Toddler & Child Sleep Guide
Help them catch more Zzz!
Seeing your little tyke all tuckered out can instantly warm your heart—that is, if you can get them to go to bed in the first place. But toddler sleep and child sleep aren’t just cute—they’re essential for your kid’s mental and physical health and development. So essential, in fact, that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) both agree on guidelines for age-based sleep requirements for children from sleep in infanthood to when they’re teenagers. But there’s much more to healthy toddler or child sleep than just how long it lasts. Here, we’re sharing recommendations for sleep needs by age, and digging into all things kiddy sleep. Plus, you’ll find 11 tips for helping your little one (finally!) go to bed and get all the Zzz they need.
Why Is Sleep Important For Toddlers & Kids?
It’s not all about how many hours of sleep your kid gets—although that is important too. Healthy sleep involves getting quality shut eye consistently, at the right time, and without any disturbances. Having a good nightly snooze affects all aspects of your child’s mental and physical health, but it’s also crucial for everything from their learning, memory, emotions, and attention span to their overall quality of life.
Not getting enough sleep at night can have ramifications on all those key components of your kid’s health, and lead to developmental issues. Lack of sleep can also increase their risk of accidents, injuries, and depression. Issues like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure are also linked to poor sleep habits over time. On the flip side, overcompensating by sleeping more than they need to consistently can also put your child at risk of health concerns. As with so many things in life, it is about finding the right balance that will set your child up for sleep success for years to come.
Of course, if you’re concerned at all about how much sleep your little one is getting, it’s always best to talk to your doctor.
How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need?
As your toddler grows, their sleep patterns will become more similar to yours, but a good night’s sleep is still a major factor in their health. Not getting enough sleep at this age can affect their cognition, behavior, mental health, and weight. Napping is especially important, as it plays a crucial role in their motor skills development, memory consolidation, and attention span.
Sleep is inarguably important, but how much sleep does a toddler need? According to the AASM’s sleep by age chart, your toddler ages 1 to 2 years old should regularly get 11 to 14 hours of sleep, including naps. By the time they close in on the big 3, they don’t need multiple naps—dozing for one long nap should be enough.
Thanks to some rather major milestone moments, you might notice other changes in their sleep around 2 to 3 years old. For example, most older toddlers will graduate from their crib to a big kid bed. They also might become a bit resistant to bedtime in general: What? And miss all the fun? Potty training can also change their sleep habits until they get used to holding it through the night. The thought of being apart from you as you continue your night without them might even give them a bit of separation anxiety. Awakening during the night and/or having trouble falling asleep are also common occurrences in toddlerhood. If your little one is struggling with nightmares or nighttime fears, it is totally normal at this stage.
Safety also becomes more of a concern. Your toddler is increasingly curious about the world around them. While that might be fun to see, with curiosity comes an increased need for caution. Items that are in their crib or bed, the crib or bed themselves, or the room around them become grounds for investigation.
To be on the safe side, be sure there are no strings or ties like cords on blinds or curtains near where they sleep that they could get tangled up in. Likewise, keep any potentially dangerous objects like pictures or articles on top of a heavy dresser (which you should anchor to the wall) out of their reach. If your kid is very active and they’re still sleeping in a crib, it might be best to move them to a bed to avoid them trying to climb over it. In the same vein, if they’re still in a crib at the moment, be sure to remove any large stuffed animals or toys they could use to hoist themselves up. Toddlers can be creative little explorers.
How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
By the time your child is preschool age—about 3 to 5—they no longer require a nap, though they can still benefit from hitting the hay during the day. To be sure their snoozes are healthy and not interfering with their nighttime sleep, try and create a routine where they go down at the same time for about an hour, or even just get a bit of quiet “me” time in their room. All in all, your preschool-aged little one should be getting 10 to 13 hours of sleep in 24 hours—including that one hour doze.
It’s also common for your 3- to 5-year old to still have some sleep issues, like protesting bedtime, nighttime fears, waking up frequently, and nightmares. They may also have sleep terrors, wake up frequently, or even sleepwalk.
