Toddler Sleep – Does Your Toddler Need A Sleep Routine?

Toddler Sleep - Does Your Toddler Need A Sleep Routine?

Toddler Sleep – Does Your Toddler Need A Sleep Routine?

There are lots of controversy-causing topics where parenting is concerned, and sleep routines is one of them. While some parents implement a sleep routine within months of the birth, others adopt a more ‘laissez faire’ approach to their baby's sleep. While you may have stood strongly in the camp against baby routines, now that your little one is walking, talking and asserting her independence, you may be wondering whether it's time to introduce a bedtime routine.

Normal Sleep For Toddlers

Some parents feel frustrated that their toddlers aren't yet sleeping through the night, but it's important to understand normal sleep development for toddlers and adjust your expectations accordingly:

  • 14 months – a study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 47% of parents report night wakings at this age. 54% of parents reported that their toddlers slept through the night.
  • 17 months – by this age, toddlers feel more secure when they know what to expect throughout the day. Some experts believe that by this age, a familiar bedtime routine may help your child to get a better night's sleep.
  • 24 months – at this age, toddlers need around 12-13 hours sleep in a 24 hour period, including naps. It is believed that over half of all toddlers still regularly wake during the night at this age.
  • 30 months – it takes around 40% of 30 month olds approximately half an hour to fall asleep at night.

One thing to note is that the study is based on parents’ answers rather than studied sleep patterns. In fact, it may be that parents who co-sleep are more aware of night wakings than those who sleep in a separate room to their infants. Either way, hopefully this information has highlighted that your toddler is normal. While other mums may be bragging about their children who sleep through the night, know you are not alone in dealing with toddler nighttime wakings.

Will A Sleep Routine Help My Toddler?

Toddlers like to know what is coming next, and to know what to expect throughout the day. That doesn't mean they need a rigid routine in place at all times, but does mean that they like things to happen in a certain order. Little things can signify to your toddler what is going to happen next. Watching you pack the nappy bag can warn them that they'll be leaving the house soon. Cooking prepares them for dinner time, which in turn lets them know that bedtime will follow shortly after.

If your toddler's routine varies drastically from day to day, he may not know when bedtime is going to occur. If he's tired, this could lead to him feeling stressed and worried. Stressed toddlers very quickly become tantruming toddlers. Having a tantrum just before bedtime can even mean it takes longer for your toddler to get to sleep because he feels stressed and needs to wind down after.

What Is A Sleep Routine?

A sleep routine doesn't mean putting your child to bed at the exact time every night, even if he isn't tired. Routines should be flexible, and need to adapt and change as your toddler grows. Some days your toddler will want to go to bed earlier, and other days he won't be as sleepy. Look out for signs of tiredness, such as eye rubbing, yawning and irritability, and try to avoid your toddler becoming overtired.

The routine should focus around activities rather than timing. For example, it shouldn't start at a specific time and end 30 minutes later, it should be a series of activities that run in a certain order. Your toddler probably can't read the time, so he will be relying on the sequence of events to let him know when bedtime is.

The benefit of this type of routine is that you can start it later to fit in with your plans. If your toddler is happy occasionally staying up an hour later than usual, then this gives you more freedom to attend family celebrations and other events in the evening. When you get home, simply kick off the bedtime routine and your toddler will understand that bedtime is coming soon.

Sleep routines can be very useful for nights away. If you're staying in an unfamiliar environment, the familiar bedtime routine may be all your child needs to feel ready for sleep. Of course, you may have to alter the routine slightly depending on your location. For example, you might have to skip the bath if you're camping in the woods, but you'll be still be able to have a bedtime story and breastfeed to help him nod off.

Examples Of Toddler Sleep Routines

The sleep routine you create for your toddler will be unique to your family and your circumstances, the below is simply an example to give you an idea of how it might look. It can take toddlers up to 30 minutes to fall asleep at night, so you should prepare the routine in anticipation of this wind down time.

Popular toddler sleep routine elements include:

  • Bath – this appears in lots of baby and toddler bedtime routines. Having a bath can help your toddler to relax at the end of the day, add a drop or two of a calming essential oil such as lavender for extra effect. If you don't want to bathe your toddler every day, you can replace this part of the routine with a simple hand and face wash on some nights. Alternatively you could bathe your toddler in plain water if you'd like to limit his contact with soaps and bubble baths
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Massage – a massage is another great way to help your toddler unwind at the end of a relaxing day. Some parents introduce massage to their babies at just a few weeks old, but there's no reason you can't introduce it later on. Use a natural massage oil, such as coconut oil, that will be great for your baby's skin, smell nice and be easy to apply. A massage doesn't have to last long, it can be as simple as a few minutes of rubbing coconut oil onto your toddler's skin to help him relax and prepare for bed
  • Pyjamas – getting your toddler dressed into his pyjamas will let him know bedtime is just around the corner. Let your toddler choose his own pyjamas, or even dress himself, to help him feel in control at bedtime. Toddlers are constantly striving for independence, and this is a great way to give him some
  • Storytime – as well as encouraging a love of books, helping to develop language, and giving you a chance to cuddle, bedtime stories are great for unwinding at the end of a busy day. Snuggle up in bed together and read a bedtime story of your toddlers choosing. Some toddlers resist sleep because they want to control their own bedtime, by letting them control other aspects of the routine (such as which story you read, or which pyjamas he wears), you can help to avoid this fight for control last thing at night
  • Cuddles and/or a feed – when the story is over (or stories, if your toddler insists on another), it's time for a cuddle. If you are still breastfeeding, a bedtime feed is the perfect way to end the day. Your toddler will feel safe and secure snuggled up for a feed, and he gets that last helping of nutrients and antibodies for the day. If you're not breastfeeding, you could use this opportunity to have a quiet cuddle instead until your toddler falls asleep.

When The Sleep Routine Doesn't Work

Having a sleep routine is not a guarantee that your toddler will be asleep by 8pm each night, and there will be the odd time when your toddler will still be wide awake at the end. There are lots of reasons why this could happen – excess energy, developmental leaps and a stressful day can all leave your toddler struggling to sleep. The important thing is to avoid becoming frustrated, which is easier said than done when you're exhausted and want to sit down in front of the television at the end of a long day. Try reading another story, or quietly playing with your toddler, until he is ready for sleep.

Last Updated: December 8, 2014


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