Toddlers between the ages of one and three years need 11 to 14 hours of sleep (1). The sleeping hours are distributed between their daytime naps and nighttime sleep. However, the bulk of their sleep consists of nighttime sleep, thus making it essential to maintain a bedtime routine for toddlers (2).
It is not uncommon for toddlers to resist going to bed at night. Establishing and reinforcing a positive bedtime routine helps them go to bed at the right time. It could also help establish a positive attitude towards sleep early in childhood (3).
Read on to learn about the toddler bedtime routine, how to set the right bedtime routine for toddlers, and mistakes to avoid.
When Is A Good Bedtime For Toddlers?
According to sleep experts, toddlers are ready for nighttime sleep between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm. It is usually considered an appropriate period since toddlers tend to have a deep sleep between 8:00 pm and midnight (3). It is essential to keep the routine consistent through weekends and weekdays.
How To Set A Toddler Bedtime Routine And Schedule?
A bedtime routine consists of doing similar and calming activities 15–30 minutes before sleep every night. These activities may include giving a warm bath, brushing teeth, and reading a story. The aim is to relax the toddler so that they can sleep better.
Many toddlers usually sleep later than 7:30 pm. You may follow the following steps to introduce and set a toddler’s bedtime routine (4).
- Start with current bedtime: Begin with the time at which your toddler sleeps currently. A drastic change in bedtime routine may disturb the child’s sleep cycle and even make them fussy.
- Introduce the change: Begin by moving the bedtime to 15 minutes before the toddler’s current bedtime. For instance, if your toddler sleeps by 9:00 pm, move the time to 8:45 pm. Start the bedtime routine 15–30 minutes to the new targeted bedtime. In this case, it would be between 8:15 pm and 8:30 pm.
- Move the bedtime gradually: Keep moving the bedtime earlier by 15 minutes until you reach the appropriate bedtime between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm. The gradual shift will make it easier for the toddler to transition and also make it less noticeable.
Toddler Bedtime Chart
A bedtime routine can start after dinner and a bath. Your toddler may listen to a story or have a quiet play for 15–30 minutes before bedtime. You may cuddle them or give them a kiss and finally put them to bed.
The following is an example of a bedtime routine for a toddler.
- 6.30 pm: Brush the teeth of your toddler and change their diaper.
- 6.45 pm: Have a quiet time and read a book or tell a story. Avoid any physical activity during this time because it will make them eager to participate.
- 7 pm: Tuck your toddler into the bed and say goodnight.
You can tweak the routine based on the targeted bedtime for the toddler and based on the time taken for a bedtime activity.
How Can You Make Your Toddler’s Bedtime Easier?
You may try the following tips to make your toddler’s bedtime routine easier (5).
- Follow a consistent routine: Place the toddler in bed at the same time each night. Also, begin the bedtime routine at the same time and with the same activities. Observe a consistent daytime naps routine so that the toddler is not excessively drowsy or excessively alert by night.
- Feed early: Feed the toddler at least 30 minutes before going to bed and make sure they brush their teeth to avoid tooth decay. Feeding includes feeding breast milk and formula.
- Maintain a comfortable sleep environment: Before turning off the light, make sure the environment is comfortable, safe, and free from noise. It is also recommended to turn off the TV, tablet, and mobile one hour before sleeping time.
- Establish a bond: You should also try to establish a healthy relationship with your toddler during the day, so the child cooperates with you during nighttime.
It is essential to maintain consistency over the weekends. Also, aim at maintaining the same routine even when you are traveling.
Common Mistakes When Starting A Toddler Bedtime Routine
The following are some of the common mistakes that parents tend to commit while setting the bedtime routine for a toddler (3).
Mistake 1: Changing routines
The bedtime routine should be consistent and frequent changes must be avoided. The routine is established to bring stability into your toddlers’ life. The following are the ways in which parents unknowingly change the routine.
