If you don’t already have a bedtime routine in place for your toddler, now’s the time to create one. Here’s a perfect bedtime routine for toddlers (ages 12-36 months).

When is a good bedtime for toddlers?

For many toddlers, expecting them to sleep from 7pm to 7am is too much to ask, but a 9:30pm bedtime is probably too late. Instead, the sweet spot tends to be between 8 and 8:30pm for toddlers, with lights-out by 8:30. But you’ll want to take cues from your child to figure out the best bedtime for them.

When kids fight bedtime, it’s a clue that bedtime is too early or too late. If bedtime is too early, you may notice that your child shows no signs of fatigue at bedtime and fights sleep for 30 to 60 minutes. On the flip side, fighting sleep can also be a sign that bedtime is too late. If you notice she also has trouble waking in the morning and she shows clear signs of tiredness at bedtime, bedtime is too late. To get the just-right bedtime for your tot, try moving your routine by 15 minutes every two to three nights until you land on your new bedtime.

How can I make My toddler’s bedtime easier?

Overexcitement, discomfort, stubbornness, poor sleep cues, and the wrong bedtime can all lead to troubles at tuck-in time. One of the best ways to get past these sleep speed bumps is to work on bedtime skills—all day long. Set your toddler up for bedtime success during the day by making sure she gets lots of sunlight, fresh air, and outdoor play. Ensure that she’s eating healthy and is napping well. In addition, you’ll want to build a good relationship during the day so your child naturally wants to cooperate at night. Then, you’ll want to follow a bedtime routine like the one outlined below.

The Pre-Bed Routine for Toddlers (30-60 Minutes)

As the evening is drawing near, give your child a few signals that bedtime is approaching:

  • Dim the lights in the house.
  • Do quiet play (not roughhousing).
  • Turn off screens.
  • Put on white noise in the background.
  • If you think your child has teething pain, ask your doctor if some medicine might help.

The “Get in Bed” Bedtime Routine (20-30 Minutes)

Each family picks a slightly different bedtime routine. The key is to make your routine pleasant, loving, calming, and consistent. Philadelphia researchers found that parents who started a 3-step bedtime routine (bath, massage, and quiet cuddling or singing a baby lullaby) saw success within 2 weeks. Their children (7-36 months old) fell asleep faster…and slept longer!

And, as an extra bonus, the toddlers were less likely to call out to their parents or get out of their crib or bed.

Besides baths and massage, here are other bedtime ideas and routines many parents opt for.

Some advice: When it’s time to start your routine, don’t invite resistance by asking, “Are you ready for bed?” Rather, start with an enthusiastic “Okay, kids! Time for bed!” Make a hand sign for “bedtime” and begin a countdown before you start to sing a sleepy-time song. (Just make up a little ditty with words like, “It’s sleepy-time!” or “Time to go to bed!”—perhaps to a familiar tune like “Happy Birthday.”)

As you sing, make a simple “let’s sleep” gesture—perhaps putting your hands together like a pillow and resting your head on them.

Right before you start your bedtime routine, make your child’s room perfect by:

  • Dimming the lights.
  • Keeping it cool (66°F-72°F is best).
  • Warming the sheets (use a hot water bottle or little microwaveable wheat bag that’s removed when you tuck your munchkin in).
  • Using a pleasant smell (a drop of lavender oil on the mattress or headboard is nice).
  • Plugging in a small night-light.
  • Putting up a dream catcher or a picture of Mommy and Daddy to “protect” your sweetie all night.

Loveys & Other Tips for Your Toddler’s Bedtime Routine

All kids enjoy saying “Good night!” to their toys. Prayers, lullabies, and bedtime stories are wonderful sleep steps, too, and a pacifier or a last sip of water can also help bring a sandman. (Offer water or caffeine-free mint or chamomile tea, but avoid cavity-promoting juices or sugary drinks at bedtime. Also, limit pre-sleep breastfeeding or sucking on a bottle to about 30 minutes, because milk and formula also create cavity-producing bacteria.)

Loveys like a blankie or a teddy bear are great allies in your bedtime routine. Think of them as stepping stones to maturity and independence. These faithful friends are called transitional objects because they give kids the courage to take steps away from their mama and daddy and transition into the great big world.

If your toddler doesn’t have a favorite lovey, you can pick a soft, cuddly one to carry around with you all day. Within a few weeks, your tot may start to get interested—associating the toy with your sweet cuddling­­­­—and a friendship with the lovey may begin.

Make sure your lovey has no bits or buttons attached to it that might cause choking. And make sure you have a spare, just in case the first is lost or needs to be cleaned. Never remove a lovey as punishment. Far from making kids behave better, it can trigger resentment and insecurity.

And don’t forget that old familiar sleep cue, white noise.

But, as your toddler’s mind gets more active, you may find that softer sounds just don’t work and you need a rougher white noise. For just-right white noise, turn to SNOObie or SNOObear, both of which play specially filtered tracks for sleeping at rumbly low-pitch frequencies (plus extra sounds!).

White noise is an even better sleep cue than a teddy bear, because it’s easy to replace if you lose it, and it’s easier to wean later.

Other nice ideas for your bedtime routine might include:

  • A warm bath (with the lights dimmed low).
  • A coconut oil or cocoa butter massage (stroke the forehead from the eyebrows up to the scalp, slightly pulling your child’s eyes open with each stroke…this will make her want to close her eyes).
  • Sprinkling a little “magic dust” around the room (sounds crazy, but it really works).
  • And last, but certainly not least is my favorite Happiest Toddler bedtime routine, bedtime sweet talk.

An All-in-One Tool for Toddler Bedtime Routines

Have you met SNOObie? Every parent's new favorite sidekick is a soothing sound machine, a nightlight, and an OK-to-wake sleep trainer for toddlers. In other words, it's the perfect addition to sleepytime routines and wakeup routines! Learn more about how SNOObie can help with your bedtime routine

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.