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Teaching Toddlers Healthy Sleep Habits

Written by: Kokotree

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teach toddlers healthy sleep habits

In the past, we raised our children in a way that was healthy for them and beneficial to their future. We ensured they slept well, ate nutritious food, and exercised regularly. But as parents in today’s fast-paced world, we have so much more to worry about than what goes into our children’s mouths or how much fun they are having at school. We must make sure our little ones get enough sleep so that they can grow up healthy and happy! 

Sleep is essential for all ages, and newborns do not know day from night, so they sleep and wake up at all times. Toddler sleep may vary, which can be challenging for parents to navigate.

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Why do toddlers need sleep?

Do you remember how cranky and grumpy you were when you had a disturbed night? Or when someone woke you up earlier than you needed to? 

Needless to say, sleep is a basic necessity for all living beings and more so for the young ones.

Sleep is critical to a child’s physical, mental, and emotional development. During sleep, a child’s body works to repair, grow, consolidate memories, and regulate hormones.

During sleep, the brain processes information learned during the day and helps to form new memories. It also helps boost the immune system, regulate mood, and improve attention span. According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep daily.

Establishing healthy sleep habits early on can help ensure that your toddler continues to get the restful sleep they need as they grow.  Additionally, getting enough sleep can improve a child’s mood, behavior, and overall health.

While some parents are sure that their kids need no more than five hours’ rest each night (and some go even longer), others feel that their children should be getting at least 10 hours per day–and most agree that any less than seven or eight is detrimental to the child’s health and well-being.

How many hours of sleep do kids need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours of sleep for toddlers:

  • 12-15 months old: 11-14 hours of sleep
  • 15-24 months old: 11-13 hours of sleep
  • 2-3 years old: 10-13 hours of sleep
  • 3-4 years old: 9-12 hours of sleep

Good sleep for toddlers

A night of good quality sleep is defined as getting to sleep and staying asleep without any major interruptions. A restful night allows children to wake up by themselves in the mornings.

Most toddlers will sleep in 20 minutes or less after going to bed. Your little one’s bedtime and morning routines and how exhausted they are can affect how long it takes them to fall asleep. 

Children occasionally wake up during the night, but they are usually not aware of it. Your toddler may also start waking up in the middle of the night due to discomfort, such as teething pain or sickness. Sometimes it may also result from mild separation anxiety. 

Although there is no need to be overly concerned as chances are that they will outgrow it, here are some things you can do to make bedtimes go more smoothly.

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Help your toddler sleep better

A regular bedtime routine benefits everyone. However, it is especially important for children.  It also helps them develop good habits for the future. Lack of sleep commonly results in a number of behavioral and health issues, including irritability, difficulties concentrating, hypertension, obesity, headaches, and depression.

Children getting enough sleep have healthier immune systems and better performance at school, behavior, memory, and mental health.

At this age, there are some things you can do to make sure your child can settle and sleep through the night. 

Remember patience is key! Teaching a toddler good sleep habits won’t happen overnight. If you consistently follow the same bedtime ritual, gradually your toddler will grow accustomed to it.

1. Stick to a routine

Healthy sleep habits are facilitated by a regular bedtime routine. Try to begin at roughly the same time each night. This way your toddler will recognize that it is almost time for bed. 

Put on some relaxing music, read them a story, or give them a bath during this time.

Playing with your child before bed may be tempting, but active play can keep your child up all night from excitement.

Try to keep your child’s bedtime and wake-up time consistent even during weekends by allowing them to sleep in for no longer than 1-2 hours. Adjusting your toddler’s routine for the weekend allows you a few extra hours to catch up on some rest without dysregulating your toddler’s body clock. 

2. Give your toddler choices

As your toddler gets older, they start to challenge the boundaries of their growing independence by trying to take charge of their world. Allowing your child to make decisions throughout the evening routine, such as which bedtime story to listen to and what night clothes to wear, can help prevent power clashes at bedtime. 

