How Can I Help My Toddler Sleep Well at Night?

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 5 minutes

What should I know to help my toddler sleep through the night?

  • Learn how much sleep your toddler needs

  • Understand the role of a bedtime routine

  • Create an optimal sleep environment to help your little one sleep well

Having a toddler that doesn’t sleep through the night can be exhausting. Not only that, but if your little one isn’t meeting their sleep needs it may affect how they learn, their behavior, and even health issues in the future.1

Read on to learn how to help your toddler sleep better at night.

How much sleep does my child need per day (including their nap)?

  • Toddlers: 1 to 2 years old need 11 to 14 hours

  • Preschoolers: 3 to 5 years old need 10 to 13 hours1,2,3,4,5

Step 1: Create a bedtime routine

A consistent bedtime routine can help your child thrive.1 It helps your little one feel more comfortable, secure, and may even decrease stress for your family at nighttime.6,7 With a predictable set of activities before bed each night, your child will know that their bedtime is approaching.7

The goal is to create a bedtime routine that you can do anywhere and which includes the same pattern each night.1

Let your little one know that bedtime is approaching by starting relaxing activities such as reading a book, taking a bath, cuddling, or listening to soft music.89 Starting the routine at the same time each night is also important.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests the routine of brushing your child’s teeth, reading books, and going to bed at the same time every night.7

Read more: How do I Create a Bedtime Routine for my Infant and Toddler?

Have questions about your toddler’s sleep or nighttime feeding pattern? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!

Step 2: Set up the optimal sleep environment for your toddler

Once your toddler is asleep, an optimal sleep environment may help your little one stay asleep, while a safe environment can keep them out of harm’s way.

A cool sleeping space

Keeping a slightly cooler temperature at night may promote sleep, make your little one more comfortable, and help decrease perspiration.9 Depending on your child’s age, a blanket could be a source of comfort and warmth.10,11

Note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends blankets, dolls, stuffed animals, and other ‘loveys’ are used only after 1 year.9

A quiet sleeping space

While the AAP recommends keeping noise levels low, many caregivers choose to use sound machines to help block background noises and soothe little ones to sleep.9

A study tested sound machines and found that all but one sound machine were above the recommended noise level for infants.12

To protect your little one’s ears, lower the sound machine volume and keep it at least 200 centimeters (about 6 feet) away from them.12

A dark sleeping space

Melatonin is a hormone that increases at night and helps your little one sleep.14,15

Light can suppress melatonin and trick your child’s body into thinking it is daytime.5,16 Blue light from screens (tablets, cell phones, computers, or TVs) has been shown to have the biggest impact on melatonin suppression, resulting in difficulty sleeping.

To help with this, keep screens out of your child’s room, especially at night; and avoid using electronics starting about an hour before bed.9,10 This is a good recommendation for everyone in the family, but especially for a toddler who is not sleeping enough.1,16

A safe sleeping space

Toddlers are known escape artists, so you’ll want to keep their room as safe as possible. Bolt all the furniture to the walls and secure drawers with childproof latches.17

A gate at the door and at the top of the stairs may also be necessary, especially for a toddler who may be waking up at night while you are still sound asleep.17

Learn more: Setting up a Safe Sleep Environment

Tips to help your toddler sleep through the night

Ensure your toddler’s schedule is age-appropriate

As children age, they are able to withstand longer periods of wakefulness.

If your toddler is having trouble falling asleep at bedtime; waking up at night; won’t sleep through the night; or waking too early in the morning, it could be that your little one is getting too much day sleep or is napping too late in the day for their age and stage of development.18

Learn more here: How do I Transition my Child to a New Nap Time?

Try an earlier bedtime

It turns out that children who go to bed later may take more time to fall asleep and often do not sleep for long enough.19,20,21

At the same time, studies are showing the advantages of an earlier bedtime. Putting young children to bed early not only allows them to better meet their sleep needs but also has long-term benefits.19

For example, children who are put to bed before 9pm may be less likely to have attention and behavioral issues when they are older.22 An earlier bedtime may also reduce the risk of developmental delays such as with language and motor function.23

Try using pictures to establish the bedtime routine

Toddlers respond very well to visuals.

You could try creating a picture chart displaying the elements of your toddler’s bedtime routine with the last thing being sleep. Point to the picture as you complete each task so your toddler is ready for the transition into their bed or crib.24

Could it be a sleep regression?

If your toddler was sleeping well and then suddenly is not, your little one may be going through a sleep regression. These are temporary changes in sleep patterns, often involving waking more at night or refusing to nap.

While frustrating, a sleep regression is often a sign that your little one is going through a growth spurt in physical, cognitive, or emotional development.25

Read more: What are Sleep Regressions?

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Why is My Toddler Waking Up So Early?

Sleep Challenges in Babies and Toddlers: Adjusting to Traveling, Seasonal, and Holiday Time Changes

What Are Typical Sleep Patterns For Toddlers?

When Should My Child Stop Taking Naps?