Toddlers crave routine, and it’s no different at bedtime. A bedtime routine can help create consistency for your toddler and decrease bedtime battles. To help you with this, I’ve answered some common questions I get about toddler sleep, put together 2 sample toddler bedtime routines, and even included a free printable bedtime routine chart.
Why is a bedtime routine important for toddlers?
Toddlers truly thrive on predictability. Having a consistent bedtime routine for your toddler sets a loving boundary that helps your child feel secure and promotes healthy sleep habits. There are many benefits to following and maintaining a bedtime routine for your toddler:
Bedtime routines are shown to lead to longer, less disrupted nighttime sleep.
Bedtime routines can help reduce tantrums.
Bedtime routines are associated with improved emotional regulation and positive temperament.
What time should a toddler be going to bed?
Most toddlers do best with a bedtime between 7-8 p.m. Several studies have found that a bedtime before 9 p.m. leads to better toddler sleep, and we see better behavioral outcomes with age-appropriate sleep schedules.
If your toddler is still napping, we generally want bedtime to be 4.5-5.5 hours from the end of their nap. Wake windows typically increase with age, so a two year old will likely need around 4.5 hours of wake time before bed, while a three or four year old may do better with closer to 5.5 hours.
How long should a toddler's bedtime routine be? Is my toddler’s bedtime routine too long?
We want to aim for a bedtime routine to be around 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the activities involved. If a bath is part of your bedtime routine, it will likely take closer to 30 minutes or more (depending on how much your toddler likes to play in the tub).
What is a good bedtime routine for toddlers?
A bedtime routine doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s simply a series of events that cue your toddler’s brain that sleep is coming and help prepare their body for sleep. Since toddlers and preschoolers do best when they know what to expect, you’ll want to include the same steps in the same order each night. This helps your toddler understand your expectations around bedtime.
So what should your toddler’s bedtime routine look like? Research suggests there are a few basic steps in a bedtime routine that promote better outcomes for sleep and your child’s overall well-being, such as:
Reading or singing together
Snuggling or cuddling
The same research says we should avoid screen time before bed because blue light exposure can make falling asleep more difficult.
Here are 2 example toddler bedtime routines for you:
Toddler Bedtime Routine Example #1
Routine starts around 6:45 p.m.
Bath (15 minutes)
Potty/diaper (2-5 minutes)
Pajamas (2 minutes)
Brush hair (1 minute)
Brush teeth (2 minutes)
Book and snuggles (5 minutes)
Hugs and kisses (1 minute)
Lay down and lights out at about 7:15 p.m.
Toddler Bedtime Routine Example #2
Routine starts around 7:15 p.m.
Pajamas (2 minutes)
Books (5 minutes)
Brush teeth (3 minutes)
Potty (2 minutes)
Snuggles and sing lullabies (3 minutes)
Lay down and lights out at about 7:30 p.m.
Expert tip: It’s important to leave your phone outside of the bedroom during the bedtime routine. Toddlers and preschoolers really want and benefit from one-on-one time with you. Being distraction-free and fully present during the bedtime routine helps your toddler feel connected to you and can decrease bedtime battles.
What if we have to change our bedtime routine for a night?
A predictable bedtime routine can help set your toddler up for success. At the same time, life happens! I want you to have a great little sleeper so that you can thrive, and part of that is being able to have flexibility around life's joys.
There will be times when your bedtime routine needs to be shortened or altered, and that's okay. Maybe you're out with family for a dinner, and you arrive home at 9:30 pm. Don't stress about getting in every step of your bedtime routine; skip the bath and do a mini routine instead.
Maybe you have a night where you're leaving your toddler with a sitter. That's okay too! It can be helpful to talk to your child about it before the sitter arrives. Remember: toddlers thrive when they know what's coming. That advance notice will help your toddler be more adaptable when bedtime approaches.
Now, will there be times when you have to change the routine without any notice? Of course! But, having routines and expectations established will help your toddler be flexible on the rare occasions when everything changes at the last minute. Just keep in mind that your toddler may need some extra grace when that happens!
How can I stop my toddler from stalling at bedtime?
It’s amazing all the different ways toddlers and preschoolers can find to stall bedtime! Whether it’s “I need to go outside. I can’t sleep without my stick!” or “Just one more book?” or “I need more water,” no one is more productive than a toddler at bedtime.
To help prevent stalling, here are a few tips you can try:
Remind your toddler bedtime is coming. A gentle reminder at 10 minutes and again at 5 minutes prior to starting the bedtime routine can really help with bedtime stalling.
Allow your toddler the opportunity to burn off extra energy by running some laps around the house before the bedtime routine.
Set the stage for sleep by dimming the lights and using quiet voices during the bedtime routine.
Before bedtime, anticipate your toddler’s needs – what do they usually ask for when stalling? Another trip to the bathroom, more water or snacks, or a certain lovey? Try to fulfill or handle these needs before saying goodnight.
If you haven’t already, implement a bedtime routine. Having a bedtime routine has been shown to improve sleep struggles in just a few nights!
A bedtime routine chart can also be a great visual tool and a reminder to help maintain a bedtime routine and reduce stalling.
Remember, it is perfectly normal for toddlers to push bedtime boundaries! In fact, I have a whole blog all about toddlers fighting bedtime.
How can I use a bedtime routine chart to make bedtime easier?
A bedtime routine chart will work as a visual reminder that helps make bedtime fun and predictable. And it also helps reinforce loving boundaries and expectations!
Download my free printable toddler bedtime routine chart to get started! This downloadable chart includes BONUS tips on how to implement a visual bedtime routine with your toddler.
What if bedtime is only a small part of our sleeping struggles?
You don't have to struggle alone! My Toddler Sleep Training class will teach you everything you need to know about toddlers and sleep. Let me give you step-by-step guidance through a fully-customizable and holistic approach to toddler sleep, tools to keep you emotionally connected to your child as they learn independent sleep, detailed help through toddler naps and quiet time, and so much more. It's not too late to have a great little sleeper.