Between 6 and 12 years old, they should be sleeping 9 to 12 hours with no nap during the day. And by the time they’re teenagers, 8 to 10 hours is best for their health.
Tips For Getting Your Toddler or Older Child To Sleep
We know, ensuring your toddler or child sleeps through the night—and goes to bed to begin with—can be challenging. But understand that you’re not alone. An incredible 25-50% of children have sleep issues, and the same is true for 40% of teens. The key to helping them is sticking to a routine, practicing good sleep hygiene—like turning off any screens an hour or two before bedtime and going to bed at the same time each night—and closely monitoring any sleep disorders.
A range of excuses, like But I’m not tired or My tummy hurts, tend to abound around bedtime. However, if you’ve realized that the latter is not just an excuse, try keeping some Childrens Mylicon on hand. It’s the only kids’ medication that treats gas and bloating, as well as multiple other symptoms including heartburn and discomfort from overeating. Whatever the issue, try these tips to help your child get a good, full night’s sleep so they can grow up healthy and strong.
Create that routine: Research shows that a consistent bedtime routine can help kids at any age (and you too). Try to do the same nighttime activities every night, at the same time, whether that be brushing their teeth, putting on their PJs, reading, singing, bathing, or choosing a stuffed animal to sleep with.
Don’t watch scary or violent content: This may seem like an obvious one, but even seemingly innocuous Disney villains can scare children. And violence is pervasive in the media—kids’ movies and shows included. So, at bedtime, you may just want to . . .
Set a screen curfew: While this can be a bit difficult, since we’re surrounded by screens these days, try and set a consistent time every night when all screens in the house are turned off. The blue light emitted from screens suppresses their (and your) natural sleep hormone, melatonin, making it harder to wind down.
Don’t wait until they’re already asleep: It may seem intuitive to carry your kid to bed if they fall asleep on the couch. But putting them to bed when they’re sleepy, not conked out, helps them learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Exercise is key: People of all ages can benefit from exercise in the daytime, for their health, but also for their sleep. Children typically benefit from at least an hour of physical activity during the day. But . . .
Avoid exhausting them: Although your child needs regular exercise, avoid the urge to tire them out before bed. Doing so can actually backfire, because if they’re overtired, it can actually make it harder for you to put them down and harder for them to catch some Zzz. Try to identify the sweet spot—when they’re tired, but not too sleepy—so you can tuck them in before things go haywire. And try to avoid heavy activity around two hours before bedtime.
Put down the caffeine: We all know caffeine can do wonders to keep you awake, which is exactly why it should be avoided for at least six hours before your kid goes to bed. Better yet, cut it completely out of their diet.
Make their bedroom a sleep haven: Making your child’s bedroom as comfy as possible at night is vital to them getting a quality snooze. For instance, their body and brain go through a “chill out” phase when they’re getting ready to sleep, so lower the temperature a few degrees. If you have dimmers throughout your home or in their bedroom, use them as bedtime nears. Block out any sound as best you can with noise-blocking curtains or a fan or white noise machine. Even calming scents, such as lavender, can help soothe them to sleep.
Use stress-reducing tactics: It’s a sad truth, but childhood anxiety is on the rise, and it’s likely to continue its trajectory. Introduce your kid to some relaxing habits like mindfulness activities such as meditation; there are even child-friendly meditations you can do together before bed. These include simple exercises like guided imagery, body awareness, and breathing techniques.
Have a “worry time”: Your kid leans on you for support when they worry, which is great. But be careful not to discuss any worries right before bed. Instead, find a set time during the day to talk about them and how to handle them, so they don’t keep them up at night.
Encourage journaling: If your little one is old enough to write, it may help them to get their thoughts on paper. Try to encourage them to write about happy moments that occurred during the day. By focusing on them, it can help your child feel more secure.
Next: Mommies need sleep too. We know, far easier said than done. Check out our Mommy Sleep Guide to get some tips to help you hit the hay—and stay there as long as you can.