So you have a trouble sleeper? I know it’s not much comfort, but you’re not alone.
I’ve talked with quite a few parents who are experiencing some of these same traumas. Some have given up; some have resorted to sleep therapy, and some are still urgently searching for answers. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have some tips that worked for me and might work for you!
First, let’s establish what exactly is appropriate and sufficient sleep for your child. The National Sleep Foundation says that for toddlers 1-2 years old, 11-14 hours is the optimal sleep quota. Reference
Baby Center corroborates this by stating that 11 hours is the number to shoot for with nighttime with a 2-3 hour nap/s during the day. Reference
Now, these are some numbers to help gauge proper sleep; however, keep in mind that every child is different, and yours may need more sleep or require less sleep. You just have to look for signs that they’re not getting enough sleep: Are they groggy throughout the day? Irritable? Keep trying to get into sleep positions while playing? Staring idly and having low energy? Not growing as they should? Not meeting all their milestones? Showing developmental delays?
If you see these signs on a regular basis, then there’s a good chance your child is not getting enough sleep. So, let’s look at some ways to fix this!
My children are completely different individuals in every way possible. And, I mean…every. possible. way.
However, they both slept through the night early and don’t fight bedtime or their naps. At night, they average 11-12 hours of sleep with a nap during the day. Their bedtime is between 7:30-8:30, and they wake up between 7:00 and 8:00. Their nap usually takes place somewhere between 1:00 and 4:00. A few things to point out here; I’m not a rigid scheduler. Their bedtime and naptime are open-ended because I don’t force wide-awake kiddos to sleep, and I don’t keep awake sleepy kids because I have a set time that must be upheld. Also, sleep time varies by activity, so if they’ve been incredibly active that day, they sleep earlier and longer, but if they’ve had a rainy day indoors, they may not sleep that long because they aren’t exhausted.
Which brings me to my first sleep tip:
Kids that Play Actively and Play Outdoors SLEEP
I’m sure someone has mentioned this, probably your parent or a grandparent since back in the day, this was just how all kids were, but hold off on rolling your eyes because it’s the absolute truth.
I can tell when my kids haven’t had enough outdoor and active play simply by how well they eat and how well they sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study that discovered 150 minutes of moderately-intense exercise per week led to a 65% increase of sleep quality. When thinking about sleep, it’s important to include quality when discussing quantity because they both play roles in health. Deep sleep and REM sleep are crucial for development and repair. REM sleep is when your pituitary gland releases most of its Human Growth Hormone—vital for growth. If children aren’t sleeping deep enough or long enough to reach this level of sleep, then they are going to miss out, possibly resulting in stunted growth. Of course, everyone is different, and some people don’t require as much as others, but it’s not something to take lightly.
And, it’s not just playing actively outdoors that does the trick. Modern lighting and artificial light can hurt your body’s natural circadian rhythm, even for adults. So, nighttime comes along, and your body doesn’t know to wind down. The body is an amazing, intricate, fully-capable, living machine, and if we don’t mess it up with too many artificial, outside influences, it works proficiently. When you spend time outdoors in the natural light, your body’s rhythm gets back in sync, and recent studies have suggested you sleep longer and deeper. Children need this deep sleep to grow and thrive both physically and mentally. So, kick your kids out the door after breakfast; throw them out a peanut butter sandwich for lunch; fill them up with a nutritious dinner, and then watch them pass out in their beds all night long.
Hungry Children and Sugared Children Don’t Sleep
My children WILL NOT sleep if they’re hungry, either for nap time or for bedtime. They also won’t sleep if I give them a lot of sugary food too close to bedtime.
You must be careful with what food you give them; it needs to be nourishing and filling without sugary additives. If you’re giving your child late-evening snacks like crackers or cookies or other sugary treats, you’re just spiking their glucose, and they won’t wind down. Think of dinners that have hearty food that will digest slowly and not raise blood sugar too high, so they can drowsy their way into dreamland.
On the flip side of that, though, make sure your child has had enough to eat. I spoke to a mom about her toddler who didn’t sleep well, and she mentioned what a picky eater she was, and when she told me what she would eat at dinner, I thought that wouldn’t keep a bird alive, let alone a growing, developing toddler. I couldn’t help but wonder if even though the toddler was actively refusing food that would help them grow and sleep, if this wasn’t preventing their body from winding down and going into deep sleep. On that note, if you have a toddler who is a picky eater, read my blog post on Five Ways to Fix a Picky Eater.
As a parent, you can’t just look at one element (they won’t sleep) without considering all available possibilities (they won’t eat). Especially if a child is going through a growth spurt. I can always tell when my children are going through growth spurts because they suddenly eat everything in the house every hour of the day and then sleep 13-14 hours at night. This goes on a few days, and then they’re back to normal routine. You must capitalize on this because if they don’t get the required nutrients and sleep their body needs, they won’t grow as they should, or as much as potential would allow. Sometimes, it’s not about where they are now, but about where they could have been.
On this same thread of thinking, monitor what they drink as well. Sugary drinks create the same effect as sugary food. Also, if your child is in the process of potty training or is potty trained and still has accidents or wears a diaper at night, going to the bathroom during the night can disrupt their sleeping. Once they have cognitive awareness of going to the bathroom, then it can disturb them as it would an adult. Limiting liquid intake in the evening can lead to a sounder sleeping experience.
