Healthy sleep is important to promote baby growth and development. Now your baby is officially a toddler – but he still needs as much sleep as he did when he was younger. Until his second birthday, your child should get about 14 hours of sleep a day, 11 of those hours at night. The rest will come in nap form.
Your child will still need two naps at 12 months, but by the time he’s 18 months old, he may be ready for a single 90-minute to three-hour nap in the afternoon – a pattern he may follow until he’s age 4 or age 5.
The transition from two naps to one can be difficult. Sleep expert Jodi Mindell suggests alternating one-nap and two-nap days, depending on how much sleep your toddler got the night before. You can also try putting your child to bed a little earlier on one-nap days.
How to establish healthy sleep habits
There’s not much you can do to help your child become a good sleeper at this age. Sometime between 18 months and your child’s third birthday you should watch for new issues, such as bedtime resistance. Continue practicing the strategies you’ve been developing since your child was 6 months old, including:
Following a nightly bedtime ritual.
A regular bedtime routine helps your child wind down at the end of the day and get ready for sleep. If he needs to work off some excess energy, it’s okay to let him run around for a little while. Then you can move on to something more calming, such as a quiet game, bath, or bedtime story.
Follow the same pattern every night, even when you’re away from home. Toddlers love consistency, and being able to predict when and how something’s going to happen helps them feel in control.
Stick to a consistent daily schedule, including bedtime and nap times.
As always, it’s also a good idea to set and stick to a consistent bedtime and nap times as part of your daily schedule. If your child naps, eats, plays, and gets ready for bed at about the same time every day, he’ll be much more likely to fall asleep without a struggle.
Make sure your child is able to fall asleep on his own.
Don’t forget how important it is for your toddler to fall asleep by himself every night. You may want to consider not rocking, nursing, or singing your child to sleep so he’ll learn to settle himself back down when he wakes up at night. Your child waking up and not being able to get himself back to sleep is less than ideal for you, too – if he does wake up, he’ll probably cry for you.
At this age, your child may have difficulty falling asleep or wake up frequently at night. That could be related to the developmental milestones he’s reaching, especially walking. Your toddler is so excited by his new skills that he wants to keep practicing, even when you say it’s bedtime.
If he resists going to sleep, most experts advise leaving him in his crib for a few minutes to see whether he’ll calm down. If not, you may want to consider using some version of the “cry it out” approach.
If you don’t want to go that route, it’s fine to reassure your child of your presence. Don’t turn on the light in his room and don’t stay too long. You can try scaling back your responses to him by waiting a little bit longer to go in each time he calls and going a little farther from his bed on each visit. Eventually you can reassure him from the doorway without actually going in. Each time, remind him that it’s time to go to sleep.
You’ll also have to decide what to do if he wakes up at night, can’t soothe himself back to sleep, and ends up crying for you. It’s fine to go in and check on or comfort him. But if he wants you to stay and play, gently remind him that nighttime is for healthy sleep.
When to get help
Sleep troubles are common in kids. Sometimes you just need to be patient and wait them out. But if your child has trouble falling and staying asleep, then seems sleepy during the day, or has trouble breathing or snores loudly, it’s a good idea to check in with his doctor to rule out problems (such as sleep apnea) that can prevent him from getting enough rest.