Toddler Sleep: How Much They Need, Problems, And More

How Much Sleep Do Toddlers Need? Plus, How To Overcome Hurdles

November 30, 2020 Updated June 16, 2021

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images by Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

If you think sleep gets easier after your child’s first year, we’re very sorry to let you know that toddler sleep is just as much of a minefield as baby sleep. It’s a total bummer, we know, but it also kind of makes sense. Your child is starting to move through the world with independence and more confidence. They’re growing and learning. And as those changes occur, they’re also taking fewer naps throughout the day. A lot is going on! So, it’s best to approach sleep during this developmental phase with a healthy dose of grace (and, perhaps, a steady supply of coffee on standby). On the plus side, you may discover that your kid is the type of toddler who sleeps straight through the night with very few issues. If so, go buy a lottery ticket ASAP.

For the rest of us, this time period may be rife with challenges. Luckily, we’re here to help you avoid some sleep-deprivation mines in the hopes that you — and your kid — might maximize the amount and quality of slumber you’re getting. With that said, let’s talk toddler sleep, mama.

How much sleep does a 2-year-old need?

Between the ages of one year old and three years old, your baby needs between 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day. Usually, that sleep includes one nap during the day.

How is toddler sleep different from baby sleep?

Oh, let us count the ways. First of all, your child requires less sleep per night, going from 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours as an infant to the 11 to 14 hours recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for a toddler. And while it’s normal for an infant to sleep three to four hours during the day spread out over several nap times, toddlers typically transition to one nap a day — and it may only account for one or two hours of daily sleep. That huge change in sleep routine can have a similarly huge effect on sleep during the night.

But children in the toddler years are also just older, more mature, and more aware. They’re asserting their independence. At the same time, they’re starting to feel some pretty intense separation anxiety. What a potent mix of emotions, right? All of that can really make the whole going-to-sleep-in-your-room-by-yourself a whole new type of challenge.

What is a good bedtime for a 2-year-old?

Every child is unique, and every family’s routine is different. There is no one recommended bedtime for all children. Yet, some sleep experts suggest trying to start your bedtime routine around 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., so that your child is (*hopefully*) asleep by eight.

What is a good bedtime routine for a 2-year-old?

We know we keep saying it, but it’s so, so true: Every child is different. Still, there are elements that will help you keep a good bedtime routine.

You can start by making sure the time before bed is quiet and calm. That means no bright lights, no screens, no drinks, or big meals too close to bedtime. You may also want to include a relaxing bath, and of course, as Elmo says, you gotta brushy-brush those teeth.

Once your toddler is ready to be tucked in, you will want to find a quiet activity that they love, like reading a book or enjoying a little calm cuddle or a soothing massage. Maybe try singing some peaceful lullabies. It might require a bit of trial-and-error, but the idea is to find a bedtime routine that your toddler responds to.

What are some toddler sleep problems?

We can’t exactly break down every toddler’s sleep problem. However, there are a few that prove to be more prevalent than others:

Toddler Sleep Regression

One pretty common sleep hurdle you will probably run into during the toddler years is sleep regression, which basically means your toddler has a hard time falling and staying asleep. One way to help soothe your little one to sleep is to give them a stuffed animal. It may not put them straight to bed, but it could make the process smoother. Babies don’t love being left to nap and sometimes having a lovey can make all the difference. This is also your chance to give them their iconic stuffed animal or blanket, which will be mentioned at their wedding or graduation. Of course, you’ll want to take extra care to make sure the toy poses no risk to your sleeping child.

Night Terrors and Nightmares

There are also night terrors, which — while terrifying — are pretty common. Of course, there are plain nightmares, which you can comfort your kids through. It’s important to never dismiss your child’s nightmares as just dreams. Talk it out with your kid. Validate their feelings and fears. Sometimes talking about their fears and explaining their pain can help them heal.

Other Toddler Sleep Disturbances

If you’re potty training, bed-wetting could also disrupt your toddler’s sleep. Other, less common problems include sleepwalking and sleep apnea.

How to get your toddler to sleep through the night

The pitter-patter of a toddler’s tiny feet is a sweet sound, but it’s not so charming at three in the morning. Luckily, there are several ways to get your nugget to sleep through the night. 

  • Don’t overfeed your kiddo before bedtime. If your child eats too much or little, it can keep them awake longer. Feeling too full is also an uncomfortable feeling. 
  • Make sure your tot’s naps are in the morning and no more than 30 minutes. 
  • Help your child get into a positive headspace before bed. Keep scary flicks off the television and watch out for creepy video games. Telling your toddler a bedtime story is a great way to fill their head with happy thoughts and sweet dreams. 

How do I help my toddler to sleep better?

You can definitely sleep train your toddler (or re-sleep-train them, as it were), even if it seems impossible.

  • Dr. Harvey Karp, a renowned and revered sleep-expert, recommends a method called “Twinkle Interruptus.” According to Karp, this method teaches children “to be more patient and is a little bit sneaky. You go in the room with them, and then you go out, and then you come back, and then you go out, and you come back. And over the course of a couple of days, you end up going out for a minute or two or three, and they fall asleep while they’re waiting for you. And that usually solves the problem without any crying or struggle.”
  • You can also try the Ferber method, though it may not be as easy to implement once your child is out of their crib.
  • Camping out in your toddler’s room is also a good idea. It’s hard getting your kid to sleep in their own bed, and now that they can climb out of their crib, it may seem impossible. However, you can teach your child by staying in their room until they fall asleep. Set up shop in a chair and don’t leave until your nugget is knocked out. Make sure you avoid picking them up, talking to them, or getting into bed with them.

Need more toddler tips for those terrible twos? Check out our pages on toddler learning games, dealing with constipated toddlers, and more.