Have a Sleep Routine but not a Sleep Regime
Yes, these words are synonyms in a sense, but it’s their connotations that I want to highlight. When I think of routine, I think of general steps that are loosely but systematically followed. You do the same steps, but you can vary on duration, location, etc. as long as the basic routine remains in place.
When I think of regime, I think of a sleep dictatorship composed of extremely rigid rules and downright outlandish protocols that must be followed to achieve success. I’ve heard of some pretty crazy bedtime habits from parents, and then they’ll still complain about their kids not falling asleep or staying asleep.
It’s important to understand that a routine is important for conditioning sleep in children. Our brain works so that once certain cues are experienced, it starts to wind down on its own. However, you need to keep your sleep routine as simple as possible, so your children don’t get dependent on something that is completely unpractical to maintain.
With my two-year-old, we start with putting on our PJ’s (even if she gets an evening bath, I don’t put on PJ’s afterwards unless she’s going straight to bed). Next, we brush teeth, brush hair, and then put her into bed. We then pray, sing a song, and say goodnight. Lights off, door closed.
With my 14-month-old, we follow the exact same steps except he gets some of momma’s milk before he goes to bed. However, I don’t let him drink himself to sleep. I let him drink a certain amount and then say goodnight and let him fall asleep. At this stage, he eats enough food that I know he’s not eating for hunger but for comfort, which has its place, but I don’t want his sleep to become dependent on it. When he reaches 18 months, I’m going to start weaning him of this and just put momma’s milk in his daytime sippy cup, so he can still get the nutrients.
Medications of Any Type Can Disturb Sleep
I can’t believe I’m including this like it’s a thing, but I’m constantly surprised at statistics of how many children are on medications of some sort or antibiotics of some sort.
Babies and toddler and young children are little. Their body mass is small, and even though not every child reacts in the same way, medications can interrupt the sleep stages and decrease REM function. Harvard Health released a list of medications that can inhibit routine sleep functions, and these were in adults. Can you imagine the list that would affect a child’s body? Children can have night terrors, difficulty entering REM sleep, difficulty maintaining deep sleep, and a higher occurrence of sleep apnia.
I realize that some medications are absolutely vital to a child’s survival, but everything outside of that scenario should be closely considered and monitored.
Neither of my children have ever had a medication of any type—no antibiotics, no fever reducers, no pain meds.
I was 18 years old before I ever had an antibiotic, and my mom never once gave us pain meds or anything to bring down a fever. She was a nurse and had seen the effects of these medications. You can bring down a fever naturally, and there are alternatives to antibiotics. I know this may not work with everyone, but I’m just trying to get you to consider all possibilities when debating sleep difficulties. A child’s body is small and still developing, and the least amount of medications you pour into it, the stronger it will be.
Candida Overgrowth can Hinder Sleep
If you’re not familiar with candida or systematic candida, then you might be interested to know that it can have detrimental effects to your health and your child’s health, including their sleep. Candida is a fungus that lives in the human body. At normal levels, it poses no threat and aids in digestion, but when it multiplies, it can wreak havoc, causing yeast infections, thrush, diaper rash, leaky gut syndrome, and a breakdown of your immune system. Reference A mother can pass this to her child via the birth canal and through her nipples when breastfeeding. In children, candida overgrowth can hinder neurological function preventing them from falling asleep and staying asleep.
If you have a few extra minutes, read about the destructive nature of systemic candida and see if you can spot the symptoms in your family’s health. You can overcome it by cutting back on candida-feeding foods such as sugar, carbohydrates, and processed foods. This also goes back to-“Eating well can help you to sleep well”; if you have a toddler who doesn’t eat well, please check out my article on how to get your picky eater to eat! Find it Here!
You can also use coconut oil for thrush and for diaper rashes to help kill it since it’s antibacterial.
Understand Your Child’s Personal Sleep Needs
This is something that I really didn’t think about as a new parent.
I just researched information and then thought that of course, it would all apply to my child—when to use a blanket, what kind of sleepwear, hot or cold temperatures, etc. However, after getting to know my children, I’ve learned what works best for them. For instance, my daughter does not like being hot; many times, I go in there in the morning to find her on top of her covers, stretched out. She also moves a lot in bed, so we moved her from her crib to a toddler bed early and from a toddler bed to a full bed. She sleeps really well because she has room to move.
My son on the other hand does not like to be cold at all, so I dress him in warm PJ’s even in the summer because of the air conditioner. He also doesn’t move at all while he sleeps, so he’s still in his crib.
My son is also a lighter sleeper, so we have an air purifier that makes a buzzing sound in his room to create a white noise. We’ve made sure he can sleep without it, so as not to become dependent, but it helps to drown out my husband going to work in the morning since his room is near the front of the house. My daughter could sleep through a hurricane going through the front foyer, so we’ve never used that with her.
These may seem like simple steps, but they can actually matter when you’re trying to get your child to have a sound sleep!
I hope you find some helpful tips here, and please don’t forget to leave me a comment and let me know what works for you when getting your child to sleep!
Muah! Happy Sleeping!