16 Oct How to Make a Toddler Sleep
Getting toddlers to sleep through the night is one of parenting’s biggest challenges. Their transition from infant sleep patterns to consistent nighttime slumber can try any parent’s patience. While frustrating, disruptive sleep is developmentally normal for the toddler stage.
The good news is you can take proactive steps to help your active, growing toddler get the restorative sleep their body and mind needs. This guide covers techniques to establish healthy sleep habits and troubleshoot sleep struggles with your little one.
*Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as professional advice tailored for your specific situation. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any concerns.
Why Toddler Sleep is Challenging
Before diving into solutions, it helps to understand what makes toddler sleep uniquely difficult:
The same autonomy that fuels tantrums and the word “no” also manifests as resistance to set bedtimes. Toddlers asserting newfound independence and control.
Changing Sleep Needs
Toddlers transition from needing daytime naps to consolidating sleep at night. Disruptions occur as this biological shift progresses.
Language and Imagination
New language skills lead to stalling tactics like requesting water, stories, back rubs etc. Vivid imaginations also cause fears about the dark, monsters, separation.
Advances in cognition, memory and emotions result in anxiety about being away from parents at night. Normal development can impede sleep.
Physical Growth Spurts
Discomfort from growth spurts and teething may wake toddlers at night seeking comfort. Pain disrupts rest.
While everyday toddler development is the root of many sleep problems, simple behavioral interventions can help minimize struggles.
Signs Your Toddler Needs More Sleep
If you notice any of the following, it’s likely your toddler isn’t getting sufficient sleep:
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- Tearful and irritable during the day
- Hyperactive behavior and difficulty listening
- Impulsive, defiant or temper tantrums
- Lack of appetite or interest in activities
- Displays of clumsiness and lack of coordination
- Poor concentration and frustration with tasks
Consistently getting an adequate nightly sleep quantity and quality prevents these red flags.
How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need?
Sleep needs vary among toddlers based on activity level and innate biology, but general guidelines recommend:
1-2 years old:
- 12-14 hours per day total
- Including 1-2 daytime naps
3 years old:
- 12-13 hours per day total
- Including 1 nap
Sleep should consolidate more at night as naps decrease by age 3. Night sleep spans ideally last 10-12 hours consistently at this age.
Signs your toddler needs an earlier bedtime include:
- Difficulty waking in the mornings
- Cranky mood in late afternoon
- More prone to tantrums and meltdowns
- Displaying hyperactive behavior
Adjust bedtime earlier in 15 minute increments until symptoms improve if your child seems overtired.
Toddler Sleep Training Techniques
Use these methods to help toddlers learn to self-settle at bedtime and overcome separation anxiety:
Establish a Soothing Bedtime Routine
Perform the same sequence of tranquil activities before bed nightly – bath, massage, dim lights, lullaby. Routines signal winding down time.
Make the Room Cave Dark
Blackout shades, dark curtains or an eye mask optimize melatonin release. Use a noise machine to damping jarring sounds.
Offer a Transitional Object
Let your toddler adopt a treasured stuffed animal or blanket to take to bed to help provide comfort in your absence.
Use a Consistent Wake Time
Follow the same wake-up time every morning regardless of how little they slept overnight to regulate the body clock.
Teach Toddlers to Self Soothe
Provide tactics like singing quietly or thumb sucking to calm themselves independently when waking at night instead of crying out.
Use Gradual Retreat
Sit near the crib at first, then move chair farther away over nights to gently condition falling asleep without your immediate presence.
Emphasize Praise Over Punishment
Compliment every small step towards self-soothing and staying in bed, even if eventually you must return to check on them. Progress builds confidence.
Toddler Napping Tips
Daytime naps remain essential until at least age 3. Help make naps more consistent with these tips:
Note Optimal Nap Times
Observe when your child seems most ready for nap based on your schedule. Try to maintain the nap at the same time daily.
Follow an Abbreviated Routine
Keep naps routines soothing but more concise – a quick story or lullaby. Over-stimulation defeats the purpose.
Make the Nap Space Dark
Use blackout curtains or shades so lighting signals rest time. Add white noise to prevent disruptive household sounds. Consider a wearable white noise device.
