Typical sleep at this age
Now your baby is officially a toddler – but he still needs as much sleep as he did when he was younger. Until his second birthday, your child should get about 14 hours of sleep a day, 11 of those hours at night. The rest will come in nap form.
Your child will still need two naps at 12 months, but by the time he’s 18 months old, he may be ready for a single 90-minute to three-hour nap in the afternoon – a pattern he may follow until he’s 4 or 5.
The transition from two naps to one can be difficult. Sleep expert Jodi Mindell suggests alternating one-nap and two-nap days, depending on how much sleep your toddler got the night before. You can also try putting your child to bed a little earlier on one-nap days.
How to establish healthy sleep habits
There’s not much new you can do to help your child become a good sleeper at this age, but watch for new issues, such as bedtime resistance, to show up sometime between 18 months and your child’s third birthday. Your best bet now: Continue practicing the strategies you’ve been developing since your child was 6 months old, including:
Following a nightly bedtime ritual.
A regular bedtime routine helps your child wind down at the end of the day and get ready for sleep. If he needs to work off some excess energy, it’s okay to let him run around for a little while before moving on to something more calming, such as a quiet game, bath, or bedtime story.
Follow the same pattern every night, even when you’re away from home. Toddlers love consistency, and being able to predict when and how something’s going to happen helps them feel in control.
Stick to a consistent daily schedule, including bedtime and nap times.
As always, it’s also a good idea to set and stick to a consistent bedtime and nap times as part of your daily schedule. If your child naps, eats, plays, and gets ready for bed at about the same time every day, he’ll be much more likely to fall asleep without a struggle.
Make sure your child is able to fall asleep on his own.
Don’t forget how important it is for your toddler to fall asleep by himself every night. You may want to consider not rocking, nursing, or singing your child to sleep so he’ll learn to settle himself back down when he wakes up at night. Your child waking up and not being able to get himself back to sleep is less than ideal for you, too – if he does wake up, he’ll probably cry for you.
At this age, your child may have difficulty falling asleep or wake up frequently at night. That could be related to the developmental milestones he’s reaching, especially walking. Your toddler is so excited by his new skills that he wants to keep practicing, even when you say it’s bedtime.
If he resists going to sleep, most experts advise leaving him in his crib for a few minutes to see whether he’ll calm down. If not, you may want to consider using some version of the “cry it out” approach.
If you don’t want to go that route, it’s fine to reassure your child of your presence, but don’t turn on the light in his room and don’t stay too long. You can try scaling back your responses to him by waiting a little bit longer to go in each time he calls and going a little farther from his bed on each visit, until you can reassure him from the doorway without actually going in. Each time, remind him that it’s time to go to sleep.
You’ll also have to decide what to do if he wakes up at night, can’t soothe himself back to sleep, and ends up crying for you. It’s fine to go in and check on or comfort him. But if he wants you to stay and play, gently remind him that nighttime is for sleep.
When to get help
Sleep troubles are common in kids, and sometimes you just need to be patient and wait them out. But if your child has trouble falling and staying asleep then seems sleepy during the day, or has trouble breathing or snores loudly, it’s a good idea to check in with his doctor to rule out problems (such as sleep apnea) that can prevent him from getting enough rest.
How to get your toddler to bed
Why toddlers resist bedtime
You put your toddler to bed at 8:30 at night. You hug him, kiss him, and wish him sweet dreams. It’s been a long day.
The dinner dishes await you, your partner has to pay the bills, the dog needs to be walked, the cat needs to be fed, and you haven’t had a moment to sit down and put your feet up. But instead of catching up on your chores and spending some precious time with your partner, you’re in and out of your child’s room, begging him to go to sleep. He finally does – three hours later.
Sound familiar? You may be surprised by just how many of your fellow parents face this scenario night after night.
Sometimes you can tell your toddler’s fighting sleep – he rubs his eyes, yawns repeatedly, and falls apart at the slightest frustration. Other times he may seem wide awake, even hyper, but this can be another sign of exhaustion.
What’s happening here is the toddler version of “so much to do, so little time.” There’s so much going on around him – Daddy’s in the living room pouring over the mail, the pets are scuttling about, and you’re moving from room to room – that he wants to be part of the action too.
And just like other toddlers, your child is beginning to understand that he is his own person, so he wants to assert his independence. Refusing to go to bed at night is one way he exerts control.
