What to do when your toddler won’t go to sleep?

At Amazon: What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems With Sleep (affiliate link)It’s SO hard when a formerly-sleeping baby turns into a fitfully-sleeping toddler. That’s Jessie’s situation, and she needs our help.

I need advice. My 2 year-old will not go to sleep on his own anymore. Ever since he started getting out of his crib and we changed it to the toddler bed, he sleeps on the floor and will not go to bed at night or nap time by himself. We have to lie with him which sometimes takes up to an hour and a half at bedtime. And go to him when he wakes up at 2:30 AM every morning as well.

I’m dreading sleep training again since this time he’s older, and I fear it will be soooo much worse. Help please!

UGH. Can you hear the anguish in Jessie’s appeal? The crib-to-toddler bed transition can be so challenging for so many reasons, not the least of which is your own sleep deprivation.

The sleep habits of my two kids (not surprisingly) were vastly different. One barely napped as a baby or toddler, but finally settled into a rhythym at about 3. The other slept like a proverbial baby, but then was up and down all through the preschool and kindergarten years.

I seem to have expunged the details from my mind, either that or they’re lost in the sleep-loss fog of those years. There was some sleep training involved during the toddler years, and consistent naptime and bedtime routines, but I recall it being a long-term process. Bedtime fears persisted for us till my kids were older.

Please tell me you have something more helpful to offer Jessie. Wisdom? Experience? Advice?

Please leave a comment with your tips on how to encourage a toddler to get to sleep on his own.


  1. says

    As crazy as it sounds – moving my 2 year old daughter to a BIG bed solved our problems. I had made the decision to convert her crib to the toddler bed. After a week or two, she started telling me “no” when I would go lay her down and she would hit her door and finally fall asleep at her door.
    So one night I took the step – we already had a big girl bed in her room, so I put all her animals in it, got it all settled, and laid her down – VOILA!!!! I suddenly have my good sleeper that tells me “night night” when I lay her down!

    Keep in mind that every child is different…but that is what worked for us!

  2. says

    OK, you need to decide what sort of parent you want to be. Your child will learn to sleep by themselves at some point whatever you do, it’s just up to you how much sleep deprivation and frustration you can take. If you can’t take any more then you need to go hardline and after a lovely bedtime goodnight you make no more eye contact, and no more talking. Just put him back into bed again and again. And again and again and again.
    Or if you can take it, think about his needs. Can you cope with a few more weeks/months/years of frustration? If you can then stay with him until he falls asleep (that’s what smart phones were made for). Go to him when he wakes or take him into your bed. Give him your time. He will learn to sleep by himself in the end. This is the route I have taken with my children. Every child is different. First child didn’t sleep through the night until 3 and didn’t go to sleep alone until 4, Second child still wakes in the night at 3.5 but we are always there for her and she goes to sleep alone, third child goes to sleep holding my hand at age 2, and doesn’t wake in the night but comes into bed with us at about 6am.

    Really, this choice is about you and what you can cope with. Either is OK and isn’t going to harm your boy.

  3. Cathy says

    I would not lie in bed with him or stay in his room. It’s unlikely he will be able to learn to fall asleep by himself that way. Also, I’m wondering if you’re putting him to bed too early. It seems strange that it takes him 1 1/2 hours to fall asleep with you in the room. Did he used to take that long to fall asleep in his crib?

    Maybe he doesn’t like the fact that the crib is now a bed. You could try putting the crib mattress directly on the floor and remove the bed frame. Or upgrade him to a twin-sized mattress/box spring on the floor.

    This stage is huge for little ones. They are gaining some amount of independence, i.e., climbing out of the crib. But it must be an extremely confusing period for them. It’s a time of growth spurts, potty training, and the power of the word ‘no.’

    I would chose one fix to try and stick with it for a good length of time. Hopping from one option to the next won’t give you the chance to see if one eventually works.

    I’ve tried to use the least damaging crutches at bedtime with my four kids over the years. Some never minded the dark. My 8-year-old needs his door open and the hall light on. He’s fine with us turning off the light once he’s asleep. My 5-year-old daughter needs her lamp on; a nightlight wasn’t enough. I put a 15-watt bulb in it. We turn it off once she’s asleep. Occasionally she gets up at night and turns it back on. I never allowed them into my bed once they weren’t infants (unless there’s a thunderstorm) and I never sleep in their rooms (unless one is extremely sick).

