Help Getting to Sleep

My question is about my 20 month old and sleep. My daughter usually takes several hours to get to sleep no matter what. I really feel she doesn’t get enough sleep, and she is often exhausted but cannot seem to stop wiggling. She has always had a great deal of trouble sleeping, she is very active, smart, and has been overly alert since birth. She is quite sensitive to noise etc. but fine otherwise. I keep her routine as predictable as I can…esp around sleep times…and I make sure she plays outside for a while each day, but it seems she needs to much more to get to sleep. I am exhausted and a bit worried because we have a new baby coming soon.
ANY suggestions are appreciated. We have and continue to explore food allergies, sensory issues (i believe that is a contributing factor), we have a homeopath, have seen crainiosacral therapists etc. etc.
Hi Mama,
Oh my gosh, what a challenge for you guys. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the things I would suggest, and how frustrating that none of it seems to work consistently.
I am currently reading a book that I am LOVING, and might be just what you need. It is called “Sleepless in America: Practical Strategies to Help Your Family Get the Sleep it Deserves,” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. I’m only about half way through, but so far I’ve agreed with just about everything that she’s said. She talks about how when children are sleep-deprived, their bodies emit stress hormones, which make it much harder to get to sleep. She talks about teaching children how to relax their bodies, and she gives lots of tips on how to minimize stress levels throughout the day, and how to approach bedtime. She’s not a cry-it-out proponent. Her book is not focused on toddlers specifically, but she does address the issue of children who have always been jumpy and had trouble sleeping.
Setting the Mood
From my personal experience, the thing that I’ve found that makes the most difference is the lead-up to bedtime. I dim the lights, pull the curtains, and start talking in a very soft voice, walking very softly, helping the children ‘wind-down.’ I actually don’t tell or read a story, because I find them to be more stimulating than calming for many kids. I make the sleep-room VERY dark, and have the lights already out when we tiptoe in and slip into bed. I start by rubbing backs as I sing a lullaby (I sing the same one over and over, gradually getting slower and softer, till I’m humming, then I finally drop silent. I lie down on the floor next to the children, and I doze off. They can almost never resist that.
Help Their Fingers
For children who have trouble falling asleep, I have a few tricks that have worked. One is that I’ve noticed that lots children keep themselves awake through their fingers. Their fingers wander around, touching and exploring, poking themselves in the face, etc. With those children, I’ll often have them lie with both hands on their stomach, and I’ll put my hand(s) over theirs, and say, “Now it’s time for your hands to go to sleep. They can lie there quietly and listen to me sing.” Sometimes I’ll even take each of her hands and surround it with one of mine, to help them sleep.
Wrap Them Up
Another thing I’ve tried which has worked like magic with some kids, and not so well with others, is to wrap them up fairly tight (like swaddling). It can help them with wiggling, and makes them feel secure, but largely I think it helps them keep those little fingers still, without me having to do it for them. To set the stage for this, start telling a story about a caterpillar who was so sleepy, and how he wrapped himself in a cocoon blanket, and when he woke, he had transformed into a beautiful butterfly. Tell it for a few days, then one day say, “I know! You can be like that caterpillar, and turn into a butterfly, too!” Then get a blanket that’s about the size of a large couch-throw, and with her arms at her side, wrap her fairly tightly in this special cocoon blanket Lie her down on the bed and rub her head or her body (not both; see which works better for her) while you sing to her. When she wakes up, comment on how she has become like butterfly! I know one LifeWays care provider who does this with all of the children in her program, and she says that it has changed the entire naptime experience.
Absorb Busy Energy
The third thing I do is to absorb ‘busy’ energy, and emit ‘sleepy’ energy. I start doing this when I dim the lights while we’re getting ready, and then I have a specific technique when they’re falling asleep. I find this to be very effective, because I don’t get so annoyed when the kids are doing something (like not going to sleep). I’ve found that kids have a VERY hard time falling asleep when I’m annoyed at them; I guess it makes sense that it’s hard for a child to relax when there’s somebody tense next to her. Anyhow, the way I do it when they’re falling asleep is by rubbing the child’s back. I start out rubbing quite firmly, and imagine all of her ‘busy’ energy flowing out of her body up into my arm. I imagine that I’m doing the moving FOR her, so she doesn’t have to wiggle around herself. All of that wiggly energy that’s trapped inside her can flow into my hand and up my arm. As I feel her busy energy emptying out of her, I let my hand get slower and softer. I start imagining sleepy energy pouring out of my arm and into her. If I get slower and she starts to wriggle around, I get a little more firm and pull more of that energy out, then slow down again (you can do this technique with the cocoon or without). As her body starts to relax, I get slower and slower, until my hand is still and heavy, with sleepy energy flowing into her. When she’s breathing regularly and not moving around, I slowly make my hand lighter, lifting a hair with each in-breath, until it’s hovering a few inches above her, and then I allow my hand to radiate a blessing of sleep out over her, casting a protective ‘net’ that stays over her while she sleeps and keeps her from waking up from noises. I’ve taught this energy technique to two assistants, and they’ve both noticed an improvement when they used it. The main key is that you absorb ‘busy’ energy, and you send out ‘sleepy’ energy.
Good luck! Sleep is such a tricky issue, because everyone’s patience is impaired by lack of sleep (your daughter’s, your husband’s, and yours). I find that i have almost immeasurable patience if I get 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night, but my patience gets shorter much quickly if I get much less. Do order that book from the library if you can, I’d love to hear if it is helpful as well.
Miss Faith


