My toddler simply will not fall asleep until 10:30 p.m. or later. He never wakes up at the same time either. What can I do?
Gradually move his bedtime
It is important for us to get in bed only when we are ready to sleep, and to be consistent with our bedtime every day (despite many temptations to stay up later on the weekend!). The same rules apply to kids. If your toddler’s body clock is telling him to go to sleep at 10:30, then putting him to bed well before then will lead him to feel frustrated from tossing and turning, and can result in negative associations with the bed. Where does that leave you? Well, you can work on his sleep schedule gradually without your toddler even knowing that it’s happening. That means that you can start the bedtime routine aimed at a 10:30 p.m. bedtime for a couple of nights so that he learns that he is able to fall asleep soon after getting into bed. Then, after two or three nights, you should adjust his bedtime routine so that he is getting into bed at 10:15 p.m. Another two or three nights later, push that to 10:00 p.m., and so forth. Within a couple of weeks he will be at a more desirable bedtime while also maintaining positive associations with his bed. Use a consistent bedtime routine so that he learns to associate the routine with the idea that he is about to get in bed and go to sleep. You should also gradually wake him up earlier and earlier in the morning to help reinforce the desire to go to sleep earlier that night. Yes, I did say wake him up! Use the same gradual approach of waking him up 15 minutes earlier every two or three days – especially if he is going to bed late and sleeping late in the morning. Exposing him to bright light in the morning, such as opening a window or playing outside, will help with the waking process because it signals to your brain that it is daytime and time to be awake.
Help him to wake up at a more consistent time
In terms of his inconsistent wake-up times, kids wake up for all kinds of reasons. With the improved consistency of his bedtime and the earlier bedtime, some of this will likely improve. In case it doesn’t, there are a few things to consider. You want to first determine what time he should be waking up based on when he went to bed to ensure he is getting enough sleep. It is recommended that most toddlers get between 11-14 hours of sleep over the course of a day, so depending on how much your toddler naps, you can determine what time he should be waking up. If your child is waking up without getting the right amount of sleep, there are a few strategies that we can use. First, you should figure out if there are things in his room that are waking him up, such as lights or noises inside or outside the house. You should also consider sleep associations that make it hard to fall back asleep. For instance, if he falls asleep to you rubbing his back, then when he wakes up without you there, it will be hard for him to get back to sleep. Try eliminating these environmental distractions or sleep associations that he relies on to fall back to sleep. Double diapering is another strategy to help improve comfort over the night. A good morning light is also helpful to signal to your little one when he can get out of bed. Putting a child to bed earlier can also, surprisingly, help them sleep longer. Finally, as you work on adjusting his bedtime, you should continue to adjust his wake time to promote him going to bed again that night at the desired time.About Dr. Sonia Rubens