Toddler Sleep & Brain Development Explained

Toddlers and the Science of Sleep

The most important thing to remember about teaching and helping families is to bring peace of mind and sleep to each family. How does toddler sleep and brain development work?

CDC says:

How the brain grows is strongly affected by the child’s experiences with others and the world. Nurturing care for the mind is critical for brain growth. Children grow and learn best in a safe environment protected from neglect and extreme or chronic stress with plenty of opportunities to play and explore.

Toddlers can be the most fun and frustrating humans ever created. You look at this perfect little human. They are screaming at the top of their lungs because the fry size is too short or too long. What the Heck? They make no sense. So, why is this happening? What is going on when they are throwing such fits?

Science says:

Dr. Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist (and author of the Idiot Brain and Guardian columnist who moonlights as a stand-up comic), says that the early days of brain development are fascinating because all the connections needed throughout life are forming and coming together.

The brain doesn’t grow in the exact same way as the rest of the body. A kid can master crawling through repetition, but that doesn’t mean they will understand why they must put on shoes.

What toddlers do understand is that when something is different than the day before, it sets them off. “All the connections in their brains aren’t made yet,” says Dr. Burnett. “When their expectations aren’t met, toddlers have lost control. They don’t know how to react, so they get distressed and sound the alarm bells because you’ve given them a red sippy cup instead of the green one.”

This makes sense to me that your toddler would be throwing this fit because he expects the same thing each day, and if we veer from the norm this would be the behavior. Why do I start with this subject first when teaching sleep? 

It’s simple; we must learn why they behave like they do to understand their toddler sleep patterns. 

Between the ages of 18 months and 24 months, your toddler is willing to pick up and help. It’s a learned behavior. They are happy to help. What happens around the 2.5-year-old and 3-year-old mark during their toddler brain development? Why do they stop helping?

Science says:

According to Dr. James Doty, trained neurosurgeon and Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (or CCCARE) at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of Into the Magic Shop — this is typical behavior. 

It starts to fade when there’s more social interaction. It may be that now, they’re in an environment where they see other people either not behaving in this fashion or they start learning how to be more selfish.” You knew it — it’s society’s fault!”.

Dr. Doty has some ideas on how to help your kid keep their sense of understanding, compassion, and fairness. Three steps: Promote emotional intelligence, model it, and tell them it’s ok to fail—end of quote. 

So, would a routine be beneficial for a toddler sleep problems?

How do we create a consistent pattern? Let’s look at the daytime schedule. In daycare, your child knows what to expect each day. The teachers have a system. This allows for fewer fits because your toddler knows what to expect. Every day they walk in, put their backpack in the cubby and then sit on the gathering rug. This is done every day. This is a consistent routine.

Around 18 months, toddler sleep patterns move to one nap a day. Nap duration is between 1-3 hours each day. I like to suggest parents have naptime after lunch. This routine can last until five years old to help reduce toddler sleep problems.

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Written by:

Summer Hartman

Summer, a renowned sleep consultant in Phoenix has consistently been recognized as one of the top 200 professionals in her field by for six years.

With a remarkable experience of 16 years as a Certified Newborn Care Specialist and Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Summer's expertise is unparalleled. She is an esteemed member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants (IACSC) and the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP). Summer is part of a new beta program, The Sleep Health Organization, the only pediatric sleep physician-created certification program for certified & experienced sleep consultants.

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