As children grow, the amount of sleep that they need does start to drop a little, and eventually, it also starts to rearrange itself around night-time sleep – at this point, plenty of toddlers still nap, but over the next few years, that number is going to start to drop, and before too long, your toddler is going to stop napping entirely – at least until his teenage years, when the need for a little extra daytime sleep may come roaring back.
How does toddler sleep change over the third year?
Over the course of the year between a toddler’s second and third birthday, the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation for the amount of sleep he should be getting during a 24-hour period drops from 11 to 14 hours all the way down to 11 to 13 hours. This may not sound like a very big change – and it may not end up being one. On the other hand, he may end needing a little bit less sleep, possibly in the form of dropping a nap.
Most toddlers still nap once a day through most of the third year, and many continue to nap after that, though most start to trail off, and are pretty much done with regular naps by age five. In the time in between, toddlers may go through a stage where on some days they need a nap, and on others, they may not. One easy way to handle this shift is to establish what was naptime as a quiet time for reading or playing quietly in bed.
Sleep resistance vs. need for sleep
The tricky thing about the fact that toddlers’ need for sleep may dip a little as they get older is that, for a huge number of toddlers, the next few years can involve a lot of sleep resistance that has nothing to do with whether they’re tired or not. In the next few years, Baby’s imagination is only going to continue to expand, which can keep his waking hours bright and exciting. When it comes time for bed, though, that very same imagination can lead to fears and anxieties that can turn bedtime into his least favorite time of day.
Restless sleep during this time might come in the form of resisting going to bed, or waking up at night, and if toddlers who are experiencing this kind of restless sleep are waking up cranky or tired in the morning, it’s probably not a sign that they need less sleep, just a sign that they’re having a hard time getting the sleep they need. The last few years before kindergarten are also the point in young children’s lives when the potential for night terrors and sleep-walking are highest.
Tips for promoting sleep in the third year
Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure for restless sleep in the toddler years – though you may find yourself telling Baby about a magic barrier driving his bad dreams away. Instead, the best tools your family has to promote healthy nighttime sleep for Baby are the same ones that have always been there:
- Do your best to keep his sleep schedule regular and predictable.
- Keep his bedroom set up as the perfect place for sleep – dim, warm-colored lights, no screens, window shades if there are bright lights outside – and follow a consistent bedtime routine when getting him ready to sleep for the night.
- Help him feel secure by talking through his fears, keeping his comfort objects nearby, and using a nightlight if he wants one.
- Setting and follow predictable, consistent rules about bedtime.
If your toddler is sleepwalking, or having regular night terrors, consult with his doctor.
- “Children and Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved July 19 2017. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/children-and-sleep/page/0/2.
- “How long should my toddler sleep?” Sleep.org. National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved July 19 2017. https://sleep.org/articles/how-long-should-toddler-sleep/.
- “Sleep in Toddlers & Preschoolers.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved July 19 2017. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/toddler-sleep-tips.