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Toddler Will Not Stay in Bed: 7 Life-Changing Routines for Serene Nights

Bedtime can be a battleground for many parents of toddlers. You’ve tried everything – lullabies, stories, and even pleading – but your little one just won’t stay in bed. As you tuck them in for the umpteenth time, you can’t help but wonder, “Why won’t my toddler stay in bed?”

Fear not, fellow parents! This article will guide you through seven life-changing routines that can transform your nights into serene, restful havens. We’ll dive into the reasons behind your toddler’s resistance to sleep and provide practical solutions to help everyone in the family catch those much-needed zzz’s.

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Toddler Will Not Stay in Bed: 7 Life-Changing Routines for Serene Nights. Image Credit: Canva

Understanding Toddler Sleep Patterns and Needs

Before we delve into the routines, let’s explore the world of toddler sleep. Toddlers require a substantial amount of sleep – typically 11 to 14 hours per day, including naps. However, their sleep patterns can be unpredictable, and they often resist bedtime due to various reasons:

  • Fear of missing out (FOMO): Toddlers have an insatiable curiosity and can’t bear the thought of missing out on any action.
  • Separation anxiety: Being away from parents can trigger anxiety and make it harder for toddlers to settle down.
  • Developmental milestones: Achieving new skills, like walking or talking, can be exciting and stimulating, making it harder to wind down.
  • Discomfort or illness: Physical discomfort, such as teething or sickness, can disrupt sleep patterns.

Understanding these factors can help you tailor your approach and make bedtime a smoother process.

AgeRecommended Total Sleep (hours)Recommended Nighttime Sleep (hours)Recommended Daytime Nap (hours)
1-2 years11-14 hours10-12 hours1-3 hours
2-3 years11-13 hours10-12 hours0-2.5 hours
3-5 years10-13 hours8-11 hours0-2 hours
Recommended Sleep Durations for Toddlers

Understanding Your Toddler’s Sleep Cycles

Toddlers have different sleep cycles than adults, which can contribute to their resistance to staying in bed. Understanding these sleep cycles can help you better time their bedtime routine and naps.

Toddlers typically experience two main sleep cycles:

  1. Non-REM (NREM) Sleep: This is the lighter stage of sleep, where toddlers may toss, turn, or even wake up briefly. This stage accounts for about 50% of their sleep time.
  2. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep: This is the deeper, more restorative stage of sleep, where dreams occur and brain development is supported. Toddlers spend a higher percentage of their sleep in REM compared to adults.

Knowing when your toddler is likely to transition between these cycles can help you time their bedtime routine and naps more effectively. For example, if you notice your toddler is restless or waking frequently during NREM sleep, adjusting their bedtime routine or nap schedule may help them transition more smoothly into REM sleep.

Next Step Advice: Observe your toddler’s sleep patterns and take note of when they seem to transition between sleep cycles. Use this information to adjust their bedtime routine or nap schedule accordingly.

Common Scenarios Leading to Toddlers Not Staying in Bed

Toddlers can find countless reasons to resist staying in bed. Some common scenarios include:

  • Transitioning from a crib to a bed: This newfound freedom can be exciting and overwhelming, leading to frequent escapes.
  • Sleep environment issues: Factors like noise, light, or an uncomfortable mattress can disrupt sleep.
  • Schedule problems: An irregular or inconsistent routine can confuse your toddler’s internal clock.
  • Sleep regressions: Developmental milestones or changes in the family dynamic can temporarily disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Fear of the dark: Some toddlers may develop a fear of the dark, making it harder for them to stay in their rooms.
  • Sickness: Illness can cause discomfort and restlessness, leading to frequent wake-ups.

By identifying the root cause of your toddler’s resistance, you can tailor your approach and address the issue more effectively.

Dealing with Sleep Regressions

Sleep regressions are common occurrences during toddlerhood, where your little one suddenly starts resisting sleep or waking up frequently at night. These regressions can be frustrating, but they’re often temporary and related to developmental milestones or life changes.

