Common Toddler Sleep Problems (2023)

You were prepared for sleepless nights during babyhood. You didn’t expect more of the same when your baby entered toddlerhood, though. It’s exhausting enough to deal with the constant wrangling and pleading when your toddler balks at bedtime. But it’s those middle-of-the night sleep wreckers that are really wearing you down. Is your toddler just being stubborn, or is something else going on?

The answer isn’t always so simple. Sometimes the problems robbing your toddler of Zzzs are easy to spot — a head cold, say, or teething pain. But some are more challenging and might even require a check-in with the pediatrician to find out why your toddler won’t sleep.

Whatever the reason, most of the time you can power through these sleep-busters by relying on a few toddler sleep basics. That means a consistent schedule, a comfortingbedtime routineand plenty of patience. Then consider these extra strategies for helping cure the most common toddler sleep problems.

What are some common toddler sleep problems?

Yes, your toddler needs 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, including naps. But that doesn’t mean your tot got the memo. If a perfect night’s sleep can be hard even for you occasionally, it's no wonder that toddlers — who have trouble winding down in any situation — have their bouts with restless nights.

Here's a look at some of the most common bedtime problems and tips for getting your child back on track.

Night waking

What it looks like: You put your toddler down at 7:30 p.m. and expect her to stay down for a solid stretch of sleep. Instead she wakes up one, two or even several times during the night. There are many reasons for these night wakings. Sometimes she's just not tired — and other times, she's too tired. Or she could be stirred awake by a bad dream, pain from teething or an earache, or a sound outside her door.

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Toddler Sleep Basics

What to do: Try not to rush in when she whimpers, as there’s a good chance that she’ll fall back to sleep by herself. If your toddler is crying in her sleep or wakes up sobbing, go in and reassure her with minimal drama and talking. Just be consistent and try to avoid sitting with her too long or bringing her to your room. She’ll eventually learn to self-soothe.

Early waking

What it looks like: Good morning, sunshine! Your toddler gets up at dawn’s first light and wants to greet the morning with some company (that would be you!). It’s true that most toddlers’ body clocks are naturally set for early risings. But there are ways to shift your cutie’s sleep habits a bit.

What to do: Adjust her bedtime by a few minutes each night so she ultimately goes down at 7:30 p.m., say, instead of 7 p.m., and sleeps a little later. If she wakes up with a soaked diaper, try to limit fluids before bedtime so wetness doesn't wake her up too early.

Changes in time

What it looks like: Twice a year, the clock shifts forward or backward and everyone finds it hard to adjust for a few days. This is especially true with the change in the spring to Daylight Saving Time, when your toddler wonders why she needs to go to bed when it’s still light out.

What to do: Stick to your routine and the times you normally do things, including eating, naps and bedtime, until your toddler’s internal clock adjusts. You can also try to block out the light with heavier curtains or shades.


What they look like: If your child wakes up crying in the middle of the night or early in the morning, she’s probably having a nightmare. Toddler nightmares typically occur during the REM (light) stage of sleep. That’s when your toddler’s brain is processing all the things that happened that day — including the scarier stuff, like seeing the big dog at the park or hearing loud traffic noises.

What to do: Your toddler will likely have trouble separating her dreams from reality — and may even struggle with trying to tell you what frightened her. Go in and comfort your little one, explaining that it was just her brain pretending. Give her a few hugs and pats on the back and see if she falls back to sleep.

Night terrors

What they look like: Unlike when they have a nightmare, children don’t wake up during a night terror, though they may seem agitated and thrash around. Night terrors happen during the very deep, non-REM sleep phase, so it’s usually impossible to wake your tot up, even if she seems upset, or for her to remember what happened.

What to do: Make sure your child is safe and can’t hurt herself, and then let the night terror ride itself out (easier said than done, we realize). Sometimes asoothing bedtime routine can help set your toddler up for better-quality sleep, especially after a stressful day.

Fear of the dark

What it looks like: From monsters under the bed to scary shadows on the wall, your toddler’s imagination goes into overdrive once the lights go out or when she wakes up in a dark room. Cue the calls for your tot’s favorite people to help banish her fear of the dark.

What to do: No matter what is scaring her, these emotions are very real to your child. You can help her feel less afraid by asking about her fears. Then help your tot feel safer before you say goodnight. Before bedtime, plug in a night light and give your little one a favorite stuffed animal to sleep with. Don't let her hop into bed with you, and try to stick as close to her normal bedtime routine as possible. She’ll feel more reassured if she sees thatyou'renot worried.

Snoring and/or sleep apnea

What it looks like: It may amaze you to learn that even the littlest kids can snore like grown-ups, and 27 percent of children snore occasionally. Anything can cause a toddler to snore, including allergies, a stuffy nose and even swollen tonsils. A smaller percentage of toddlers, an estimated 1 to 5 percent, have sleep apnea. That’s more serious, as your toddler will temporarily stop breathing for a few seconds as she snores.

