child to go to sleep. Instructions like this can make them more anxious and pressured. We know and they know that they have to go to sleep!
If you’re still struggling to get your toddler to sleep after trying everything I have suggested above, you can contact me on 07581 410015 to have a chat about how to figure things out together.