Normally, most toddlers fall asleep within the first 20 minutes of taking them to bed. However, their sleep duration varies depending on how sleepy they are, sleeping patterns, age, among other factors. Unlike adults, toddlers have interesting sleep patterns. They fall into a deep sleep during the initial hours of the night but experience light sleep episodes and dream sleep episodes during the late hours of the night. As they negotiate the episodes, they are likely to wake up briefly.
During the wakeful episodes, the child should ordinarily go back to sleep by himself/herself. If this doesn’t happen more often, then there might be an underlying sleep issue and so you should take the little one to a pediatrician. It could be sleep apnea, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), or any other serious condition. Only an expert can establish what the real problem is and suggest the best solution.
Recommended Sleep Durations
As already mentioned, sleep durations vary between different toddlers. However, there are specific ranges that are considered acceptable and there are others that are not. Here’s a brief guide:
- 1-year toddler – As a child moves from infant stage to toddlerhood, they tend to sleep fewer hours. While an infant should sleep for 12-15 hours a day, a 1-year toddler should sleep for 11-14 hours a day. This includes at least 2 hours of daytime naps.
- 2-year toddler – A 2-year toddler is required to sleep the same number of hours as a 1-year toddler (11-14 hours). At this stage, daytime nap time reduces to about 1 hour. You should see a pediatrician, however, if your child sleeps for less than 9 hours a day.
- 3-year toddler – At 3 years, most toddlers sleep fewer hours. The recommended range is 10-13 hours but it’s acceptable if your child does 8-9 hours a day. However, he or she shouldn’t do more than 14 hours as this is only acceptable for infants.
Common Toddler Sleep Issues and their Solutions
Most sleep issues that prevent toddlers from sleeping normally can be handled without expert intervention. Here are the common ones and their solutions:
1. Midnight Crying
If your toddler cries in the middle of the night or calls your name frequently, it could be that he or she is scared of sleeping alone. So, do frequent visits to his or her bedroom to check on and assure him or her that all is well.
It’s generally challenging to stop a toddler from waking up in the middle of the night over and over again. However, you can try delaying their bedtime to make them sleepier. You can also create a relaxed environment to make them feel more comfortable while sleeping.
3. Delayed Sleep
As mentioned earlier, it should take roughly 20 minutes for your toddler to fall asleep. If this doesn’t happen often, it could be that their sleeping schedule is wrong or they are not having daytime naps. So, establish a consistent bedtime schedule and arrange afternoon naps.
These are common for toddlers aged 2-3 years. Often, it’s associated with scary books, movies, and video games. So, you need to monitor what they see during the day. You need to encourage them to watch toddler-friendly images.
5. Sleep Terrors
Though most people confuse sleep terrors with nightmares, the two are very different. While nightmares are scary episodes that occur in the later hours of the night, sleep terrors occur during the beginning of their sleep. You should, however, handle sleep terrors the same way as nightmares.
General Tips for Improving Toddler Sleep
As a parent, you have the obligation of ensuring your toddler gets enough sleep. Here are the top tips to try out:
- Regular bedtime routine – Toddlers can easily feel secure to go to bed when a specific routine is followed. So, you need to establish it and encourage your child to follow it. For example, your child should relate things like tooth brushing, taking a bath, or wearing pajamas with sleep. They should know that such routines are a sign of going to bed.
- Pre-bedtime unwinding – Before your toddler can go to bed, he or she should have a relaxed mind. You need to discourage them from watching too much TV or playing before bedtime as this can make them too tired to even catch sleep. You can read them bedtime stories or play them soft music to help them unwind. The more you do it routinely, the easier it is for your child to fall asleep.
- Safety Assurance – Scary bedtime stories, video games, and TV programs can make your toddler feel unsafe at night when they go to bed. Others find darkness frightening and so you have to leave the lights on before they can fall asleep. So, you need to find out and address what your toddler is afraid of that is preventing him or her from falling asleep or maintaining a regular sleep pattern.
- Healthy meal plan – Food is necessary for boosting your toddler’s energy levels. However, it can interfere with your child’s sleep if you don’t watch what they take before bedtime. Since toddlers between 2-3 years can feed well, you should ensure they don’t overeat before sleep time. Similarly, they shouldn’t go to bed hungry as they may find it difficult to sleep.
- Natural lighting – Melatonin, a sleep hormone, is suppressed during the day and performs optimally at night. Hence, try opening the windows in the morning to promote natural lighting. You need it to subdue the sleep hormone.
- Sleep comfort – Comfort is a key factor for sleep for toddlers. From the bed they lie on to the blankets they cover themselves with, everything has to feel comfortable. Also, their bedroom has to feel warm and inviting. So, you may have to improve the lighting and paint the walls to create a friendly appeal.
- Daytime naps – It’s never a good idea to allow your toddler to go an entire day without taking a nap. Not only can this make the little one irritable but can also make it hard for him or her to sleep at night. Ideally, good daily naps translate to good night sleep. So, insist on the daily naps and your toddler will get used to it.
Now you know if your toddler is oversleeping, under sleeping or sleeping normally. You also know what to do to fix most sleep issues and what you can do to improve your toddler’s sleep in general. So, use the ideas for the benefit of your little one. They are worth the effort.