Toddler Sleep

As a parent of a toddler, you know that getting your little one to settle down for a nap or bedtime can be a daily struggle.

From endless requests for water or one more story to bouts of sudden energy right when it's time to wind down, it can feel like there's no end to the challenges of sleep. Establishing a consistent routine that includes both naps and a calming bedtime routine can help make these transitions smoother for both you and your child.

We asked Dr Kate Johnson Ph.D ( a fantastic and extremely knowledgeable sleep expert some questions around toddler sleep:.

How do you transition to one nap?

An important aspect of nap transitions is to remember that they are transitions!! So your toddler will probably go between needing two naps and then try for one and then go back to two for a while. This can feel a bit ‘messy’ as you will be moving bedtime around to compensate but this is totally normal and it’s only for a while as their body gets used to the new schedule. Ideally we want the single nap in the middle of the day so you want to move the time that you put them to bed later over a period of days. Just try adding 5 or 10 minutes a day to get them closer to 12/12.30pm.

How do you know when to cut naps altogether?

As much as possible you want to let your toddlers body decide that. So if they still need to nap but it’s starting to impact bedtime and/or overnight sleep then you can cap it and give them a shorter nap and have them up by a certain time. Then at some point if you are finding that bedtime is getting ridiculously late or they are waking up for long periods in the middle of the night, then it’s probably time to drop the nap altogether.

How do you transition your toddler from a cot to a bed?

I would always recommend trying to stay in the cot for as long as you can. This is simply because impulse control doesn’t really develop until some time after 3 and it’s so it’s much harder when there isn’t anything telling them to stay in bed! If your toddler is climbing out of their cot though, it’s time to move to a big bed. It can be good to get your toddler involved with decisions about the new bed, such as their sheets or a special blanket so they are invested in the process. 

How do you settle an overtired toddler at night?

While wind down time is always good before bed, you may be finding that your toddler doesn’t respond to this quiet time (think sitting quietly and reading books) in the same way that they used to! There are two components that you might want to add to your night time routine with this new developmental stage. These are 1:1 time and rough housing. Spending some 1:1 time with your toddler, free from phones etc and letting your toddler direct the time can be helpful in building connection and helping them to start to regulate prior to bed. Rough housing might sound counter intuitive before bed but laughing can actually be a really good way of releasing stress and can flood your toddler with happy hormones. This is not actual tickling (as this can be overstimulating for some children) but even just pretending to tickle or something that is joyful to your child and makes them laugh out loud.    

What should you do if your toddler jumps out of bed as soon as you put them down?

This is all about building confidence in your toddler about separation. So supporting them to stay in their bed and to be able to relax and drift off to sleep. For some families, sitting with their toddler can be an effective strategy to help them to go off to sleep. If you are working

on being able to come out more as they go to sleep, then you can try a check in approach where you go and “do something” elsewhere in the house but keep coming back and checking in as they go to sleep. With whichever strategy, lots of positive reinforcement for any of the parts of the process they get - as sleep is a very dynamic and involves many steps and so we want to keep encouraging them as they build up their confidence with these new skills.


Dr Kate Johnson Ph.D


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