Toddler Sleep Guidelines You Need to Know

Follow these toddler sleep tips to make sure your little one gets enough rest throughout the day.

Some toddlers peacefully sleep through the night and others turn bedtime into a battle, but if your toddler is having trouble with sleeping at night, nap time, or staying asleep, there are some strategies that might help. Here are some helpful guidelines about toddler sleep, including how much sleep a toddler needs, a sample toddler sleep and nap schedule, and some FAQs about toddler sleep.

How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need?

First things first: How much sleep does a toddler actually need? Well, between the ages of 1 and 2, a well-rested child typically gets more than 12 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period. As your child grows, though, sleep time will reduce to around 11 hours a day by their third birthday.

Your toddler's sleep needs will also change as they get older. For instance, during infancy, most children take a short nap in the morning, a longer nap in the afternoon, and then sleep most of the night. Sometime after they turn 1, however, the morning nap will likely disappear, and your toddler will take only an afternoon nap and maintain a long stretch of sleep at night.

What’s the Ideal Toddler Sleep Schedule?

You may have heard that one of the best ways to get a toddler to sleep is to maintain a pretty consistent sleep schedule. It takes some finessing to actually build a consistent toddler sleep schedule, but it's worth it: The right routine can create structure, ensuring your child gets enough rest and allowing you to plan your days.

If you need help creating a toddler sleep schedule, here are some examples. And remember that the following suggestions are only guides, and it's important to remain flexible when outlining a sleep plan for your toddler.

Wake up

In Sleep Solutions: Quiet Nights for You and Your Child from Birth to Five Years, author Rachel Waddilove suggests getting a child up at the same time each morning. "This builds [a] helpful routine and stability into their day," she says. Many toddlers are early risers, getting up between 6 and 7 a.m. Whenever they awake is fine, as long as they're getting enough sleep and their rising time fits into the family schedule.

Morning nap

If your toddler is still taking a morning nap, aim to give them a nap around 9:30 a.m. assuming they're up for the day by 7 a.m. As they get older and grow out of the morning nap, you can fill this time with quiet periods for looking at books, listening to audiobooks, or playing independently. Quiet time can also help a child recharge for more active periods of the day, such as trips to the park or playdates with friends.

Afternoon nap

Plan for another nap after a nourishing lunch. Preferably, schedule this resting period for the early afternoon, around 1:30 or 2 p.m. Ideally, the nap should last just under two hours since a too-late nap can interfere with your child's ability to sleep at night later on.

Bedtime

Bedtimes vary between households, but generally, toddlers should have a bedtime somewhere between 6 and 8 p.m. This is early enough for kids who need 12 hours of nightly rest to be up with the family for breakfast and late enough for everyone to enjoy dinner together before beginning a bedtime routine.

According to Waddilove, "Bedtime on some nights may be later than others, especially if you have been out. If so, try to be home earlier the next night, and don't let your toddler have too many late nights in the week." Once your toddler is sleeping through the night and waking up rested, you will naturally know that their sleeping needs are well established.

FAQs About Toddler Sleep

Sleep might seem like it should be a simple concept, but for babies and toddlers, sleep is a skill that needs to be learned. And that can take time, so don't get frustrated if your child needs a little more help than others! Here are some common FAQs you might have about your toddler and sleep.

Where should a toddler nap?

To help establish a sleep routine, it's better for toddlers to have one place that's designated for sleep. Rather than napping in a stroller or on the couch, for example, a toddler should nap in their bed whenever possible to associate one consistent place with rest.

Should I give my toddler a blanket or stuffed animal?

Oftentimes a lovey, like a special blanket or stuffed animal, can serve as a sleep aid for toddlers. There's a reason for this. Greg Hanley, M.D., director of the Children's Sleep Program at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts, says everyone has certain elements they depend on for a night of healthy sleep, whether it's leaving the fan running or taking socks off.

"When children wake up at night and cry out, it's usually because there's something wrong with the sleep dependency. All kids wake up about 10 times per night, and if the conditions they initially had to get to sleep aren't there when they try to go back to sleep, they will cry out to get it," Dr. Hanley says. Feel free to honor your child's wishes and let them keep a blanket or stuffed animal in bed.

Why won't my toddler sleep?

Many toddlers keep themselves awake because they don't want to miss any activities, and they'd rather hang out with their parents. Maintaining regular bedtimes and nap times with sleep cues (such as reading a story or rocking together) can help with this issue because you can reinforce when it's time for sleep.

Also, consider whether the inability to sleep is actually a fear of the dark. "Younger toddlers aren't usually afraid of the dark, but by the time your child is nearly 3, they may be saying that they want a light left on in their bedroom," says Waddilove. "This can be a very real fear, so it's best not to battle it. Either leave their door open with the landing light on or buy a plug-in night light for their room."

When should I transition my toddler to a big-kid bed?

The ideal time to move a toddler out of a crib and into a bed varies. Usually, though, kids begin the transition around the age of 2 or 3. Some children will need to make the switch earlier because they climb out of their crib.

Prepare for the move by talking about it and reading books about kids graduating into beds. Always start the transition during a period of calm within the household. If a child is already adjusting to a new daycare or preschool or embarking on toilet training, they may also be less likely to accept another change.

Should you try co-sleeping with a toddler?

As many parents know, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) says co-sleeping with a baby is dangerous because it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But toddlers are a different story since the risk of SIDS virtually disappears after age 1; additionally, parents are less likely to unknowingly roll onto a sleeping 2- or 3-year-old.

The main benefit of co-sleeping with a toddler is having them in closer proximity to you, which helps them feel safe and secure. There are several drawbacks, though. Some toddlers develop a "sleep crutch" and become unable to doze off without their parents. Also, kids need a lot of sleep, and they might get inadequate shut-eye since parents stay up later, wake early for work, and might get up during the night to use the bathroom. Finally, your own sleep quality—or your relationship with your partner—might suffer from having a toddler in the bed.

In the end, the decision is yours to make, but parents should carefully weigh the pros and cons. If you want your child in the same room, there are other options besides sharing the same bed. You could set up their big-kid bed in your room, for example, or simply welcome your child into your bed if it's ever needed (like during a particularly scary storm or after a bad dream).

Updated by
Nicole Harris
Nicole Harris, SEO Editor
Nicole Harris is the Editor at Parents. She joined the team in 2018 as a Staff Writer and was promoted to SEO Editor in 2021. She now covers everything from children's health to parenting trends. Nicole's writing has appeared in Martha Stewart Weddings, Good Housekeeping, The Knot, BobVila.com, and other publications. A graduate of Syracuse University, Nicole currently lives in New Jersey with her husband.
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