The importance of a toddler bedtime routine can’t be stressed enough. Toddlers need to get enough sleep to aid their mental and physical development later in life. Establishing a regular bedtime routine can also help solve a slew of common sleep issues in toddlers, like nighttime awakenings and bedtime resistance.
Of course, anyone with a toddler knows that getting them to stick to a sleep schedule is often much easier said than done. Compared to infants, toddlers are more aware of their surroundings and have vivid imaginations that can make it difficult for them to fall asleep.
If bedtime is currently a battlefield, try to hang in there! Many parents have been in your shoes before. While there is no easy fix for a stubborn toddler, there are plenty of things you can do to help your little one wind down for bed.
How Much Sleep Does My Toddler Need?
According to SleepFoundation.org, children aged 1-2 years should get about 11-14 hours of sleep each day. Since it’s difficult for toddlers to get this amount of sleep in a single session, daytime naps will almost certainly be part of your toddler’s sleep schedule.
If your tot recently celebrated a first birthday, they may still be taking two naps a day. But around age two, your toddler will likely only need one afternoon nap that lasts anywhere from one to three hours. This nap shouldn’t be too close to your toddler’s bedtime, as this could make it difficult for them to fall asleep at night.
What Is the Ideal Toddler Sleep Schedule?
There is no single best sleep schedule for toddlers. All children have their own unique needs, which can influence how and when they fall asleep. The best toddler sleep schedule is the one that fits into your family’s schedule and provides your toddler with a healthy amount of sleep each day.
That being said, here is what an ideal toddler sleep schedule might look like, according to parents.com.
Wake Up: To build a consistent routine, try to wake your toddler up at the same time each day. Young children tend to be early risers and usually start stirring on their own between 6 and 7 am.
Morning Nap: Young toddlers may still need a morning snooze shortly after they wake up in the morning. The ideal morning naptime for toddlers is about two to three hours after they start the day. So, if your toddler wakes up at 6 a.m. on the dot, their morning naptime should be around 8:30 or 9 a.m. Keep this one short and sweet–no more than an hour.
Afternoon Nap: Plan to put your toddler down for an afternoon nap shortly after eating lunch, sometime between 1:00 and 2:30 p.m. It’s important to keep this nap under three hours so that it doesn’t interfere with your little one’s bedtime.
Bedtime: In general, the best time for toddlers to go to bed is somewhere between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. This gives families the chance to enjoy dinner with their toddler before they start winding them down for bed with a relaxing bath or stories and songs.
When it comes to establishing your toddler’s bedtime routine, it’s important to remain flexible. It may take a few weeks of experimenting with different times and evening activities to figure out what works best for your little one.
Strategies for Better Toddler Sleep
Like adults, toddlers tend to get better sleep once certain conditions have been met. Little things such as room temperature and the activities leading up to bedtime can make a huge difference in your toddler’s ability to fall and stay asleep. Here are a few strategies and tips to set your toddler up for a better, sounder sleep.
Choose the right bedtime. Don’t wait until your tot is rubbing their eyes and yawning before putting them to bed. Waiting until your toddler is overtired can lead to bedtime resistance. If you notice your toddler winding down at 7 p.m., make that the bedtime.
Dress your tot for bedtime success. To promote a more peaceful slumber, dress your little one in cozy toddler pajamas that are suitable for the season, as well as the temperature inside your home. If it’s chilly, dress your tot in warmer materials such as fleece and wool. For warmer temperatures, stick to lightweight fabrics that are breathable, such as cotton.SHOP TODDLER PAJAMAS
Slow down the day with relaxing activities. Spoiler alert: Toddlers have a lot of energy. To help your little one wind down in the evening, establish a soothing toddler bedtime routine with calming activities. These activities can include reading a bedtime story, singing a lullaby, taking a warm bath or having a few minutes of quiet conversation. Be aware, though, that some toddlers are energized by bath time. Experiment with different activities to find a routine that works best for your little one.
Offer a bedtime snack. If your toddler doesn’t eat much at mealtimes, giving them a small snack about an hour before bed can help them sleep easier. Just be careful to avoid snacks with high amounts of sugar. Nut butter on a piece of toast or an apple pouch are both healthy options that can help your little one drift off to sleep.
