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Ask Malia: Toddler can't fall asleep at night

My son Henry is 2.5 years old. As of two weeks ago he has had difficulties going to bed/falling asleep. He goes to preschool full-time. He naps at school 2.5 hours. On weekends he will sleep up to 3 hours for a nap. I put him to bed at 9 p.m. and he would typically fall asleep within 20 minutes. He now will take up to an hour to go to sleep. I am confused about this sudden change.

Henry has a strict bed time routine that starts at 8:15. We read books for a half an hour and then take a bath from 8:45-9:00. He has not had any life changes. I have wanted to potty train him but I am apprehensive because I want his bed time routine to stabilize again. He typically wakes up at 7 a.m. and averages 12 hours of sleep a day. Any advice you can give me to understand why this is happening and tips to get back to our original routine would be greatly appreciated.


I suspect what is going on has to do with an imbalance of day and night sleep, along with changing sleep needs.

At 2.5, it is not uncommon for toddlers to begin needing less daytime sleep (i.e. a shorter nap), and a longer, more restorative nighttime rest, as they begin the long transition to ultimately dropping their daytime nap altogether at age 3 or 4. However, when toddlers have a very long daytime nap, this process gets interrupted. A daytime nap of 2.5 to 3 hours is generally too long for toddlers of this age. It prevents them from falling asleep at an appropriate bedtime, which leads to shorter night sleep and more overtiredness. This is a vicious cycle, because an overtired child will want to nap even longer, which will result in later bedtimes, more overtiredness, longer naps, and on and on.

I recommend shortening his daytime nap to under two hours for 3-5 days. On those days, move bedtime earlier by 45 minutes to an hour. He'll be sleeping easier in no time.

I think you would find my ebook Ready, Set, Sleep very helpful. I encourage you to check it out, read the section on correcting overtiredness, and let me know if you have more questions.

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