Healthy Sleep Routines for Babies and Toddlers

Maybe one of the biggest challenges that parents of infants and toddlers face is getting them to bed and helping them stay asleep. 

Getting the proper amount of sleep is important for the whole family and can affect overall health. Not only do children without proper sleep often lack focus and are irritable, but with regular sleep deprivation they may struggle with depression, hypertension, obesity, and a weakened immune system.

That’s why we encourage and help parents establish good sleep routines for their children from the start. 

How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?

Children need different amounts of sleep based on their age. So, as your baby grows, it’s important to keep that in mind as you build their bedtime schedule and routine.

While sleep needs vary person to person, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has created these guidelines to help you determine how much your child needs in a 24-hour period (including naps): 

  • Infants 4 to 12 months should get 12-16 hours of sleep
  • Toddlers 1 to 2 years old should get 11 to 14 hours
  • Children 3 to 5 years old should get 10 to 13 hours

Make Sleep a Priority

Babies and toddlers thrive on regular sleep schedules, so it’s important to make sleep a priority in your daily routines and make bedtime the same time every night. Newborns will have erratic sleep for the first few months and then will typically need three naps during the day: in the morning, early afternoon, or late afternoon.

Between 9 and 12 months, most babies no longer need the third nap and just need a nap in the morning and the afternoon.

By 18 months, most children only need the afternoon nap. They may continue to need a daily afternoon nap through the toddler and preschool years. 

Watch your infant or toddler for sleep cues to determine if they are going to bed at the right time. If you see tired behavior, such as rubbing their eyes or yawning, then they are probably up too late. Try moving up their bedtime 15 to 20 minutes earlier to see if that helps them get better sleep. 

Sleep Routines for Newborns and Infants

Even though a newborn’s sleep is erratic, you can start building habits and routines that will help your baby regulate their sleep cycles. First, make sure your baby’s sleep environment is safe by following our tips to prevent SIDS

In the evenings, make the bedtime routine calm and soothing with dim lights.

You can start to help your baby learn to fall asleep on their own by laying them down to sleep when they are drowsy but still awake. Lay your baby on their back and try swaddling them with their arms tucked to prevent them from startling themselves awake. However, keep in mind some babies prefer having their arms free.

When your baby wakes at night, try not to wake or stimulate them too much by keeping lights dim and interactions quiet and soothing as you change or feed them. 

As your infant gets older, you can start a regular bedtime routine to help signal it’s bedtime. Starting a consistent routine, such as a bath, teeth brushing, and book reading before going to bed will help your baby learn it’s time for sleep.

If your infant wakes up, wait a few moments before responding to give them the chance to fall back asleep. 

Sleep Routines for Toddlers

Putting a toddler to bed can be a challenge since they often resist bedtime at this busy stage. 

Start with a predictable and consistent bedtime routine for your toddler to signal to them it’s time to sleep and help them fall asleep easier. Giving them a bath, brushing teeth, and reading a book before bed can help them settle down. 

Your toddler is also old enough to have a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to sleep with that will help them fall asleep. Just make sure the object is safe and doesn’t have ribbons, buttons or loose parts that may become choking hazards. 

Make sure your child is comfortable before bedtime by offering a drink of water, or leaving a dim light on.

After you’ve put your child to bed, they may call out to you from their crib or leave their bed if they have transitioned to a regular bed. This is normal, and may take some patience to help your child learn to stay in bed. When they call out, wait a few seconds before answering them. Make your response time longer each time they call out to give your child a chance to fall asleep on their own. If you go in their room, keep your visit brief and don’t play or turn on the light. Also, each time you go in the room, decrease the distance you walk in until you are able to reassure them from outside the door. 

When to Talk to Your Pediatrician

If getting proper sleep is a struggle for your family, or if you are concerned your child is getting too much sleep or not enough, contact your provider at Pediatrics West. We can help evaluate your child for a possible sleep disorder or provide resources to help you child get better sleep. 

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