Top reasons why your little one experiences sleep challenges

Why isn’t my child sleeping??!!

Top reasons why your little one experiences sleep challenges

Sleep challenges are not only about sleep. There are many contributing factors that can disrupt your child causing them to wake frequently at night, take short naps or fight going to bed all together. The challenge for most parents is trying to figure out what exactly is causing the sleep disturbances and how to fix them. There are so many conflicting theories when it comes to sleep, it can feel beyond overwhelming. Throw in a dozen different attempts to manage it on your own and it can bring you to tears.

We have outlined some of the top reasons that may be preventing your child from sleeping.

Your child may be Overtired

Your child may be having a difficult time sleeping because they have become overtired. When we become overtired, a stress hormone called cortisol rushes through our system causing us to get a second wind. For a child, this would be comparable to giving them a cup of coffee!

Missed Sleep Cues and Long Wake Windows

Sleep cues are your child’s way of telling you that they are ready for bed. If you can respond to your child’s cues and get them to bed when you see them, you will have a much easier time settling them and they will benefit from being able to stay asleep longer. When you miss that magic window, you will notice that your child will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep.

Your child can only handle being awake for a certain amount of time without becoming overtired. This amount of time will vary according to their age. Some children have such subtle tired signs that it makes it difficult for parents to decipher them. This is when it is beneficial to look at the clock as well as watch your child for their cues.

* Crying is often a sign that you have missed the optimal window for sleep.

Going to bed too late

Many people think that if they put their children to bed later, they will sleep later in the morning. In reality, it can have the opposite effect! An overtired child will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep so putting your child to bed too late can cause difficulty falling asleep, early rising and frequent night waking. An earlier bedtime also allows them the opportunity to get the amount of sleep that they require for the night.

Adequate Daytime sleep

Daytime sleep is crucial for nighttime sleep! Making sure that your child is given the opportunity to nap at appropriate times throughout the day will ensure that they are able to sleep well at night. The more sleep they get, the more they will want! The amount of naps needed varies per age with many naps before the age of 4 months, 3 naps between the ages of 6-9 months, 2 naps from 9-15/18 months and from 15-18 months 1 nap until approximately the age of 3 years.


The schedule is the day to day activities as well as what time they wake up at in the morning, what time they nap at and what time they go to bed at for the night. This schedule does not have to be rigid but should be flexible within 30 minutes each day.

A schedule also allows parents the predictability so that they can plan daily events, outings and appointments without having to worry about the little one napping whenever and on the go.


Setting up the environment to promote healthy sleep is essential. Not only will your little one thrive on the consistency of having their own sleep space but adding blackout curtains, a sound machine and making sure the space isn’t too busy with bright colours and busy decals will help your little one feel safe and secure in their bed. Eliminating all blue light is also very important. Blue light interferes with the production of melatonin, our natural sleep aid, and can cause your little one to struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep. For more details and examples, check out our guest-article on the Eco Parent Magazine website on how to create the ideal sleep environment.


Routines and schedules are important for all children to thrive and feel secure in their everyday surroundings, and avoid sleep challenges. Knowing that children cannot tell time, they order their day by sequences of events that take place from day to day. When their day is drastically different all of the time, they will have a harder time settling and will lack the predictability making it difficult for them to learn what to expect. A consistent bedtime and naptime routine is equally as important as it cues your child for sleep and allows them time to decompress before settling into bed. They become accustomed to it and learn what to expect very quickly.

Sleep Associations

A sleep association is what your child needs to fall asleep. Much like we do, a child will wake, check their environment and if all is okay fall back asleep. If a child has a need to be rocked, nursed, bounced, walked…etc., they will need you to recreate this in order to be able to fall back asleep. Some families will want to continue to rock, nurse, and bounce their children to sleep and that is a personal preference. If it is working for your family, there is no need to change anything. However, if you are ready to make a change, there are many gentle techniques that can be used to transition out of sleep associations.

If you are experiencing sleep challenges with your little one, making these small changes to your child’s everyday life will set them up for success. You will start to see improvements in your child’s day to day and you will be one step closer to healthy sleep.

About the authorElisa is a mother of two littles, and has always found love in helping babies sleep since her daycare days. She and Pam are the founders of Restful Parenting — Holistic Infant and Child Sleep Consultants and offer classes and workshops across Ontario as well as private consultations across Canada. They are both early childhood educators and certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultants and have extensive experience in early childhood development as well as a natural ability to understand children and sleep. Follow them on Facebook.

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