If there’s one rule about sleep habits in babies and children, it’s this: Nothing is set in stone. Babies who were god-awful sleepers can go on to become good snoozers with some time and training. And yep: Those miracle babes who slept through the night at 10 weeks will go through their own share of rough sleep patches at some point.
So even if you feel like you’ve conquered your baby’s biggest sleep problems, don’t get too smug just yet. (Sorry!). There are plenty of other sleep-robbing issues that can crop up as your baby moves into toddler and preschooler stages and starts going through a host of other developmental changes.
While your two- or three-year-old may wake up less in the middle of the night than they did as an infant, now they know how to use their voice and are starting to learn all the various strategies they can use to delay bedtime and keep Mommy and Daddy close by. Enter the “one-more” stage: one more book, one more snuggle, one more glass of water, one more trip to the potty.
Before you keep falling victim to preschooler procrastination and manipulation, check out this advice from pediatricians to help your kiddo sleep better so (let’s be honest) you can too.
Understanding Toddler and Preschooler Sleep Timeline
“As your child gets older, their need for sleep the amount of hours decreases,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at the Mount Sinai Hospital and HealthiNation’s chief medical editor. A typical amount of sleep for toddlers and preschoolers can range from:
Ages 2 to 3 years: 11 to 14 hours of sleep
Ages 4 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours of sleep
Your toddler’s nap schedule will change, too. Kids around 15 to 18 months usually start only needing one nap a day; once they reach 4 to 5 years of age, they may not even need to nap anymore. (Sigh: the end of an era.)
“It’s still great if they do want a nap, because it is [helps] consolidate that information that they’re learning through the day, but if it’s affecting their nighttime sleep, and they’re fighting you on the nap, it’s OK to let it go,” says Dr. Parikh.
How to Deal With Your Toddler’s Biggest Sleep Issues
When switching from crib to toddler bed…
Many kids are very happy in their crib for a long time, but around ages 2 to 3, many toddlers are will force the move to a “big kid” bed for you … by climbing out of the crib. “There are those really rambunctious kids whose whole purpose in life is to get out of their crib, and that could be dangerous,” says Dyan Hes, MD, a pediatrician who is double-board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine. “If you see that your kid is one of those babies who’s trying to put their leg over, that might be time to get them into a toddler bed.”
When your kid keeps coming into your room…
When your child does finally make the switch to a big-kid bed, parents usually find that their kid can get out of their bed and come into mom and dad’s room, says Dr. Parikh. And why would she want to sleep solo when we can snuggle with her favorite people in the world? “You just have to be very consistent about putting your child back in their bed and walking out. Don’t start negotiating, don’t have a conversation. Even if they’re screaming crying, you lay them back down and you walk out. Because the more you talk to them, they more they’re winning. They’re engaging you and they’re getting a response,” says Dr. Hes.
When your child can’t fall asleep without you by his side…
If your child needs you to fall asleep with them or lay next to them before they can conk out, try this tactic: Start moving yourself further and further away from the bed each night, says Dr. Parikh. “So one night you’ll be sitting next to them, then the next night you’re a couple feet away. And you reassure them, say, ‘I’m right here,’ say, ‘everything’s OK,’ then the next night you move further away. Until you can actually get out of the room,” says Dr. Parikh.
When your toddler piles on the “delay tactics”...
“Many toddlers and school age children have delay tactics to not go to sleep, says Dr. Hes. These “delay tactics” might be them saying they’re thirsty or insisting that they have to go to the bathroom (even though you know they just went).
A way to solve this problem is to reassure your child that they’ve already done everything that they need to do before bedtime. “You can curate a nice chart for them and say, ‘See you drank and you went to the bathroom and you’re all set,’” says Dr. Parikh. “And then when they do start calling you from the bed, don’t go in. Just call back saying, ‘You’re fine you already drank, you went to the bathroom.’ Because if you do start responding to them every time they see that it works.”
The Ideal Bedtime Routine for Young Children
“The most important thing for toddler’s sleep is making sure you have a consistent routine,” says Dr. Parikh. To help your toddler transition into sleep mode, try:
Giving a warm bath
Reading a nighttime story together
Making the environment conducive to sleep by dimming the lights and noise
Having a routine helps your child understand that this is what they’re going to do every night, says Dr. Parikh. “Which helps them facilitate going to bed in a happy way.”
Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D'Ambrosio C, et al. Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016;12(6):785-786. Published 2016 Jun 15.
How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need? Arlington, VA: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on February 27, 2022 at https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-much-sleep-do-babies-and-kids-need)