Setting reasonable bedtimes as your toddler moves into childhood

One of the most asked questions about toddlers is: “Should I enforce a set bedtime?” And the short answer is: yes. Sticking with a consistent bedtime makes a significant difference in your child’s health, behavior, and overall mood. It also makes for happier parents!

Since most two-and-a-half-year-olds are still napping during the day, it may be tempting to allow some flexibility at light’s out. However, your toddler will eventually give up those naps, and you will need to make adjustments to her nighttime sleep.

Having a set bedtime and following a routine enables her to develop good sleep habits, which helps her fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake-up ready for the day.

The right amount of sleep

According to the Academy of Pediatrics, children one to two years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours in every 24 (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health. And children three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

Bedtime tips as she gets older

As your two-year-old grows, she will begin to sleep less during the day—which makes the nightly routine even more important. Making sure she still gets the recommended number of sleep hours per day will require you to make some changes to her schedule. The following tips and considerations will help you set and stick to a reasonable bedtime as he gets older.

  • Transition from a crib to a toddler bed: Most toddlers move from a crib to a larger bed between the ages of two and three. This transition can be both exciting and scary for a child. Moving to a big kid bed can give her a boost of confidence. However, it can also lead to initial sleep problems as she adjusts to her new environment. She may struggle to go to bed at her regularly scheduled time, but stay consistent and stick to her routine, especially if you have recently added hours to her nighttime sleep schedule.
  • Number of naps: If your toddler is napping less, you need to add the time lost from her daytime sleep to her nighttime hours. For example, if she normally sleeps 10 hours at night and she eliminates a one-hour nap, then add an hour to her nightly sleep. The total number of hours per day needs to stay the same for the recommended age range.
  • Adjust the tuck-in time: As your child approaches her third birthday, she may be napping less, which means you need to adjust her bedtime. Changing the time at night is generally the way to go, especially if she has to get up at a set time in the morning for daycare or preschool. If you can, move her bedtime earlier right away. However, if you find that she is struggling to relax and fall asleep with this new change, consider making the adjustments in 15-minute increments. For example, if she used to go to bed at 9:00 p.m. when she napped twice a day, move her bedtime to 8:45 p.m. on day one, 8:30 p.m. on day two, 8:15 p.m. on day three, and 8:00 p.m. on day four. Within a week, she will have taught her body to go to sleep earlier, and she will be getting the recommended hours she needs each night.
  • Change the nightly routine: Kids tend to get their “second wind” right before it’s time to hit the pillow, which makes it difficult to wind down and get ready for bed. Eliminating screens and physical activity at least one hour prior to bedtime will help your child prepare for sleep. And if you need a little help creating a routine, consider the three B’s for consistency: Brush, Book, Bed. Dim the lights, turn off any sound on electronics or televisions, and begin the three B routine about an hour before lights out.

About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. 

  • “American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 13 2016. Retrieved August 22 2017.
  • “Brush, Book, Bed: How to Structure Your Child’s Nighttime Routine.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved August 22 2017. 

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