Toddler sleep patterns

In the first few months your baby slept intermittently between feeds, but now your child is a toddler you’ve probably noticed some major changes in sleep patterns. You may also find bedtimes are more of a struggle these days if your toddler refuses to sleep when it’s time for light’s out.

Find out how much sleep a toddler needs, how to help your toddler get to sleep, how to deal with some common sleep challenges and other great tips and advice.

How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need?

Experts recommend that toddlers sleep around 11 to 14 hours in every 24 hours, including one or two daytime naps between the age of 1 and 2 years old. By the age of 3 years old, your toddler may be sleeping a little less than this, at approximately 10 to 13 hours.

However, keep in mind that every child is different so your toddler may need a little more or less shuteye than this.

How Much Sleep Do Toddlers Need?
AgeHours of SleepNaps
4 to 12 months12 to 16As many as needed
1 to 2 years11 to 141 or 2
3 to 5 years10 to 131 or 2
Source: NHS

 

Toddler Naps

From the age of 12 months old, as a part of their daily sleep routine, most toddlers need 1 or 2 naps a day, lasting a total of 2 to 2.5 hours. This is only a very rough guide though, as some children nap less while others may spend more time asleep during the day.

The amount of time spent napping may start to decrease from around 18 months old, and most – but not all – children stop having naps sometime between the age of 3 and 4 years old.

Things That Can Affect Your Toddler’s Sleep

Sometimes, bedtimes with a toddler can be challenging! With all the adventures your little one is having exploring the world around them, sleep is often the last thing on their mind.

Your child may be excited after mastering a new skill like walking or standing on tiptoes, and eager to keep doing it. Or maybe you have guests round or your toddler has a new sibling. It’s understandable if your child doesn’t want to miss out on all the fun – so these are times when you might find your toddler refuses to sleep.

At other times, your toddler may still have reserves of energy left over at the end of the day after having a longer or later nap than usual.

On top of these, your toddler’s growing independence and desire to test boundaries can also make it more likely that sometimes your toddler will resist going to sleep or maybe even getting into bed.

Other factors that can affect your toddler’s sleep include:

  • Separation anxiety. Your child may feel pangs of anxiety when you leave the room or get upset if you’re not there when they wake in the night. This is a normal part of your toddler’s emotional development, especially between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old. Consider staying in the room a little longer to comfort you child.

  • Illness. Coughs, colds and other common childhood illnesses can affect your toddler’s sleep, especially if they have a fever.

  • Teething symptoms can keep your toddler awake.

  • Artificial light. Having too many lights on at bedtime can stimulate your toddler’s brain, making them feel wide awake when it’s time to be getting drowsy.

  • Changes in routine. You and/or your partner returning to work, your child starting nursery or preschool or any other changes to the daily routine in your household can easily disrupt your toddler’s sleep patterns.

  • Moving out of the cot. It might take your child a little time to adjust when switching from a cot to a ‘bid kid’ bed.

  • Growth spurts. Sleep patterns change naturally as your toddler grows, and periods of faster growth – known as growth spurts – can also disrupt your child’s sleep.

In Summary

Your toddler’s sleep patterns change constantly as your child grows and develops, while various factors from separation anxiety, illness and teething symptoms to changes in routine or just an excess of energy can lead to sleep regression, or just make getting your toddler to sleep a little bit more challenging at times.

How to Ease Toddler Sleep Problems

If you’re finding bedtimes a struggle, there are plenty of ways to help your toddler with getting to sleep. Perhaps the most important of these is to establish a regular bedtime routine.

Other ways of helping your toddler get off to sleep more easily include:

  • Burn off excess energy. Taking your toddler out for fun and exciting activities together during the day can help your little adventurer get a better night’s sleep.

  • Darken the room. Artificial light should be kept to a minimum at bedtime, and blackout curtains can also help keep the room dark during long summer evenings.

  • Choose bedtime wisely. Put your toddler to bed when they are tired, but not overtired. Although a regular routine is generally good, sometimes it makes sense to occasionally bring bedtime forward if you can see your little one’s ready to sleep or delay it a little if your child seems very wide awake.

  • Wind down before bed. Avoid energetic games and do quiet activities with your toddler – such as reading together, drawing or doing puzzles – in the hour or so before it’s time for bed.

  • Stay a little longer. If your toddler gets anxious when you leave the room and need comforting, it’s fine to stay in the room a bit longer. Your presence will be reassuring, and later you can gradually reduce the amount of time you spend in the room.

  • Try sleep training. If your child still finds it difficult to sleep, consider trying some of these sleep training methods, or ask your health visitor or doctor for advice.

Getting Your Toddler to Sleep with a Bedtime Routine

When it comes to helping your toddler get a good night’s sleep, a regular and familiar bedtime routine can really make the difference. You can start to introduce a bedtime routine from as early as 3 months old, but if you haven’t yet, now is a good time to start.

The key when creating a simple bedtime routine is to keep things calm and consistent in the period before your toddler’s bedtime so that your child learns to recognise that the time for sleep is coming.

