As a parent to two children under the age of three, I know that a good night’s sleep is important for everyone in the family. For toddlers, sleep is vital to their mental and physical development. When a child is sleeping, their brain is processing what they have learned and experienced, retaining the information for the future. It is also during deep sleep that the body releases many of the hormones related to growth. Your child’s immune system is also dependent on good sleep. Poor sleep habits have also been related to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many other diseases.
As a pediatrician, I answer a lot of questions about toddlers and sleep, how to create a sleep schedule, how much naptime is necessary and more. Here are answers to the top five frequently asked questions. Remember, it is important to realize that every child and situation is different. Be sure to follow up with your CPCMG pediatrician to discuss any sleep-related issues.
1. How much sleep does my toddler need?
Toddlers need between 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, including naps. Typical bedtimes can range from 6pm to 8pm, although your family’s schedule may affect what time is best for your child.
2. How many naps does my toddler need?
Toddlers should start with two naps per day, and each nap should last a minimum of 30 minutes to complete a full sleep cycle. Once they get closer to 2 years of age, one of those two naps can get shorter and eventually be cut out of the schedule. Remember that each child is different. Also, naps late in the day can affect your child’s scheduled bedtime.
3. When should my toddler stop sleeping in a crib and start sleeping in a bed?
Sleeping in a crib is safe up until 18 to 24 months of age (your child should be around 35 inches tall). At this point, most kids are able to start crawling out of the crib, so they should be transitioned into a toddler bed. Some parents may try a mattress on the floor or a smaller bed with a guard rail.
The transition from the crib to a bed can be a tough one. Help ease this adjustment by giving your child some decision making power in the process – let them choose their own bedding or select which stuffed animals will be in the bed.
4. How can I establish a bedtime routine?
Make a list of steps that you can consistently follow in the same order every night. The bedtime routine will change as your toddler grows, but the basics will remain the same:
• Set a specific bedtime time and stick to it. This helps your toddler’s internal clock adjust more quickly to the routine.
• Keep the hour before bedtime filled with quiet, relaxing activities to help a calm transition into sleep. Skip TV shows, physical activities and games on digital devices.
• Consider a warm and relaxing bath before bedtime.
• Read a story to your child. This creates an opportunity to bond and encourages literacy.
5. Help – my child keeps getting out of bed in the middle of the night!
This can be a challenging situation. Tell your child that they need to sleep and reassure them that you’re just down the hall but that they need to stay in bed. Keep your cool and remain relaxed – if you tense up and get angry, your toddler will respond to your body language and words and get upset. It’s likely that you may need to take your child back to bed more than once, so remember to stay calm. Here are some other ideas to help keep your child in bed:
• Consider a reward like a small toy or book for a full night in bed – this can motivate your child to stay in bed.
• Keeping their bedroom cool, quiet and dark (a “magical” nightlight can provide reassurance).
• Use their bed solely for sleep – no snacking in bed, or watching tv or playing with digital devices in bed.