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.
It takes some finessing to build the right toddler sleep schedule. A sleep plan provides a family with structure, ensuring that a child gets enough rest and allowing parents to plan their days. Remember that suggested times are usually meant as guides, and it is important to remain flexible when outlining a sleep plan. 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...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," she says. Once your toddler is sleeping through the night and waking up rested, you will naturally know that his sleeping needs are well established.
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. If your child seems sleepy throughout the morning, or requires a nap after being up for only an hour or two, she may require either an earlier bedtime or more sleep by being tucked back into bed in the morning for another round of rest.
Sleep Plan Tip: Have your toddler up and ready to begin the day by 7:30 am.
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. If this starts to happen, fill this time with quiet periods for looking at books, listening to stories on CDs, or playing independently with blocks or stuffed animals. 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.
Sleep Plan Tip: Keep morning naps under an hour.
Plan for another rest after a nourishing lunch, though most toddlers will eventually go from multiple naps or two to just one. And morning naps are usually the first to go. Preferably, schedule the afternoon nap for the early afternoon, around 1:30 or 2 p.m, for under two hours. If a child naps too late in the afternoon, this can interfere with her ability to sleep at night.
Sleep Plan Tip: If the child is still sleeping at 4 p.m., gently wake him up.
Bedtimes vary from household to household, but generally toddlers 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.
Sleep Plan Tip: Schedule bath time for 6 p.m. and then an hour of relaxation before a 7 p.m. bedtime.