Here are some ideas for what you can include in your toddler’s bedtime routine:

  • A warm (but not too hot) relaxing bath

  • Brushing teeth

  • Changing into pyjamas and a fresh nappy

  • A bedtime story

  • A cuddle and a goodnight kiss.

It’s also a good idea to

  • avoid the use of screens – such as the television, computers, smart phones and other devices – in the hour before bed

  • stop any energetic, active play and running around well in advance – take a little time to wind down before bedtime

  • dim the lights in your toddler’s bedroom

  • close the curtains

  • check that the room temperature is comfortable for your toddler – between 16 and 20 degrees C is ideal.

In Summary

A bedtime routine helps your toddler recognise when it’s time to start winding down at the end of the day, while the story, a relaxing bath and the goodnight cuddle and kiss can make bedtime something to look forward to.

Moving From the Cot to A Bed

There’s no hard and fast rule about when to switch from a cot to a child’s bed, but if your toddler seems close to being able to climb over the bars it’s probably time to make the transition.

Check the manufacturer’s instructions for guidance on age, height and weight limits for your child’s cot, and if you’re in any doubt ask your health visitor for personalised advice.

When your little one does trade up from a cot to a bed, you might experience some restless nights or sleep regression until your toddler gets used to the new sleeping arrangements.

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Sleep Safety for Toddlers

Keep your toddler safe at night by taking a few safety precautions:

  • Check the cot manufacturer’s instructions about lowering the mattress height as your baby grows. It needs to be lowered before your child is able to crawl over the rail

  • Don’t leave extra stuffed toys or pillows in the cot, as your toddler might use these to scale the railing

  • Move your toddler to a child’s bed if they will soon be able to crawl over the crib rails even with the mattress at the lowest setting

  • Place a mattress next to your toddler’s bed or add bed rails to prevent your child accidentally rolling out of the bed and hitting the floor

  • Keep your toddler’s crib or bed away from windows, curtains and electrical or other cords that could pose a strangulation risk

  • Remove any objects with strings, like mobiles, that could get caught around your toddler’s neck once they are able to reach them from the cot.

Teeth Grinding During Sleep

You may notice your child grinds or clenches their teeth or jaws in his sleep. Teeth grinding — known also by its medical name, bruxism — is quite common in kids. The good news is most children outgrow this problem.

Children are most likely to experience teeth grinding around the time their baby teeth or adult teeth appear. The good news is most children outgrow this problem by the time their adult teeth are fully formed.

Speak to your child’s dentist or your health visitor or doctor if you’re worried about your toddler’s teeth grinding or if it’s interfering with your little one’s sleep.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

  • A 2-year-old toddler needs on average between 11 and 14 hours of sleep, including 1 or 2 daytime naps. Keep in mind, however all toddlers are different, so if your child may sleep more or less than this.


    If you are worried that your toddler is sleeping a lot or too little, ask your health visitor or doctor for personalised advice.

  • Your toddler’s sleep patterns can change any time – including temporary periods of sleep regression – especially if disrupted by

    • changes in routine
    • upheavals like moving house or the arrival of a new sibling
    • growth spurts
    • separation anxiety
    • excitement at reaching new developmental milestones
    • minor ailments like coughs, colds or teething.
  • There is no standard bedtime for a 2-year-old. Experiment with a bedtime that works for your child. You may need to adjust naptimes if your child isn’t tired enough by bedtime.

  • It’s very common for bedtimes with a toddler to be challenging! Reasons your little one might refuse to sleep or have trouble dropping off include:

    • Your toddler is excited after learning a new skill, like climbing stairs or kicking a ball, and wants to do it some more
    • There’s something interesting going on in your house – maybe a favourite grandparent, uncle or aunt is visiting – and your child doesn’t want to miss out on any of the fun
    • Your child has had a longer or later nap than usual, or didn’t have a very active day, and still needs to burn off some energy
    • A growth spurt is interfering with your child’s usual sleep pattern
    • Your toddler is testing the boundaries of their new-found independence.
  • A bedtime routine and a consistent sleep schedule should make it easier to get your toddler to sleep through the night. Sleep training can also help your child learn how to fall back to sleep without calling out for you or crawling out of bed to come and find you.

The Bottom Line

Toddlers need a lot of sleep and benefit in many ways from getting a good night’s sleep. But as you no doubt know, getting your toddler to fall asleep is more challenging than just turning off the lights and saying ‘good night’ – especially the case if your child is excited about something that happened during the day or experiencing separation anxiety.

Having a consistent bedtime routine and ensuring that your toddler has a comfortable and relaxing sleep environment can help your toddler learn that when it’s bedtime they need to be tucked up in bed ready to rest.

You may also need to play around with your toddler’s sleep schedule — being overtired or not tired enough can affect your child’s ability to sleep. Speak to your health visitor if you’re ever unsure about how much your child should be sleeping and at what time.

It's great when your toddler can get to sleep and stay asleep independently. And when that happens, you and your child will both benefit from being well rested the next day. If bedtimes are still a struggle for you and your toddler, hang in there — those sleepless nights associated with babyhood and toddlerhood may soon be a thing of the past!

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.