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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 1-year-old need?

Your 12-month-old may sleep between 10 and 16 hours a day. Usually 10 to 12 hours of this will be at night, with two daytime naps (BASIS, 2018; NHS 2020a).

Between 12 and 18 months though, they’re likely to drop one of their daytime naps. They’ll probably start just having one longer nap of around two hours in the afternoon, although all children are different.  

Toddler sleep regression and problems

First, it’s completely normal for toddlers to wake up in the night (NHS, 2020b). It might be once a week or quite a few times every night.

Why won't my toddler sleep through the night?

Babies and toddlers gradually develop the ability to self-settle as they get older. Parents can encourage this process by giving them the opportunity to practise it. However, many toddlers experience separation anxiety and will need support from their carers to fall back to sleep.

When they wake up, give your toddler lots of comfort – leaving them crying can make toddlers anxious or unsettled (NHS, 2018).

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 it won't always work.

2. Bedtime routine

A good bedtime routine is associated with sleeping more at night (De Stasio et al, 2020). This is possibly because it’s a good, clear signal for your toddler that it’s night time.

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

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 the chance look forward to bedtime on their own terms.

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 them getting exercise with not exhausting them. Overtired toddlers don’t go to bed too easily either.

4. Change their bedtime

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

5. Ditch the late screen time

Screens produce blue light, which suppresses the natural hormone in the brain that causes sleepiness (Mortazavi et al, 2018). So, if your toddler does watch TV or another screen near to bedtime, have some wind-down time afterwards (Cheung et al, 2017; RCPCH, no date). For more tips on managing your child's screen time, see our article Seven screen time tips.

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 is ready for a proper bed. You may choose to move them into a bed when they can reach over the top rail or show signs of trying to climb out (Which, 2021). 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 reminding them that nightime is for sleeping; 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.

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

Some toddlers love a 5am wake-up (Price et al, 2014). 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 you at least get some respite.
  • Take the boring but pragmatic option and go to bed earlier.

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 January 2022.

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.

BASIS. (2018) Normal infant sleep. Available at: https://www.basisonline.org.uk/files/2021/03/210322-Basis-Normal-Infant… [Accessed 15th January 2022]

Cheung CH, Bedford R, De Urabain IRS, Karmiloff-Smith A, Smith TJ. (2017) Daily touchscreen use in infants and toddlers is associated with reduced sleep and delayed sleep onset. Sci Rep. 7:46104. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep46104 [Accessed 15th January 2022]

De Stasio S, Boldrini F, Ragni B, Gentile S. (2020) Predictive factors of toddlers’ sleep and parental stress. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 17(7):2494. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7177928/ [Accessed 15th January 2022]

Mortazavi SAR. (2018) Blocking short-wavelength component of the visible light emitted by smartphones' screens improves human sleep quality. J Biomed Phys Eng. 8(4):375-380 Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6280115/ [Accessed 15th January 2022]

NHS. (2018a) Separation anxiety. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/babys-development/behaviour/separati… [Accessed 15th January 2022]

NHS. (2020a) How much sleep do children need? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-much-sleep-do-kids… [Accessed 15th January 2022]

NHS. (2020b) Sleep problems in young children. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/health/sleep-problems-in-young-child… [Accessed 15th January 2022]

Price AM, Brown JE, Bittman M, Wake M, Quach J, Hiscock H. (2014) Children's sleep patterns from 0 to 9 years: Australian population longitudinal study. Arch Dis Child. 99(2):119-125. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24347573 [Accessed 15th January 2022]

RCPCH. (no date) The health impacts of screen time: a guide for clinicians and parents. Available at: https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/health-impacts-screen-time-guide-clin… [Accessed 15th January 2022]

Which. (20210) Using cot beds safely. Available at:  https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/cot-beds/article/using-cot-beds-safely-… [Accessed 15th January 2022]

 

 

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