The secret is to only present choices that you are content with.

Don’t ask, “Are you ready for bed now?” for instance. Your toddler might throw you a curveball by saying “No!”. Alternatively, ask if they want to go to bed immediately or after a listening story. No matter which option they select, you win. And while still giving your toddler the satisfaction of making a choice!

3. Make sure your child feels safe and comfortable at night

If your child fears going to bed or being in the dark, avoid scary TV shows, movies, and computer games. Praising and rewarding your child whenever they’re brave also helps a lot if they experience separation anxiety.

A night light can also help allay their bedtime fears.

Tend to your child’s needs before bedtime so they won’t use them as a reason to put off going to sleep. Fulfill any requests before leaving the room, such as leaving a light on or leaving the door slightly open.


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4. Tone down the lights and sounds

If your child’s bedroom is too noisy or bright, it might keep them up. Melatonin levels are suppressed, and sleepiness is delayed by the blue light emitted by phones, computers, televisions, and tablet screens.

The hour before bedtime, bright light can have the same negative impact on toddlers. Follow these rules to keep light and noise from affecting your toddler’s sleep:

  • Switch off electronics at least one hour before bed.
  • During the night, keep screens out of your child’s room.
  • In preparation for bedtime, turn down the lights an hour before. 
  • If your child uses a night light, pick a warm-colored, dim globe rather than a cool-colored, bright, white one.

5. Make sure your toddler is well fed

Eating a sufficient and regular meal during the evenings decreases the chances of your toddler having any complaints before bedtime.

Your child may become more awake or uncomfortable before bed if they are hungry or too full. They may have a harder time falling asleep as a result. A wholesome breakfast can kick-start your toddler’s body clock in the morning.

6. Get a lot of sunlight during the day

Encourage your little one to make the most of the day by playing outside and getting ample exposure to sunlight. Melatonin is suppressed by bright light.  This will help your toddler feel more alert during the day and drowsy as bedtime approaches. Remember to use appropriate sun protection.

7. Avoid caffeine

Yes, even toddlers are consuming caffeine! Your child’s favorite chocolate milk might be keeping them up. Foods commonly enjoyed by children have surprisingly high levels of caffeine (for a child). 

When it gets late in the day or early in the evening, encourage your child to avoid these things and don’t provide them despite tantrums.

8. Dreams and nightmares 

At this age, toddlers may start to be affected by dreams and nightmares and may find it difficult to distinguish them from reality. Keep an eye on which books your toddler sees right before bed. Choose light storybooks without any disturbing graphics.

Prevent bad habits

Having trouble falling asleep and waking up frequently at night are two of toddlers’ most prevalent sleep issues. What can you do if your child won’t go back to sleep at night despite being old enough to do so?

1. Let your child DIY!

Let your child learn how to calm themselves down by cuddling their favorite stuffed toy, or try a method that works for them. However, keep them from becoming reliant on external factors like feeding, lighting, or music to fall back asleep. This way,  they will require the same things each time they awaken at night before they can fall asleep once more.

2. Avoid sharing a bed

While sharing a bed comes with various risks, sharing a room is fine.

Some parents find co-sleeping to be a blessing, while other parents may see it as a habit they fell into rather than a decision they consciously made.

When a toddler, who previously slept in their own bed, enters your room in the middle of the night, you could feel frustrated. Whether it’s because of recurrent nightmares, sleep regression or bad habits, these disturbances can make it difficult for you to rest. 

As they get older and can no longer fit in your bed, it might help bring forth additional problems and hurt. Hence, it is essential you start out as early as possible to allow your toddler ample time to get used to sleeping on their own. 

3. Don’t entertain calls for attention

When your toddler calls out, avoid going back into their room.

Try the following instead:

  • Before going to bed, make sure they are safe and secure. There is no need to enter their room while they figure out how to go back to sleep if you know enough precautions have been taken.
  • Remember that they just want you to show up most of the time.  So if you show up for any reason, they expect your presence each time they call out, making settling more difficult next time.

