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Typical sleep at this age
Between their second and third birthdays, toddlers need about 11 to 12 hours of sleep a night and a single hour-and-a-half to two-hour nap each afternoon. Most children this age go to bed sometime between 7 and 9 p.m. and get up between 6:30 and 8 a.m. It may seem that your child's sleep patterns finally resemble yours, but he'll spend more time than you do in REM sleep and the deeper stages of non-REM sleep. The result? Because he'll be making more transitions from one sleep phase to the other, he'll wake up more often than you do. That's why it's so important that he learn how to soothe himself back to sleep.
How you can establish healthy sleep habits
Now that your child is getting older, you can try a few new techniques to help him get a good night's sleep, including:
Moving him into a big bed and praising him when he stays in it.
This is the age when your toddler is likely to make the transition from crib to bed, probably because he'll have outgrown his babyhood digs. The arrival of a new sibling can also prompt the decision. If you're pregnant, move your toddler at least two to three months before you're due, advises sleep expert Jodi Mindell. "You want your older child well settled in his new bed before he sees the baby taking over his crib," says Mindell. But if the switch doesn't go well, it's okay to put it off until the new baby is 3 or 4 months old. Your newborn may spend those months sleeping in a bassinet anyway, and your older child will have time to get used to having a sibling, making the crib-to-bed transition easier. Other reasons to consider making the move include frequent jumping out of the crib and toilet training – your child may need to get up at night to go to the bathroom.
Once he's using his new bed, be sure to praise your child when he stays in it at bedtime and overnight. After the confinement of his crib, your child may get out of his big-kid bed over and over just because he can. If your toddler gets up, temper your reaction. Simply take him back to bed, firmly tell him that it's time to go to sleep, and leave.
Anticipating all his requests and including them in your bedtime routine.
Your toddler may start trying to put off bedtime by wheedling for "just one more" – story, song, or glass of water. Try to anticipate all of your child's usual (and reasonable) requests and make them part of your bedtime routine. Then, suggests Jodi Mindell, allow your child one extra request – but make it clear that one is the limit. He'll feel like he's getting his way, but you'll know you're really getting yours.
Giving him an extra goodnight kiss or tuck-in.
It's okay to promise your child an extra goodnight kiss after you've tucked him in the first time. Tell him you'll be back to check on him in a few minutes. Chances are he'll be fast asleep by the time you return.
If your toddler starts getting up more often once he graduates to a big bed, tuck him back in and bid him a firm goodnight. Other than that, how to handle the situation is a personal decision. Experts' opinions vary. Some say: don't coddle him or bring him into your bed. Some say that as long as your child is falling asleep on his own, it's fine to go in and soothe him, and others recommend going to your child immediately, finding the source of the problem and comforting him.
Another widespread sleep problem at this age: resistance to bedtime. Ease or avoid the problem by anticipating and managing your child's before-bed requests. Few toddlers will run happily to bed every night, so be prepared for a few struggles.
You'll probably notice that your child has some new nighttime worries these days. Being afraid of the dark, monsters under the bed, or separation from you is common in toddlers, so don't be too concerned. Fears are part of your child's normal development. If he starts having nightmares, go to him right away and talk to him about his bad dream while you calm him down. If bad dreams persist, look for sources of anxiety in his daily life. Most of the experts agree that if your child is truly terrified, it's all right to let him into your bed every once in a while, too.