    My final recommendation – stick to a set bedtime routine and even put it on a poster for him with photos at each stage. Dress in pjs, brush teeth, read 2 books, lights out (or whatever your preference). Then let him try to go to sleep. You’re probably sleep-deprived so this will be difficult. If he comes out of his room or calls for you, go back in pat and kiss, good night and leave again. Do that as many times as needed. If he seems not tired, you can tell him that he’s allowed to look at books in bed. If you or your partner always puts him to bed, switch to the person who doesn’t do it. That person may have more success.

    My oldest at 18 months would fall asleep in his crib, sitting up, and eventually slouch down between his legs. He was that obstinate. When we moved him to a bed, he would end up sleeping on his floor. Now at age 13, he sleeps in to 11am on weekends!

    This will pass and be replaced by something else! Hope something I’ve offered helps or gives you hope.

  4. Kara Nutt says

    There’s nothing wrong with letting him sleep on the floor. My son would pull all his blankets, pillows and stuffed animals off his big boy bed and make a nest somewhere on the floor. I put a night light in the room, mostly so if necessary I could find him in the night, and let him be. He now sleeps in his bed at the age almost 6. You can only set up the atmosphere for sleep, you can not MAKE him sleep in any way, shape, or form.
    Good luck

  5. Leo says

    We are currently dealing with a similar situation. We laid a small rug near the door because our daughter will walk to the door and eventually pass out after calling our names for a half hour or so. The main issue is that we have to push her with the door in the mornings to get her up :)

  6. Nicole T says

    I’m with Kara on the “you can only set up the atmosphere for sleep” point.

    We happily co-sleep in our king bed. Most nights, we just all go to bed together, toddler eventually settles in and goes to sleep. Some nights he doesn’t. Thankfully, my husband is a night owl, so he will get up with the toddler (also a night owl) so I (mama-lark) can sleep.

    And for the inevitable “but where/when/how do you… you know…” questions, let’s just say we are creative people. ;-)

  7. Keara says

    We took the nanny 911 approach. Just picking him up and putting back to bed with no conversation.

    We also absolutely love My Tot Clock. http://www.mytotclock.com/home

    the face changes color based on time. blue for bed and yellow for morning.
    Zack knows that he has to stay in his room while the clock is blue.

    it also has optional stories and music. and can be used for time out and timing other activities.

    and they have great customer service.

  8. says

    Our oldest *liked* the protectiveness of his crib, so we turned a daybed toward the wall to create the illusion of constraints: http://babytoolkit.blogspot.com/2009/11/fence-me-in-daybeds-toddler-security.html.

    Our middle simply stopped sleeping for a few months this summer. She just couldn’t settle down. Our pediatrician recommended melatonin (check with your own medical provider for appropriateness) which we used for a month until her sleep pattern normalized.

    Please talk to your pediatrician. Sometimes there are medical conditions which make sleeping difficult for kids (like ear problems or apnea…).

  9. Lisa says

    I also wondered if bedtime is too early if it takes 90 minutes with you there.

    Look at your evening routine. Start the calming, unwinding process earlier – play quietly, maybe a bath, as opposed to tickle fights or running around. We used to have a dance party and the play list slowed down to mellow by the end. Long walks are good, too.

    We also use “quiet time” and “bed time” not sleep time. She doesn’t have to sleep, she just has to be quiet. I don’t see the problem with a kid being awake in her room. We only keep quiet and soft toys in her bedroom so she can play quietly. It doesn’t seem like a problem I need to solve. Let him be, and if he causes a ruckus, ignore him. He will sleep when he needs it.

  10. says

    I’ve set up full size floor beds and laid with my kids just fine and all but the youngest (who’s 2 now) goes to sleep on their own just fine. It takes some time but there is no “NEVER going to sleep on their own.” Every kid eventually grows up, no one has to sleep with their 12 year old. It’s just what you personally find most upsetting. Laying with the kid for an hour was less upsetting to me than listening to them scream, so that’s what I did. Now if anyone can figure out a way for me to get the 2yo to sleep past 5:15am every day, I’m all ears.

