Napping and Sleep Issues in Toddlers
Go to sleep!
For parents of toddlers, bedtime is frequently the most challenging part of the day. Young
children at this age often resist going to sleep, particularly if older siblings are still awake. At
Westchester Health Pediatrics, this is an area where we got a lot of questions from our parents
so we put together a list of tips that work for naptime or bedtime. Here’s hoping everyone gets
the rest they need!
How to help your toddler establish good sleep habits
- Adopt a nightly routine so your child has a quiet, calm time before bedtime and
understands that it will soon be time to go to sleep. The routine should be the same
each night; toddlers are comforted by routine. Give your child a bath, read him/her a story,
and listen to soft music. Avoid active play which will only excite your child and make sleep
- Be consistent. Bedtime should be at the same time every night. This way, your child will
know what to expect and it will help him/her establish good sleep habits.
- Let your toddler take a favorite object to bed at night: a teddy bear, special blanket or
favorite toy. It can help him/her fall asleep, and fall back asleep if he/she awakens during the
night. Make sure the object has no buttons or ribbons that could possibly choke your child.
- Make certain your child is comfortable. If he/she wants a drink of water or the night-light
turned on, do these but then tell him/her it’s time to go to sleep. Don’t let this get drawn out
into a long production.
- Do not let your child sleep in your bed. Even though some parents like to have their child
sleep in bed with them, this makes it harder for him/her to fall asleep when alone.
- Wait several seconds before you go into your toddler’s room if he/she cries or calls
for you. Then each time your child calls, wait longer before responding. Reassure your child
that you are there, even when you’re out of sight. Each time you go in, remind him/her that
it’s time to go to sleep now. We also suggest setting a limit of how many times you respond. For
example: after 3 times, refuse to go in again, telling your child it’s time for sleep.
- Be patient. It sometimes can take many months for your toddler to fall asleep in a timely
manner and sleep through the night. Hang in there and be consistent with your routine. Also,
share bedtime duties with your partner so that neither of you becomes overly sleep-deprived.
Nightmares usually happen during the second half of the night when dreaming is most intense.
Children may wake up crying or feeling afraid and may have trouble falling back to sleep.
What you can do:
- Comfort your child as quickly as possible
- Explain that it was only a dream, not real
- Assure your child that you are there and will not let anything hurt him/her
- Encourage him/her to tell you what happened in the dream
- Allow your child to keep a light on if it makes him/her feel better
- Encourage your child to go back to sleep
- Determine if there really is something that is scaring your child, like shadows. If so, make sure
they are gone.
Night terrors occur most often in toddlers and preschoolers and take place during the deepest
stages of sleep. Deepest sleep is usually early in the night, often before parents’ bedtime.
During a night terror, your child might:
- Cry uncontrollably
- Sweat, shake or breathe quickly
- Have a terrified, confused or glassy-eyed look
- Thrash around, scream, kick or stare
- Not recognize you or realize you are there
- Try to push you away, especially if you try to hold him/her
While night terrors can last as long as 45 minutes, most are much shorter. Most children fall right
back to sleep after a night terror because they actually have not been awake. Unlike a nightmare,
a child will not remember a night terror.
What you can do:
- Stay calm. Night terrors are often more frightening for the parent than the child.
- Do not try to wake your child.
- Make sure your child cannot hurt himself/herself. If your child tries to get out of bed, gently
- If your child routinely has night terrors, be sure to alert babysitters and tell them what to do.
- If night terrors persist, talk with your child’s pediatrician.
When should toddlers stop napping?
Most children under the age of 1 take two naps a day, usually one in the morning and another in
the afternoon. By 18 months, most have given up the morning nap but still need an afternoon one
to make it through the evening without a meltdown. Yet each child is different. A lot depends on
how many hours your toddler sleeps at night.
Toddlers need approximately 12-14 hours of sleep every 24 hours. If your child goes to bed at
8pm and doesn’t wake up until 8am, he/she is getting the full quota of rest all at once with no
need for a nap. But if your toddler is not sleeping 12 full hours at night, then ideally he/she
should nap during the day. Somewhere around age 4, most children stop napping all together.