Playtime and sleep are equally important for a growing toddler. It’s common for toddlers to fight sleep, but there are a number of ways to help create a consistent and healthy balance between playtime and sleep for your little one. Read on to learn bits of wisdom on how to find that sweet spot and enjoy a well-rested toddler.

Chrissy Lawler

Chrissy Lawler

Chrissy Lawler is a baby sleep consultant, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and the founder of The Peaceful Sleeper.

Six Tips to Balance the Sleep and Playtime of a Toddler

It is equally important for toddlers to get adequate sleep and playtime. Their little brains are growing and developing so much, and sleep and playtime both give their brains what they need. If your toddler becomes overtired from lack of sleep, they will have difficulty engaging, focusing, and enjoying new experiences. There are a few things you can do to make sure your toddler’s day is a healthy balance between sleep and play.

1. When your toddler starts to protest naps (usually around age two) don’t let them trick you! They still need this daytime rest. The best thing you can do is to stay consistent and continue to offer at least an hour of “quiet time.” As we all know, you cannot make your toddler fall asleep, however, you can set clear boundaries around what this “quiet time” looks like (i.e., in their room, lights off, one hour).

2. Ensure your toddler isn’t getting too much daytime sleep. If they are sleeping past 3 or 4 pm, I would consider capping the nap, so it doesn’t impact nighttime sleep.

3. Continue to offer quiet time until about age four. Even if your toddler doesn’t sleep during this hour, the quiet time is still a restful time that their little body needs.

4. Avoid power struggles by setting clear and consistent boundaries, and offer incentives instead. Incentives can be something like, “After quiet time, we can go to the park together.” An “ok to wake” clock can also be super helpful.

5. Having an engaging and stimulating playtime before a nap or bedtime will help your toddler burn off energy, so they take a solid nap. Think mentally challenging activities or playing outside.

6. Maintain a consistent routine. Children thrive when they have predictable routines. Consider a daily routine such as a wake, eat, play, snack, naptime routine, nap/quiet time, play, snack, play, dinner, play, bedtime routine, and bed. It doesn’t have to be exactly this- the most important thing is that you have consistent nap/bedtime routines and a predictable daily schedule.

Make a Sleeping Schedule Based on Your Child’s Age

Sleep and play are some of the most fundamental things a toddler partakes in. Both are needed to develop properly, but it can be difficult for a parent to know how to balance them during the day.

The best way to do this is to set sleep schedules, depending on your toddler’s age. Naps can be important to help recharge your child, so sticking to a sleep routine during the day is helpful. Routines also help young children know what to expect when the time comes.

Just like a sleeping schedule, playtime should also have its own set time. Although a toddler will most likely play all day, setting aside time for food, snacks and no screen time is a healthy way to wind them down before bed, and give them a break from playing. Getting your toddler to participate in the schedule by creating games around it can also help them to want to participate and will make the balance easier.

Hassan Alnassir

Hassan Alnassir

Hassan Alnassir, Owner and Founder of Premium Joy.

Abe Breuer

Abe Breuer

Abe Breuer, CEO, and Owner of VIP To Go.

Establish a Consistent Nightly Routine

For growing children, getting adequate sleep is critical. A toddler’s daily sleep requirements range from 12 to 14 hours. While the majority of their sleep will occur at night, your child will require one or two naps during the day.

Establish a consistent nightly routine to get your child ready for bed to ensure that he or she gets adequate sleep at night. When you stick to this schedule every night, your toddler will know what to expect.

The quality of your sleep is influenced by your surroundings, and the same is true for your child. Make sure your child’s room is quiet, dark, and cold as bedtime approaches. These circumstances may make sleeping easier.

A mild nightlight or sound machine can also be beneficial, but it should not be too bright or too loud. Stay away from anything with a screen at this time. Melatonin, a hormone that signals sleep, is reduced by up to 22% by using screens.

Throughout the day, you should make sure that your child receives enough fun and exercise. However, too much activity can make your toddler overtired, making falling asleep even more difficult. Try to finish your child’s exercise and activities two hours before bedtime so that he or she can begin to unwind.

Create a Schedule for Playtime and Sleep

Balancing sleep and playtime for your toddler is difficult but important. One thing you can do is set a time to sleep and set a time to play. Toddlers thrive on routines. Also, keep it dark at night so your little one has a concept of night and day. Giving a toddler a sleep pattern when the lights are turned off will help set them up for sleep success.

Henry Davis

Henry Davis

Henry Davis, Owner of Adept Golf.

If you would like one-on-one help for cultivating healthy sleeping habits in your infant or toddler, contact us at Tiny Transitions. We’ve helped thousands of families create sustainable sleep solutions and can do the same for you.

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