Overwhelmed with your child’s erratic sleep patterns and bedtime tantrums? Learn how a toddler sleep schedule can make for smoother days, and best practices to create one that works for you!
If it’s not one thing, it’s another, right?
At least that’s how it feels when it comes to toddlers and sleep. Maybe your toddler stays up late and sleeps all morning. Or perhaps she’s an early riser, talking and playing at 5am, which inevitably affects her mood during the day.
With the inconsistency of sleep, maybe you realized she’s only getting eight or nine hours of sleep a day, leaving her understandably cranky and miserable. Maybe bedtime keeps getting later and later, despite all your attempts to put her down earlier in the night.
Your toddler might be struggling with transitioning to fewer naps, leaving her tired all day. Or she wakes up multiple times a night, either wanting to play or eat, or worse, screaming for you to calm her down.
How to create a successful toddler sleep schedule
If there’s one thing that has saved my sanity, it’s relying on routines and schedules. Sure, sometimes it felt like I was that parent, the one who wouldn’t attend late family dinners because it was past my kids’ bedtime. And yes, trying to run errands and outings between daily naps isn’t always easy.
But it all pays off in the end. A toddler sleep schedule has so many benefits, including:
- Fewer meltdowns and outbursts
- Well-rested, happy kids
- No rushing or scrambling
- Kids sleeping through the night
- And so much more
Plus, a toddler sleep schedule doesn’t always mean you can’t make exceptions. In fact, schedules make those special events that much smoother. After all, when every other day has been consistent, staying up late for a family wedding or Fourth of July fireworks is that much more doable.
So, how exactly can you create a toddler sleep schedule that works for you? As you might’ve guessed, there isn’t one schedule that fits every child’s or family’s needs. You might need to work earlier or later, or your toddler’s preschool has a set schedule to follow.
Instead, I’ll share tips to help you create a toddler sleep schedule suitable for your needs. Take a look at these best practices that will get your toddler sleeping well once and for all:
1. Aim for 11-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night
A quality night of sleep for a toddler usually clocks in at 11-12 hours without interruptions.
Even if your toddler can sleep nine hours straight, that likely isn’t enough to feel fully revived and ready to go for the next day. Similarly, clocking in 12 hours of sleep isn’t going to do her much good if she wakes up five times a night.
Now, if she happens to whimper and cry, or wake up but settle back to sleep, that’s okay. But avoid frequent wake ups, taking far too long to fall back asleep, or late bedtimes and early wake ups. All these can shorten her sleep time or prevent her from going into deep sleep.
For instance, if bedtime is at 7:30am, she should stay asleep until no earlier than 6:30am the following morning.
2. Aim for a bedtime of no later than 8:30pm
Some parents will argue that the time kids sleep is irrelevant, so long as they’re clocking in a full night of sleep. It also doesn’t help when much of kids’ sleep is determined by how late parents work and wanting to spend a long time together in the evenings.
The thing is, we’re biologically wired to function best during the day, at optimal times. Even people who work graveyard shifts have been found to be more exhausted and less focused than had they done the same job during normal working hours.
In other words, it’s not just the hours of sleep you get—it’s also when you sleep that matters.
So, how late is too late? Aim for a bedtime no later than 8:30pm. This bedtime holds steady even past the toddler stage—kids simply function better when they sleep at a decent time.
3. Have your toddler take a long midday nap
If your toddler has already dropped to one midday nap.
Whether your toddler naps for 45 minutes or three hours, schedule her nap for the middle of the day, with equal parts of wake time before and after.
Let’s say she’s awake from 7am to 7pm and takes a two-hour nap in the middle. Schedule her nap for 12-2pm, so that she has five hours of wake time in the morning, and another set of five hours in the evening.
4. Stick to your schedule, even on weekends
A schedule is only as effective as it is consistent. It’s the repetitive consistency that cues your toddler of what to expect, and helps her listen and comply during transitions. Consistency is key, and yes, that includes weekends.
Besides, if you’ve been consistent all week, your toddler will likely follow the same rhythm through the weekend. But don’t force her to stay up late on Friday or Saturday nights unless a special reason calls for it. Reserve the flexible times for when it truly counts, instead of making it a regular weekend activity.
5. Set consistent times for non-sleep activities
Consistency isn’t only important when it comes to your toddler’s sleep, but to the rest of her daily activities as well.
For instance, start your mornings at the same time each day, and set specific times to eat meals and snacks. Start bath time promptly at the same time each night, followed by the same bedtime rituals and routines that lead to sleep. A consistent daily schedule makes for better, more predictable sleep.
Of course, you’ll have exceptions. Your toddler will decide to sleep in some mornings, and some play dates and outings might mean taking a later-than-usual lunch. But for the most part, stick to doing the same general activities at the same times—she’ll have an easier time tying everything together.
6. Nap at the same time as your toddler’s daycare or preschool
Wondering how to tie in your toddler’s daycare or preschool schedule? Follow her nap schedule at preschool, even when she’s at home.
Let’s say she takes a midday nap from 1-3pm at preschool. Follow that schedule on the days she’s not at school, on the weekends, or during preschool breaks. This will help her body sync to consistent times to sleep, regardless of whether she’s at school or at home.
Does your toddler wake up cranky for naps? My guide, No Cranky Naps, gives you the exact tips, strategies, and mindset shifts to finally turn those cranky naps around. Want to see if it can work for you? Join my newsletter and download a preview chapter, at no cost to you:
7. Use a toddler alarm clock to prevent early mornings
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You can’t expect your toddler to stay in bed until 7am when she isn’t exactly versed in telling time. One simple way to solve the early morning wake ups is to use a toddler alarm clock.
Rather than relying on the hands of a clock or even digital numbers, a toddler alarm clock with give another signal to cue that it’s wake up time. Typically it’ll turn a certain color, or play music—a simple sign for her to know that it’s okay to get out of bed. Or more important, to stay in bed until that cue happens.
Take a look at these favorites:
Having a toddler sleep schedule has allowed me not only as a first-time mom to a toddler, but later as I juggled my toddler twins. Without a schedule, I would’ve spent most of my days with cranky kids, exhausting nights, and hectic days.
Thankfully, creating a toddler sleep schedule is possible, regardless of your circumstances. Aim for 11-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, and putting your toddler to bed no later than 8:30pm. Schedule her nap for the middle of the day, with equal parts of wake time before and after.
Stick to your schedule, even on weekends, following your toddler’s preschool schedule if needed. Set consistent times for other daily activities, and not just naps and bedtime. And finally, use a toddler alarm clock to signal to your toddler when it’s okay to get up for the day.
Regardless of your toddler’s current sleep issues, I’m confident that creating a toddler sleep schedule will help resolve or at least soften those problems. And yes, even if that means turning down late family dinners to make it home in time for sleep.
Get more tips:
- Why Your Toddler Is Going Through the 1 Year Old Sleep Regression
- 8 Mistakes You’re Making When Your 2 Year Old Refuses to Sleep
- 20 Examples of a 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule to Try
- How to Respond when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Sleep
- 5 Tips to Help Your Overtired Toddler Finally Go to Sleep
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