Once the first year has gone by and sleep isn't as fitful and infrequent as it used to be, you might expect that your child will easily fall into a regular routine. Though some parents are particularly lucky in this area, I would bet solid money that most children still engage in bedtime battles well into their toddler years. To help you navigate these potentially rough waters, experts have weighed in with guidelines for the best sleep schedule for 18- to 24-month-olds. Each child is different, but having a general idea of what their wake and rest cycle should look like can be helpful.
Since your little one isn't really an infant anymore, but not quite a big kid either, this in-between stage can be particularly tricky for any parent. Regardless of whether this is your first child, it might ease your mind to know that basically no two children are alike. One of my dear friends with three children swears that none of them hit sleep milestones in the same way or had similar temperaments. Don't be discouraged if it takes a little bit of trial and error before you get into a solid rhythm for rest.
One of the first things to consider when thinking about your toddler's sleep schedule is how much sleep your child should be getting. In an email exchange with Romper, pediatric psychologist Dr. Elena Mikalsen says, "Children 18 to 24 months old should sleep 11 to 14 hours a day (this includes naps) for optimum health and development." This time range just goes to show you that there can be quite a bit of variance in a child's sleep schedule. But as long as they are not drastically outside the parameters, there's no need to worry if your tot is getting more or less sleep than other children their age.
If your little one doesn't do well with change, there are ways to ease them into this transition to a healthy sleep schedule. As Nicole Cannon, a sleep expert for New Jersey-based sleep consultancy Sleepy Mama, tells Romper, "Sometimes when a child is adjusting to a new schedule it's hard for them to get on a later schedule. So I advise parents try a certain time (for example 11:30 a.m.) nap for 3 days. Then push that nap to 12 p.m. for the next 3 days until you reach the ideal nap time for your child." Cannon further explains that these tiny changes will result in an easier nap time for both you and your child.
Now that you know about how many hours of sleep in total your little one needs and how to implement a new nap routine, you're probably wondering what the ideal sleep schedule is for your child. Fortunately, certified pediatric sleep consultant for Rest Well Baby Tracie Kesatie lays it out for us:
6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., wake up and breakfast, noon to 12:30 p.m. is lunch, 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. is an afternoon nap, around 5:00 p.m. or 5:30 p.m is dinner, with the start of a bath or bedtime routine at 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. is bedtime.
Of course, you might encounter a bit of resistance when you set a new sleep schedule for your child. Even though that can be discouraging, sticking with a regular routine truly does pay off. We talked to psychoneurologist Dr. Becky Blake about what to do if your child protests, and she advises, "Be consistent. Don't keep changing the times or skip nap times when traveling — that is when kids get thrown off and cranky." Blake adds one last piece of advice: "There are always one or two kids that buck the system. They may need less sleep, but they still crave consistency and routine."
So hang in there. Remember, the whole family benefits from consistency. The schedule is your friend.