Fort Worth, Texas,
15:08 PM

Toddler sleep deprivation

Here's how one pediatrician/mom tackles the issue

It’s not that my own pediatrician didn’t ask how my then 15-month-old daughter was sleeping. She did. I answered truthfully when I said that she slept well. She fell asleep promptly after her bath each night, or occasionally she’d fall asleep after our evening meal which was often late in the evening. It was our Parents as Teachers educator who sat on our living room floor with us and calculated that our toddler was not getting the recommended 12-14 hours of sleep recommended for her, even when we included her afternoon nap. 

I knew about sleep deprivation. I was in the middle of my pediatric residency training before there was an 80-hour per week work limit.

Lack of sleep makes it difficult to:

  • Concentrate. 
  • Retain what you have recently learned.
  • Deal with stress.

Sleep deprivation may increase an appetite for less-than-healthy high fat and high carbohydrate foods as well. Sleep is not just for the weak. It is important to our health and survival. Our nervous, immune and hormone systems are maintained when we are deeply asleep. We had to change bed time to a reasonable hour.

Fortunately, we had many good sleep habits already established. We just needed to start our bed time routine earlier in the evening. That time of day after dinner when my children wind down and go to bed is now one of my favorite times of day. It is a time to reconnect and put away the business of the day. Different families will do different things, but usually a bath and two or three quiet, soothing activities will do the trick. Most often, families stick with the same activities, but these may change as a child gets older and has new skills like being able to write.

Some families I know like to:

  • Read a story together. (Babies and toddlers may chew on the books. Short, sturdy board books are great!)
  • Sing a special song.
  • Listen to music.
  • Say a prayer.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Do a math puzzle together. (Check out

Though it is not always easy, it is important to create good sleep habits. Some other great ways to help your child sleep well include:

  • Be active with your child and play outside when possible. Just keep it quiet one hour prior to bed. 
  • Keep the television and other electronic devices (smart phones, tablets, etc.) out of the bedroom. The light from the screens actually makes it difficult to fall asleep.  It is also more difficult to regulate what and when things are viewed. 
  • Be consistent. Try to stay within one hour of bedtime, even on the weekends. This also makes staying up on an occasional holiday for watching fireworks much more exciting.
  • Don’t send a child to his or her room for punishment. Pick another location for “time out” to occur.
  • Do let your children know that sleep is important to keep them healthy and ready to learn.
  • A special toy, blanket or pillow may provide comfort to a child, especially if they need to travel or spend time in different homes.

Sleep difficulties are common, occurring in about 20 to 30 percent of all children. These difficulties are even more common in children with chronic conditions such asthma, eczema, autism, anxiety and depression.  Sometimes, waking at night and needing additional attention to get back to sleep are normal parts of development, too. As pediatricians, we want to hear from families when children have difficulty sleeping. We want to make sure that they are healthy and ready to tackle whatever comes their way. 


Kara L. Stewart, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician, located at 6421 McCart Ave. in Fort Worth, Texas. The location is one of Cook Children's Neighborhood Clinics.





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