Did you know that once toddlers reach the age of two, they’ve typically spent more time asleep than awake? And not only do those hours spent sleeping give tired moms, dads and caretakers a much-needed break, they’re also crucial for toddlers’ mental and physical development.
Most of the growing children do is while they are asleep
According to Parenta, and we see this in our practice at Westchester Health Pediatrics, rested children are happier, more alert, more even tempered and able to concentrate better than sleep-deprived ones. Children who are well rested also have stronger immune systems than those who are not getting enough sleep.
In addition, not only is childhood obesity strongly linked to a lack of sleep, but research shows that if a child doesn’t get the right amount and right quality of sleep, his/her growth can be affected, not only in terms of height but also heart and lung strength.
“Okay, I get it,” you might be saying. “Sleep is really important but what do I do if I can’t actually get my toddler to go to sleep?” We understand. To help parents of 2- or 3-year-olds get their little ones to nod off, consistently, we thought we’d share these guidelines from our many years of taking care of infants and toddlers in our practice.
10 tips for helping your toddler fall asleep
The following suggestions hopefully will help your toddler fall asleep, stay asleep and establish good sleep habits:
- Adopt a nightly routine. Your child needs a quiet, calm time before bedtime which will help him/her understand that it will soon be time to go to sleep. The routine should be the same each night; toddlers are comforted by routine.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. As much as possible, your child’s bed time and wake up time should be the same every day, whether or not it’s a school day. This way, your child will know what to expect and it will help him/her establish good sleep habits.
- Don’t send your child to bed hungry. Give him/her a light snack, such as fruit, crackers and cheese or peanut butter, slice of toast or cereal and milk. Avoid a heavy meal within 1-2 hours of bedtime, which can interfere with sleep.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks or foods in the late afternoon/evening. These include tea, colas, anything coffee flavored, some ice pops, artificially colored and flavored snacks, and chocolate.
- First a bath, then a story, then soft music and a cuddle. The emphasis right before bed is on quiet, calm activities that will relax your child and help to bring on sleep. Avoid energetic playing which will excite your child and make sleep more difficult.
- Let your child take a favorite object to bed at night, like a teddy bear, beloved blanket or special toy. The item can help him/her fall asleep, and more quickly fall back asleep if he/she wakes up during the night.
- Avoid TV before bedtime. TV, even age-appropriate videos, is stimulating for your toddler, not relaxing.
- Make your child comfortable. If your child wants a drink of water or the night-light turned on at bedtime, honor these requests but then tell him/her it’s time to go to sleep. Don’t let this get drawn out into a long production.
- Make exercise part of your child’s daily routine. Not only does exercise help make your child tired and ready for sleep, it’s a healthy routine that will benefit your child throughout life.
- Do not let your child sleep in your bed with you. We know that some parents like for their child to sleep in bed with them, but what we’ve seen over the years is that this makes it harder for the child to fall asleep on their own. Also, some studies show that letting your young child sleep in your bed increases the risk of SIDS.
What if my child cries as soon as I leave the room?
As pediatricians and as parents, our advice at Westchester Health Pediatrics is to wait several moments before you go back into your toddler’s room if he/she cries or calls for you after you’ve put him/her down for the night. Each time your child calls, wait longer before responding, remind him/her that it’s time to go to sleep now, and that you’re there, even when you’re out of sight. After three times, we advise you to make it clear to your child that it’s time for sleep now and you won’t be going in again.
How much sleep do toddlers need?
Young children need different amounts of sleep at various stages of development, but in general:
- Around 12 months: Sleeps about 14 hours per day, including morning and afternoon naps.
- 12-18 months: the morning nap disappears and is replaced with one longer afternoon nap.
- 24 months: Sleeps 11-12 hours at night with a 1-2 hour nap in the afternoon.
- 36 months: Sleeps about 12 hours at night and may or may not take a short nap.
If your toddler goes to bed at 8pm and doesn’t wake up until 8am, he/she is getting the full amount of sleep all at once with no need for a nap. But if he/she is not yet sleeping 12 full hours at night, he/she should nap during the day. Somewhere around age 3½ or 4, most children stop napping all together.
How to know if your toddler has a sleep problem
At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we recommend taking your toddler or preschooler to your pediatrician if he/she is experiencing any of the following:
- pain or medical problems that are affecting sleep
- persistent, loud snoring
- breathing problems while sleeping
- seems irritable, hyperactive, inattentive or sleepy during the day
- has excessive anxiety about being separated from you during the day or night
- sleep problems that developed suddenly
- problems changing from two naps to one nap a day
- frequent night terrors, sleepwalking or nightmares
Count on us for all kinds of information and advice to help you raise your toddler
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re a new parent or an old hand, you can turn to us for help, whatever stage of development your child is in. We’re parents too, with years of experience helping parents raise their children and we’re ready to help you with yours.
Helpful articles you might want to read:
- Healthy Sleep Habits for Children
- Healthy Sleep Habits for Toddlers
- Encouraging Good Sleep Habits
- Establishing healthy sleep habits: 24 to 36 months
Questions about your toddler’s sleep? Come see us.
If you’re having trouble getting your child to go to sleep, or he/she is having sleep issues, or if you have questions about any aspect of your child’s growth and development, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. We’ll meet with you and your child, see if there is indeed a problem, and together with you, decide on the best strategy going forward. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy child and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.