Is your toddler an active sleeper? Here’s what you need to know…

Kids just seem to go, go, go, and it’s not uncommon for that ball of energy to keep on going when they’re asleep! Kicking, thrashing, and even sleepwalking are all common sleep disturbances among toddlers. If you notice these unusual sleep habits, however, it’s important to rule out the possibility of any more serious conditions. Parasomnia — a sleep disorder involving disturbances like night terrors, bed wetting, and nightmares — can be easily mistaken as a simple case of active sleeping. If you suspect your child could be suffering from parasomnia, it’s important to visit your healthcare provider for advice. Read on and tuck in to learn how to help your child (and you!) sleep better. 

Are my child’s sleep habits normal?

It’s best to think of sleep cycles as a series of bell curves. From infancy all the way to adulthood, we all experience cyclical periods of REM and non-REM sleep. While adults can easily transition between sleep cycles without waking, it can be significantly more difficult for babies and toddlers to do the same. This can cause them to wake frequently during the night or to become active during their REM cycle.

Babies and toddlers in REM are likely to talk, twitch, move, and kick as they struggle to facilitate the transition from REM to deep sleep. In case you were wondering why your newborn wakes up every 30-45 minutes, this is it! And while it may seem like a losing battle to try and get your toddler to sleep through the night, some sleep training can go a long way.

What is active sleeping?

Most toddlers go through an active sleeping phase, though some children may grow out of this stage sooner or later than others.

Active sleep is usually characterized by the following:

  • Rapid eye movement
  • Kicking, frequent rolling, or other movement of the arms and legs
  • Shallow breathing
  • Eye rubbing
  • Brief waking
  • Repositioning

All these behaviors are normal for children up until their teens. However, parents may notice that their child becomes more active in their sleep when under lots of stress; common childhood stressors can include moving homes or a long day of errands. This is completely normal behavior, and most toddlers will stop having these sleep disturbances within a few years.

What is parasomnia?

Parasomnia may sound scary, but it’s a common condition that many toddlers experience. Unlike active sleep, parasomnia behaviors can be more extreme, including:

  • Sleepwalking – Sleepwalking toddlers often display a range of behaviors that can confuse or even frighten parents. While some children accidentally urinate in odd places or open random drawers, others can attempt to leave the house or unlock doors. Although this condition may require a specialist’s help, many children will sleepwalk at some point in their lives and require no assistance.
  • Confusional arousal – This is another name that may sound scary, but it’s quite common in children. A precursor to sleepwalking, confusional arousal means a child sits up in bed, confused. They may even speak (often in gibberish), but are not awake and will not leave the bed.
  • Night terrors – Night terrors affect up to 40% of children, making them one of the most common parasomnia events children can experience. Night terrors usually begin with a child shouting or screaming (although some are completely silent), followed by heavy breathing, sweating, kicking, thrashing, and staring. The child is not likely to remember the event the next morning,  though they may remember bits and pieces of it.

Many children will experience some form of parasomnia, especially toddlers. Most cases simply resolve themselves on their own; nevertheless, if you see your child’s sleep habits start to negatively affect their waking hours, you should consult a sleep specialist.

How can I make sure my child gets restful sleep?

Both active sleep and parasomnia can result in your child getting injured, so it’s important to try to make your home as safe as possible to ensure your child’s safety. Some things you can do to keep your child safe include:

  • Toddler-proofing the home — Make sure that bedroom doors are shut (when possible), doors and windows are locked, sharp objects are out of reach, and alarms are active. 
  • Look at the root cause — If your child has had issues in the last few months that you think could be contributing to their sleep issues, take some time to see how you can alleviate stress. This can be as simple as tucking them in each night so they feel secure when going to bed. 
  • Stick to a schedule – Toddlers need about 12 hours of sleep per night. Make sure their nap and bedtimes are consistent to help their circadian rhythm stay regular.

Get better sleep with a foam bumper

One of the main ways you can prevent your child from injuring themselves while asleep is by installing a bumper or guardrail on the bed. Our toddler bumper gives your child the safety of a guardrail with the flexibility and comfort of a bumper. Learn more about our foam bed bumper for toddlers here.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published