- Changing the time of night sleep abruptly
- Changing the peaceful fun activity to exciting play before sleep
- Allowing extra screen time for toddlers
- Changing the toddler’s sleep area or bed at night instead of doing it for daytime naps
If you foresee a change in the toddler’s routine due to an event, such as a family gathering, plan accordingly to not disturb the toddler’s bedtime routine.
Mistake 2: Ignoring your child’s cues
Parents need to recognize signs that the toddler is ready for bedtime. For instance, a toddler ready for bed at night is likely to display signs such as yawning, falling asleep on the sofa, or drowsiness. Check for the cues and promptly begin the bedtime routine. Adjust the bedtime routine so that you begin it by the time the toddler is drowsy. Excessively drowsy and overtired toddlers may sleep at odd timings and find it difficult to fall asleep later at night.
Mistake 3: Making bedtime routine too long
Limit the bedtime routine to 30 minutes. Extending it for too long may overstimulate the toddler and make it difficult for them to sleep. Some toddlers may insist on extending the routine, such as asking you to read an interesting book for longer. However, stick to the time limit to keep the routine consistent.
Bedtime Routine Hacks For Toddlers
- Plan their daytime routine: It is necessary to have a consistent daytime routine for a successful nighttime routine. The toddler must spend some time outside and get fresh air and sunlight. They should also engage in physical activities so that they are tired by the time they are in their beds. The daytime routine should also include naps that are timely and not too short or too late. Preferably, schedule this resting period for the early afternoon, around 1:30 or 2pm. It should last just under two hours. A too-late nap can interfere with the toddler’s ability to sleep at night.
- Define boundaries: Before initiating any activity, it is important to define boundaries. Set a time limit for each bedtime activity, such as how many stories you will read or lullabies you will sing to them.
- Read relevant bedtime stories: Read a bedtime story that is suited for the bedtime routine. There are many bedtime stories and books for toddlers that you may consider. These stories are simple, non-scary, and do not overstimulate the toddler, so that they can sleep better. Also, avoid engaging in any conversation after the bedtime routine.
- Have a bedtime routine song: You may have a bedtime routine song that you and the toddler can sing right before they go to sleep. It can mark the end of the bedtime routine and indicate it is time for the child to sleep.
- Diffuse essential oils: Soothe the toddler by diffusing essential oils, such as chamomile oil or lavender oil, during your child’s bath or in the bedroom. Not all toddlers love the fragrance of essential oils. You may try multiple oils and check what works the best for your toddler. However, if your toddler does not like it or the fragrance makes it difficult for the toddler to sleep, stop using essential oils.
- Give them a relaxing bath: Many toddlers love bathing in bubbly soap water. It relaxes them, makes them feel fresher, and makes them feel mentally ready to relax and sleep.
- Give them an oil massage: Parents may also find a nighttime oil massage helpful in settling their toddlers to sleep. It stimulates blood circulation and brings a calming effect, helping them sleep better.
- Avoid screen-time two hours before sleep: Screen time close to bedtime could overstimulate the toddler and make it difficult for them to sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour of screen time a day for toddlers.
- Dress them appropriately: A toddler should wear light and breathable clothes during the night. If the weather is cold, dress them in warmer clothes. Appropriate clothing can make them fall asleep easily and sleep better through the night.
- Hold your ground: An effective, positive bedtime routine requires commitment from the parents. There could be instances where parents may not observe the bedtime routine during weekends. Remember, toddlers may unlearn things quickly. Therefore, the success of your toddler’s bedtime routine also depends on your commitment, irrespective of the day and situation.
There are several changes in sleep patterns as the baby steps into toddlerhood. Many toddlers may not sleep well and have difficulty staying in bed, but a bedtime routine can help. Your toddler’s bedtime routine can include a bath, brushing teeth, reading a book, or listening to a soothing song. A positive, consistent bedtime routine can help your child sleep better and establish healthy sleeping habits for the long-term.
2. Infant Sleep; Stanford’s Children Health
3. Toddler sleep: what to expect; Raising Children Network
4. Positive bedtime routines for babies and toddlers; Raising Children Network
5. Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?; American Academy of Pediatrics
6. Where We Stand: Screen Time; American Academy of Pediatrics