What to Expect
Developing healthy sleep habits, like many behavioral routines, is important to start at an early age. The older he gets, the tougher some of these changes can be to make. For example, many little ones still have a bottle at bedtime or in the crib during sleep. Falling asleep while drinking a bottle of milk or juice, then having access to it during the night, can impact the healthy development of your little one’s teeth. If your little one still has a bottle with him at bedtime and/or overnight, it’s probably time to wean the bottle. Changing the bottle’s contents from milk or juice to water is also a healthier option, although no bottle is best.
Keeping your toddler’s routine consistent is important! This can be a particularly exciting, yet possibly challenging, time considering all of the developmental changes your little one is likely experiencing. Your toddler is probably able to communicate and move around a bit better, and these things can change how you complete your day-to-day tasks. Keeping your bedtime routine as consistent as possible will help him to get through some of the changes due to typical developmental milestones. Also, know that a bedtime of around 7:30 p.m. is still appropriate for your toddler.
The more your toddler sleeps the better your toddler will sleep. And, those that can fall asleep on their own at bedtime typically sleep better. If your little one still needs to be fed (bottle or nursing) right before bed, it is probably time to think about swapping that feed out for a snack before the bedtime routine. This is particularly the case for those toddlers closer to that 15 to 17 month old range – so if your little one is about 12-months, it might be time to start thinking about that change. If you have an older toddler, it’s probably time to start making the change. Start by moving feeding to before the routine and even outside of the bedroom altogether. For an older toddler, you may be able to simply switch the bottle or nursing time for a snack – something like yogurt or cheese. If that is too much for your little one, reduce the amount you feed him by about 1-2 ounces every 1-2 nights (if you are bottle feeding) or by a few minutes every 1-2 nights (if you are nursing) until he is not getting the feeding at all. He might be a little upset as he falls asleep for the first few nights – but stick with it! With all change comes some resistance, but he will get the hang of it!
Toddlers around 12-months-old sleep, on average, 11 to 14 hours per 24-hour period. If you think your toddler sleeps too much and is quite drowsy during the day despite getting a lot of sleep, be sure to contact your health care provider. Similarly, if you can tell that your little one is not getting enough sleep or has poor sleep quality (for instance, he wakes frequently or snores) contact your health care provider. Know that for toddlers, the more sleep they get, the better they will sleep. Also, when toddlers do not get enough sleep they may actually become over active and have a harder time falling asleep instead of slowing down and falling asleep easily.
Is your toddler still waking during the night? Think about how he falls asleep at bedtime. Helping him learn to fall asleep independently at bedtime will help him to return to sleep independently after natural night wakings (that all little ones have). This means that you want to make sure he knows how to go from being completely awake to completely asleep all on his own without even having an adult in the room. Another way to think about this is to make sure his environment overnight is the same as his environment at bedtime. So, if he has his favorite blanket at bedtime, make sure he has access to it overnight. Also, make sure he is not waking because he is physically uncomfortable. If you hear him snoring, if he looks like he is working hard to breathe, or if you think he has something like a cold, be sure to contact your health care provider.
Between 12- and 18-months old, little ones move toward taking only one nap per day. As they transition from taking 2 naps to 1 per day, it is common for little ones to go back and forth – sometimes needing 2 and other days being okay with one nap. When little ones take one nap per day, it usually starts at around 1:00 p.m. and lasts 2 to 3 hours. There are a few things you can do to help him transition to one nap per day. First, try making naptime after lunch. You can make lunch as early as you would like to start, then push it later by about 15-20 minutes every two or three days until you get to a naptime of about 1:00 p.m. Keep your naptime routine similar to your bedtime routine, and have him nap where he sleeps overnight whenever possible – this will help him transition a bit more easily.
Family & Environment
Your toddler is probably gaining tons of skills – likely his first steps and his first words! Just like changes in behavior or routine, typical developmental milestones can certainly affect sleep. Keeping your routine consistent will help through these developmental changes. Also, your little one is now old enough to have a blanket or toy in his crib. Using a special blanket or age-appropriate toy during the bedtime routine can be a useful transition lovie for him to use as he falls asleep at bedtime.
General Sleep Patterns
Hang in there! Your baby is still incredibly young. It is expected that your newborn will sleep in short periods (30 minutes to 3 hours) throughout the day and night. However, there is great individual variability. If your little one still has his nights and days mixed up, be sure to wake him for feedings throughout the day, be your typical noisy self, and make sure he gets plenty of morning light. At night, keep the lights dim and playtime at a minimum.