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Poor sleep among babies and toddlers is one of the most common problems we face as parents. Deep sleep is very important in order to keep the child active and healthy. However, many of us struggle with ensuring our child gets peaceful and undisturbed sleep. While some babies keep waking up every hour or so, others tend to get cranky or fussy during bed-time. Is it just that they are too young to sleep without fuss, or is it a mistake we are making unknowingly?
Here are six often overlooked causes of poor sleep in babies and toddlers. All these tend to keep the child active, alert and awake, which is not conducive to peaceful sleeping at night.
Causes of Poor Sleep in Babies & Toddlers, With Solutions
1. Your Baby Is Getting Insufficient Daytime Activity
As moms to little children, their health and comfort is our top priority. Physical activity is not as big a concern as it is for older, especially school-going, children. However, babies and toddlers need physical activity too. What your child does during the day has a direct influence on his night time sleep. If he is inactive or doesn’t indulge in much physical activity during the day, chances are that he might be less inclined to sleep early in the night and his quality of sleep is poor!
Solution: Make sure your child plays sufficiently both indoors and, if he is a toddler, outdoors. Simple things such as tummy time, playing on a rug on the floor, or playing with pull-along toys, are excellent for exercise. During monsoon, make sure he plays enough indoor games like running around, jumping, dancing, etc., which eventually tires him physically and makes him sleepy during bed-time.
2. There Is Something Wrong With Your Child’s Dinner
What we eat at night has a major role in deciding our sleep quality, and this holds true for little ones too. Eating heavy food during night might keep your child awake. Also, gas-inducing foods such as cauliflower, beans, broccoli and peas can cause uneasiness in your child.
Solution: Keep the last day of the meal light and easy to digest. You can pick a healthy dinner from this list of best baby dinners to promote peaceful sleep. Also, keep sufficient gap between your child’s dinner and sleep time.
3. Your Child Is Getting Over-stimulated Before Bed Time
As adults, when we feel too tired, we get drowsy and feel like hitting the sack. We also tend to apply this logic to babies – if they get tired out through various activities in the evening, they will be more likely to fall asleep, right? No – it works differently for young children. If your child indulges in boisterous activities before sleep time, his brain might just get too over-stimulated for him to sleep!
Solution: Keep the night time activities less exerting and stimulating. Also, try to refrain him from watching TV, or playing with mobile phones and tablets. Exposure to screens before bed-time is a prime reason for poor sleep in children.
4. The Afternoon Naps Are Getting Too Long
In the early years, a child usually needs anything from 11-16 hours of sound sleep which includes daytime naps (see this guide for a detailed understanding of your baby’s sleep needs by age). Afternoon naps are indeed essential for them so they get rest and feel refreshed. However, if your child is getting too much sleep during the day, then this could interfere with his night sleep.
Solution: You are the best judge of how much sleep your child needs. Make sure your toddler takes an afternoon nap before 3 pm, so that he is sufficiently tired before his bedtime. If you feel your toddler doesn’t require so much sleep, you may combine two short naps into one or wean him from naps altogether.
5. Your Child Is Under Stress, Without You Realizing It
Don’t be surprised. A child can be stressed too. If you have moved recently out of a joint family/neighbourhood, or a pet/family member has passed away or you/your partner have/has started staying away from home for longer duration due to work commitments, then it can affect a child’s emotional balance. Very often, we fail to recognise the signs of stress in babies, and this only distresses them further.
Solution: Try to spend quality time with your child as much as possible. Get a soft blanket or cuddly stuffed toy for him to keep him company. Also try using rattle toys, baby gyms and musical toys to soothe your child and divert their attention.
6. Your Child’s Bed-time Routine Is Inconsistent
It can be difficult to establish a sleep routine for your child, especially if you have little help around the house and many chores to finish through the day. However, if you have not established a regular nightly routine for your child, he might fuss during bedtime. On the other hand, if your child knows the routine, he will know what to expect next and thus will be ready for it.
Solution: Toddlers – and babies too – love consistency. Create a consistent bedtime ritual like giving your little one a warm bath, changing into his sleeping clothes, reading a bedtime story or singing a lullaby, and stick to it every night.
If you eliminate these causes of poor sleep, your child’s sleeping habits should progressively get better. We must also understand that some babies require less sleep to sustain than others. So, if your child sleeps less but it still active, playful and healthy, then you don’t need to worry. But if that’s not the case and he is fussy, cranky and lethargic, then you should consult your doctor.