Common causes of sleep regressions in toddlers include:

  • Teething pain: The discomfort from new teeth coming in can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Growth spurts: Toddlers may need more sleep during periods of rapid growth and development.
  • Separation anxiety: As toddlers become more aware of their surroundings, separation from parents at bedtime can trigger anxiety.
  • Transitions or changes: Major life events, such as moving to a new home, starting daycare, or welcoming a new sibling, can disrupt sleep routines.

While sleep regressions can be challenging, they’re typically short-lived. Here are some strategies to help your toddler through a regression:

  • Remain consistent: Stick to your established bedtime routine and sleep rules, even if it takes longer for your toddler to settle down.
  • Offer comfort and reassurance: Provide extra cuddles, bedtime stories, or a special stuffed animal to help your toddler feel secure.
  • Adjust nap times or bedtimes temporarily: If your toddler seems overtired, adjusting their sleep schedule slightly can help them catch up on missed sleep.

Next Step Advice: If you suspect your toddler is experiencing a sleep regression, remain patient and consistent with your routines. Offer extra comfort and reassurance, and consider making temporary adjustments to their sleep schedule if needed.

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Toddler Will Not Stay in Bed: 7 Life-Changing Routines for Serene Nights. Image Credit: Canva

Things to Avoid When a Toddler Won’t Stay in Bed

While it’s tempting to resort to tactics like shaming, threatening, or yelling when your toddler won’t stay in bed, these approaches can actually backfire and worsen the situation. Here’s what you should avoid:

  • Shaming or threatening: These tactics can damage your child’s self-esteem and create a negative association with bedtime.
  • Verbal control or yelling: Raising your voice can escalate the situation and create a power struggle, making it harder for your toddler to calm down.
  • Inconsistency: Giving in to your toddler’s demands one night and enforcing rules the next can confuse them and undermine your efforts.

Instead, focus on creating a positive and consistent bedtime routine that fosters a sense of security and comfort for your little one.

Routine #1: Consistent Bedtime Routine

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is crucial for helping toddlers wind down and prepare for sleep. A predictable routine signals to their bodies and minds that it’s time to rest, making it easier for them to transition to sleep.

Here’s an example of a calming bedtime routine:

  1. Warm bath: A warm bath can be a soothing and relaxing ritual that helps toddlers unwind.
  2. Put on pajamas: Choose comfortable, cozy pajamas to encourage a sense of sleepiness.
  3. Brush teeth: Incorporate tooth brushing into the routine to establish healthy habits.
  4. Read a story: Reading a calming story together can be a cherished bonding experience and signal that bedtime is near.
  5. Sing a lullaby or play soothing music: Soft, calming tunes can help your toddler relax and drift off to sleep.
  6. Tuck them in and say goodnight: A consistent goodnight ritual, such as a kiss or a special phrase, can provide comfort and security.

Next Step Advice: Start implementing a consistent bedtime routine tonight, and stick to it every night. Your toddler will begin to recognize the cues and associate them with sleep, making it easier for them to settle down.

Warm bath7:00 PMAdd calming lavender bath salts
Put on pajamas7:15 PMChoose soft, comfortable pajamas
Brush teeth7:20 PMUse toddler-friendly toothpaste
Read a story7:30 PMChoose a calming, age-appropriate book
Sing a lullaby7:45 PMTry “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”
Tuck in and say goodnight8:00 PMUse a special phrase or ritual
Bedtime Routine Checklist

Routine #2: Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Creating an optimal sleep environment can significantly improve your toddler’s ability to stay in bed and sleep through the night. Consider the following factors:

  • Room temperature: Toddlers sleep best in a cool, comfortable environment, typically between 68°F and 72°F (20°C to 22°C).
  • Lighting: Dim or blackout curtains can create a soothing, dark environment that promotes melatonin production and makes it easier to fall asleep.
  • Noise levels: Minimize external noise by using a white noise machine or playing calming ambient sounds.
  • Comfortable bedding: Invest in a high-quality, supportive mattress and soft, breathable sheets that can help your toddler feel cozy and relaxed.
  • Safety: Ensure the sleep environment is safe and free from potential hazards, such as loose cords or sharp edges.

Next Step Advice: Evaluate your toddler’s sleep environment and make any necessary adjustments to create a comfortable, calming space that promotes restful sleep.

