Don't let your munchkin miss the "sleep window of opportunity."

What Are the Causes of Sleeplessness in Toddlers?

by Maggie McCormick

After reading "just one more" story, getting a glass of water, checking for monsters under the bed, walking your tot to the bathroom because it's "dark and scary" and rubbing her back for a good 30 minutes, your little one might fall asleep -- at least until you go to bed, when she's suddenly standing there complaining of a bad dream and wanting to sleep with you. Unfortunately, some of the best baby sleepers morph into sleep-resistant toddlers. Figuring out why your little angel is having trouble sleeping can help you to solve the problem and get some sleep yourself.


Toddlers blur the lines between reality and fantasy, which can make the world a scary place. Your child may have had nightmares and not have the ability to understand that these are not real. She may have seen a picture of a monster or ghost at Halloween and now worries that these creatures are lurking in the closet or under the bed. If these types of fears are keeping your child awake, talk to her frequently about the difference between things that are real and pretend. Give her strategies for getting rid of these fears, such as spraying a "monster spray" -- a mixture of water and essential oils -- around the room.

Bad Sleep Schedule

Most toddlers need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep daily, according to KidsHealth. Unfortunately, your child's sleeplessness could be caused by either too much or too little sleep. If he seems extra cranky and restless and just can't fall asleep, he probably missed the "sleep window of opportunity," making it difficult for him to fall asleep. If he's alert and active well past bedtime, it's possible that his afternoon nap is refreshing him too much and it's time to phase it out. Try to stick to the same sleep schedule at all times, even on weekends or holidays, to make things easier on your child -- and on you.

Poor Sleep Environment

If your little one's uncomfortable, she may not be able to sleep. Her room may be too cold or too warm. Her bed may be too big, especially if she's just switched from the crib to the "big girl bed." There may be too much light, or not enough. Sounds from other areas in the house may be keeping her awake. Try to talk to her to see if you can figure out what's bothering her and make changes to remedy the situation.

Too Much Stimulation

Toddlers are starting to gain a great deal of independence. Suddenly, there are so many things they want to be doing, and sleep isn't one of them. He may be worried that he's going to miss some of the action when he goes to sleep or he may just be excited that he can finally build a 10-block tower and want to see if he can get to 15. Stimulation can also be a problem if he's getting too wound up just before bedtime, so make sure you spend the time before bed doing quiet activities like snuggling and reading a book.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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