Establishing and adhering to a bedtime is one of the most important and impactful parts of raising children. Unfortunately, for the majority of families, enforcing a consistent bedtime is easier said than done. It only gets more complicated when you add in varying work hours, other children or difficult living situations. 

A consistent amount of sleep has a big impact on your toddler. “Lack of sleep can also have long-term consequences since it has been linked to depression in adults. Healthy sleep habits are a life-long necessity,” says Nicole Johnson, lead sleep consultant of The Baby Sleep Site®.

Every parent wants the best for their child, and we know that. There’s often a stigma around parents allowing their children to eat unhealthy food, or their children’s behavior or even the organization of their room. It’s no secret that people are quick to judge. We’re here to lift families up and give them some insights to help them on their journey. 

Your Toddler’s Bedtime May Impact Their BMI

Research from the University of Delaware, published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, recently explored the impacts sleep has on a toddler’s body mass index. The study included mothers and children in Baltimore, 70% of whom live at or below the poverty line. 

Disadvantaged households tend to have more inconsistent sleeping times and higher BMIs. Of course, food has a huge role in a toddler’s BMI, though this study suggests that sleep could be the link between lower socioeconomic status and BMI.

The implications of these findings go far beyond just low-income families. Bedtimes and BMI will impact any child, regardless of their tax bracket. 

Sleep Habits Also Influence Behavior

Inconsistencies or disruptions in a child’s bedtime can also lead to significant changes in behavior. It’s normal for toddlers to throw tantrums and challenge their parents as they are learning about the world. When a child doesn’t have that structure around sleep, they aren’t going to be able to communicate that they are tired. Instead, they will have a hard time regulating their behaviors or emotions. Which ultimately means more tantrums for the parents. 

“Sleep is integral to every toddler’s brain development, physical health and mood regulation. Toddlers with inconsistent or deprived sleep schedules are more likely to tantrum and may struggle to master milestones such as vocabulary acquisition, motor skill development, memory and executive skills,” says Julia M. Chamberlain, MS, INHC and writer for Choosing Therapy. Lack of sleep will have more impacts on your toddler than just their behavior. “Chronic lack of sleep, for any individual, is linked to a plethora of issues including decreased brain function, lowered immunity, anxiety, depression, obesity and memory issues,” Chamberlain adds.

Tips For Promoting Healthy Sleep Habits In Your Toddler

We’ve spent this entire story talking about the significant negative effects inconsistent bedtimes can have on a toddler’s development. Now it’s time to talk about what parents can do to help their toddlers sleep better. Keep in mind these aren’t rules. Parents know there’s no user manual for kids. Some things may work for some kids and not for others.

Develop a Night Time Routine

Creating a bedtime routine for your child is essential for healthy sleep and peak functioning. Sticking to your child’s bedtime routine will help them relax and get ready for bed. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate; it can be as easy as reading a bedtime story

“Establishing a bedtime routine is important to sleep hygiene for all children. Make sure their bedtime is not too close to the end of the afternoon nap (at least 2-3 hours in between). Try to wind down activities an hour before bedtime. This means turning off screens (TV, computer, tablets) an hour before bedtime,” says Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD, a pediatrician and medical consultant for MomLovesBest.

“A bath before bedtime can be rest-inducing. Toothbrushing and changing diapers can also be a part of the routine. Quiet activities such as reading a story or soft music such as a lullaby can also signal it is time for bed,” Dr. Poinsett adds.

Set An Age-Appropriate Bedtime

The current bedtime you have in place may not match up with your toddler’s internal clock. If you put your toddler before their body has produced enough melatonin to sleep, your toddler is unlikely to stay in bed. It’s important to have a realistic idea of how much sleep they actually need. The bedtime that’s easiest to stick to will be the time that aligns with their circadian rhythms

Listen To Your Child

Even after you’ve set your toddler’s bedtime routine, they still might be having a hard time falling asleep. Things like separation anxiety or nighttime fears are common in young children. The coronavirus has only made it worse. Of course, they cannot fully comprehend the full extent of the pandemic, though children take cues from their parents. 

The ways children are normally socialized outside of the family –– school and daycare –– are inaccessible for most. We won’t know the full extent of Covid-19’s impact on children’s mental health until this is all over. Use our metal wellness tools for bedtime during Covid to ensure your child sleeps soundly. 

Don’t Forget. Parents Need Sleep Too

During this whole process, don’t forget about yourself! Raising a child requires flexibility and patience –– two things that will be in short supply if you don’t get enough sleep. Parents need sleep, too, not to mention a surplus of self-care

“All parents, but especially mothers at risk for postpartum depression and other mental health concerns, do much, much better when they are getting enough sleep at night. Children who are waking up multiple times throughout the night are not getting enough rest themselves, and when their parents are also not getting enough rest, it does not make for a happy, healthy household,” says Dr. Jessica Myszak, and I’m a child psychologist and the director of The Help and Healing Center

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

Research shows that your toddler’s bedtime influences important things like behavior and BMI. Living with a toddler requires flexibility, and thankfully an interrupted night here, and there will not ruin their sleeping habits –– as long as some sort of routine exists. All of this is easier said than done, especially during a pandemic, though the little things you are able to do will have a big impact on how your kid grows up.