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Toddler Takes Forever to Fall Asleep at Night? Try These Ideas.
Wondering how to get your toddler to fall asleep faster?
When you have a toddler, bedtime can be stressful for everyone involved…but it really doesn’t have to be.
I’ll admit, we’ve had plenty of stressful nights trying to get our toddler to bed on time. Some nights, she can be entirely too difficult to get to sleep.
Now, some might turn to strict sleep training methods for their babies and toddlers such as “cry it out”. However, that’s never been my parenting style.
Not yours either? Let’s go over some more gentle methods to help your toddler fall asleep faster.
I’m just going to say it — I have nearly always nursed my daughter to sleep.
Some “experts” say you should never breastfeed your baby to sleep. Well, that expert advice completely backfired on us from the beginning.
It made bedtime stressful, not only for my husband and me, but for our baby as well. Needless to say, we tossed that idea aside and I went back to nursing her to sleep at night.
And it worked like a charm! I was able to sit down and relax, and she fell asleep without a fuss.
We started the process of night weaning when I found out I was pregnant again. The first few nights were NOT easy.
But well before she turned two, she was able to fall asleep without nursing (although not without some snuggles or pats on her back), and she no longer wakes up to nurse during the night.
However, that doesn’t mean bedtime is always easy now.
So, what are some gentle methods to help your toddler fall asleep faster? First, I’m going to cover some reasons it might take toddlers a while to fall asleep, then I’ll share eight natural sleep aids for toddlers.
I am not a medical professional, and the following is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
Why Does My Toddler Take So Long to Fall Asleep?
There could be a number of reasons why toddlers take a long time to fall asleep at night. A few possible reasons:
- They’re overtired or overstimulated.
- It’s still light outside.
- It’s too loud or quiet in their bedroom.
- They want to keep playing.
- They want to spend more time with you.
- They’re hungry or thirsty.
Sometimes, it just take a little bit of experimentation to figure out what helps your child fall asleep faster at night.
1. Set a Bedtime Routine
When our daughter was a baby, she was so exhausted that most nights she was asleep by 7 PM. As she got older, that time kept naturally moving off just a little later.
We still always try starting our bedtime routine at 7:30, though, to help her wind down and prepare for sleep. Everyone has a different routine, and what works for one family might not work for another.
Here’s a general idea of what our bedtime routine looks like, although we don’t always necessarily do everything in the exact same order.
- diaper change and pajamas
- snack (having a full tummy can help toddlers sleep much better)
- teeth brushing and story time
It doesn’t sound like a long process, so why does it always seem to take so long?
Some nights, she isn’t actually asleep until around 9 PM. Toddlers are just learning how to test their boundaries, though…
My little girl loves to run around the house in a futile attempt to get out of diaper changes. And she takes soooo long to eat her snack some nights, no matter how much I urge her to hurry.
We just have to push on and try to stick with a routine as much as possible, and it will get easier (I hope!).
UPDATE: She is now almost four years old and, yes, it did get MUCH easier!
2. Give a Gentle Massage
My daughter was used to having her back rubbed or patted to help her fall asleep at daycare, and she started asking us to pat her back as she falls asleep.
To this day, we never leave her alone in her room to fall asleep. Some parents might be able to leave their toddlers but, at least for now, we are okay with staying until she’s asleep.
Sometimes, it can get really frustrating when she tosses and turns or tries to play or talk. Sometimes, I just have to walk out for a minute and take a breath, although I cannot leave her to cry for long.
When she’s having a hard time falling asleep, and patting or rubbing her back doesn’t help, I try gently massaging her feet. You could also try a gentle face or scalp massage, although my daughter doesn’t like when I do that.
Naturally, if your toddler is fighting you, stop the massage — it obviously doesn’t feel good to them.
Below is a good video I found on techniques for massaging your kids. My toddler isn’t likely to have the patience for an entire body massage like the girl in the video.
However, there are some helpful tips that may help your toddler fall asleep at bedtime.
3. Try Aromatherapy
I’m not comfortable enough with essential oils to give advice on using them topically, especially on kids. However, I feel that aromatherapy can be a huge help in many areas, such as relaxation at bedtime.
There are various ways to use aromatherapy to help your toddler fall asleep, from diffusing essential oils to using a therapeutic stuffed animal that your child can snuggle with.
My daughter’s “Sherlock” (named after our own real-life tabby cat) is a stuffed kitty that we got her for Christmas last year. It is part of the Warmies collection of therapeutic stuffed animals.
