The truth about toddlers
Toddlers are bundles of energy, interest and excitement, which can make getting them down for a nap or tucked in at night a challenge. The good news is that all of that energy and interesting stimuli can exhaust them, making your job a bit easier.
Toddlers are also far better at communicating their sleep needs — both verbally and through their body language — than infants. Beyond simply telling you they’re sleepy, toddlers might also show general fussiness, want to be held more than usual, and be clumsier than earlier in the day.
According to Dr. Maria Gray, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, if you successfully taught your child how to fall asleep and stay asleep when they were an infant through sleep training, many of those same skills can be used with your toddler.
Universal truths about toddlers and sleep
- Toddlers require approximately 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day, usually split between the nighttime and one or two daytime naps.
- Toddlers should sleep in a crib, toddler bed or big kid bed with safety railings free of large, soft items, such as heavy bedding, pillows, crib bumpers or stuffed animals.
- Toddlers hate to miss out, so keep distracting sounds — older siblings playing, parents talking, TV or music — low when it’s time for sleep.
- Like their parents, some toddlers love their digital toys. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen media before 18 months; only occasional (no more than one hour) screen time with a caregiver up to age 3; and no electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
- Toddlers thrive on routines and a bedtime routine is essential — try a bath and a book or special song to calm and soothe them before tucking them into bed still awake, but drowsy and ready for sleep.
- Toddlers love a lovey — give your toddler a lightweight blanket or small stuffed animal to cuddle at night and during naps.
- Toddlers are mobile and can learn to crawl out of cribs and beds, so make sure your home is toddler-proof with gates or doors blocking access to any unsafe areas, such as stairs.
If your toddler suddenly struggles to go to sleep or stay asleep, new factors may be playing a role. From nightmares caused by their blossoming imagination to an increase in separation anxiety, these troubles can usually be addressed by returning to the tried-and-true tips Dr. Gray recommends for infants:
- Stick to a regular daily schedule — late naps and late nights can throw off a toddler’s sleep cycle and cause irritability — and maintain the same bedtime routine each night. “Creating a consistent routine is the key to successful bedtime and an early bedtime is important so they are not overtired,” she says.
- Use sleep training methods — allow your toddler to fuss for a set amount of time before comforting them, gradually increasing the time you wait before going to them. Increase the time over several nights until your toddler learns how to self-soothe again.
This article is the second in a series of articles on children and sleep. The first article shared tips to get an infant to sleep and future articles will address issues related to sleep in the adolescent and teen stages of life.