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Toddler Sleep Problems

The Kid Who Sleeps in the Closet

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

My son turns 3 in November and he seemed ready for a big boy bed because he was trying to flip out of his crib, so we converted his crib using stuff it came with to a big boy bed. It was a non-issue for a 6-8 weeks. He didn’t fight it at all, didn’t try to get out of bed, and we were patting ourselves on the back for being amazing parents…. 

Then he started moving himself to his closet after we laid him down in his bed and sleeping there instead. At first, he’d just move himself. Then he escalated things to bringing his blanket, pillow, and lovies. I about lost my mind the first time he wasn’t in his bed in the morning; I put him back to bed after a lullaby, only to find him in the closet again later.

Now he doesn’t even bother with the bed, just goes straight to the closet at bedtime and shuts the door (It is one of those accordion doors).  It’s been this way for almost 3 weeks now. My Mom guessed that it’s probably just feels safe in there to him, but if that’s true, what made him feel unsafe in his bed? Is it because it’s a full size bed? Should we get a smaller bed? 

He sleeps the whole night through, so I don’t really want to make this a battle if I don’t have to. Is it worth it? Is there something deeper here I should be concerned about? Or do you think this is just a phase? Is there anything I can do to make him feel safer in his bed?

Thanks so much for any thoughts,

Aww. I think this is cute. And I think that’s really all there is to it: Just one of those harmless, adorably quirky things toddlers and preschoolers just kinda DO sometimes. Save it for his wedding toast.

Yes, he does probably feel safe and cozy in his little closet nest, but that doesn’t automatically mean he feels UNsafe in his regular bed. It’s just a preference for now. He might miss the security/enclosed feeling of the crib slats (which obviously weren’t all that confining anymore), or maybe he prefers how extra-dark and quiet the closet is. Maybe he has a rich imagination and he’s concocted a little adventure story for himself and his closet is his boat or cave or nest. Or some combo of All Of The Above.

I personally can’t sleep without the covers on, and I mean HEAVY covers. Even if it’s 100 degrees out and I’m sweating profusely, I simply cannot fall asleep uncovered or with just a sheet. My oldest son sleeps with a weighted blanket and a dang Bilibo over his head (it’s his “cave”). My youngest tends to simply fall asleep face-down on the floor, wherever he happened to be standing/playing when he realized he was sleepy. These are all odd little quirks, for sure, but harmless. Especially when the end result is the same: WE GET TO SLEEP.

So no, I don’t think you should worry about this one at all. He’s sleeping! Through the night! You now know where he is, and could thus retrieve him and/or instruct emergency personnel in case of a fire or something — you could attach a sticker or note to the closet door that indicates his location as well. And there’s nothing inherently harmful about sleeping on the floor vs. a mattress (that’s mostly cultural). He’ll be fine!

You could possibly make his bed more attractive to him by adding a canopy or tent of some kind. (Which now reminds me that one of my sons once dragged a pop-up Star Wars play tent onto his bed and slept in that for a few months. Meh. Also just cute!) And I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to accommodate the habit (like putting in a mattress or a reading light), so you can present his real bed as a positive option at some point in the future. (“If you’d like to stay up and read books that’s fine, but the light will stay over by your bed and not go into the closet.”)

But for now, you’ve got a 3 year old who likes to sleep in his closet because it’s cozy and dark and he likes it. He might grow up to be someone who prefers blackout curtains or a sleep mask/earplugs. Maybe he’ll always like sleeping with his bed against a wall or a lot of extra covers. Or maybe he’ll just go back to sleeping in his bed randomly one night and you’ll be like, awwww, remember when he used to make a little nest in his closet to sleep? That was so cute.

(Don’t forget to take some pictures.)


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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