You can microwave these stuffed animals, and they give off a lavender scent (although, we found that the scent only lasts a couple times in the microwave).
I never imagined she would love her Sherlock so much, but he is her absolute favorite.
If your child has trouble falling asleep, you can microwave this particular stuffed animal for a little bit to warm it up. Since the scent has completely disappeared, I’ll occasionally apply a drop of a relaxing essential oil, such as lavender, directly to the toy to help her relax as she snuggles Sherlock to sleep.
Just a drop, though…you don’t want the scent to be overwhelming.
Note: These things are heavy! I believe they weigh about two pounds. Maybe the little bit of weight is what she likes so much about snuggling with it?
4. Teach Deep Breathing Techniques
Teaching a toddler how to breathe slowly and deeply is no easy feat. However, if you can manage it, deep breathing can help your child relax at bedtime.
Take a few minutes to snuggle quietly with your toddler and, without talking, simply take a long, deep breath. Hold it for a couple seconds, then slowly let it out.
The idea is that your toddler will naturally mimic your deep breathing.
5. Use White Noise
I have always used some form of white noise in my daughter’s room to help block out external sounds and keep her from waking to every single noise. The white noise could come from a fan in the summer or a humidifier in the winter.
I actually bought a sound machine for her room that has various nature sounds to help her fall asleep more easily. The one we have is on a timer, so it automatically turns off after an hour (or whatever set amount of time you choose).
This white noise machine is affordable and has high reviews on Amazon.
6. Keep the Room Cool
Do you have a hard time sleeping when your bedroom gets too hot?
Just like us, toddlers can have a hard time sleeping if their room is too hot or too cold. Keep the thermostat at a comfortable temperature, although a little cooler tends to be better to help your toddler fall asleep faster.
If it’s cooler, you can simply dress them in warm pajamas and tuck them into a warm blanket.
Sometimes, my daughter will kick off her blankets and wake up during the night, so all we need to do is cover her back up and (with a little luck!) she’ll go back to sleep.
7. Keep the Daytime Nap
If your toddler is having a hard time falling asleep at night, it can be tempting to give up naps to get them to bed earlier. Sure, sometimes my daughter skips her afternoon nap, and she is so exhausted that she is ready for bed much earlier than normal.
However, giving up naps too soon can also backfire.
It’s often the case that a well-rested baby or toddler is much easier to get to sleep at night. And who wants to deal with an overtired child all afternoon? It’s no fun having a crabby kid clinging to you or having meltdowns about every little thing.
And they can actually be much more difficult when it comes to following a bedtime routine.
Sometimes, our little girl still has a hard time falling asleep, even when she hasn’t napped, because she’s so overtired and gets really riled up. Instead of giving up naps entirely, perhaps an earlier or shorter nap would be a better option to help your toddler fall asleep more easily at bedtime.
Blackout curtains can help your toddler fall asleep more easily during the daytime, and even at night, by blocking out light pollution.
UPDATE: On the other hand, cutting out naps might help your toddler go to sleep more easily and sleep later in the morning. There are a lot of things that factor into it, such as your child’s age, their sleep needs, and whether or not they have to get up early for daycare.
Figuring out the perfect toddler sleep schedule can be tricky and sometimes it just takes a bit of experimentation!
We cut out naps when our toddler was 2.5 years old; now, at 3.5 years old, she goes to bed around 8 or 9 PM, and wakes up anywhere from 7:30-8:30 AM.
8. Continue Nursing to Sleep
I realize this isn’t the answer if you’re trying to help your toddler fall asleep on her own. And obviously, this isn’t the answer for everyone. But if your toddler is still breastfeeding, nursing can absolutely help your toddler fall asleep faster.
Like I said earlier, we started night weaning long ago, and we even got to a point where she would only want to nurse once every week or two.
However, due to various factors, she has recently started nursing to sleep nearly every night again — yes, even through the very end of my pregnancy. To be honest, it has made our lives a lot easier lately.
She’s not always as quick to fall asleep as when she was younger, but it does help. The most important thing to me? Knowing that she can fall asleep on her own and, when we are ready, we can stop nursing her to sleep again.
How to Get Your Toddler to Fall Asleep Faster — Update
At 3.5 years old, my daughter has been weaned from breastfeeding for almost a year, and I am able to tuck her into bed with a stuffed animal, a short back rub, and a kiss good-night. She usually falls asleep on her own within minutes. Yes!!