Room temperatureBetween 68°F and 72°F (20°C to 22°C)
LightingUse blackout curtains or dim lighting
Noise levelsUse a white noise machine or play calming sounds
BeddingHigh-quality, supportive mattress and soft, breathable sheets
SafetyEnsure the room is free from potential hazards
Sleep-Friendly Environment Checklist

Routine #3: Addressing Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common issue for toddlers, especially during bedtime. Being away from their parents can trigger anxiety and make it harder for them to settle down. Here are some strategies to help ease separation anxiety:

  • Use a transitional object: Provide your toddler with a special stuffed animal, blanket, or other comforting object that they can hold onto during bedtime.
  • Gradual separation: Stay in the room until your toddler falls asleep, and gradually increase the distance over time to help them adjust.
  • Positive reinforcement: Praise and reward your toddler when they stay in bed without fussing, reinforcing the desired behavior.
  • Establish a special routine: Develop a special bedtime routine, such as reading a book or singing a song, that helps create a sense of security and familiarity.

Next Step Advice: If separation anxiety is a significant issue, consider implementing a gradual separation plan and introducing a transitional object to help your toddler feel more secure during bedtime.

Routine #4: Establishing Healthy Sleep Associations

Toddlers can develop associations between certain activities and sleep, which can either help or hinder their ability to stay in bed. It’s essential to establish healthy sleep associations that promote restful nights.

Positive sleep associations:

  • Reading a bedtime story
  • Cuddling with a stuffed animal or blanket
  • Listening to calming music or white noise
  • Engaging in a relaxing bedtime routine

Negative sleep associations to avoid:

  • Watching TV or playing on a tablet before bed
  • Engaging in active or stimulating activities close to bedtime
  • Eating sugary snacks or drinks that can disrupt sleep

Next Step Advice: Evaluate your toddler’s current sleep associations and make adjustments as needed. Introduce positive associations, such as reading a book or playing calming music, and gradually phase out any negative associations that may be disrupting their sleep.

Routine #5: Proper Sleep Timing and Schedules

Maintaining an appropriate sleep schedule and timing is crucial for ensuring your toddler gets the rest they need. Overtiredness can actually make it harder for them to fall and stay asleep.

Here are some tips for proper sleep timing:

  • Adjust bedtime: Toddlers typically need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep per day, including naps. Adjust bedtime to ensure they’re getting enough sleep.
  • Evaluate nap times: Toddlers often need one or two naps per day. Monitor their nap times and durations to prevent overtiredness or interfering with nighttime sleep.
  • Stick to a consistent schedule: Consistency is key! Maintain a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends or during vacations, to help regulate your toddler’s internal clock.
  • Watch for sleep cues: Pay attention to signs of tiredness, such as yawning, rubbing eyes, or becoming cranky, and initiate the bedtime routine before overtiredness sets in.

Next Step Advice: Observe your toddler’s sleep patterns and make adjustments to their sleep schedule as needed. Consistency is crucial, so stick to the new schedule diligently, and your toddler’s body will adapt over time.

Routine #6: Positive Reinforcement and Fostering Parent-Child Bond

Positive reinforcement and a strong parent-child bond can go a long way in helping your toddler stay in bed and develop healthy sleep habits.

  • Praise and rewards: Celebrate and reinforce desired behaviors, such as staying in bed or following the bedtime routine, with praise, stickers, or small rewards.
  • Quality time: Spend quality one-on-one time with your toddler during the day, engaging in activities they enjoy. This can help strengthen your bond and make them feel more secure at bedtime.
  • Involve them in the process: Allow your toddler to participate in choosing their pajamas, bedtime story, or special stuffed animal. This can help them feel more in control and invested in the process.
  • Be patient and consistent: Changing sleep habits takes time and consistency. Remain patient and persistent, and celebrate small victories along the way.

Next Step Advice: Implement a simple reward system, such as stickers or a special treat, to reinforce desired sleep behaviors. Additionally, make an effort to spend quality time with your toddler each day, engaging in activities they enjoy to strengthen your bond.