Use the bathroom before bed. If you’re working on nighttime potty training with your toddler, have them use the bathroom right before bedtime. Make sure they try, even if they don’t think they have to go. Use training pants for bedtime and consider using a mattress protector to keep the mattress damage-free. Wait until your little one consistently wakes up dry before graduating to big kid underwear.
Create an optimal sleep environment. Make sure the thermostat is set to a comfortable temperature (somewhere between 66°F and 72°F is best for toddlers). If you’re reading a bedtime story or singing a lullaby, dim the lights in your toddler’s bedroom. Bright lights can make it harder for them to wind down.
Take precautions with the crib. Since toddlers are more aware of their surroundings than babies, it’s important to take precautions with your child’s crib. For instance, you should make sure that objects with strings or ties aren’t too close to the baby’s crib. Don’t leave large pillows or toys in the crib that your child can potentially use to climb out of their crib. And if your toddler is growing increasingly active, it may be time to move them to a toddler bed for safety purposes.
Provide comfort items. A critical part of establishing a toddler bedtime routine is helping your toddler fall asleep on their own. But if your little one needs some extra assistance at night, you may want to consider giving them a comfort object—like a bed-safe toy or a soft blanket—to help them self-soothe. Just make sure that the object doesn’t have any buttons or things attached that could be a choking hazard.
Avoid screen time before bed. Don’t let your toddler watch television or play on a digital tablet before bedtime. The blue light emitted from digital screens can mess with your toddler’s sleep. Instead, choose calming activities like coloring and reading bedtime stories that won’t interfere with your child’s internal clock.
Above all, remember to be consistent with your toddler. Routines play a big role in helping toddlers fall and stay asleep at night. It’s also important to note that some nightly routines may be damaging in the long-term. For example, holding your toddler until they fall asleep can make it harder for your child to fall asleep on their own.
Common Toddler Sleep Issues
A battle-free bedtime is every parents’ dream. Unfortunately, that can be an extremely tall order for a toddler who has recently discovered autonomy and is now testing boundaries. If your toddler is resisting sleep and having frequent nighttime awakenings, it may help to know that this phase is temporary.
How you choose to respond to your toddler can either nip their sleep issues in the bud or make them drag on for much longer than necessary. Here’s a look at some common toddler sleep issues and a few tips for getting your little one back on track.
Refusing to go to bed. If your toddler refuses to go to bed, it’s probably because they want to stay up and hang out with you. Basically, toddlers can get a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). If this happens, you might try leaving your little one’s door ajar so they still feel included.
Struggling to fall asleep. When your toddler is struggling to fall asleep at night, naptime is usually to blame. Try shortening your toddler’s naptimes or moving the afternoon nap back a little. Exercise in the morning can also go a long way in helping your toddler fall asleep at night.
Crying out for you. Listening to your toddler cry out for you at night is one of the saddest sounds ever, we know. If your little one is crying for you, it’s probably because they don’t want to be alone. First, give your toddler a few minutes to see if they’ll settle down. If they’re still wailing for you, go into the room and make sure that all needs are being met–diaper change, a drink of water, etc. Provide reassurance by promising to check in on them in 10 minutes. Just make sure that you follow through with your promise to build your toddler’s confidence. This will help them relax and fall asleep on their own.
Getting out of bed. If your toddler keeps getting out of bed in the middle of the night, you need to be firm. Do not let them stay in your bedroom or the living room. Simply pick your toddler up and put them back in bed with as little interaction as possible. As difficult as this may be, it’s important to set healthy boundaries to discourage bad habits.
Being afraid of the dark. Younger toddlers aren’t typically afraid of the dark, but your 2½-year-old may start to develop this fear. If they get scared, consider getting a night light to comfort them. Avoid turning on all the lights in the room (a common toddler demand), as this can make it harder for your little one to fall asleep. You can also make a show of checking for monsters and reassure your toddler that their room is monster-free.
Having nightmares. There are few things more heart-wrenching than waking up to a terrified shriek from your child in the middle of the night. Nightmares are not uncommon in toddlers and usually occur around age two. If your little one has a bad dream, provide comfort by rubbing their back and assuring them that everything is alright.
Getting Your Toddler on a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Establishing a consistent toddler bedtime routine is key to getting a better night’s sleep—for both you and your toddler. Give your little one time to adjust to a new sleep schedule, especially if you’re trying to undo bad habits. And if you have questions or concerns about your toddler’s bedtime routine, don’t hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician. By asking for guidance, you can help your toddler get the rest they need.
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