  1. nursinmamaa says

    Wow this is a great post. I have one of those finger wanderers. I will have to give your suggestion a try!

  2. Paulie Cole says

    This one helped so much. I will use these ideas to support nap time. I have come to parts of this with time, but now the whole picture is there. Thank you! Paulie

  3. Hi Faith,

    My spouse and I are wondering about your thoughts on when to transfer toddler from crib to little toddler bed. I want my son to have the freedom, because he isn’t a tiny baby anymore, but I also want my sleep – and his sleep as well. For his entire life, we have had a really good sleep routine, and I don’t want to muck anything up. He is now two, and he’s not climbing out of the crib. I have friends who do attachment parenting, and their little one has always had freedom, but they have also always been sleep deprived…

  4. Thanks for writing! My opinion is that children value security over freedom, and that beds are very private, cozy spaces that provide a secure space for a child to relax. So I would suggest keeping things the same until they absolutely need to change (he starts climbing out, or he is moving out of night-time diapers and needs to get up to go potty). Then, when you do make the switch, be prepared to change your bedtime routine around significantly, as you’ll need to provide that security that he needs through your presence as he gets used to his new bed. You’ll probably want to stay with him till he’s asleep for the first while, then gradually leave earlier and early as he develops the ‘habit’ of lying in bed until he’s asleep. Hmmm…sounds like a blog post topic in the making!

  5. These are wonderful ideas. My daughter is now 11 but she has always been so busy and energetic at bedtime. As an older baby and toddler we kept backing up her bedtime, which helped quite a bit; but it wasn’t until she was around age four that we brought back the rocking chair… wow what a difference. I always felt there was a slight sensory element going on. Rocking her in the chair or even in my arms on her bed made an incredible difference. She is still greatly calmed by swinging and rocking.


  1. […] Making the Switch While your child is getting used to her new bed and learning that it is indeed a cozy, safe and secure place in which she can relax her body and fall asleep, you will need to provide that security with your presence. First of all, make sure that during your lead-up to bedtime, you are helping her body slow down and get ready for sleep. Have the house gets darker and darker (turn out the lights and pull the curtains if it’s summertime) and your manner gets slower and slower, softer and softer, throughout the process. If you read your child stories before bed, only read one. If it’s very short, you can read the same story two, or even three times. Read it a little slower and softer each time. This way you are helping your child wind down, instead of winding up with lots of new images. Then tiptoe to bed and tuck your child in. Read my post on Help Getting to Sleep, here. […]

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