What to do: If your child is only snoring once in a while, try elevating the head of the crib or bed and see if that helps. If you notice pauses in between snores, bring it up with the pediatrician, as that may be a sign of sleep apnea.

Sleepwalking and sleep talking

What it looks like: It can be unnerving when your little one starts muttering and chattering to herself in bed or wanders through the halls glassy-eyed but still zonked out.Butsleepwalking andsleep talkingduring the toddler years are fairly common, though both can be a sign of stress or too little sleep.

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What to do about it: There’s not much to do about either, since kids grow out of both. Try to keep bedtimes soothing and make sure your toddler is getting enough sleep. Also check that the house is safe and properly childproofed — keep cabinets locked, put baby gates at the top of the stairs, tack up any wires and keep the hallway free of toys and other objects that can cause falls. Don’t wake your toddler if you see her wandering, but do guide her gently back to bed.

Causes of toddler sleep problems

The toddler years are exciting, stressful, scary and full of discovery. It's normal for your toddler to fight sleep — there's too much going on! But besides the normal drive to push boundaries, there are many specific reasons why your toddler won’t sleep or wakes up crying in her sleep, including:

  • Too much screen time.TheAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says babies and toddlers under 18 months old should have noscreen time whatsoever except in the form of video chats, those ages 18 to 24 months should only have very small amounts of age-appropriate high-quality programming, and children ages 2 to 5 should be limited to an hour or fewer of TV or other screen time (also age-appropriate and high-quality) per day. That’s because too much screen time has been linked to health and behavior problems in children. That goes double at bedtime. Having the TV or a device on can be incredibly distracting and stimulating, even if it's only in the background. Banning all devices before bed (and as much as possible with your toddler around) is a good idea.

  • Over-stimulation.If your toddler seems squirmy and over-excited at bedtime for no apparent reason, it could be anything from a fun playdate earlier that day to a change in the weather. Making the shift from daytime to dreamland is tough, so be sure you aren’t rushing through her bedtime routine and have plenty of ways and chances to calm her down for bed.

  • Your child isn’t tired.Has your toddler’s nap schedule crept into the later afternoon hours? That might explain the second wind she gets as you plan to put her down with a book and favorite stuffed animal at bedtime. Here's the fix: Gradually push the last nap to earlier in the afternoon. An earlier nap means more rest-inducing playtime, increasing the odds that she'll be ready to settle down at night.

  • Your child is too tired.It's ironic, but the more exhausted your toddler is, the more likely she'll be buzzing with adrenaline when the clock says bedtime. Remedying this is easy: Make sure your toddler logs 11 to 14 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period. If that's not happening, she's overtired — no matter how energetic she seems.

  • Your toddler is in a strange bed.Expecting your tot to drift off to dreamland in a room that’s not her own is asking a lot. When you travel, getting your toddler to sleep is a whatever-works proposition. Just get back to the old routine as soon as you get home.

  • Your child doesn't feel well.Sleep is elusive when your child is sick. Cuddling, extra hugs and special requests are all fine when your child is under the weather, especially because she needs rest now more than ever. Once she’s on the mend, go back to her regular sleep schedule.

  • Your tot has separation anxiety. A second bout of separation anxiety starting at around 18 months can make toddler sleep problems crop up. Give her as much attention during the day, and a few extra snuggles at bedtime, and soon your tot will grow out of this phase (we promise).

  • Your toddler is hitting new milestones. Sometimes toddlers won’t sleep well if they’re about to make a developmental leap (like learning to walk or scribble with a crayon) or have just hit a milestone (like being able to ask for things rather than pointing to what they want).

  • Your child is teething. Those just-about-to-erupt molars (which come in between 13 and 33 months) also hurt, so it’s not uncommon for teething pains to cause toddler sleep problems in the second and even third year too. Soothe your tot when she wakes up at night with teething discomfort, but do it as matter-of-factly as possible.

Tips for handling common sleep problems in toddlers

One trick for better sleep habits is to let your toddler have some say in the bedtime routine, then do everything you can to stick to it. Here are some simple tactics you can try to end bedtime struggles and get your little rebel to bed.

  • Establish and follow a soothing bedtime routine.A warm bath, a book or two, and a cozy bed are all you need to createthe best bedtime routine for your toddler,customized to fit your family, of course. Set the tone with a snack, a bath and a nice conversation about the day. Dim the lights a bit and read her a story. You can even try singing a few goodnight songs or doing a little massage to relax her. Once your child comes to expect bathtime, then storytime, then tuck-in, she'll likely see bedtime as just another part of her day.