What to do
Teach your child to fall asleep alone. If your child will only go to bed when you’re around, she’s forming bad habits that will be hard to break later. The best lesson you can teach her is how to soothe herself to sleep.
Follow a nightly bedtime ritual (bath, books, then bed, for example) so she knows what to expect at night. Tell her that if she stays in bed you’ll come back in five minutes to check on her. Let her know that she’s safe and that you’ll be nearby.
Don’t let him dawdle. Toddlers are great negotiators when it comes to bedtime. And because they so enjoy the time they spend with you, they’ll do what they can to prolong it. Your child may take his time doing his nightly routine, ask repeatedly for a glass of water, or think of some urgent task he must do.
If you suspect he’s stalling, don’t let him. Tell him it’s time for bed and that he can finish working on his art project the next day or find his stuffed bunny in the morning.
Try to anticipate all of your child’s usual (and reasonable) requests and make them part of the bedtime routine. Put a glass of water on his night table, remind him to use the potty one more time, and give him lots of extra hugs to last him the whole night.
Allow your child one extra request – but make it clear that one is the limit. He’ll feel like he’s getting his way, but you’ll know you’re really getting yours.
Offer him acceptable choices at bedtime. Toddlers like to see how far they can push their independence. To help your child feel empowered, let her make bedtime choices whenever possible. Ask her which story she wants to hear or what pajamas she wants to wear.
The trick is to offer only two alternatives and to make sure you’re happy with either choice. For example, don’t ask, “Do you want to go to bed now?” She could very well say no, which isn’t acceptable. Instead, try, “Do you want to go to bed now or in five minutes?” She still gets to make the choice, but you win no matter which option she picks.
Be calm but firm. Stand your ground even if your child whines or pleads, and try not to engage in a power struggle. Speak calmly and quietly but insist that when time’s up, time’s up. If you give in to his request for “five minutes more, please” once, you’ll hear it again and again.
If he throws a fit, find out if there’s a reason he’s afraid to go to bed. Night-lights and monster checks can reassure him that he’s safe.
If he’s simply throwing a tantrum, calmly remind him that it’s time to sleep and that if he stays quiet, you’ll come back to check on him in a few minutes. Then be sure to follow up with what you promised. If he continues to cry, wait a little longer each time before you go back to check on him.
Move her to a big-kid bed. By age 3, your child has probably outgrown her crib and is ready to give it up. Moving from her crib to a bed signals to her that she’s becoming a big kid.
You can tell her that part of getting older is learning how to go to sleep on her own when it’s bedtime. Once she’s using her new bed, be sure to praise her when she stays put at bedtime and overnight.
After the confinement of her crib, your child may get out of her big-kid bed over and over just because she can. If she gets up, simply take her back to bed, firmly tell her that it’s time to go to sleep, and leave. If she still won’t stay in bed, you can try one of several strategies recommended by top sleep experts.
When can my baby sleep with a blanket?
Wait until your baby is at least 12 months old. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), soft bedding in a crib – like blankets and pillows – increases of the risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Safe alternatives to blankets are sleepers, sleep sacks, and wearable blankets.
After 12 months, the statistical likelihood of dying from SIDS plummets. The risk of suffocation also goes down because most 12-month-olds are able to roll over and have the dexterity to move blankets away from their face.
It’s best not to use crib bumpers, sleep positioners (like wedges), special mattresses, or anything else that claims to reduce the risk of SIDS. According to the AAP, not only do these devices fail to protect your baby, some infants have suffocated while using them.
Once your baby is 12 months, it’s okay for your child to bring a blanket or special toy to bed for comfort, but it’s still safest to keep his crib relatively empty – so don’t give your child a pillow until he has transitioned from the crib to a bed.
When can my child sleep with a pillow?
Though they’re often sold with crib bedding sets, pillows are not recommended for children under 2. Kids that small can easily suffocate while using one.
Actually, older kids don’t need pillows either. Parents often think a pillow will provide their child with extra comfort, not realizing that their child was doing fine without it.
If you want to introduce a pillow, it’s best to wait until your toddler moves from a crib to a bed. But if you want to give him one while he’s still sleeping in a crib, go with one that’s small (the size of an airline pillow) and firm. Stay away from feather pillows, which are too soft, can set off allergies, and can smother a child if his head sinks into it while he’s sleeping.