Reward TypeExamples
Verbal praise“Great job staying in bed!” “I’m so proud of you!”
Sticker chartAllow your toddler to place a sticker on a chart for each night they stay in bed
Small treatsOffer a small, healthy treat like a piece of fruit or a few crackers
Special activityPlan a special activity or outing as a reward for consistent good sleep habits
Bedtime storyLet your toddler choose a special bedtime story as a reward
Positive Reinforcement Ideas for Toddlers

Routine #7: Establishing Boundaries and Consistency

Setting clear boundaries and maintaining consistency are essential for helping your toddler understand and adhere to bedtime expectations.

  • Establish rules: Clearly communicate the rules and expectations around bedtime, such as staying in bed once tucked in or not getting up until a specific time in the morning.
  • Be consistent: Consistently follow through with the established rules and consequences, even when it’s challenging or inconvenient.
  • Avoid giving in: Giving in to your toddler’s demands or protests can reinforce negative sleep habits and undermine your efforts.
  • Use a calm, neutral tone: Respond to any protests or attempts to get out of bed with a calm, neutral tone, and gently but firmly reinforce the rules.
  • Seek support: If you’re struggling to maintain consistency, enlist the help of your partner, family members, or a sleep consultant to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Next Step Advice: Sit down with your partner or another caregiver and establish clear rules and expectations around bedtime. Discuss how you’ll consistently enforce these rules and support each other in maintaining a united front.

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Toddler Will Not Stay in Bed: 7 Life-Changing Routines for Serene Nights. Image Credit: Canva

The Importance of Self-Care for Parents

Helping your toddler establish healthy sleep habits can be a demanding and emotionally draining process. It’s crucial for parents to prioritize self-care to maintain their own well-being and avoid burnout.

Here are some self-care strategies for parents:

  • Take breaks: Enlist the help of a partner, family member, or trusted friend to give you breaks from the bedtime routine. Even a short respite can help you recharge.
  • Practice stress relief: Engage in activities that help you decompress, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies you enjoy.
  • Connect with others: Join a support group or connect with other parents going through similar experiences. Sharing your struggles and successes can provide much-needed support and encouragement.
  • Seek professional help if needed: If you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional.

Taking care of yourself is not only important for your own well-being but can also positively impact your ability to be a patient and consistent parent during the sleep training process.

Next Step Advice: Identify one or two self-care activities you enjoy and make a commitment to prioritize them regularly. Enlist the help of your support system to ensure you have the time and space to recharge.

Three tips to help your child sleep better – Stanford Children’s Health

When to Seek Further Guidance

If you’ve diligently implemented these routines and strategies but your toddler is still struggling to stay in bed, it may be time to seek additional support.

Consider enrolling in a “Helping Toddlers Sleep” class or consulting with a sleep specialist. These experts can provide personalized guidance and tailored strategies to address your specific situation and help your family achieve restful nights.


Helping your toddler stay in bed and sleep through the night can be a challenging journey, but implementing these seven life-changing routines can make a world of difference. From establishing a consistent bedtime routine to creating a sleep-friendly environment and addressing separation anxiety, these strategies are designed to foster healthy sleep habits and promote serene nights for the entire family.

Remember, consistency and patience are key. It may take time for your toddler to adjust to the new routines, but with a positive and persistent approach, you’ll soon be on your way to well-rested nights and happier, more energized days.

Embrace these routines, celebrate small victories, and don’t hesitate to seek additional support if needed. Sweet dreams, fellow parents! You’ve got this!

FAQ – Toddler Will Not Stay in Bed

How long does it typically take for a toddler to adjust to a new sleep routine?

My toddler seems to resist nap time as much as bedtime. What can I do?

My toddler seems to have a fear of the dark. How can I help them feel more comfortable sleeping in their room?

What should I do if my toddler wakes up in the middle of the night and refuses to go back to sleep?

I’ve tried all the routines and strategies, but my toddler still struggles to stay in bed. When should I seek professional help?

If you’ve diligently implemented the routines and strategies outlined in the blog post for several weeks or months without significant improvement, it may be time to seek professional help. Consider consulting with a pediatric sleep specialist or enrolling in a sleep training program specifically designed for toddlers. These experts can provide personalized guidance and support to address your unique situation and help establish healthy sleep habits for your family.

Toddler Will Not Stay in Bed
Toddler Will Not Stay in Bed: 7 Life-Changing Routines for Serene Nights. Image Credit: Canva
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