  11. KimC says

    I highly recommend the “big kid bed” too. We have two kids in the same room with bunk beds that are set up as stand alone beds. One against each wall. Older kid got the bed with the trundle, younger kid (2 year old) got the one with the rail. The ladder is in my closet because the two year old is dangerous.

    Try to avoid laying down with the kid. Pull up a glider and hold hands, don’t talk, etc. If you are the parent of a small child, its likely that if you close your eyes, get all quiet, and get still, you are going to sleep. That’s the way it works here, then you are cosleeping with a kid in a very small bed. So, pull up a chair and all.

    Get all the bedtime stuff together beforehand, read books, pajamas, pullups and sippies of water.

    On the other hand, wake-ups are generally handled by simply coming into mama and daddy’s bed. As long as I am asleep and stay that way and her snoring doesn’t keep me up, I’m cool with it.

  12. Daffodil says

    My son took FOREVER to fall asleep at night in the period just before and after his third birthday. He’d be up in his room, usually being quiet (as per our house rules) but very obviously playing — softly, with his stuffed animals or gentle toys like that — and definitely not sleeping. (Some nights he’d call to us and talk and sing and holler and whatever, but generally he was well-behaved, just flat-out not interested in going to bed.) I don’t know how long this went on, but it FINALLY dawned on me that he was napping like a champ (going right to sleep, staying asleep for 1.5-2.5 hours) but having troubles at night. So I finally decided we’d come to The End of Naps. I did not want to go there, but I did.

    And miraculously, bedtime became a breeze. He was tired but not exhausted at bedtime, and ready to go to bed and to sleep. He slept all night. He was actually getting the same amount of sleep as he had with nap + delayed bedtime, but now we were all a lot happier for it.

    Any times since then (he’s now 6.5) when we’ve had going-to-bed troubles, we remind him that we don’t care if he sleeps. He can stay awake as long as he likes, but he has to stay in bed, lights off, be quiet. He doesn’t do this often, but I think it TOTALLY throws him when we say he can stay awake as long as he wants if he abides by the rules. I think it throws him so much he can’t figure out what our angle is and he forgets to be “unable” to sleep.

    GOOD LUCK! I hope this problem is short-lived and easily solved, Jessie!

  13. Heather says

    DD had a period (around 3?) where she could be in bed, in the dark, comfy, and take over 90 minutes to fall asleep. She’s always been a pretty lousy sleeper… but we finally cut out her nap. She falls asleep in 10 minutes sometimes now… and almost always in under 30. Much better.

  14. Sara says

    First, I agree with whoever said that there is no right or wrong, you have to figure out what you can handle and what he can handle, and you won’t ruin your son no matter what you do.

    Second, my older son went through a phase at two where he used sleep as a power play. Took me a while to realize what he was doing (in fact, it took him telling me that the reason he wouldn’t go asleep was that when he didn’t sleep, I would keep coming back into his room). As soon as I stopped going in there, he realized it wasn’t working and started going to sleep again.

    Third, I have a great picture of this same son asleep in his sleeping bag in a drawer that he pulled out of his dresser and put on the floor. They will sleep when and where they want ;-) I’ve always maintained that I can enforce bedtime but not sleep time. Ever since accepting that, we’ve all been much happier!

  15. Lacy says

    I used to lay in the bed with each of my kids and they would stay awake talking to me forever (twins). As soon as I realized that if I left the room their entertainment was gone, poof, asleep in 15 min or less. And the odd night out that they aren’t I enforce the stay in your bed rule, quietly. They laugh and giggle a bit, but get bored and sleep soon enough. The key was taking myself out of the picture, my stress about their bedtime was keeping them up at night.

  16. carriem says

    I’d talk to the DR, get a check up, ask about using melatonin to re-establish a good routine.

  17. says

    Wean them off of you. Start by sitting by their bed, the. At door, then outside of door, etc. tell them when you will check on them and increase the time each time. Just make sure you don’t forget. And be consistent!

  18. Clarksa says

    We had the same issue when we converted our daughter’s crib to the toddler bed. After two weeks of sleep issues, someone told us to go out and get a “big girl” bed. We didn’t have any problems after buying a double mattress.

