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

By Mali Anderson and Nicole Harris
Updated November 21, 2019

Some toddlers sleep through the night and others turn bedtime into a battle, but most kids share general sleep tendencies. Here are some helpful guidelines that parents need to know.

How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need?

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, especially by his third birthday.

First there is a change in how many times a day he sleeps; around age 2, children often take a short nap in the morning, a longer nap in the afternoon, and then sleep most of the night. By age 3, the morning nap has likely disappeared, and your tot will take only an afternoon nap and maintain a long stretch of sleep at night.

What’s the Ideal Toddler Sleep Schedule?

It takes some finessing to build a toddler sleep schedule. But the right itinerary can create structure, ensuring that a child gets enough rest and allowing parents to plan their days. Remember that the following suggestions are only guides, and it's important to remain flexible when outlining a sleep plan. 

Waking 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 his days,” 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 up around 7 a.m., aim to give him a nap around 9:30. But as he ages, he will grow out of the morning nap, and 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. It should last just under two hours. A too-late nap can interfere with her ability to sleep at night. 

Going to Bed: Bedtimes vary between households, but generally toddlers should have a bedtime 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.

Accoring 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 his sleeping needs are well established.

Where Should a Toddler Nap?

To help with his 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 his bed 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 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 him 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 Mom and Dad. Maintaining regular bedtimes and nap times can help with this issue. 

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, he may be saying that he wants a light left on in his bedroom," says Waddilove. "This can be a very real fear, so it's best not to battle it. Either leave his door open with the landing light on, or buy a plug-in night light for his room."

When Should I Transition 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 ages of 2 or 3; some children 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 day care or preschool, or embarking on toilet training, she may 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 for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But toddlers are a different story, since 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 a closer proximity to parents, which helps kids feel safe and secure. There are several drawbacks, though: For example, some toddlers may 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 in 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). 

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