How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep
It’s a science. Literally.
By SCOTT HANSON
I have twins, and bedtime was my thing. I really thought I had it well in hand. But then it dawned on me that it may not be normal to have to drive for 45 minutes every night to get little ones to fall asleep.
Even crazier is the fact I would Google everything from recipes to home repair, but hadn’t searched up “get toddler to sleep”.
Turns out there is solid, well-studied sleep science that reveals best practices to help your toddler go to sleep.
The research reveals these 3 keys to get your toddler to sleep on a nightly basis:
“When we humans do anything in a consistent way long enough, it becomes a habit. “
1. Design a good routine
For many families, bedtime has just sort of evolved without much planning. But with a little thought, you can harness sleep science and have a bedtime routine that is much more effective. Some guidelines:
- Less than 30 minutes: Your bedtime routine should last less than 30 minutes and always be moving toward sleep
- Lose the screen time: Watching screens stimulates the child. Also, screens usually emit a bluish light. That impedes the production of the sleep hormone melatonin since the body associate blue light with daylight. Studies show it takes the body 45 minutes to produce melatonin after being exposed to blue light. Instead, lower the light levels and replace screen time with something calming, like coloring.
- Move toward independent sleep: The routine you design should move forward toward the child being in their own bed, alone unless you’ve made the conscious decision to embrace a co-sleeping perspective. An example would be coloring, then a bath, then to their room for 3 stories, then sleep. Notice how the routine is always moving toward calmness and the designated sleep space. Counting on the child to fall asleep in a public area of the home, or while driving each night are not sustainable. Plus, it’s highly likely to lead to visits to your room when they wake up in the middle of the night.
2. Be consistent
If you do nothing else, do this. Bedtime should be done at the same time every night, and the same way every night.
When we humans do anything in a consistent way long enough, it becomes a habit. Wouldn’t it be great to have most of bedtime become automatic? Two things to keep in mind as you drive for consistency:
- Read from the same script: If caregivers share or trade off bedtime duties, be sure to compare notes. That way, you will all follow the same, consistent routine. The toddler will thrive from the structure, and be less likely to explore where the boundaries are.
- Watch out for devices that auto-off: Lights and musical devices that are battery operated often have an auto-off feature. That means the room will look and sound completely different when they wake up in the middle of the night. That inconsistent sleep environment can lead to a visit to your room!
3. Set firm limits
Mom, dad, here’s something that’s hard to hear. There’s actually a sleep disorder your child can develop simply because you don’t set firm limits. It’s literally called “Limit Setting Sleep Disorder”. Google it. It can lead to a child always bargaining for more time, more stories, or a parent to lay down with them. If they’re bargaining, they aren’t sleeping. So recommit to “no” meaning “no”.
But here’s a trick that can help with that. It’s the “Excuse Me” trick. If you feel yourself being beaten down by the begging, just interrupt and say “Excuse me, I need to… let the dog out/turn off the oven/put something away. I’ll be right back” Fill in the blank however you want. But excuse yourself for a couple of minutes, and then return. Your child will learn they can be alone at bedtime, and it short-circuits the begging.
You can dramatically improve bedtime with these three steps. And when you do, your little one will get more sleep, during which important cognitive development happens.
More sleep means a better life. Well worth the effort!
Check out the Hush Buddy Sleep System to learn more about a science-based tool to help toddlers and parents get more sleep.