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Your Child's Sleep – The Toddler Years (1-3)

1 to 3 Years
Involve your child in the bedtime routine, such as deciding which story to read or which pyjamas to wear

At a Glance

  • Regular routines and timings both at night and for daytime naps encourage your toddler to choose to sleep, and promotes good sleep
  • Your child can still experience disrupted sleep due to separation anxiety, teething, nightmares or night time fears
  • Toddlers sleep on average 14 hours (1 year) and then 12-13 hours (2-3 years)
  • Napping once or twice a day; often naps will have reduced to once per day by 18 months. There are individual differences in how long naps are
  • A few safe toys may keep your child entertained before falling asleep and before calling you to get up in the morning

Your Baby’s Story

SleepyYour child is becoming a toddler, and on average 1-year olds will sleep about 14 hours in total per day. She may still want a couple of naps during the day, though this is likely to decrease to once a day by the time she is about 18 months. Again, this will vary from one child to the next, as will the length of naps (between one to three hours). Sleep experts seem to agree that naps generally should not be taken too close to bedtime, as this may mean your little one finds it more difficult to fall asleep in the evening.

Entering toddlerhood means various factors can interfere with bedtime routines and a good sleep. With increasing experiences, understanding and imagination, nightmares and night time fears are common. It can be hard for your child to separate fantasy from reality, so these night time awakenings can be highly alarming for your little one. Night terrors are common in toddlers, and if it happens to your child you may see screaming and crying or just staring, all without not really awake. He may resist comforting, but will need you to stay close until he has calmed down and feels ready to go back to sleep.

Similarly, separation anxiety continues until two years of age and even longer, depending on the situation your toddler is in and how secure he is feeling about it. Other things you may start to see more of is a drive for independence and therefore wanting a say in when bath time and bedtime should occur. Your child is also becoming more mobile and finding ways to get out of bed, and he may increasingly want to be with you and take part in what you are doing.

Sometimes it may seem an idea to keep your child up for longer so that she gets sleepier, sleeps longer in the morning etc. However, sleep experts tell us that the contrary is true, that your child in fact will find it even harder to fall asleep as she becomes overtired. The result could be more difficult evenings along with daytime sleepiness and behaviour problems. Regular bedtimes and naptimes remain important during the toddler years, as does the routine you know tends to calm and soothe your child. As she gets older, if she is starting to refuse daytime naps, introduce some quiet time around the usual naptime. It could also be that naps work some days, while quiet time with calming activities work better on other days.

Remember that you know your child best and you will find what works best for her. Sometimes it may take a few weeks for you both to find the right things to encourage and support her sleep. Sufficient kip means your child will be more content and easier to manage and talk to.

What You can Do to Support and Encourage Your Toddler's Sleep

Keep to your child’s usual timings and routines for bedtime as much as possible. This is what your child thrives on; it encourages relaxation and a mindset to get ready for bed. As she gets older, if she is starting to refuse daytime naps, introduce some quiet time around the usual naptime. It could also be that naps work some days, while quiet time with calming activities work better on other days.

Child cuddling teddyRules and limits are just as important at bedtime as any other time. Again, consistency is important, as is clear communication of limits and talking calmly about things that may feel difficult or frustrating for your child. See more on this in discipline and Sleep Thieves. It can be useful to keep evening bedtime routine to e.g. max 30 minutes. Your toddler may be getting better and better at finding ways to delay bedtime. A simple and consistent routine often works best, and you can let him make some choices such as which toy to have in the bath and what story to read before bed. This makes him feel involved and that he has some control.

Ensure the bedroom environment is sleep friendly and that the conditions are the same in the room every night and throughout the night (as much as possible).

When your child wakes up during the night, apply the same positive and calming approach as when she was younger. Keep the room dim or dark, speak quietly and provide reassurance. When you know she’s ok, avoid lingering and waking her up by interacting too much.

When nightmares or night terrors occur, stay with your child until he has calmed down – either holding him or just staying close, depending on what he tends to prefer. Once calm, let him talk about the experience if he wants to, then encourage him to go back to sleep. If he has a favourite toy, this can provide comfort and a sense of security.

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