  19. says

    We went through this last spring and summer after my son turned 2 and started climbing out of his crib. We took the side off the crib initially but ended up getting a twin mattress and putting it on the floor. He seemed to prefer that. There were many days of power struggles over him not sleeping until I just finally let it go. It took him a few weeks…maybe 2 months…to settle into a regular sleep routine. Just recently we got him an actual bed and he loves it.

    I think it is fine if he plays in his room after I tuck him in, as long as he is quiet. I always tell him I don’t care what he does, just keep the noise down. He always sleeps, even if he does play for 10-20 minutes first.

    It will happen. Let go of the stress and anxiety you feel about the situation and you will automatically feel better, even if a solution you want doesn’t happen immediately. It will eventually. Good luck!

  20. Andrea says

    We have been reading “The Sleep Fairy” to my daughter and this is really helping us.

  21. Rita says

    I also recommend a CD that was recommended in the comments here several years ago, “Snuggle Down and Say Goodnight.” It worked wonders with my 9yo when she was about 3yo. It took about a week to get her conditioned to it, but then I could just turn on the story part of it. Sometimes when she has trouble settling down even as a near tween, she asks for it.

  22. Peranting says

    My only advice is to get yourself to Ask Moxie. She has extensive info on a sleep regression that kids go through at this age (http://www.askmoxie.org/2008/01/the-2-12-3-year.html), and more info on just about any kind of sleep problem you might see. SO useful, and really affirming. IT’S NOT JUST YOU! YOU’RE NOT DOING IT WRONG. All of us need to be reminded of these things, sometimes frequently.

    Good luck.

  23. kkolding says

    Oh I hear you on this problem. Well obvi can only say what worked for us but we did a few things:
    – let him choose his big boy bed and sheets etc – made him feel ownership.
    – taught him the number 7 and got him a digital clock. We explained there is a nighttime 7 and that’s when it’s time to lie down, and a morning 7 was what he looked for so he knew it was okay for him to get out of bed (“the only time we get out of bed before 7 is to go potty)
    – We purposely gave in to the ‘cuddle with me’ stuff for a few months but gradually weaned him off that by saying: “I have to go do a little work but I’ll be back.” He was almost always asleep within 10 mins
    – we’ve made sleeping in mommy and daddy’s bed a special occasion thing – we do it a few weekend evenings a month or if he’s been sick.
    – We got better at making sure he was down early enough too – we had a spell of letting him stay up late and that just made him wired for rest of the evening….

    Best of luck!

  24. says

    All the above is grand as long as there’s no underlying condition – I was sceptical – but cranial osteopathy (spelling?!) sorted out sleeping issues when he was 3 months old and almost literally overnight too. obviously it wouldn’t work for one and all, I always mention it though, it doesn’t crop up too often.

  25. says

    Hi Jessie! There can be several factors to consider in a type of situation like yours. I’m sure most parents (including myself) have dealt with similar situations and different solutions work for different kids/families. But, every child and family situation is unique and it’s typically not a one size fits all solution. I would love to help you because I’ve been in your shoes before and know how hard (and frustrating it can be) to be sleep deprived…especially with a toddler. After my own experiences of sleep deprivation, I decided to get certified as a child sleep consultant and help other families so they wouldn’t have to feel that same way I did. I’d love to help you too! I offer a free 10 min phone consult and you can check out my website at http://www.sleeplicity.com. Good luck and hope you all get more sleep soon :)

  26. Shauna says

    We are going through this now, too! I don’t have an answer for you, but I know sometimes it helps to hear that you are not alone! Right now we are trying to wean him off of us (standing in the doorway right now) but its frustrating and exhausting. Good luck!

  27. madison says

    There is some wonderful advice in this. I am reading them as I sit outaiee my two year year old sons door. He used to lay down right at nine in his big boy bed, and go to sleep with out a peep. He was a great sleeper. Then get got the flu, and when that happened he slept in our room. That became our biggest mistake ever. Not only did we also catch the flu but since then he ABSOLURELY refuses to sleep in his bed. We have tried everything. If we lay him down he gets up and cries at the door. I tried waiting it out, and after two hours of screaming I gave in! Plus its dangerous. I go into check on him, and he will be throwing toys out of the toy box, and even clothes out of the dresser. What should I do???!!! Please any advice is welcome!