Baby & Toddler Sleep Tips

Our essential guide will help you solve your child's sleep problems and give your entire family a better night's rest.

Baby's Awake -- Again

  • Stick to a bedtime. "Don't wait until your baby is rubbing his eyes or yawning to put him to bed," says Marc Weissbluth, MD, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. "By then he's overtired." If you notice your child winding down at 8 p.m., make that his bedtime.
  • Get into the routine. Thirty minutes to an hour before bedtime, start a calming ritual that may include giving a bath and reading a story or two.
  • Put your baby in her crib awake. If your child is routinely rocked to sleep at bedtime, what happens when she wakes up alone at 3 a.m.? Answer: She cries. "All infants and toddlers wake two to six times a night," says Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, PhD, coauthor of Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep. "They need to know how to put themselves back to sleep."
  • Swaddle for the first three months. Research shows that infants who are swaddled wake up less and sleep longer than other babies.
  • Tune out. If your baby seems sensitive to household sounds, try running a white-noise machine or a fan in her room.
  • Let the sun in. Expose your baby to about 30 minutes of light each morning. Why? Light suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin; this helps set her internal clock -- making it easier for her to fall asleep at night.

Your Toughest Questions Answered

Q. My 8-month-old daughter routinely falls asleep with a pacifier in her mouth. Is this okay?

A. "It's fine, but unless you want to get up several times a night to retrieve it from the floor and put it back in her mouth, be sure to leave several pacifiers in the same corner of the crib so she'll know where to look for them," says Dr. Mindell.

Q. My 3-year-old is too big for his crib, but we're worried he'll have problems moving to a big-kid bed. Any tips?

A. Talk up the idea several days before you make the switch. Get him excited about his bed by letting him help you pick out new sheets. And make the transition slowly so he's

less anxious; some moms start by putting the mattress on the floor for several days before moving it to the bed frame. Think about safety too: Add a guardrail to his bed, and make

sure you've covered electrical outlets and attached bookcases to the wall.

Q. My child started sleeping through the night at 4 months. Now, at 9 months, she wakes up every few hours. Help!

A. "She may be teething, not feeling well, or going through a bout of separation anxiety -- all of which could make her cry out at night," says Dr. Mindell. Give it a few more nights, but if she's still waking up at night after several days or a week, it's time to help her relearn how to fall back asleep on her own. To do this, check on her when she cries, but don't pick her up, bring her into your bed, or rock her. Instead, talk to her in a soft voice, then leave the room. Keep checking on her in 10-minute intervals until she dozes off.

Nap Know-How

Like nighttime sleep, naps give your child's brain and body a chance to recharge. (And let's face it, a couple of hours of downtime for you doesn't hurt either!) Here, five ways to help your little one nap like a pro.

  1. Time it right. Just as you do at bedtime, look for cues that your child is sleepy. "The younger the child, the shorter the time he should be awake," says Dr. Weissbluth. "A newborn should be soothed back to sleep after just one or two hours of being up."
  2. Follow your child's lead. Some babies take three 45-minute naps per day, while others hunker down for two 90-minute naps; either one is fine.
  3. Aim for the same time, the same place. Siblings' schedules will sometimes get in the way of your baby's nap, but try to be consistent. "Putting a baby down 30 to 40 minutes later than usual for a nap can throw off his schedule for the day," says Dr. Weissbluth. And while letting your child nap in his car seat or swing is okay on occasion, it's important for a child to identify his crib as the spot where he regularly sleeps.
  4. Set a pattern. Your child is able to anticipate bedtime because of the routine you've created for her, so do the same for naptime. Read her a story, turn on some music, or sing her some of her favorite songs.
  5. Make adjustments. Babies and toddlers will skip their naps from time to time. "If your 6-month-old refuses to sleep during her normal morning nap, move her afternoon nap to an earlier time," says pediatrician and Parents advisor Ari Brown, MD, coauthor of Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year.

SIDS Alert

While it's scary to think about sudden infant death syndrome

(SIDS), you can help protect against it. Take these precautions.

  • Put your baby to sleep on his back. Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics first recommended that infants be placed on their back to sleep, the number of cases of SIDS has dropped by more than 50 percent.
  • Don't smoke. Babies who live in homes where a parent smokes are twice as likely to die of SIDS.
  • Think twice about co-sleeping. The more people who share a bed with a baby, the higher her risk of SIDS. Why? An infant can become trapped between the mattress and bed frame and suffocate, or someone can inadvertently roll over onto her.
  • Choose a firm crib mattress, and skip the soft bedding. In one study, infants using a less rigid mattress were five times more likely to die of SIDS than those sleeping on a harder surface. Also clear the crib of stuffed animals.
  • Dress your baby lightly. Since overheating is a risk factor, don't dress your little one too warmly, and keep her room at 68 degrees.
  • Consider using a pacifier. Studies have found that babies who use a pacifier in their cribs are at a lower risk for SIDS.

Toddler Bedtime Makeovers

Put three common sleep battles to rest with these expert strategies.

Situation: Your toddler always throws a tantrum at bedtime.

Solution: "Your little one is simply trying to take control of the situation," says Dr. Brown. "So let him make some decisions -- like which pajamas he'll wear. If he feels he has a say in the process, he's more likely to go with the flow." Another idea: Save a favorite activity for bedtime. "I worked with one father and son who fought about bedtime every single night," says Dr. Mindell. "Then they added five minutes of playing together in bed with G.I. Joe before they turned the lights out. Now the son can't wait for bedtime."

Situation: You go to bed with your husband and wake up with your little one wedged between you.

Solution: Be consistent about returning your child to her bed. (If you sleep through these visits, install a bell on

your bedroom door to wake you as she enters.) "Pick her up and put her back into bed," advises Dr. Weissbluth. "Since

companionship is what she's looking for, don't talk to her." Or install a safety gate to your child's bedroom. (If your kid is a good climber, you may need to use one on top of the other.)

Situation: Your child keeps waking up at 5 a.m.

Solution: Whatever is waking him up may be fixable, such as too much early-morning light (try room-darkening shades) or

garbage trucks outside (think white noise machine). That said, some kids are just early risers, and there's not much you can do to change an internal clock. If your child rises early and also doesn't sleep well at night, you may want to gradually push his bedtime earlier.

How Much Sleep Should She Get?

Untitled Document


She Needs

Best Bedtime

Keep in Mind

0 to 2 months

Up to 18 hours of sleep

In the first weeks of life, anything goes.

Bottle-fed babies go three to five hours between feedings, while breastfed babies go two to three hours.

2 to 12 months

14 to 15 hours of sleep

8:30 to 9:30 3 to 5 months; 7:30 to 8:30 9 to 11 months.

Most infants under 5 months take three naps a day; by 9 to 11 months, 75 percent of them take just two.

12 to 18 months

13 to 14 hours

Between 7:30 and 8:30 P.M.

By 18 months, most kids are down to one nap -- usually in the early afternoon.

18 months to 3 years

12 to 14 hours

Between 7:30 and 8:30 P.M.

Kids still need a daily nap, but they may put up a fight as they get older; try encouraging “quiet time” in his room instead.

3 to 6 years

11 to 13 hours

Between 7:30 and 8:30 P.M.

By age 5 most children have outgrown napping completely.

Updated by Jason Todd
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