Can’t sleep, won’t sleep

Most toddlers need help with sleep from time to time - here are some things to try.

Issue - Bedtime reluctance

Why? With so much learning going on in an exciting world, there are many better things to do than go to bed. A highly engaged toddler can be desperately tired (as are you!) but might not feel sleepy.


  • Try and understand your toddler - it's not usually about resistance and naughtiness.
  • Establish a gentle bedtime routine (see previous page) to help the wind-down to sleepiness.
  • If you are changing bedtimes, do this gradually, keeping the same routines.
  • Make sure the space they sleep is nice for them - involve your toddler in making choices about it.
  • Have a consistent, loving, 'night-night' routine once they are in bed - keep this short and simple.
  • If your child gets out of bed again, and you are sure that they don't need something, gently and patiently help them back to bed and to settle down.

Issue - Night waking

Why? We all wake in the night, but toddlers tend to become more fully awake, and may signal by calling and crying that they need some help.


  • Judge whether your child needs something, or is scared, or whether they simply need help to get back to sleep.
  • Judge whether you think they can do this by themselves if you leave them for a short while.
  • If not, go in and settle them down gently. Reassure them that all is well, and it is still night-time so time for sleeping. Try not to talk too much (it'll wake you both up!) but loving touch will help.
  • When you think they are drifting back to sleep you can leave them to it and move quietly away.

Issue - Coming into your bed

Why? Your bed is lovely and cosy and it has you in it! Background changes in routine, or just the ups and downs of child development can cause this.


  • Judge if your child is distressed or needs something, and respond accordingly.
  • Take them back to their bed and settle them back gently as usual.
  • You may have to do this a few times - try to stay calm and patient.

Issue - Scared of the dark

Why? The dark is scary, and toddlers are developing an imagination.


  • During the day, discuss fears - don't dismiss them, but see what your toddler would like to help them manage. This might be a light, or the door open, or a favourite stuffed animal.
  • Avoid scary TV programmes, stories or games.
  • Nightmares are common, so do offer comfort and help to settle back - if they persist ask your doctor or health visitor for advice.
Last updated: 15 April 2019