Toddler Sleep Training: What You Need to Know
As they get older, your child’s sleep needs change. So what got your baby off like a dream may not work quite as well, matched with your little one’s new-found independent spirit. But if your toddler won’t sleep, don’t despair; some simple changes to their napping or bedtime routine can get them back on track.
How do I get my toddler to sleep?
A sleep routine should leave your toddler relaxed and ready for bed. Avoid returning to the living room or kitchen once you’ve started the wind-down process to build your child’s association between the bedroom/bathroom and sleep.
Bath time should come just before bed – limit it to ten minutes and make sure the water is warm. Afterwards, help your child brush their teeth and dress for bed – dim the lights if you can, to prepare for the arrival of night-time.
Next, read your toddler a story or sing a soothing lullaby in dimmed light. This special time provides a great chance to bond with your child, so try not to rush it. If your child starts to drift off, turn off the lights and quietly leave the room. Keep this routine consistent to help strengthen the link between winding down and sleep.
Get to know the noises your child makes when they’re falling asleep so you don’t rush in and wake them when you could both be enjoying some quality down time.
Top tip: If you’re a working parent and come home late, you’ll cherish that short time you spend with your kids before bed. Just keep interactions calm and quiet, so your little ones don’t think it’s playtime.
What if my toddler wakes in the night?
There are two schools of thought on how to get your toddler back to sleep if they missed the memo on going through till a respectable hour. Every child is different, so you may want to try both and see which works best for yours.
The ‘settle and soothe’ method…
1. If your child wakes in the night and becomes distressed, place a reassuring hand on their chest or back or pick them up for a quick cuddle until they stop crying.
2. Use quiet soothing phrases, like “mummy’s here, time to sleep” and put them back into their bed.
3. If they start to cry again, repeat the comforting process until they drift off.
The ‘cry it out’ method…
1. Comfort crying with a cuddle then put your little one back in their bed.
2. This time, instead of staying in the room, switch the lights off and quietly leave.
3. If the crying continues, leave it two minutes before you go back in to comfort.
4. Gradually extend the time you leave your toddler in-between cuddles. Start with five minutes, then increase to seven, then nine etc. until they eventually fall asleep.
Although it might feel difficult to leave your child crying, doing so in a controlled way like this won’t do any harm.
And when the clocks change?
You’ve just got the bedtime routine down and the clock changes throw it all up in the air. If your toddler is sensitive to the light (or lack of) outside, do what you can to prepare them for seasonal changes, so their sleep doesn’t take a hit.
Adjust their bedtime and morning wake by 20 minutes (late or early, depending on whether we’re springing forward or falling back) for three days before the change. Return to your normal routine afterwards.
Top tip: Try blackout blinds in the summer – they don’t need to know it’s still light enough to have a BBQ outside…
How much sleep do toddlers need?
Your toddler’s sleep cycle changes rapidly as they grow, and getting the right routine for each stage rests on how long they need to sleep and when.
Children between the ages of one and three need 11-14 hours of sleep per day. This will include their daytime nap (more on this below). At this age, most toddlers will go to bed between 7pm and 9pm, and will get up between about 6.30am and 8am.
Napping during the day provides your toddler with the extra sleep they need for growth and development, as well as some precious ‘me-time’ for you. When to put your toddler down for a nap depends on how old they are and how many naps they have during the day.
For children aged one to three, one nap per day that lasts between 40 minutes and two hours is about right. Try to set this for after lunch, as a late afternoon nap may mean they struggle to get to sleep at bedtime, while a nap too soon after they wake can make them overtired by the evening.
It’s a myth that missing your toddler’s nap altogether will make them sleep better come bedtime. In fact, without their daytime nap your toddler may become overstimulated, with so many new sights and sounds swimming around their head they won’t be able to drift off in the evening.
Is your not-so-little-one ready for their first bed? Browse our toddler beds and find toy storage solutions over in the Kids Zone.
Looking for baby sleep advice? Read our tips on baby sleep training and become a nap ninja.