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Getting toddlers to sleep can be tricky! They’re on the go from dawn until dusk and sometimes the last thing they want is to end the fun by shutting their peepers.

So we asked certified infant and child sleep consultant Kelly Martin to take us through her top tips to help toddlers sleep well at night. Here’s what she shared:

Top Toddler Sleep Tips

1. Don’t move to a big bed too early – ideal age is 2.5-3 years. This is due to toddlers having an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex which inhibits their ability for impulse control. This means without the physical boundary of a cot, we are often placing too much pressure/responsibility on our toddlers to stay in their bed for 10-12 hours overnight. Safety naturally comes first so if they are climbing out of their cot, then of course this must take priority.

2. Aim to keep a day nap to between 2.5-3 years of age. We often see nap resistance around 2 years which is known as the 2 year sleep regression. I encourage you to keep offering the nap. Whilst every toddler will having a vary amount of day sleep from 30-45 minutes up to 2 hours, the goal is to allow a minimum of 30-60 minutes rest time. If they are refusing for more than 3 days a week for 3 weeks, then we know the nap is ready to fade out.

3. Consistency – toddlers thrive on routine and consistent. We want to give a predictable response to bedtime and overnight sleep expectations. It is natural and normal that they test boundaries, but we want to remain confident and consistent with what behaviour is acceptable at bedtime.

Common Toddler Sleep Issues

Kelly also highlighted some of the most common sleep issues that she sees in toddlers, and how to tackle them. One of the biggest issues is bedtime delays.

“Toddlers like to have a million and one things on their to do list when it comes to bedtime,” says Kelly. “Ensure that you set up a predictable wind down routine. A bedtime routine chart can assist to keep them focussed on their bedtime routine and tick off each process so that there’s no room for that ‘one more’ request. I have a Free bedtime routine chart which can be downloaded here.”

Kelly is also seeing lots of toddlers’ sleep impacted by the amount of screen time they’re getting during the day.

“There has been a large increase in screen time over the past two years which I have seen negatively impact on toddler’s sleep. We know that the blue light from electronic devices such as I-pads, TVs and mobile phones can have a negative impact on a toddler’s ability to wind down and switch off for sleep. In an ideal world we would limit screen time to 30-60 minutes each day and turn it off from 3:00/4:00pm each afternoon. Serotonin is our happy hormones which is produced in the daylight, so we encourage toddlers to get out in the natural sunlight in the late afternoon to promote serotonin levels which then converts and releases to melatonin in the darkened sleep space at night.”

Biggest Toddler Sleep Myth

What about the biggest toddler sleep myth? “The biggest one I see is in relation to transitioning to a big bed too early or dropping a nap too early. Toddlers should encourage be encouraged to continue using their sleeping bag/sleep suit until 2.5-3 years of age as they often struggle with blankets and will wake in the early hours of the morning between 3:00-5:00am when they are cold and then struggle to return to sleep due to the lightest sleep phase.”

Kelly was recently engaged to speak on the LittleOak podcast The Little Life, as part of her role in the Nighttime Perks campaign, highlighting the challenges parents face with their children’s sleep. She said it was an opportunity to support and educate families around realistic expectations for toddler sleep.

“Toddlers aren’t ‘too old’ for sleep support, but they require a different approach to take into account their cognitive development. Toddlers thrive on routine and consistency and if they can feel validated and supported when it comes to sleep, this will allow them to go to sleep and stay asleep for much longer.”

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  • These are some great ideas to follow.

    Reply

  • In our family routine was KING and they didn’t demur. Even through daylight saving 7.30pm was bedtime and they dutifully stuck to it. They rarely napped through the day as there was always something wonderful going on, but if we went out they quickly fell asleep in the car which was great on a long trip as the fights ceased.

    Reply

  • Routine is very important but I don’t agree with the day naps. My 2 oldest children grew out of it at around the age of 1, they just didn’t want that nap anymore. They both have been fantastic night sleepers.

    Reply

  • My kids were still napping until they were 5 and in school full time! Weekends were for quiet time where they needed to read in their room.
    Right now my almost 2 year old is in a sleeping suit/bag, pyjamas and has blankets but still wakes early due to a cold face and hands. Sadly we can’t even turn on our reverse cycle heater to keep her room at a reasonable temperature as there is a lot of burn off at the moment and our houses are filling up with smoke, the reverse cycle will only just suck more smoke in

    Reply

  • Love these tips! Might try and implement some of these

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  • Nothing, NOTHING worked on my eldest. We even broke the sleep school nurses.

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  • All great tips that we actually used. We had issues the first 12 months, but then got tough and consistent. And it worked!

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  • What fantastic tips!

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  • This is so useful! I was wondering when to transition to a big bed, good to know its best to wait until 2.5-3 years old

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  • Our kids still sleep in our bed lol. One is 15 months and the other is 3 next week.
    We love it though as we love having them close to us but we know we have to start transitioning them into their own beds very soon.


    • Success with this transition Frankiielot !

    Reply

  • Great article and perfect timing for us! Loved how it explained medical reasons behind the recommendations.

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  • My son love routine and is a fantastic sleeper at 2.5 yesrs old but day naps haven’t been a thing since 19months, he just refuses.

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  • Confirming facts I’ve known for years. Our kids were 3 when they went to a toddler bed, and starting a routine when they are babies (working on it from birth) is essential. My kids are primary aged now and I can still get them to have a nap on a Saturday and they enjoy it!

    Reply

  • All our kids were around 18 months when they transitioned into a big bed. They transitioned really well

    Reply

  • hmmm maybe its time for a big bed…. :)

    Reply

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