Dad with toddler in pjs

Does your toddler start the day at 5am? Or are they still waking in the night? Here’s what to expect from the phase of toddler sleep…

How much sleep does my one-year old need?

Your 12-month-old will still sleep for around 14 hours a day – usually 10 to 12 hours at night with two daytime naps.

Between 12 and 18 months though, they’re likely to drop one of their daytime naps. They’ll probably start just having one longer one of around two hours in the afternoon (Raising Children Network, 2018; WebMD, 2018).  

Toddler sleep regression and problems: why do they wake at night?

First, it’s completely normal for toddlers to wake up in the night (Psychology Today, 2013). It might be once a week or quite a few times every night (Weinraub et al, 2012).

Just like when they were babies, it helps to guide them towards self-settling. When they wake up, give them lots of comfort – leaving them crying can make toddlers anxious or unsettled (Psychology Today, 2013).

How can I make my toddler’s bedtime easier?

1. Consistent daily routine

Try to make sure your toddler naps, eats, plays, and gets ready for bed at about the same time every day. That can make it much easier for them to fall asleep at night without a struggle. 

On the other hand, this is real life so definitely don’t worry if that doesn’t always happen (Raising Children Network, 2018).

2. Bedtime routine

A good bedtime routine is associated with sleeping more at night (Staples et al, 2016). This is probably because it’s a good, clear signal for your toddler that it’s night time (GOSH, 2017).

Try to follow the same pattern every evening and treat it as a special time. Their routine might include:

  • a bath,
  • a gentle massage,
  • milk and/or
  • a quiet song or story.

Before bed, give them some choices like choosing their pyjamas or which book they want to read. This gives them some control over things and perhaps look forward to bedtime on their own terms (NHS Wales, 2017).

3. Exercise during the day

If you’re finding that your toddler still has lots of energy before bed, make sure they get some exercise earlier in the day. Ideally take them to play outside so they get fresh air too.

You know your own child so balance this with not exhausting them. Overtired toddlers don’t go to bed too easily either (NHS Wales, 2017)

4. Change their bedtime

If your toddler’s taking a long time to fall asleep or going to bed too late, you could think about shifting their schedule (Raising Children Network, 2018). It might be that they’re just ready for a new bedtime.

5. Ditch the late screen time

TV produces light that suppresses the natural hormones in the brain that cause sleepiness (GOSH, 2017). So, if your toddler does watch TV near to bedtime, have some wind down time afterwards (Thompson and Christakis, 2005).

Excited children find it hard to settle and are also more likely to wake up during the night (NHS Wales, 2017).

How can I stop my toddler from climbing out of their cot?

Ah, the rite of passage that is hearing a bump and finding your child has scaled the bars of the cot. You’re not alone.

Many parents see this cot-escaping as a signal that their toddler’s ready for a proper bed. But it’s usually best to do that when they’re nearer to three years old. In the meantime, try:

  • Lowering the mattress to its lowest position.
  • Clearing the cot of anything they can use to climb on.
  • Staying calm and neutral so your toddler doesn’t associate climbing out of their cot with getting your attention.
  • Putting them back and telling them they must stay in there. This needs to be done calmly, repeatedly and consistently.
  • Waiting a few minutes outside the door after you put them to bed so you can catch any early attempts to escape.

(NHS Wales, 2017; Raising Children Network, 2018)

What can I do when my toddler wakes up too early?

Some toddlers love a 5am wake-up. And most adults? They usually don’t love a 5am wake-up.

If this morning horror is happening to you, you might be tempted to move your child’s bedtime later. Yet that can work out badly, making them overtired so it’s harder for them to settle at night. Instead, a few tips are:

  • Try to remember that the early mornings won’t last forever (though we know it’s easier said than done when you’ve used up all of the day’s craft ideas and it’s only 6.30am…)
  • Get some rest when your toddler naps during the day if you’re on maternity/ paternity leave.
  • Take turns with your partner so that you at least get some respite.
  • Take the boring but pragmatic option and go to bed earlier (Raising Children Network, 2018).

When to get help with your toddler’s sleep

If your toddler’s really struggling with sleep, don’t panic: it’s almost definitely just a phase. This might be especially true if something new has happened in their life lately, like starting nursery.

If you’re worried, speak to your health visitor. If they think there could be a physical cause, they will refer you to your GP.

This page was last reviewed in September 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

The Lullaby Trust has lots of useful information and support for parents about safe sleep.

GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust). (2017) Sleep hygiene in children. Available from: https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/medical-information/procedures-and-treatments/sleep-hygiene-children [Accessed 18th September 2018]

NHS Wales. (2014) A psychological guide for families: sleep problems in children. Available from: www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/866/opendoc/184965 [Accessed 18th September 2018]

Psychology Today. (2013) Understanding and helping toddler sleep. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/moral-landscapes/201303/understanding-and-helping-toddler-sleep [Accessed 18th September 2018]

Raising Children Network (2018) Toddlers: sleep (1-3 years). Available from: https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/sleep [Accessed 18th September 2018]

Staples AD, Bates JE, Petersen IT. (2016) Chapter IX. Bedtime routines in toddlerhood: prevalence, consistency, and associations with night time sleep. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 80(1):141-159. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4843998/ [Accessed 18th September 2018]

Thompson DA, Christakis DA. (2005) The association between television viewing and irregular sleep schedules among children less than 3 years of age. Pediatrics. 116(4):851-856. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16199693 [Accessed 18th September 2018]

WebMD. (2018) How much sleep do my children need? Available from: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/sleep-children#1 [Accessed 18th September 2018]

Weinraub M, Bender RH, Friedman SL, Susman EJ, Knobe B, Bradley R, Houts R, Williams J. (2012) Patterns of developmental change in infants’ night time sleep awakenings from 6 through 36 months of age. Dev Psychol. 48(6):1511-1528. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22448981 [Accessed: 18th September 2018]

Further reading

Alfano CA, Ginsburg GS, Kingery JN. (2007) Sleep-related problems among children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. J Am Acad Child Adoles Psychiatry. 46(2):224-232. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17242626 [Accessed: 18th September 2018]

Related articles

Dad with toddler in pjs

Local activities and meetups

NCT Membership
Support NCT Charity by becoming a member

Courses & workshops

Baby First Aid

Find out more

NCT Early Days course

Find out more

NCT Introducing Solid Foods online workshop

Find out more