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How to help your toddler get to sleep without fussing

Toddler Prefer One Parent Over The Other - Parents Canada

Girl toddler sleeping - how to help your toddler get to sleep without fussing 

When a baby passes that one year milestone, weary parents are hopeful for the return of regular sleep. But your toddler’s sleep habits may be posing new problems.

For Victoria Payne, the process of getting her two-year-old daughter to sleep is a challenge. “She sleeps nine to 10 hours a night, and has a one- or two-hour nap if she will go down. My issue is getting her to sleep.”

While Victoria sticks to a regular bedtime routine, it takes well over an hour for her daughter to enter dreamland. She also doesn’t nap consistently and will only take a snooze if she’s being driven around.

Corinne Calleri’s 14-month-old doesn’t sleep much at night and she fights her naptime too, becoming overtired. She sleeps only six to eight hours a night but wakes up about two to three times. If she does nap, it’s for an hour or two and comes with resistance.

“Once she does fall asleep, my biggest challenge is having her sleep for a consistent amount of time without her waking up to have something to drink or eat,” Corinne says.

Is your toddler getting enough sleep?

If your toddler falls asleep almost every time she’s in a car, or seems overtired during the day, this may signify that she may be getting less sleep than she needs. To change this pattern, you’ll need to help her develop good sleep habits with a structured and consistent bedtime routine – and deal with clever stalling tactics.

How much sleep does a toddler need?

Dr. Nicky Cohen is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Toronto and provides parent education and counselling regarding young children’s sleep problems. “Toddlers generally need 12.5 to 15 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period,with some needing more or less sleep than others,” says Dr. Cohen. Sleep can be broken down into 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night and one-and-a-half to three hours during the day. At 18 months, length of sleep usually drops to 11 hours.

How many naps should a toddler have?

If your toddler is having a hard time sleeping at night, her daytime nap may be the culprit. It will be difficult to put her down to sleep at her usual bedtime.

Dr. Cohen says that toddlers typically transition to only one nap a day between 13 to 16 months. “When this occurs, scheduling the single nap after lunch – 12 or 12:30 p.m. –and moving bedtime earlier –6:45 or 7 p.m. – is recommended,” she says.

Should we ditch our toddler’s naptime?

Every child is different and may need more or less sleep. While some children ditch their one nap earlier, the most common age of dropping the remaining nap is three to three-and-a-half years old. “The two most common signs that a preschooler is ready to drop her nap are nap resistance, meaning you offer your child an opportunity to nap but they don’t, and don’t seem tired enough in the daytime to nap anymore; and bedtime resistance. Your child continues to nap, but you experience problems getting her to bed at night by a reasonable time, at 8:30 p.m., for example,” says Dr. Cohen. While some preschoolers still nap at age four, if a child under three is resisting his nap, Dr. Cohen suggests delaying the nap to 1:30 or 2 p.m. But you may need to limit the nap to one hour so that it doesn’t cause bedtime problems. Making the room environment dark for naptime and a creating a short nap routine (a diaper change, song and book) can be helpful.

What to do if your toddler needs more sleep at night

Cilnical psychologist Dr. Nicky Cohen offers tips to help your toddler achieve the recommended number of hours of sleep. Make sure:

  • the sleep environment is conducive to sleep – dark, quiet, and on the “cool side of comfortable”
  • early morning light is not contributing to early morning wakings
  • your child is not getting too much day sleep
  • bedtime is not too late, as many young children who go to bed too late for their age do not sleep in to make up for the later bedtime


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May 2015.

a man carrying two children

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