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Why won’t my 2 year old stay asleep?

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The ‘terrible twos’ are that bit more stressful when you add sleep problems to the mix. Between 2 and 3 years old, it’s common for children to experience sleep issues, and for the purposes of this post, we’re splitting those issues in two: problems falling asleep, and problems staying asleep.

Falling asleep

At the age of 2, there’s a separation anxiety that affects many children at bedtime. The right bedtime regime can allay this anxiety; the wrong regime can intensify it.

In fact, even the word ‘regime’ can be an issue, because it’s important to find the right balance between the night time rituals that provide comfort and reassurance (eg brushing teeth is followed by getting into bed, which is followed by story time) and the destructive rituals that become blocks to sleep (eg “I can’t sleep without teddy X, the small light on, the big light off, the TV on in the corner, a dummy in my mouth etc etc).

Sleep is a natural process. It’s something most people do automatically every night. So try to avoid making it a ‘thing’ and building it up to be a big event. In particular, if you’ve had a few interrupted nights, try to avoid transmitting that feeling of ‘I really hope they sleep tonight’ to your child (because they’ll pick up on your anxiety and will be even less likely to sleep).

Staying asleep

By the age of two, teething is usually (just about) done, but there are more developmental leaps just around the corner and each one can coincide with what’s known as a sleep regression (ie a period when a child who has been sleeping well, suddenly stops). At the age of two, your child is growing intellectually, emotionally, verbally and physically and it’s not uncommon for those leaps to cause a ‘wobble’ in the sleep pattern. Things usually settle down again after a few weeks.

But if you’re concerned that your child keeps waking and the problem doesn’t subside, the answer could be:

Too late/early to bed

Sleep patterns change over time. A child that needed lots of sleep may begin to need a little less and vice versa. If your child goes to bed late, try an earlier bedtime as being overtired can (rather counterintuitively) lead to earlier waking. Alternatively, if you typically put them down early, try nudging bedtime back a little so they’re more tired.

Late food

There’s a point at which the needs your child had as a baby (regular feeding, night and day) change. Where once a night time feed was the right choice, in a 2-year old it can be a cause of night-waking, because little tummies are full of fuel.

Instead, make sure your child eats a full, healthy dinner and avoid even a small supper within 30 minutes of bedtime.

Food intolerance

The food intolerances that can give us all an interrupted night’s sleep can have just as pronounced an effect on your child. If your child is suffering rashes, bloating or swelling, talk to your GP.        

Physical activity

Physical exercise of the sort we promote at The Little Gym can benefit sleep in a range of ways. Exercise can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, benefitting falling and staying asleep. It can make a child more alert during the day (and therefore more likely to enjoy a full night’s sleep). And, by raising the body temperature during exercise and cooling again afterwards, it can promote deep sleep, particularly when your child’s The Little Gym session is later in the day.

If you’d like to know more about how The Little Gym could help your child enjoy a better night’s sleep, call me on 01483 343 000.


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