4. Don’t pile toys onto your toddler’s bed

Your toddler should know their bed is a place to sleep, not a play area. A security blanket or favorite toy is acceptable and eases separation anxiety. However, avoid placing large stuffed animals or objects in the crib.

Where should my toddler sleep?

At this age, your little one should continue to sleep in a crib.  Blankets are only advised after a child’s first birthday due to the potential risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Placing a thin blanket in your child’s crib at this age is fine.

Avoid giving your toddler anything with knots or strings that could wind up around their neck. Always watch for anything your child might be able to reach while standing in the crib, such as curtains, window blind pulls, photographs, or wall hangings.

Preventing crib adventures.

Your adventurous toddler may be trying to “escape” from the crib by climbing over the railing. Avoid leaving a lot of toys lying about that your child could stack and climb on. A child at this age might use bumper pads as a step, so keep that in mind.

Ensure the crib mattress is positioned as low as it can go if you have a child who likes to crawl out of the crib frequently. Alternatively, you may always lower the side of the cot and provide a stool nearby if your child won’t stop climbing. You won’t have to worry about them falling and hurting themselves at least then. 

If none of this works, consider switching to a toddler bed with a side rail. Keeping your toddler in it may be challenging, but at least you won’t worry about your child climbing out of a crib.

For additional safety, you can install a gate in the room’s doorway, so your young one isn’t wandering around the house without your knowledge. 

Is professional help needed?

If you find that your toddler’s sleep problems persist after you follow these tips, or if you have any other questions or concerns about your toddler getting quality rest, it is a good idea to seek help from a medical professional.

Learn to recognize sleep problems. Commonly seen sleep problems in children include

  • Loud snoring.
  • Long pauses in their breathing when sleeping.
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Nighttime awakenings
  • Stalling and resisting going to bed
  • Sleep apnea, and heavy or loud breathing while sleeping.

Faqs about teaching toddlers healthy sleep habits.

How can I improve my toddler’s sleep habits?

To improve your toddler’s sleep habits, establish a consistent bedtime routine, create a sleep-conducive environment, avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, and ensure your child gets enough physical activity during the day. Encourage self-soothing and teach them to fall asleep on their own.

What is a healthy sleep pattern for toddlers?

A healthy toddler sleeps 11-14 hours daily, including a single nap or two shorter naps. A consistent sleep schedule, regular bedtime routine, and a sleep-conducive environment can promote healthy sleep patterns.

At what age should a child fall asleep on their own?

Most children can learn to fall asleep independently around 4-6 months of age. However, there is always time to teach your child this important skill. Gradual withdrawal and other sleep training methods can help them learn to soothe themselves to sleep.

How do I teach my two-year-old to sleep?

To teach your 2-year-old to sleep, establish a consistent bedtime routine, create a calming sleep environment, and encourage self-soothing. Gradually reduce your involvement in the bedtime routine and consider using a sleep training method like gradual withdrawal or the Ferber method.

How do I fix my toddler’s sleep problems?

Identify any underlying issues, such as anxiety or sleep apnea, to fix your toddler’s sleep problems. Establish a consistent bedtime routine, create a sleep-conducive environment, and consider sleep training methods. Speak with your pediatrician if you have concerns about your child’s sleep.

What causes poor sleep in toddlers?

Various factors, including anxiety, teething, illness, sleep apnea, inconsistent sleep schedules or routines, and environmental factors, like noise or light, can cause poor sleep in toddlers. Addressing these issues and establishing healthy sleep habits can help improve your child’s sleep.

What is the ideal bedtime for a two-year-old?

The ideal bedtime for a 2-year-old is between 7-8 pm, providing them with enough sleep to meet their developmental needs while allowing for a consistent bedtime routine.

What time should my toddler wake up in the morning?

