How to Get Your Toddler on a Schedule

Getting enough sleep is important for growing kids. The average toddler needs anywhere from 12 to 14 hours of sleep per day. While the majority of this is nighttime sleeping, your toddler will need a nap or two during the day.

To make sure your child is getting enough sleep at night, it’s important to establish a consistent nightly routine to get them ready for bed. When you regularly keep up with this routine, your toddler will know what to expect every night.

How to Set a Consistent Sleep Schedule for Toddlers

Whether you’re setting a routine for napping or nighttime sleep, it’s important to do the same things at the same time every day.

Step 1: Choose a Bedtime and Wake-up Time

Choose a bedtime and a wake-up time for your toddler and stick to it, even on the weekends. You should also pick a time for their nap(s) and be as consistent as possible.

Step 2: Bedtime Activities

As bedtime approaches, you can help your toddler get ready by repeating the same activities in the same order every night. This can include things like taking a bath, brushing teeth, and putting on pajamas.

Toddlers sometimes have difficulties with taking naps or going to sleep at night because they have a fear of missing out on things. Because of this, they may try to put off bedtime in order to spend more time awake with you.

To help with this separation anxiety, let your toddler make some small decisions around bedtime to let them feel more in control. Ask them which color pajamas they would like to wear or which song they would like to sing. You could also let them choose a security object, like a blanket or toy, to make them feel safe and comfortable while getting into bed.

Step 3: Wind Down

Start off your nightly routine by dimming the lights and turning off screens about half an hour before bed. During this time, try some relaxing activities with your toddler, like reading a story or singing a lullaby. Think of this as a time for both you and your toddler to wind down.

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Winding down at the same time every day will signal your child’s brain that it’s time to go to sleep and relax. These activities should be calming and not playful. You should avoid using your child’s bed as a play area, so this space is associated only with sleep.

Step 4: Choose a Location

Even though your toddler may want to sleep in bed with you, it’s important that your child has their own space to consistently sleep in as part of their routine. When forming a sleep schedule, both for naps and nighttime sleep, put your child in a place that they will always signal with sleep, for example, their bed. This helps with keeping the routine and consistency.

It’s important to create a safe space for a toddler's bedtime. Make sure that the area is free from oversized toys, wall hangings, cords, or anything else that could cause harm to a curious child.

Step 5: Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

Your environment affects the quality of your sleep, and this is true for your child, too. As bedtime approaches, make sure that your child’s bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. These conditions can make it easier to sleep.

A soft nightlight or a sound machine can also be helpful, but they shouldn’t be too bright or too loud. And again, try to avoid anything that has a screen at this time. Screens lower levels of melatonin, a chemical that signals sleep, by up to 22%.

Factors That Can Affect Your Toddler's Sleep

Toddlers need adequate sleep as part of a healthy lifestyle. While setting a bedtime routine is important for creating a sleep schedule, what they do during the daytime can be just as important, too.

Exercise and Physical Activity

You should always make sure that your child gets enough playtime and exercise throughout the day. However, too much activity can make your toddler overtired, which may make it even harder for them to fall asleep. Try to wrap up exercise and activity two hours before bed so that your child can start relaxing.

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Plan Regular Mealtimes

Just as it’s important to stick to bedtimes and wake-up times, it’s also a good idea to stick to regular mealtimes. Plan mealtimes for your toddler early enough in the day so that they feel hungrier earlier in the day and not close to bedtime.

If your child is hungry at night, a light snack is okay, but eating too much can interfere with sleep. Caffeinated drinks and liquids should be limited in the hours before bed to help your child sleep through the night.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Beaumont Health: “Adjusting Your Child’s Sleep Schedule in 8 Easy Steps.”

Boston Children’s Hospital: “Eight tips to get your kids on a good sleep schedule.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Sleep in Toddlers & Preschoolers.”

Frederick Health: “5 Tips to Reset Your Child’s Sleep Schedule.”

Sleep.org: “What to Do When Your Toddler Refuses to Nap.”

Sleep Foundation: “Children and Sleep.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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