  • Ban screen time and devices. Letting your tot play a game on your phone before bedtime is a recipe for disaster. The light and the action will stimulate her instead of winding her down — which is the last thing you want. Instead, pull out the board books and start reading.

  • Don’t let her share your bed.Once you've got your child settled in her room, do you hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet or even find her curled up next to you? Don’t let that become a habit. Calmly and quietly return her to her own crib or bed. It may take more trips than you'd like, but she'll soon see she's fighting a losing battle.

  • Play the control game — with limits.Bedtime can be one of your child's favorite times to practice her stalling and negotiation skills. So get ahead of any potential conflict by deciding ahead of time where you're willing to cave. Allowing your child to choose between two books and which stuffed friends will sleep with her will go a long way toward a good night’s sleep.

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  • Keep daytime snoozes consistent. Too few or too many naps, as well as naps that are too long or late in the day, play the same role in toddler sleep problems — they make tots too sleepy or not sleepy enough so that they’re not getting good-quality Zzzs. Younger toddlers need about two to three hours of naps a day, split into two naps, while older toddlers generally take one afternoon nap of between one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours long. Make sure you time the afternoon nap so that it’s not happening too close to bedtime.

When to call the doctor

In general, if any toddler sleep problems are interfering with your day-to-day or making you worry excessively, it’s time to call your child’s pediatrician. Chances are, a phone call will be enough. Or you both may decide to make an appointment so your toddler’s doctor can see if there’s some physical reason your child is having sleep troubles. Specifically:

  • For snoring: Snoring without sleep apnea isn’t usually a problem, so you might wait to bring this up at your toddler’s next well visit. But if your toddler is sleepy during the day, tough to wake up, or more irritable than usual, the snoring may be interfering with good-quality Zzzs, so check in with the doctor.

  • For sleep apnea: If you notice your toddler pauses for a few seconds between snores, call the pediatrician and make an appointment to bring your child in for an evaluation to see if it’s sleep apnea or swollen tonsils causing the issue. It could be that your tot needs to check in with a sleep doctor or a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).

  • For night terrors: Most of the time, your child will grow out of night terrors. But if you’re worried, call the pediatrician. Your child’s provider may not need to see your tot, but the call can help put your mind at ease.

  • For sleepwalking or sleep talking: In general, these toddler sleep problems fall within the normal range, but you might mention them at the next well visit. If you’re really worried or it’s happening a lot, call your pediatrician, who can help reassure you.

  • For night wakings: They’re normal for toddlers, but if they happen every night or it’s affecting the ability for all of you to get a good night’s sleep, then check in with the pediatrician. The doctor can help uncover the reason why your toddler keeps waking up overnight.

  • For fear of the dark: This is also par for the course with toddlers, but if it’s interfering with your child’s and family’s sleep for too long, contact the doctor. Otherwise, bring it up at your tot’s next well visit.

Ensuring that your toddler gets enough sleep is about more than maintaining your own sanity (although that's a nice fringe benefit!). Having her get the sleep she needs and instillinggood sleep habits will help keep your little one healthy and happy as she grows.

From the What to Expect editorial team andHeidi Murkoff,author ofWhat to Expect When You're Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading ourmedical review and editorial policy.

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(Video) Sleep disorders in children | Dr. Indu Khosla and Dr. Behzad Bhandari


What are some common sleep problems that toddlers experience? ›

Parasomnias are common in childhood; sleepwalking, sleep talking, confusional arousals, and sleep terrors tend to occur in the first half of the night, whereas nightmares are more common in the second half of the night.

What if my toddler isn't getting enough sleep? ›

How can I help my toddler to get more sleep? The best way to establish healthy sleep habits for your toddler is to have a regular daily routine. Put him down for his nap at a set time every day, even if he doesn't seem tired. Try not to keep him up late in the evening, even if you want to spend more time with him.

Why do some toddlers not sleep well? ›

It could be bright lights, loud noises, or discomfort. For instance, your toddler might be teething. It may be too hot or too cold. Your tot may have a stuffy nose or maybe they're agitated by itchy PJs.

Do Intelligent toddlers have trouble sleeping? ›

Busy Brains

Gifted kids seem to be able to function quite well with less sleep than their age mates, but they can sometimes have a difficult time getting to sleep. Many kids describe it as being unable to shut off their brains.

What are 3 common sleep problems? ›

Key Sleep Disorders
  • Insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by an inability to initiate or maintain sleep. ...
  • Narcolepsy. Excessive daytime sleepiness (including episodes of irresistible sleepiness) combined with sudden muscle weakness are the hallmark signs of narcolepsy. ...
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) ...
  • Sleep Apnea.

