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Sleep Tight: Practical Solutions for Preschool Sleep Challenges

Sleep is crucial for your 3-5-year-old’s health and well-being. It helps them absorb everything they learn and do during the day. Yet, getting your preschooler to sleep peacefully can be a real struggle. In this blog post, we’ll delve into common preschool sleep challenges and offer practical solutions to help you navigate through them with ease.

The Importance of Sleep for Preschoolers

Before we delve into the specific sleep challenges, it can be helpful to understand the significance of quality sleep. Adequate sleep promotes healthy brain development, enhances memory consolidation, boosts immune function, and supports emotional regulation. It also plays a vital role in their growth and learning abilities. By addressing sleep challenges, we can help our children thrive in all aspects of their lives.

That said, it is normal for all children to go through nights when they don’t sleep as well. You want to think about their overall sleep and not just each night. There may be some nights here and there when they don’t sleep as much or as well and that’s ok! You may even have a week or so where they are processing something significant in their life that may be keeping them up at night. Know that your child will continue to grow and thrive even if they have a tough phase with their sleep. The main thing is to keep routines as consistent as possible so you don’t have a sleep pattern that’s hard to get out of.

Common Preschool Sleep Challenges

1. Bad Dreams and Nightmares

Preschoolers may experience bad dreams or nightmares that disrupt their sleep. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but it can also mean more bad dreams as your child processes new thoughts and experiences from their day. The ability to discern what is real and what is not is not fully developed for preschoolers so they may become more worried and fearful about things that didn’t used to bother them.

Tip: To help alleviate your child’s fears, consider using a nightlight in their room. Create a calming bedtime routine that includes reading soothing books (nothing too exciting or scary before bed!), and sharing positive experiences from the day. Limit screen time before bed. Even if it doesn’t seem like scary content, your child may be sensitive to what they are watching before bed. If your child says they are afraid of monsters acknowledge what they have said and reassure them there aren’t any, but don’t spend too much time talking about it. It’s best not to feed into the fear by using “monster spray”.

2. Nighttime Potty Training

Nighttime accidents can be common during the potty training phase. Your preschooler is likely potty trained during the day, but staying dry overnight can be more challenging. Your child has to develop the awareness of not peeing while sleeping which can take some little ones a while to master.

Tip: Limit liquids before bedtime and encourage your child to use the bathroom right before sleep. Consider using absorbent training pants or protective mattress covers for added reassurance. You can try doing a “dream pee” where you take your child to the potty before you go to bed to see if they can pee then to avoid an accident.

3. Bedtime Resistance and Negotiations

Preschoolers are known for testing boundaries, and bedtime is no exception. Your child may be very good at negotiating for what they want and it can be tempting to let them have their way to avoid a power struggle or tantrum. This can be a slippery slope and usually doesn’t end well.

Tip: Establish a predictable bedtime routine and set clear expectations to help reduce resistance. Stick to the routine consistently, even if your child protests so they know you are going to hold steady. You can use a timer to let your child know when it’s time to get ready for bed. A flow chart of your bedtime routine can also help.

4. Curtain Calls

Curtain calls are when your preschooler wants to continue to engage with you to delay letting you go and settling into sleep. Your child may try various tactics to delay going to sleep, such as asking for one more story or hug, or asking for a snack, water or tissues. Again, it may be tempting to give in to avoid a meltdown, but you may end up pushing bedtime out much longer than is good for either one of you.

Tip: Proactively offer one more hug, etc. and let your child know when you are all done and they need to settle in. Gently but firmly redirect them back to their bed if they get up. Consistency is key in reinforcing boundaries and establishing a healthy sleep routine.

5. Daycare Nap Impacting Bedtime

If your child takes a nap at daycare, it may interfere with their ability to fall asleep at bedtime. They may not have enough sleep pressure to be able to settle into sleep at a reasonable time. You may not have any control over the daycare nap, so be realistic in terms of your bedtime so you aren’t battling with your child to get them to sleep when they aren’t quite ready. Most little ones are ready to drop their nap between 3-4 years of age. If your child is having a really hard time settling to sleep at bedtime you can approach your daycare to see if they can help your child shorten their nap or have a rest time instead.

Tip: Consider having a “rest time” mid-day on the days your child is not in daycare rather than having them take a nap to ensure they are tired enough for bedtime.

6. Getting Back on Track After Illness or Travel

Illness or travel disruptions can throw off your child’s sleep routine. While sick, or while you are traveling you might decide to do what is needed to get everyone the most rest possible. Once they are well or you are home, you want to get back on track as quickly as possible.

Tip: Gradually readjust their bedtime and wake-up time to their regular schedule. Let your child know what to expect. Be clear, kind and firm about what you will be doing at bedtime and when they wake during the night. Hold steady and be consistent so it’s not confusing for your preschooler.

Navigating Preschool Sleep Challenges

In summary, by addressing and resolving sleep challenges, you can provide your preschooler with the restful sleep they need for their growth, development, and overall well-being. Establishing a predictable routine, using effective strategies, and maintaining consistency are key to helping your child overcome these challenges. Remember, every child is unique, so it may take some trial and error to find the approaches that work best for your little one. With patience, understanding, and a commitment to healthy sleep habits, you can help your preschooler establish a solid foundation for a lifetime of good sleep. Sleep tight!

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists.   

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