To recover from the typical day, you probably feel like you could sleep for 12 to 13 hours straight. You’ll be lucky to get seven hours, but your toddler or preschooler needs to get all the sleep his body craves in order to grow and develop normally — and to prevent extreme crankiness. Though you can’t get as much sleep as you’d like, making sure your little guy gets enough zzzzz’s might have as much bearing on your happiness.
Total Sleep Needs
Once upon a time, your child was a tiny mewling ball of wrinkles who clocked about 16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period — yet still managed to keep you awake all night. Nowadays, despite the fact that he’s a blur of constant activity, he doesn’t need quite as much sleep as he once did. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a child between 1 and 3 years old needs a total of about 12 to 14 hours of shuteye in a 24 hour period; between 3 and 5 years old, he’ll probably function best when he gets between 11 and 13 hours of sleep per day.
Nap time is more than just the chance for you to wash dishes in peace — you know by now that your toddler can’t make it through the day without a nap or he’ll start melting down. Of the total 12 to 14 hours of sleep a toddler needs, he’ll need to get anywhere from one to three hours of that time in the form of a nap. By the time your tot reaches 18 months old, he’ll probably just need a single afternoon nap.
As your child leaves toddler hood behind, he’ll gradually outgrow his need for a nap. Your 4 year old might still need 90 minutes of rest in the afternoon, but another preschooler the same age might not need a nap at all.
Identifying His Sleep Needs
As they do with baths and half-price sales, young kids fail to recognize the beauty of sleep. Your kiddo might insist he doesn’t need a nap, but you know him well enough to spot the signs that he needs rest. A child who’s rubbing his eyes, seems distracted and unfocused or is unusually cranky might be sleep-deprived. Even if he gave up naps a year ago, a preschooler who’s had a busy day filled with stimulation and exercise is bound to need a mid-day snooze.
On the other hand, if your child routinely takes an hour to fall asleep or wakes up in the morning before the sun, it might be time to push his bedtime back a bit or consider dropping his nap.
Helping Him Sleep
The easier it is to get him to sleep, the less exhausted you’ll feel when it’s finally your turn. Establishing and sticking to a pre-sleep routine should take a lot of the fight out of bedtime. Declare the 20 or 30 minutes before nap or bedtime as quiet time. Dim the lights, turn off the TV, turn on soothing music and let your child play with stuffed animals, coloring books or stories. Set a visible timer and give your child warnings like “five minutes until night night” so your little Energizer Bunny won’t be taken by surprise when it’s time to climb into bed.
Give him a little extra love before he goes to sleep so he might actually look forward to lights out; take two or three minutes to talk about the day and give him snuggles. As long as his room is cool and dark — though he might need a nightlight — he’ll be comfortable as he drifts off.