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When you feel you're suddenly the parent of a whirling dervish — or Superman, who can get by without any sleep at all — you probably have an overtired toddler on your hands. That's right: Even though he fights it like the dickens, he's really in need of a serious nap.
He's probably physically tired from exerting himself all day (running around the playground, clambering up and down the stairs, bouncing in his crib), intellectually excited by all he's learning, and emotionally tense about the things he doesn't quite understand.
As a result, he doesn't know which way is up. He can't figure out how to unwind enough to either rest or drift off to sleep. That means it's up to you to help him put it together. Remember: Sleep habits are a mixture of nature (biology) and nurture (learning and environment).
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your tuckered-out toddler:
- When does he nap? If your child's taking a late-afternoon nap — even a short one that lasts only 20 minutes — he might be fooled into feeling alert way past bedtime. Try to move his nap time earlier, if possible. Right after lunch, around 12:30, is a common sleepy time for toddlers.
- Is he between nap stages? Kids often hit an overtired wall at around 18 months (when two naps are too many and one isn't enough) and again at 2 1/2 (when one nap is too many, but no nap is asking for trouble). If he's hitting this wall, there's not a lot you'll be able to do. Consider this another notch in your parental belt of "stages."
- Are you misreading his signs? Your toddler might continue to be very active — hyperactive, even — when in fact he's overdue for a nap. If he starts getting clumsy performing routine tasks, such as climbing out of his booster seat or carrying a toy while walking, then it's probably time for a story and rest.
- Has his sleep routine fallen by the wayside? Toddlers can surprise us with their new abilities, and it's tempting to keep them up until our bedtimes just to have more time with them. But sticking with a (reasonable) schedule can help kids know when to wind down and ensures that they get the sleep they need. An evening bedtime of 7:30 is a good place to start. Most toddlers need about 12 to 14 hours of sleep in every 24-hour period
- Is your toddler focused on the older people around him? Children who are tuned in to their older siblings and parents may have a harder time going to bed. After all, they don't see you turning out the light at 8 p.m.! It might be wise to start winding down all activity in your home before your toddler's bedtime. Instruct everyone to act "boring" — it's less painful to leave a group of people silently reading books than an active bunch playing games or laughing together, after all.
- Is quiet time part of his day? Even if he's transitioning toward giving up a nap altogether, there are ways for your toddler to relax. Right now, that rest time will probably involve you — he's way too busy to sit down without prompting to turn pages of a book by himself. Have him snuggle up with you to read, draw, or engage in some other quiet activity.