Set a Time Limit
Limit naps to 1-2 hours max. Longer daytime sleep makes it harder to sleep well overnight. Gently wake your child after an hour if still sleeping.
Schedule Naps Strategically
Time naps based on when your toddler typically becomes cranky and to allow enough waking hours before bedtime. An ideal nap ends by early afternoon.
Wean Off Slowly
Gradually shift from two naps to one if needed by pushing the second nap later and making it shorter over time until you can eliminate it. Some toddlers give up naps sooner than others. Watch for signs of readiness.
Handling Early Risings
When your toddler starts waking too early in the morning, you can take steps to recondition the wake time:
Avoid Engaging or Feeding Right Away
Hold off giving attention, turning on lights, playing or feeding for at least 20 minutes after an early waking to disincentivize the behavior.
Put your toddler down 10-15 minutes earlier until the desired wake time naturally occurs with their biological clock reset.
Wait for Night Wakings Too
Attend to needs but conduct night business very boringly in darkness and silence to teach nothing fun happens overnight pre-wake time.
Use Light Manipulation
If light creeps into the room, add blackout curtains. Gradually set a wake up light to illuminate later as desired wake time approaches.
Consider Weaning Off Pacifier
While useful initially for self-soothing, pacifiers can become disruptive sleep associations needing parent intervention overnight if habit persists.
With consistency, toddlers can learn when mornings actually begin. Waking earlier becomes less rewarding.
Getting Toddlers to Sleep In Their Own Beds
These tips promote self-soothing skills for staying settled in their room overnight:
Make the Room Familiar and Cozy
Include favorite toys, books, photos and other comfort objects. A personalized space feels secure.
Use Toddler Night Lights
Dim, warm night lights allow seeing surroundings while still cueing the brain it’s nighttime.
Tell Time Stories
Explain sleep stages like, “When it’s dark outside, your body makes sleep chemicals to help you rest.” Kids understand sequences.
Take Comforting Daytime Naps
Positive nap experiences build confidence in solo sleep. Watch how your child self-soothes successfully.
Praise Staying In Bed
Even if you must return to resettle your toddler multiple times, highlight each effort through the night.
Keep a Consistent Pre-Bed Routine
Regular activities leading up to bed telegraph it’s time to sleep. Routines provide security.
Set Clear Expectations
Communicate the plan to stay in bed all night unless a bigger need arises. Give choices within limits.
With encouragement, toddlers take pride in staying in bed overnight like a “big kid.”
Handling Nighttime Potty Training
Nighttime potty training brings interrupted sleep for parents. Try these approaches:
Get Physical Cues
Help toddlers recognize urges through body sensations, like advising going when getting “that funny feeling” or before a poop face happens.
Set an Evening Cut Off
Stop liquid intake 1-2 hours before bed to limit fueling nighttime bathroom needs.
Double Down on Potties
Use overnight diapers or pull-ups as backup protection to cut down on sheet changing and allow child to remain settled in bed.
Dim, plug-in night lights allow newly trained toddlers to find the toilet somewhat independently in darkness.
Provide Potties Accessibly
Keep a sturdy training potty in reach of child’s bedside for easy access when nature calls.
Limit Evening Caffeine
Avoid giving caffeinated beverages like chocolate milk in the hours approaching bed to curtail urgent nighttime urges.
Set a Middle of the Night Pee Routine
When waking for the bathroom, keep interaction and stimuli low-key to promote falling quickly back to sleep after.
Handling Toddler Night Terrors
Night terrors often alarm parents but represent REM sleep disruptions, not dreams. Strategies include:
Speak gently and refrain from restraining thrashing. Let the episode pass naturally to allow falling back to sleep.
Keep Space Clear
Make sure the area is free of objects that could lead to injury during an episode. Place crib mattress on the lowest level.
Note when terror events happen and triggers like fever, disruptions in schedule or overtiredness. Seek patterns.
Wake Child Slightly
If episodes repeat, gently rouse your child about 15 minutes before usual time to shift sleep stages and potentially prevent an occurrence.
