Overwhelmed with your child’s erratic sleep patterns and bedtime tantrums? Learn how a toddler sleep schedule can make for smoother days!
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. Perhaps he’s an early riser, talking and playing at 5am, which inevitably affects his mood during the day.
With this inconsistency, you realize he’s only getting eight hours of total sleep at night, leaving him cranky and prone to temper tantrums. Bedtime keeps getting later and later, despite all your attempts to put him down earlier in the night.
He might be struggling with transitioning to fewer daytime naps, leaving him tired all day. Or he wakes up every 2 hours at night wanting to play or eat, or worse, screaming for you to calm him 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
Plus, a toddler sleep schedule doesn’t always mean you can’t make exceptions. In fact, schedules can 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 daycare has a set schedule to follow.
Instead, I’ll share tips to help you create a schedule suitable for your needs. Take a look at these best practices that can get your toddler sleeping well once and for all:
1. 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 daycare, even when she’s at home.
Let’s say she takes a midday nap from 1-3pm at daycare. Follow that schedule on the days she’s at home, on the weekends, or during school breaks. This can help her body sync to consistent times to sleep, regardless of whether at school or home.
Free resource: Do you struggle with getting her to take a nap? Grab The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally instill healthy sleep habits. Join my newsletter and get your copy below:
2. Aim for 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night
Quality nighttime sleep for a toddler usually clocks in at 10-12 hours without interruptions.
Even if your toddler can sleep nine hours straight, that likely isn’t enough to feel revived and ready to go for the next day. Similarly, clocking in 12 hours of sleep isn’t going to do him much good if he wakes up five times a night.
Now, if he 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 sleep time or prevent him from going into deep sleep.
For instance, if bedtime is at 7:30am, he should stay asleep until no earlier than 6:30am the following morning.
3. Aim for a bedtime of no later than 8:30pm
Some parents might 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 wired to function best during the day, at optimal times. Even people who work graveyard shifts are more exhausted and less focused than had they done the same job during daytime hours (source).
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.
4. Have your toddler take a long midday nap
If your toddler has already transitioned to one nap, have her take one long one in the middle of the day. Whether she naps for 45 minutes or three hours, schedule daytime sleep 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 nap time for 12-2pm so that she has a five hour wake window in the morning, and another five hours in the evening.
5. 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, she can likely follow the same rhythm through the weekend. So, 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.
6. 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.
Start your mornings at the same time each day, and set specific times to eat meals and snacks. Begin bath time promptly at the same time each night, followed by the same activities that lead to sleep. A consistent bedtime routine makes for better, more predictable sleep.
Of course, you’ll have exceptions. She might 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 can have an easier time tying everything together.
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 he isn’t exactly versed in telling time. One simple way to solve the early morning wake ups is to use a toddler alarm clock in your child’s bedroom.
Rather than relying on the hands of a clock or even digital numbers, a toddler alarm clock can give another signal to cue that it’s wake up time. Typically, it turns a certain color or plays music—a sign to know that it’s okay to get out of bed. Or more importantly, 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 not much sleep.
Thankfully, creating a toddler sleep schedule is possible, regardless of your circumstances. Aim for 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, and put your toddler to bed no later than 8:30pm. Schedule naps for the middle of the day, with equal parts of wake time before and after.
Stick to your schedule, even on weekends, following daycare or 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 when it’s okay to get up for the day.
Regardless of your current sleep issues, creating a toddler sleep schedule can soften those sleep problems and get you a good night’s sleep. And yes, even if that means turning down late family dinners to make it home in time for bed.
Get more tips:
- Why Your Toddler Is Going Through the 1 Year Old Sleep Regression
- 8 Mistakes to Avoid When Your 2 Year Old Refuses to Sleep
- 20 Examples of a 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule
- 6 Tips to Get Through the Toddler Sleep Regression
- How to Get an Overtired Toddler to Sleep
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