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5 Common Sleep Problems in Toddlers—and Their Solutions

Going to Sleep 1 of 17
Christina Denis, from Miami, Florida, is no stranger to footsteps after bedtime. Her toddler son wanders from his bed soon after the books are read and the lights turned off. "He will come out of his room saying 'I have something to tell you' or 'I want to give you a hug'," says Denis. Who can resist one more hug and kiss from their toddler? So what's the solution?
Falling Asleep Solution #1 2 of 17
When a child has a difficult time falling asleep, Dr. Andrea McCoy, director of Temple Pediatric Care at Temple University Children's Medical Center in Philadelphia, suggests using a transition object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket. This item is not for daytime play, but should be kept in the crib until bedtime. "Your child needs to associate this object with going to sleep," says Dr. McCoy. What else can you try...

Falling Asleep Solution #2 3 of 17
Often, children fear "monsters" lurking in the closet or under the bed. Dr. McCoy suggests the children sleep with a small flashlight or arm themselves with an empty spray bottle that contains "monster repellant" to ease their anxiety. Not working? Try this...
Falling Asleep Solution #3 4 of 17
A subtle change may be the simple answer to your nighttime dilemma. "Look around your child's room for things that are distracting," says Dr. McCoy. If a nightlight is on, turn it off. If shadows are on the wall, close the curtains or move the bed so your child has a different view. Last but not least try...
Falling Asleep Solution #4 5 of 17
Getting too little or too much sleep during the day can also prevent a child from falling asleep. "Children who are overtired may become hyper in the evening," says Dr. McCoy. However, if your child is taking a four-hour nap in the afternoon, she may not be ready for bed until midnight!
Staying in Bed 6 of 17
Nicole Vines' 2-year-old daughter began waking up during the night when she gave up her pacifier. "Our daughter woke up every night, and simply going into her room and comforting her wasn't getting her back to sleep," says Vines. "We had to lie down beside her and pat her back." "We all have partial awakenings at night," says Dr. Steven Kanengiser, a pediatric pulmonologist with the Sleep Disorders Center in New Jersey. "As adults, we don't remember waking up, we just go back to sleep." What can you do to keep your little one in bed?
Staying in Bed Solution #1 7 of 17
Some children may need assistance in learning this skill, and a transitional object may be helpful. "If your child goes to sleep rocking in Mom's arms, then he will be looking for Mom if he wakes up," Dr. McCoy says. However, if he falls asleep holding his bedtime blanket, he can easily grab the blanket during the night and soothe himself back to sleep. And here's one more solution to try...
Staying in Bed Solution #2 8 of 17
Kids love rewards and being praised for doing well. "If the child is over 2, rewards such as stickers or small treats may be enough incentive to keep him in bed," Dr. McCoy says.
Transitioning to a Big Bed 9 of 17
Going from the safety of a crib or Mom and Dad's bed is hard for many kids. "Toddlers are both excited and afraid of having independence," says Dr. McCoy. So it is easy to see how leaving a crib or Mom and Dad's bed for a "big kid" bed can be an exhausting experience. What's a parent to do?
Transitioning Solution #1 10 of 17
We're going to start with safety on this one. "First, make sure the room is a safe place," says Dr. McCoy. Rolling out of bed is a new hazard, and bedrails may be needed. "If the bed is up against a wall, make sure that it is close enough that your child can not become trapped." Next, some adjusting may be in order...
Transitioning Solution #2 11 of 17
Parents can modify their bedtime routine to fit the new situation. "When we switched our daughter to a bed, we realized quickly that we needed to adjust our bedtime rituals," says Vines. "Previously, we read books to her in the family room prior to bedtime, now we read them in her bed." Vines gives her daughter a warm-up period in her bed before turning out the light and leaving her alone. "She seems to respond best when we let her know what to expect—sort of a 'play-by-play' of bedtime." And one more trick to try for the big kid bed transition...
Transitioning Solution #3 12 of 17
Staying close to your child's room can also ease the transition. "Sit in the room with your child," says Dr. McCoy. "As you get off of the bed, tell your child that you are leaving, but will be right outside of the door." This technique works for the Vines family. "While my daughter falls asleep, we agree to work in the office which is adjacent to her room," Vines says. "Typically, she is asleep in a matter of minutes."
Night Terrors 13 of 17
"My 2-year-old son recently introduced me to night terrors," says Melissa Granberry, a mother of three. "His first day of preschool was surprisingly uneventful, until approximately 11 o'clock that night. He screamed from his crib, kicking and swatting at invisible objects. As I ran to comfort him, he became more agitated. 'Go away!' he yelled at me. Soon he calmed down and went back to sleep, only to repeat the episode for the next five nights." "Though night terrors seem frightening, the child will have no recollection of the dream," says Dr. McCoy. Good to know, but what's the solution?
Night Terrors Solution #1 14 of 17
Night terrors cannot be prevented entirely, but implementing a calm, relaxing bedtime routine can help. And make sure your child does not get over-stimulated during the day. What else can you try?
Night Terrors Solution #2 15 of 17
Does your child have regular night terrors? Wake your child 30 minutes before the night terror usually occurs. This may help disrupt the cycle and stop the terror from occurring. "Night terrors are a common stage that toddlers go through and grow out of," says Dr. Kanengiser. Take comfort that your child will not remember the terrifying details of the dream, even though you may have a difficult time forgetting the incident.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea 16 of 17
Snoring may seem like more of a nuisance than a medical condition, but often it is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). "Approximately 10 percent of children snore," says Dr. Kanengiser. "One to 2 percent of children will actually have OSA." How serious is this condition? "People with OSA toss and turn at night and do not get long sessions of deep sleep," says Dr. Kanengiser. This sleep disruption manifests in children as learning problems and irritability. "Our concern is that OSA may disturb a child's ability to learn," he says. What can a parent do about toddler snoring?
Solution 17 of 17
Talk to your pediatrician if your child frequently snores and does not seem to be rested in the mornings. Removing the tonsils and adenoids cures OSA 90 to 100 percent of the time if there are no other problems contributing to the condition.
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