Sleep regressions typically coincide with major developmental milestones in children. One of the more challenging regressions occurs around 18 months when toddlers begin to assert themselves. With their newfound independence comes bedtime battles and a lot of “no.” Let’s be real for a minute: we’re all so thrilled when those first words come along. Then comes the “no,” and things are never the same again!

Your little one’s exhaustion can exacerbate the situation, leading to more resistance and difficulty settling down. According to a 2004 study by the National Sleep Foundation, a whopping 32% of toddlers and 52% of preschoolers resist going to bed at night [1]. Apparently asking for one more book, one more game, or one more snack doesn’t count as resisting going to bed! (Seriously, just one more?)

While there’s no magic button that will get your child to go to bed (and we promise we’ll let you know if we find one), properly diagnosing the problem can allow you to tailor a routine to their needs. Here are some common reasons toddlers will resist bedtime, followed by strategies you can try to ease bedtime battles.

8 Reasons Toddlers Resist Bedtime

1. They’re not tired or they’re over-tired

Toddlers may resist sleep if they don’t feel tired. Conversely, being too tired can make them fussy and unwilling to settle down.

2. They’re overexcited

Stimulating activities, like watching TV or playing games right before bed, can make it hard for toddlers to wind down (adults too!)

3. They’re curious

Active curiosity about their surroundings can keep children mentally engaged and awake.

4. They’re afraid

It’s not uncommon for little ones to be scared by darkness, strange noises around the house, or other nighttime mysteries. 

5. They lack routine

The absence of a consistent routine, especially one that includes time for winding down, can make it harder to transition to sleep.

6. They have separation anxiety

Being apart from caregivers, even if it’s only one room away, can lead children to feel anxious at night.This comes and goes for most kids.

7. They’re uncomfortable

Physical discomfort, like a stuffy nose, feeling too warm, or teething pain, can lead to sleep challenges for little ones.

8. They’ve developed parental sleep associations

The things you do to support your child in falling asleep, like rubbing their back or singing to them, can contribute to the belief that they need these things to happen to fall asleep, even if they’ve been healthy sleepers for a long time. 

And 8 ways to ease bedtime resistance

1. Play outside

Outdoor playtime allows your toddler to expend energy and get fresh air, while exposure to natural light can help regulate their melatonin levels, which will promote better sleep at bedtime.

2. Start your bedtime routine earlier in the night

If your little one needs a lot of time to wind down, consider starting your bedtime routine earlier in the night. Gradually transition from active play to more relaxed activities to signal to your child that it’s time for bed.

3. Limit screen time

Avoid screens at least one hour before bed (ideally longer), as they can contribute to overstimulation and interfere with their body’s circadian rhythm.

4. Develop a consistent routine

As always, consistency is key to developing good sleep habits. A structured routine can provide a sense of security and signal to their growing bodies and brains that it’s time for bed.

5. Create a calm environment

White noise, blackout curtains, and dim lighting (ideally no more than a small nightlight) create an environment that’s more conducive to sleep. 

6. Explore visual aids

Visual tools like a bedtime chart can help children understand and anticipate their nightly routine. Allowing them to check things off, like brushing their teeth or putting on pajamas, can create a positive association with nightly activities.

7. Phase out parental sleep associations

If your little one needs a parent to be present to fall asleep, try offering a new transitional object for comfort or moving bedtime earlier to phase out the association.

8. Work through nightmares 

If your toddler wakes up following a nightmare, take time to console them before guiding them back to their own bed to encourage independent sleep and self-soothing.

Every toddler is unique, and addressing their bedtime resistance begins with understanding its source. If you’re looking for additional guidance, Harbor’s team of sleep experts is here to help with 24/7 support. It’s all part of our mission to promote healthier parents and happier families through better sleep, one restful night at a time.


  3. Sleep Foundation
Sleep Foundation