It's Not Just Babies — Toddlers And Preschoolers Can Be Sh*tty Sleepers Too

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
neukind / iStock

It starts before we go to sleep. We have a queen-sized bed with a sidecarred twin, and the 3-year-old still sleeps with us. I’ve already lulled him to sleep with nursing, then snuck off to hang out with my husband.

But as soon as we lie down, Sunny, the toddler, begins stirring. And crying, that fretful sleep-cry that may go back down, or may escalate into full-blown sitting-up wails. So I reach over and cover him up, pat him, pat him again. He quiets. I settle back in.

The crying starts again. It’s almost midnight, and this kid needs to go the fuck to sleep; he was up ’til 9 p.m. as it is. I wait. The crying continues, even escalates. I pet him. He settles into a fretful dream, kicking and moaning. I know, already, that this will be a long night.

Another long night.

See, it’s not only newborns and babies that have shitty sleep. It’s also toddlers and preschoolers.

At 6 a.m. Sunny’s up and demanding mama milk. I usually only nurse before bed, but if I’m desperate for sleep, I’ll compromise. I sleepily yank down one side of my tank top. He latches like a piranha. After 5 minutes? 15? Enough time for me to fall back into dreams — he’s shrilly demanding “the other mama milk.” Fine, kid. Whatthefuckever.

I roll him over me and enact the same yank-down, latch-on, fall-asleep. Then at some indeterminate point, Sunny decides he’s awake. He sits up. He pokes me. “I awake!” he announces. Then he flounces out to the living room. I can’t anticipate what disaster he’ll cause, so I only pray my husband has started the coffee before work as I stumble into the hallway.

According to Parents, 1- to 2-year-olds are supposed to sleep for 11 to 14 hours, including 2 naps. Three- to 5-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours, usually with one nap that gets dropped around age 5. I don’t know about your kid, but Sunny dropped his nap at age 2. Parents recommends ritual and schedules, stopping kids from getting out of their beds at night and providing a lovey to help with nighttime fears.

Over at the Huffington Post, parenting author Sarah Ockwell-Smith says that your toddler may wake at night because he’s “struggling with a sense of control and autonomy.” This may mean he needs more autonomy over more areas of his life, not just sleep. Sleep issues could be produced by the arrival of a sibling, starting preschool, a different diet, or a parent returning to work. Potty-training, too much sleep, and too early of a bedtime could also contribute.

None of these reasons seem pertinent to my child’s lack of sleep. Thanks for nothing, HuffPo.

I’m not alone. Scary Mommy staff writer Sa’iyda Shabazz says that her 3-year-old also has sleep issues. “He’s impossible to put on a schedule,” she says. She tried from the time he was a young infant until he was 18 months, at which point she just decided to say, “Fuck it.” Now he’s nocturnal; he sleeps all day and wants to be awake all night. I can relate.

But as know-it-all Parents says, my Sunny should still be napping at least once a day — except we learned a year ago that if he naps, he won’t go to bed until 1 a.m. Sometimes we can’t stop him from conking out — like in his car seat — and we have to just pray he doesn’t nap for too long or it’ll screw up his sleep schedule, my sleep schedule, his father’s sleep schedule, and possibly his brothers’ as well, if they try to crawl into our bed while Goldilocks is still awake and watching Octonauts with the sounds turned down low because we can’t keep our eyes open for another second.

Today’s Parent quotes sleep expert Valerie Kirk, medical director of Alberta Children’s Hospital’s Paediatric Sleep Service, as saying that about 40% of children will have had a sleep problem by the time they’re 18. By sleep problem, she means “any issue related to falling or staying asleep that impacts the child or family.” That sounds about right. I’m glad my kids are getting theirs out of the way early. Sounds like Sa’iyda’s son is too.

We had the same problems with my 7-year-old. Now he sleeps peacefully in his bed all night, almost every night. Thank god. I have faith that my other children will one day follow his lead — one freaking day, and what a glorious day that will be.

Parents of shitty sleepers, you’re not alone. Solidarity.

This article was originally published on