Characteristics of toddlers with and without behavioral sleep problems

Date of Completion

January 2011


Psychology, Behavioral|Health Sciences, Medicine and Surgery|Health Sciences, Nursing




Sleep is a basic biological need and toddler sleep problems can be a major challenge to parents. Child behavioral sleep problems during infancy and early childhood are a significant and common parental concern with about a third of toddlers affected. The purpose of the study was to examine the characteristics of toddlers with and without behavioral sleep problems. A mixed method research design with comparative and descriptive content analysis methods were used. 268 participants were recruited. ^ There were no statistically significant differences between the sleep problem and no sleep problem groups for parental or toddler demographic characteristics. There were 19 statistically significant findings including how long it took to put the toddler to bed p<.001, difficult to bed p<.001, total nights difficult to sleep <.001, ratings of sleep <.001, bedtime routine the same P<.001, total nap time p=.009 and how long the children slept at night p<.001. Sleep hygiene significant findings included, massaging the child p=.048, having a drink p=.003, breastfeeding a child to sleep p=.011, holding their child to sleep p<.001. Sleep hygiene after night waking included, minutes awake after a night waking p<.001, picking them up and putting them down awake p=.005, breastfeeding back to sleep<.001 and holding them p<.001. Sleep environment significant findings were being brought into the parents bed after a night waking p=.007, falling asleep in their own bed p<.001 or with a parent present p<.001, if the parent was in the room p<.001 or sleeping alone p<.007. ^ For the content analysis there are eight recurring level three themes; three recurring level two themes, and these were distilled to one overarching theme, which was chaos is my life, the entire quality of life is affected. The theoretical model used was supported in all areas. The bi-directional and fluid influences of the relationship between the child and the parents and back again were supported. The child needs help, the parents respond in a cycle that goes back and forth perhaps several times a night. Sleep problems in toddlers are complex, multidimensional and tied into the emotional and psychosocial fabric of the individuals, parents and family. They can cause serious stress, worry and be long standing, pervasive and there is a potential for child abuse. ^