How to get your children to sleep

A guide on toddler's sleep | By Lucy Wolfe, Sleep Consultant

Your toddler’s sleep will have been through many changes since they were first born. Certainly, from this age onwards, developmentally there is more capacity than ever, to initiate consolidated, uninterrupted sleep. However, it can be quite typical for parents to report that this dynamic is elusive, but that does not mean that better, more restful sleep is not possible. Your typically developing young child will have a sleep profile that can be enhanced by you, even if you feel you have already tried everything. It is just likely, that you have not tried what is needed to help improve your child’s sleep experience. This is not unusual, as so many factors influence how your child experiences their sleep. This has a wide range from diet and exercise, the physical and emotional environment, and the biology of your child’s sleep. Often, a combination of responsive changes can help. However, it does take time and it may also take continued review and refinement as you work towards more consolidated sleep for you all.

Initiate regular wake times

Children wake windows

Initiate a regular wake time, that does not start before 6am and is not later than 7. 30am. Not only is the timing and regularity relevant to sleep, but what you do when it is time to start the day is significant too. If you struggle with night wakes, based on the times above, always, immediately get up and press go on the day by going straight into the living area, exposing to bright and natural light, providing the first drink and breakfast. If the wake time is late or widely irregular, or you bring into bed for a cuddle – although lovely- this could be an explanation why frequent night waking occurs. It is possible, your child may routinely check with you through the night if it is time to cuddle in bed or not, represented by night-time awakening. The same applies for drinks or occasional/routine bed-sharing that may undermine your aspirations for better night sleep. Sometimes, practises to get more sleep can reinforce and perpetuate the cycle of waking.


How to get your child to nap

Naps are important and obviously have changed since infancy, with more adjustments to follow. Most twelve-month-olds will benefit from two naps per day, with the transition to one nap occurring from around fifteen to eighteen months. Understanding when this is relevant is based on a few symptoms, but most simply could be decided that if your child is tired by 10am, then two naps are needed, but the duration of nap one may need to be shortened to keep making room for a second sleep, until one nap is more appropriate. When one nap is adequate, having this nap bridge the day can help preserve the three to four hour preferred awake period before bedtime for children under eighteen months of age. This wake profile extends to four-to five hours from eighteen months plus. However, if your child is not sleeping well, having the minimal period can help unlock more sleep overnight. This speaks to earlier and regular bedtimes with most children in this age range benefitting from sleep onset between seven and eight pm. The more challenging the sleep is, the earlier the bedtime may need to be.

Well timed bedtimes

Children's bedtime tips

Well timed bedtimes, that are provided before your child is visibly tired, such as intense symptoms like eye rubbing, expansive yawning, cranky or wired are one of the best predictors of more consolidated sleep. When coupled with a bedtime routine, that is poised to prepare, rather than induce sleep, you will be increasing your chances further. This may mean twenty minutes of one-to-one time, after teeth, wash time, focused on connection and relaxation, but not involving active settling such as feeds, rocking or constant parent input to achieve sleep. If your child relies on parental intervention to get to sleep, they will be more likely to wake up and need more or similar throughout the overnight period. Keep feeds and drinks at least forty-five minutes before proposed sleep time and out of the bedroom itself. This can help transition from active settling alongside my stay and support approach to help your child process the changes. This means that as you help them develop their own sleep ability they are physically and emotionally accompanied by you in a staged based way. Make sure that the bedtime routine has a defined ending, with kisses and cuddles before lights out. Using Morphée, switched on before and left on for, the whole sleep period, may help your child achieve sleep quicker, resulting in longer stetches of sleep as well. Remember, that the brain seeks out conditions present at sleep onset so it will either need to be on, and left on, or off at the same time as lights out.

Night waking

How to get your children off to sleep

Experiencing consolidated overnight sleep may take a while, despite making the above changes. Typically, night waking continues until the overnight sleep phases are also treated with a change. This may mean night weaning feeds or drinks, ending bed sharing and replacing the predictable responses also implemented at bedtime, until the morning.

Know that more sleep is possible, and don’t give up trying to improve the sleep experience in your house. It does take time, patience, and belief, but once it clicks into place you will all begin to enjoy reliable, restful, and rejuvenating sleep.

Lucy Wolf
By Lucy Wolfe, Ireland’s leading responsive Sleep Practitioner, Co-Creational Relationship Mentor, PostGraduate Researcher (PhD), bestselling Author of 'The Baby Sleep Solution' and 'All About the Baby Sleep Solution' and mum of four. She runs a private sleep consulting practice at where she provides knowledge, expertise, and valuable support to families around the world. 

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