Toddlers should wake up around 6-8 am, depending on their age and sleep needs. However, it’s essential to establish a consistent wake-up time to promote healthy sleep patterns.

At what age can a toddler sleep in a regular bed?

Most toddlers can sleep in a regular bed around 2-3 years old, depending on their developmental and physical readiness. It’s essential to ensure the bed is safe and secure and the child is comfortable with the transition.

Do toddlers eventually learn to sleep on their own?

Yes, most toddlers will eventually learn to sleep independently with the help of consistent sleep routines and sleep training methods. However, every child is different; some may require more time and patience than others.

Should I cuddle my toddler to sleep?

While cuddling your toddler to sleep can be a comforting and soothing experience, it’s vital to encourage self-soothing skills to promote healthy sleep habits. Gradually reducing your involvement in the bedtime routine can help your child learn to fall asleep independently.

Should you stay with your toddler until they fall asleep?

Staying with your toddler until they fall asleep can be helpful in some cases, but it’s essential to encourage self-soothing skills to promote healthy sleep habits. Gradually reducing your involvement in the bedtime routine can help your child learn to fall asleep independently.

Why does my toddler wake up multiple times a night crying?

There can be many reasons why a toddler wakes up multiple times a night crying, including hunger, discomfort, illness, or anxiety. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine and ensuring the toddler is comfortable and safe in their sleeping environment can help minimize nighttime disturbances. Consulting with a pediatrician can also help identify and address any underlying medical or developmental issues.

What is the 2 3 4 schedule?

The 2 3 4 schedule is a sleep routine for toddlers that involves a nap 2 hours after waking up, another 3 hours after waking from the first nap, and bedtime 4 hours after waking from the second nap. This schedule can be a helpful guideline for establishing a consistent sleep routine, but adjusting to each toddler’s needs and preferences is essential.

How do you sleep train a stubborn two-year-old?

Sleep training a stubborn two-year-old can be challenging, but consistency and patience are key. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine and gradually decreasing parental involvement in the sleep process can help encourage independent sleep. Positive reinforcement can also be helpful, such as praise and rewards for good sleeping behavior. It is essential to remain calm and consistent throughout the process and consult with a pediatrician if needed.

Why does my two-year-old still wake up at night?

There can be many reasons why a two-year-old still wakes up at night, including hunger, discomfort, illness, developmental changes, or anxiety. It is essential to establish a consistent bedtime routine and ensure the toddler is comfortable and safe in their sleeping environment. Consulting with a pediatrician can also help identify and address any underlying medical or developmental issues.

What is the Battelle sleep method?

The Battelle Sleep Method is a sleep training method that gradually reduces parental involvement in the sleep process over several nights until the toddler can sleep independently. The way consists of establishing a consistent bedtime routine, gradually decreasing the time spent comforting the toddler before bedtime, and progressively increasing the time before responding to nighttime disturbances. It is vital to remain calm and consistent throughout the process and to consult with a pediatrician if necessary.


You’ve probably found the right combination: a warm bath and a bedtime story to prepare your toddler for bed. Continue doing the same every day, and don’t draw it out. The occasional back rub that seems like a treat may not be so when your child demands it night after night for longer and longer durations. Decide in advance how many times you’ll indulge in requests or tantrums in defiance of bedtime.

When your toddler cannot fall back asleep after waking in the middle of the night, you should still reassure them that everything is fine and you are nearby. However, excessive interaction can backfire, so keep your “visits” quick and boring. As you both grow accustomed to setting and sticking to rules, it will help your child sleep better now and benefit you in the future if other, more serious discipline issues crop up.

Make an effort to be understanding. Your adverse reaction can potentially worsen a sleep issue. Remember that children need time and opportunities to learn how to fall back asleep on their own when they wake up in the middle of the night.

It might be challenging to help your child develop healthy sleeping habits, and getting upset is understandable when you’re being kept up at night. Don’t worry; you got this!

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