RD, LDN, CBS
Certified in Maternal and Infant Nutrition from Cornell, Angela’s mission is to help people reach their wellness goals. She also helps run a program that teaches pregnant women about how a healthy lifestyle optimizes prenatal and postnatal care.
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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.
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.1,6,7 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.8,9 Starting the routine at the same time each night is also important.8
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: Establishing a Bedtime Routine for Your Child
Have questions about your toddler’s sleep or nighttime feeding pattern? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!
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.
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. 9,10,11
Note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends blankets, dolls, stuffed animals, and other ‘loveys’ are used only after 1 year.9
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
Melatonin is a hormone that increases at night and tells your little one’s body that it is time to sleep.10,13,14,15 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.10,13,16
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. 1,9,10 This is a good recommendation for everyone in the family, but especially for a toddler who is not sleeping enough.1,13,16
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
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: Transitioning to a New Nap Pattern
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,19 but also has long term benefits.
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
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
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?
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!
Read more about the experts that help write our content!
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Sleep Patterns: What’s Typical for a Toddler?
When Should Your Child Stop Taking Naps?
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need? Accessed 10 August 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/healthy-sleep-habits-how-many-hours-does-your-child-need.aspx
2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Recharge with sleep: Pediatric Sleep Recommendations Promoting Optimal Health. Accessed 2 September 2021. https://aasm.org/recharge-with-sleep-pediatric-sleep-recommendations-promoting-optimal-health/
3. Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D’Ambrosio C, et al. Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on the Recommended Amount of Sleep for Healthy Children: Methodology and Discussion. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016;12(11):1549-1561. Published 2016 Nov 15. doi:10.5664/jcsm.6288. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5078711/
4. Prokasky A, Fritz M, Molfese VJ, Bates JE. Night-to-Night Variability in the Bedtime Routine Predicts Sleep in Toddlers. Early Child Res Q. 2019;49:18-27. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2019.05.004 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7082845/
5. Hale L, Kirschen GW, LeBourgeois MK, et al. Youth Screen Media Habits and Sleep: Sleep-Friendly Screen Behavior Recommendations for Clinicians, Educators, and Parents.Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2018;27(2):229-245. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2017.11.014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5839336/
6. Mindell JA, Williamson AA. Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond. Sleep Med Rev. 2018;40:93-108. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2017.10.007 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6587181/
7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Brush, Book, Bed: How to Structure Your Child’s Nighttime Routine. Accessed 9 September 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/oral-health/Pages/Brush-Book-Bed.aspx
8. American Academy of Pediatrics. Toddler Bedtime Trouble: Tips for Parents. Accessed 10 August 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Bedtime-Trouble.aspx
9. American Academy of Pediatrics. A Lullaby for Good Healthy. Accessed 19 August 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/A-Lullaby-for-Good-Health.aspx
10. American Academy of Pediatrics. Sleep Tips for Your Family’s Mental Health. Accessed 10 August 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Sleep-and-Mental-Health.aspx
11. American Academy of Pediatrics. Reduce the Risk of SIDS and Suffocation. Accessed 16 September 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Preventing-SIDS.aspx
12. American Academy of Pediatrics. Can Infant Sleep Machines Be Hazardous to Babies Ears? Accessed 8 September. 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Can-Infant-Sleep-Machines-Be-Hazardous-to-Babies-Ears.aspx
13. American Academy of Pediatrics. Melatonin and Children’s Sleep. Accessed 11 August 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Melatonin-and-Childrens-Sleep.aspx
14. Lee SI, Matsumori K, Nishimura K, et al. Melatonin suppression and sleepiness in children exposed to blue-enriched white LED lighting at night. Physiol Rep. 2018;6(24):e13942. doi:10.14814/phy2.13942 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6295443/
15. Shigekazu Higuchi, Yuki Nagafuchi, Sang-il Lee, Tetsuo Harada, Influence of Light at Night on Melatonin Suppression in Children, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 99, Issue 9, 1 September 2014, Pages 3298–3303, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2014-1629
16. American Academy of Pediatrics. Why to Limit Your Child’s Media Use. Accessed 13 August 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/The-Benefits-of-Limiting-TV.aspx
17. American Academy of Pediatrics. Big Kid Beds: When to Make the Switch. Accessed 11 August 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Big-Kid-Beds-When-To-Make-the-Switch.aspx
18. Nakagawa M, Ohta H, Nagaoki Y, Shimabukuro R, Asaka Y, Takahashi N, Nakazawa T, Kaneshi Y, Morioka K, Oishi Y, Azami Y, Ikeuchi M, Takahashi M, Hirata M, Ozawa M, Cho K, Kusakawa I, Yoda H. Daytime nap controls toddlers’ nighttime sleep. Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 9;6:27246. doi: 10.1038/srep27246. PMID: 27277329; PMCID: PMC4899693. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27277329/
19. Mindell JA, Meltzer LJ, Carskadon MA, Chervin RD. Developmental aspects of sleep hygiene: findings from the 2004 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll. Sleep Med. 2009 Aug;10(7):771-9 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19285450/
20. Iwata S, Iwata O, Iemura A, Iwasaki M, Matsuishi T. Sleep architecture in healthy 5-year-old preschool children: associations between sleep schedule and quality variables. Acta Paediatr. 2012 Mar;101(3):e110-4 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22054070/
21. Yokomaku A, Misao K, Omoto F, Yamagishi R, Tanaka K, Takada K, Kohyama J. A study of the association between sleep habits and problematic behaviors in preschool children. Chronobiol Int. 2008 Jul;25(4):549-64 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18622815/
22. Kobayashi K, Yorifuji T, Yamakawa M, Oka M, Inoue S, Yoshinaga H, Doi H. Poor toddler-age sleep schedules predict school-age behavioral disorders in a longitudinal survey. Brain Dev. 2015 Jun;37(6):572-8 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25459967/
23. Lemura A, Iwasaki M, Yamakawa N, Tomiwa K, Anji Y, Sakakihara Y, Kakuma T, Nagamitsu S, Matsuishi T. Influence of sleep-onset time on the development of 18-month-old infants: Japan Children’s cohort study. Brain Dev. 2016 Apr;38(4):364-72. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26602742/
24. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Tips and Ideas for Making Visuals to Support Young Children with Challenging Behavior. http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu. Accessed September 8, 2021. http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/modules/module3b/handout2.pdf
25. Hedwig H.C. Van De Rijt-Plooij PhD & Frans X. Plooij PhD(1992)Infantile regressions: Disorganization and the onset of transition periods, Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 10:3, 129-149 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02646839208403946