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Sleep Problems in Toddlers: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

As your baby becomes a toddler, his or her 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 your toddler isn't getting enough sleep, you may be worried. Sleep is important. Toddlers ages 1 to 3 need about 12 hours of sleep a day, including about 1½ to 3½ hours of nap time.

It is common for toddlers to wake up at night. Most of the time, when toddlers have trouble sleeping, it's because they do not have a set bedtime routine. 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 his or her sleep, and then once awake, does not remember the cry 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 call line 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 toddler 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 toddler'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.
  • Check to see whether your toddler needs a diaper change if he or she wakes up at night crying. If so:
    • Change your toddler quietly. Keep the light low.
    • Try not to play with your toddler. Put him or her 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.
  • Help prevent nightmares by controlling what your toddler watches on television.
  • Do not try to wake your toddler during a night terror. Instead, reassure and hold him or her to prevent injury.
  • If your toddler is overweight, set goals for managing his or her weight. Being overweight can cause sleep problems or make them worse.
  • If your doctor prescribes medicine, have your toddler take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if your toddler has any problems with his or her medicine.


Your growing child may be too excited about life to want to nap. But even if your toddler does not sleep, he or she usually still needs a restful break. The following tips can help you with nap time.

  • Have your toddler nap in the same place that he or she sleeps at night, if possible.
  • Tell your toddler when nap time is approaching, such as by saying "10 more minutes and it is 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 do not 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 call 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 his or her mouth.
  • Your toddler is sleeping all night but still seems tired during the day.

Where can you learn more?

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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.