Don’t Try to Comfort
Attempts to soothe can prolong terrors. Keep verbal exchanges minimal and matter-of-fact until it passes.
Consult Your Pediatrician
Rule out underlying conditions. Medication very occasionally prescribed in extreme repeat cases.
Night terrors typically resolve on their own by school age as REM cycles mature. Reassure yourself episodes are not from bad dreams or parenting.
Seeking Additional Help for Sleep Issues
If your toddler’s sleep disruptions persist despite consistent efforts, speak with your pediatrician. Contributing medical factors may need evaluation, like:
- Sleep disordered breathing – snoring, mouth breathing, gasping
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Ear infections
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Food allergies
- Neurological issues – seizures, migraines
- Urinary problems
- Sensory processing disorder
Ask your pediatrician for a sleep log form to detail issues over a 2 week span. Bring the completed log to help identify any patterns contributing to struggles.
For night waking not due to medical issues, the pediatrician may recommend formal sleep training consultation with a certified pediatric sleep consultant. These professionals work with families to establish healthy sleep habits customized to the child’s needs.
If anxiety is contributing to sleep disruptions, play therapy may also help uncover and address emotional root causes of fears about sleep.
FAQs About Toddler Sleep
What time should a 2 year old go to bed?
Most toddlers do best with a bedtime between 6:00-8:00 pm. Observe drowsiness cues and adjust bedtime so they don’t become overtired. Most toddlers sleep 10-13 hours overnight.
How do I know if my toddler is getting enough sleep?
Signs your toddler needs more sleep include difficulty waking in the mornings, cranky late afternoon mood, hyperactivity, defiance, lack of appetite, poor concentration and clumsiness.
Why does my toddler keep getting out of bed?
Toddlers are exerting independence and testing boundaries. Calmly return them and offer reassurance. Praise staying in bed. Explain they can stay tucked in bed like a “big kid” now.
How do I stop early morning wake ups?
Hold off engaging or feeding for 20 minutes. Gradually adjust bedtime earlier until desired wake time results. Over time, they learn waking earlier is not rewarding.
How can I get my toddler to sleep alone?
Maintain a consistent, comforting bedtime routine. Allow transitional objects for self-soothing. Use gradual retreat. Reinforce staying in bed with frequent praise.
What causes night terrors in toddlers?
Night terrors stem from immature central nervous systems shifting suddenly out of deep sleep cycles. They are not caused by dreams or parenting. Reassure yourself they will pass.
Can toddlers have sleep apnea?
Yes, toddlers can experience obstructive sleep apnea, often caused by enlarged adenoids. Frequent snoring, mouth breathing, and gasping during sleep should be evaluated by a pediatrician.
When should I transition from two naps to one?
Most toddlers transition from two naps to one sometime between 18 months – 3 years old as night sleep consolidates. Watch for signs of no longer needing a second nap like resistance or inability to fall asleep.
How do I night potty train a toddler?
Limit liquids before bed, set evening cutoff times, use overnight diapers as backup, have potties accessible on each level, use nightlights to find toilet, and establish middle-of-the-night routines.
What should I do about toddler separation anxiety at bedtime?
Maintain a consistent, soothing routine. Allow transitional objects for comfort. Use gradual retreat from room over multiple nights. Praise efforts staying in bed.
Listen to a Bedtime Story for Better Toddler Sleep
If you find a calming bedtime routine helps your toddler sleep better, we encourage you to try the sleep stories at KidsSleepStory.com.
Over 40 original children’s bedtime stories gently transition into soothing background noise soundscapes designed to lull your child into deeper quality sleep. Your toddler remains sleeping peacefully all night long as the embedded sounds play on.
The stories engage your child’s imagination before fading seamlessly into calming sounds like ocean waves, rainfall, forest crickets and more. These ambient sounds are proven to help both kids and adults fall asleep faster and achieve better quality rest.
The fading white noise masks disruptive nighttime sounds to allow more restful sleep. Getting consistent deeper sleep will help your toddler wake up happier and behave better during the day.
Give KidsSleepStory a try! Make it part of your new bedtime routine and see the sleeping benefits. Sweet dreams!