Why does my toddler wake up so much at night? ›

Life changes such as a new sibling, potty training, weaning, transitioning to a toddler bed, moving to a new home, or a new babysitter or day care provider can cause daytime anxiety — which may in turn translate into nighttime restlessness. Adjusting can take some time for your little one.

How can I tell if my toddler has ADHD? ›

Key symptoms include:
  • difficulty sitting quietly, remaining still, or staying in one place.
  • excessive talking.
  • difficulty waiting patiently or taking turns.
  • frequent fidgeting, squirming, or tapping hands and feet.
  • trouble staying seated in school, work, or other situations.

What are the signs of sleep disorder in child? ›

Excessive daytime tiredness, inability to focus, hyperactivity and irritability can be signs of poor sleep in children. Other signs and symptoms of sleep disorders include: Snoring (the most common) followed by pauses or gasping. Labored breathing while sleeping.

How do you reset an overtired toddler? ›

Tips for helping your overtired toddler get more sleep and settle down at bedtime
  1. Nail down his sleep schedule. The first step is to figure out what your child's ideal sleep schedule is. ...
  2. Examine his naps. ...
  3. Make bedtime sacred. ...
  4. Adjust as needed. ...
  5. Bring back sleep training. ...
  6. Be patient.
May 9, 2022

Why is bedtime so hard for toddlers? ›

These are some of the common reasons why your toddler might find bedtimes difficult: being confused about her bedtime routine. needing you to be with her when she falls asleep and being unable to soothe herself. going through a stage where she is developing lots of new skills and abilities.

Do toddlers with ADHD sleep less? ›

Up to 70% of children with ADHD suffer from problems with their sleep. Almost half the parents of a child with ADHD say that their child has moderate to serious sleep problems. Children with ADHD may have behavioural sleep problems or medically-based sleep problems.

What is the number 1 sleep disorder? ›

Insomnia - being unable to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is the most common sleep disorder.

What are 5 problems Lack of sleep can cause? ›

Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Sleep deficiency is also linked to a higher chance of injury in adults, teens, and children.

What triggers sleep problems? ›

Poor sleep habits include an irregular bedtime schedule, naps, stimulating activities before bed, an uncomfortable sleep environment, and using your bed for work, eating or watching TV. Computers, TVs, video games, smartphones or other screens just before bed can interfere with your sleep cycle.

How do I stop my toddler waking at night? ›

One of the most important things you can do is to be consistent. Children thrive on repetition and routine, so use that to your advantage. Maintain the same bedtime routine every night so your little one knows that their final tuck-in is coming. The same goes for those nighttime wakings.

How do I teach my toddler to self soothe at night? ›

Tell the child that it is time to sleep, give them a kiss or a hug and then leave the room. Wait at least five minutes before returning. Tell the toddler again that it is time to sleep, give them a brief kiss or hug, and leave again. Repeat increasing the intervals you are gone by two minutes each time.

What is abnormal toddler behavior? ›

Signs and symptoms of challenging behaviour

defiance (e.g. refusing to follow your requests) fussiness (e.g. refusal to eat certain foods or wear certain clothes) hurting other people (e.g. biting, kicking) excessive anger when the child doesn't get their own way.

What triggers ADHD in toddlers? ›

Risk factors

Blood relatives, such as a parent or sibling, with ADHD or another mental health disorder. Exposure to environmental toxins — such as lead, found mainly in paint and pipes in older buildings. Maternal drug use, alcohol use or smoking during pregnancy. Premature birth.

What does OCD look like in toddlers? ›

Some symptoms of OCD in a toddler or preschooler may include: an obsession with cleanliness, such as frequent handwashing or fear of germs. a fear that something bad will happen. repeated doubts related to the fear of something bad happening, like whether a door was locked or a stove was left on.

What are the 5 types of sleep disorders in children? ›

Some types of sleep disorders are related to particular behaviors, whereas others are caused by neurological or other medical conditions.
  • Childhood Insomnia. ...
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. ...
  • Hypersomnia. ...
  • Parasomnias. ...
  • Movement Disorders. ...
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea. ...
  • Behavioral and Mental Health Disorders.

Can a 2 year old have a sleeping disorder? ›

Sleep disorders in children and adolescents are common; even infants may have sleep disorders.


1. Behavioral Sleep Disorders - Akron Children's Hospital video
2. Bedtime Problems & Night Wakings in Young Children
(National Jewish Health)
3. Children's sleeping disorder misdiagnosed
(ABC Action News)
4. Sleep Difficulties in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
(Pediatric Healthcare Professional Resources)
5. Help, My Toddler is Waking Up at Night! Sleep Issues in Autism FAQ
(Mary Barbera - Turn Autism Around)
6. Common Sleep Problems in Children
(Freeman Professional Development)
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