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Sleep Problems in Toddlers: Care Instructions


As babies become toddlers, their sleep habits change. The world is getting more exciting, and your toddler may not be ready to sleep at bedtime. Nap time also may change. Your toddler might resist a morning nap and want to rest only in the afternoon.

If you feel that your toddler isn't getting enough sleep, talk to your child's doctor. Toddlers ages 1 to 3 need about 12 hours of sleep a day, including about 1½ to 3½ hours of nap time.

It's common for toddlers to wake up at night. A set bedtime routine can help avoid some of those problems. Doing the same things in order every night helps your child know what to expect and sleep better.

But some toddlers have sleep problems that keep them, and often their families, from getting the sleep they need. These problems include:

  • Night terrors. Your toddler wakes up screaming in their sleep. And then when they're awake, they don't remember crying or what caused it.
  • Snoring or breathing problems like sleep apnea.

Your doctor will work with you to find out what is causing your toddler's sleep problem. For many children, getting regular exercise, eating well, and having a good bedtime routine relieves sleep problems. If you try these changes and your child still has problems, the doctor may suggest testing or other treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Set up a bedtime routine to help your toddler get ready for bed and sleep. For example, read together, cuddle, and listen to soft music for 15 to 30 minutes before turning out the lights. Do things in the same order each night so your child knows what to expect.
    • Have your toddler go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep your child's bedroom quiet, dark or dimly lit, and cool.
    • Limit activities that stimulate your toddler, such as playing and watching television, in the hours closer to bedtime.
    • Limit eating and drinking near bedtime.
  • If your toddler wakes up at night crying, check to see if they need a diaper change. If so:
    • Change your child quietly. Keep the light low.
    • Try not to play with your toddler. Put them back in the crib or bed after changing.
  • If your toddler wakes up and calls for you in the middle of the night, make your response the same each time. Offer quick comfort, but then leave the room.
  • Avoid reading scary stories and watching scary programs that might cause your child to worry. Stress may cause nightmares.
  • Don't try to wake your toddler during a night terror. Instead, reassure and hold your child to prevent injury.
  • If you think your toddler is overweight, talk to your doctor. Being overweight can cause sleep problems or make them worse.
  • Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.

Nap time

  • Plan for daily nap time. Your growing child may be too excited about life to want to nap. But even if toddlers don't sleep, they usually still need a restful break.
  • Have your toddler nap in the same place where they sleep at night, if possible.
  • Tell your toddler when nap time is approaching, such as by saying "10 more minutes and it's time to lie down." Slow down the pace as nap time nears. Play quietly, read books, or start other soothing activities.
  • Time naps so they don't go past 3 or 4 in the afternoon, or you may have a harder time putting your toddler to bed at night.
  • Make sure the napping room is quiet and dark. Try playing soft music, running a fan, or providing other soothing sounds.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your toddler continues to have sleep problems.
  • You have concerns about how your toddler is sleeping.
  • Your toddler is snoring a lot, snorts, sleeps in odd positions, and breathes through their mouth.
  • Your toddler is sleeping all night but still seems tired during the day.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.