If the conversations among my mom friends and popular blogs are any indication, getting children to sleep – and stay asleep – is one of the biggest challenges. While the struggles can vary depending on the child’s age, we’re focusing on toddler sleeping in this post, with the help of Daniel Lewin, PhD, a sleep medicine specialist at Children’s National Health System. How much sleep do toddlers need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need 12-14 hours of sleep. The needs of an individual child may vary (some need closer to 14 hours, while others are ok with 12), but experts say that a child tends to remain consistent. In other words, a toddler who sleeps longer will tend to remain that way throughout childhood.
The amount of sleep is the total amount in a 24-hour period, including naps. By one year, toddlers should be getting most of their sleep at night, along with two naps. Dr. Lewin says that between 18-24 months, toddlers should consolidate sleeping into one afternoon nap, along with nighttime sleeping.
“You don’t want a toddler to sleep every 3-4 hours,” says Dr. Lewin. “By age 2, one afternoon nap and consolidated nighttime sleeping is best for maintaining behavior and focus.” When should a toddler give up a nap?
My husband and I recently had a conversation about when our toddler should give up her nap. My husband says he thinks she’s ready to give it up, but with a new baby on the way, I think the idea is crazy. How else will we get things done on the weekends if she doesn’t take a nap? Besides, even though she can last longer and has gone without a nap a few times, I don’t think she’s ready to give it up.
Dr. Lewin says it’s not always easy to determine when it’s time for toddlers to stop napping – and it’s not the same for every child. He says some children will resist a nap, even if they’re not quite ready to give it up. Sometimes, parents want to encourage their children to stop napping so they can get more sleep at night, which doesn’t always work.
Dr. Lewin advises parents to look for the following signs, which are good indicators a toddler still needs a nap:
Behavior change (crankiness or moodiness)
Car seat naps. Dr. Lewin says that children who fall asleep easily in the car during the afternoon, when there isn’t a lot of stimulation, are usually not ready to give up their naps.
While there isn’t one set time to give up a nap, Dr. Lewin says that when the time comes, parents should be prepared for an earlier bedtime.
When should toddlers go to bed?
Dr. Lewin says there’s good evidence showing that the optimal bedtime for toddlers is based on our circadian rhythms. The “sweet spot,” he says, is between 7 - 8:30 pm. Toddlers who have given up a nap will need a bedtime on the earlier side, while toddlers who are still napping may be on the later end. While this is often a challenge for working parents, Dr. Lewin says it’s best for toddlers to aim for a consistent bed time in this range.
Next week, we’ll look at nighttime sleeping strategies for toddlers, including establishing bedtime routines and nighttime wakings. Leave a comment if you have a question for one of our sleep specialists.