Why Your Toddler Won't Sleep and What You Can Do

toddler won’t sleep

It’s been a long day, and you’re looking forward to some peace and quiet after your little one drifts off to dreamland. You’ve read their favorite bedtime story, tucked them in, and turned off the light. But despite all that, your toddler won’t sleep.

It’s a frustrating situation that many parents can relate to. But what causes toddlers not to sleep in the first place? And if they’re currently fighting sleep, what can you do?

Let’s look at some common reasons toddlers won’t fall asleep and explore potential solutions to help you both get the rest you need. But first, let’s talk about how much sleep your toddler should get each night.

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How much sleep do toddlers need?

toddler won’t sleep

According to the CDC, toddlers need an average of 11-14 hours of shut-eye in a 24-hour period. This includes any naps they take as well as their nighttime sleep.

However, every child is different. Some may require more or less sleep than others. You’ll want to pay attention to your toddler’s cues and talk to their doctor about an individualized sleep schedule.

8 reasons your toddler won’t sleep

While sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why your toddler won’t sleep, these common culprits may be to blame. For each, we share some simple steps you can try to help your child fall asleep.

1) Pain or discomfort

With limited communication skills, it’s hard for a toddler to tell you they aren’t feeling well. If they aren’t sleeping, it’s important to rule out any sources of pain or discomfort.

Possible causes could be:

What to do

Observe your child carefully to see if you notice any symptoms. Check their mouth for swollen gums, make sure they don’t have a fever, and ask them if anything hurts.

If you suspect your child is in pain, consult their doctor. They may need pain medication or another treatment to help them feel better.

2) Separation anxiety

Standing toddler won’t sleep

Toddlers are developing their independence and want to do things on their own. But they still crave the attention and security of their caregivers.

When you’re out of sight, your little one might feel nervous. This is known as separation anxiety, and it’s prevalent in children between 6 months and 3 years. Anxiety makes it hard for toddlers to sleep, even when they’re tired.

What to do

Be patient with your child, and establish a bedtime routine with lots of hugs and snuggles. You can also leave a nightlight on or provide a special toy or blanket for comfort.

Offer praise for them staying in their bed, and remind them of all the fun things you’ll do together tomorrow.

3) Dirty diaper

Sleeping in a dirty diaper isn’t fun. If your toddler isn’t yet potty trained, a wet or poopy diaper could keep them up.

What to do

Check their diaper, and quickly change them if needed. Keep the lights low and speak in soothing tones as you do this. Then, help them get back into bed with a fresh diaper.

4) Developmental milestones

Has your toddler recently learned a new skill or started talking more? While these developmental milestones are exciting, they can also disrupt sleep patterns.

As they learn new things, your little one might experience sore muscles or a racing brain, making it harder to fall asleep. Plus, since these new skills require effort, it’s possible that your toddler is burning more calories than usual and feels hungry.

What to do

A small bedtime snack can help satisfy their hunger and provide the necessary nutrients to support their growth. You can also give them a soothing massage for a few minutes as you talk about all the new things they’ve been doing.

5) Overtiredness

When your toddler gets too tired, their body produces stress hormones, like cortisol. These hormones make it difficult for your child to relax and fall asleep.

Here are some signs that they’re overtired:

  • Irritability
  • Crying about things that typically don’t bother them
  • Difficult to console
  • Hyperactivity
  • Not wanting you to put them down

You may notice these symptoms on days when your child woke up extra early or missed a nap.

What to do

For tonight, simply snuggle with your grumpy little one and hold them close. This alone could calm down enough to sleep, though it’ll likely take some time. Singing softly or reading a story may also help.

Through it all, stay calm and let them know that you’re there for them.

Going forward, implement a consistent bedtime routine to ensure they get enough sleep. Put them to bed when they first show signs of tiredness, such as rubbing their eyes or yawning. And be sure to stick to this routine as much as possible, even on the weekends.

You’ll also want to evaluate their nap pattern. While some toddlers are ready to drop to one nap a day, others still need two. Add up all the time spent sleeping and see if they get at least 11 hours each day.

6) Bad sleep environment

If your baby isn’t comfortable, they might have trouble falling asleep. Spend some time with them in their room and consider these factors:

  • Temperature: Is the room too hot or cold?
  • Pajamas: Are they too tight, or is a tag feeling scratchy?
  • Noise: Can you hear any loud or annoying sounds?
  • Light: Is the room too bright or too dark? Fear of the dark often starts in toddlerhood.
  • Bed: Is their mattress comfortable? Is it too hard or too soft?

If your child’s space doesn’t feel cozy, it might be time to make a few changes.

What to do

Make their room more comfortable. Try:

  • Adjusting the temperature
  • Changing them into another pair of pajamas
  • Running a white noise machine
  • Turning on a nightlight
  • Investing in a high-quality, breathable Newton Baby Crib Mattress and sheets
  • Introducing a toddler pillow, blanket, and stuffed animal (only if they’re over a year old)

7) Life changes

Has anything changed in your household recently? Did you have a new baby or find a new daycare?

Toddlers thrive on routine, so even small changes can throw off their sleep schedule. For example, if you’re away from home and you’re expecting them to sleep in a different room or a new bed, they might not feel comfortable or secure enough to rest.

What to do

Be patient with your little one as they learn to navigate changes in life. You may need to stay in their room longer than normal or read extra bedtime stories.

If you travel a lot, invest in a Travel Crib & Play Yard so your toddler can have the same bed, no matter where life takes you.

8) Sleep disorders

If you’ve tried every trick in the book and your child still doesn’t sleep well, they may have a sleep disorder.

Common disorders that affect toddlers include:

  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Sleep apnea
  • Sleepwalking
  • Restless leg syndrome

What to do

Discuss your child’s sleep with their physician. They may recommend a sleep study to learn more about your toddler’s sleep patterns and determine if any underlying issues are causing their sleep troubles.

If your child’s doctor diagnoses them with anything, they’ll work with you to find the right treatment plan.

General tips for when your toddler won’t sleep

Toddler sitting in a travel crib

Here are some more general tips to help encourage healthy sleep habits:

  • Give your toddler plenty of time for physical activity during the day
  • Limit screen time before bed
  • Remove any distractions from their bedroom
  • Reward your child for staying in bed
  • Offer plenty of reassurance
  • Let them look at books quietly after you tuck them in
  • Avoid doing activities that make a lot of noise so you don’t keep your child awake
  • Get them a drink of water right before bed
  • Give them choices; let them pick between two books, for example
  • Adjust the timing of their naps to ensure they aren’t over- or undertired
  • Keep your bedtime routine simple enough to do consistently
  • Discuss your child’s sleep schedule with the doctor so you can make changes as recommended

While your toddler may still experience short sleep regressions, the tips above can help minimize them.

Better sleep with Newton Baby

Toddler lying on stomach in a crib

If your toddler won’t sleep, you’re not alone. It’s a common struggle, but Newton Baby is here to help. Our breathable, hypoallergenic mattresses and sheets are designed with your child’s comfort in mind.

With a consistent bedtime routine, lots of love, and our safe, cozy products, you can help your child get the sleep they need for a happier tomorrow.

Sweet dreams!