Toddlers need 10-12 hours sleep a night. Most of them can do with an hour or two in the middle of the day as well.
Once asleep, most toddlers sleep through most nights without waking mum or dad. But toddlers love to test their independence, so getting them to bed in the first place can be a challenge.
Young children also get overtired easily. When they do, they find it harder to get to sleep. Once you can spot these telltale signs of tiredness, you’ll be able to settle your child to sleep before grumpiness sets in. A firm and consistent bedtime routine will be a big help.
Understanding sleep and sleep patterns is an important starting point for helping your child develop healthy habits and a positive attitude towards sleep.
Toddler sleep schedule
A common daily sleep schedule looks like this:
7 am: wake up
1 pm: nap of no more than 2 hours
3 pm: wake up
7 pm: bedtime.
If your toddler’s day nap is too long or too late in the day, your child might not be ready for bed until late at night.
Some toddlers like to wake with the birds at 5.30 am or 6 am. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about it. Putting your toddler to bed later at night in the hope of later starts in the morning doesn’t tend to work. Your toddler might still wake up early then be grouchy from too little sleep.
If you live with an early riser, you might want to move your bedtime forward too.
A consistent bedtime routine helps prepare a child for sleep. Most toddlers are ready for bed between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm. This is a good time, because they sleep deepest between 8 pm and midnight.
A routine might look something like this:
6.30 pm: brush teeth and change nappy
6.45 pm: quiet time (read a book or tell a story)
7 pm: into bed and kiss goodnight.
If your child takes a dummy to bed, you might consider saying goodbye to it at around three years old. For tips on how to do this, read our article on letting go of the dummy.
And before you turn out the light, it’s a good idea to do a quick check of your child’s room to make sure her sleeping environment is safe.
Sleeping in a new place such as a child care centre or a relative’s home can disrupt your child’s routine. You might like to read more about how to maintain your routine when your child’s sleeping away from home
Calling out and getting up after bedtime
Your toddler might go through a stage of calling or getting out of bed after you’ve said goodnight. Try these tips:
- Avoid boisterous play before bedtime. This can make it harder for your child to settle.
- Establish a consistent, calming bedtime routine.
- Before leaving the room, check that your child has everything she needs. Remind your child to stay quietly in bed.
Try not to respond to your child’s calls after you’ve turned the light out, no matter how loud he protests. If you respond, he’ll try the same thing again next bedtime.
- If your child gets out of bed, you can return her to bed firmly and quietly over and over until there’s no more getting up. Or you can return her to bed once – if she gets up again, close the bedroom door and ignore all further protests.
You can read more about using these strategies in our article on calling out and getting out of bed
. It’s important to find the strategy that works for you and stick with it.
If your toddler shares a bedroom with a brother or sister, you might need to delay your other child’s bedtime by half an hour until your toddler is settled and asleep. With luck, your toddler will very quickly get the message that bedtime is for sleeping, and the disruption to all will be minimal.
In calling out, your child might actually need something. If your child has done a poo, change the nappy with the lights dim and no talking. If your child is scared of a monster under the bed, a quick check by you (with the light off) can confirm the room is monster-free. Your toddler might settle after that. If your child is scared of the dark, think about using a night-light. Whatever the issue is, keeping on eye on light and noise in your child’s room is a good idea.
A night terror is when your child suddenly becomes very agitated while in a state of deep sleep. A night terror can last from a few minutes up to 40 minutes.
Many children grind their teeth at some stage. Children won’t usually be woken up by the sound of their own teeth grinding – but other people in the room might be!
Moving to a ‘big bed’
Most children move from a cot to a bed somewhere between two and three-and-a-half years old. But there’s no hurry, particularly as some young toddlers become trickier to manage in a bed. Of course, you might need to move your child if your child has started climbing out of the cot or needs to use the potty at night, or if you need the cot for a new baby.
Moving to a ‘big bed’ is a cause for celebration. You might want to redecorate your child’s room at the same time (see what you child thinks, of course!) and involve your child in choosing a bed. A safety rail on the side will stop falls.
Pills, potions and tonics aren’t usually the answer to solving children’s sleeping problems – there are better ways to deal with your child’s sleep difficulties.
In fact, children’s sleep problems are one of the most common reasons that parents seek help from professionals. Your child’s sleep problems will be much easier to manage with the support of a trusted child health professional.