How Much Sleep Do 2-Year-Old Toddlers Need to Get?

Young Children's Sleep Changes, Consistent Parenting Helps the Transition

A toddler boy sleeps on his back. Cornelia Schauermann/Cultura/Getty Images

There is nothing more peaceful than a sleeping child - especially when he or she may be a rambunctious toddler while awake - but how much sleep do 2-year-olds need? What changes occur in toddlers' sleep that may contribute to battles at bedtime? Learn about their sleep needs, insomnia, and how to ease through the transition with consistent parenting.

How Sleep Changes in Toddlers

If you have a 2-year-old child, you are aware that this is an exciting time of growth and development in their young lives.

In this same way, the sleep of your 2-year-old may begin to change. The sleep of infants is very different from that of toddlers or older children, and 2-year-olds are right in the midst of this transition.

The average 2-year-old may sleep as much as 12 to 14 hours of sleep per day, most of which occurs at night. Many toddlers of this age may take one nap per day that lasts 1 to 2 hours. Another way to think about this is that your toddler will start spending another 1 to 2 hours awake in the day. This may occur with shorter naps, later bedtimes, or - much to parents' dread - early morning awakenings. When your child is ready to start preschool, the amount of sleep may decrease even further to 11 to 12 hours total. Most children no longer take naps by the time of kindergarten.

It is important to remember that these are averages and that each child is unique. If given an opportunity for adequate rest, your child will meet his or her sleep needs with ease.

Adults can only dream of sleeping so well!

More Conflict Surrounding Sleep Occurs in Toddlers

As this transition occurs, it is not uncommon for more conflict to occur between parents and strong-willed children. If the child is feeling sleepy later, there may be more resistance to bedtime. The child may recognize that you have gone away, but are not gone (an idea called object permanence).

Since you are just in the next room the child may loudly demand attention, a drink, another story - and resolution of a litany of other unmet needs. When this persists, it can contribute to a condition called behavioral insomnia.

Further struggle may occur with daytime naps. When the desire for sleep wanes, nap time becomes play time: filled with chatter, laughing, and (with disagreement) even shrieking and crying. Parents may have previously enjoyed the respite during the day, and when it suddenly disappears, conflict ensues. Children may also be reluctant to miss out on activities. Fortunately, most children will continue to nap at least some until age 3 or 4, and consistency with a scheduled daily rest time can be helpful.

In addition, some children are tearful and upset due to separation anxiety. This peaks at about 18 months and may manifest with a fear of being left alone, especially at night. During the daytime, it is observed with reluctance to interact with strangers. Anxiety may be heightened due to nighttime fears.

Young children may be quite imaginative and the darkness may become populated with creatures, monsters, and bad guys for a creative child. Rarely will this manifest with recurrent nightmares.

Other Impacts on Sleep in 2-Year-Old Children

There can be other changes in the life of a toddler that may impact sleep. Usually around age 3, a child moves from a crib to a "big bed". This new space is unfamiliar and may take some time to adjust to. Without the restraints of side rails, it now becomes possible to crawl out of bed. This also requires some training to reinforce good behaviors. It may be necessary to toddler-proof the bedroom and a closed door or gate barrier may be required to keep the child contained (at least initially).

Many toddlers are also working at potty training. Though continence may not occur until age 3 (and often later), the process may begin among 2-year-olds. Children may wake and need to use the potty, calling out for assistance. They become more aware of the discomfort, and negative association, of a wet or soiled diaper. With growing self-awareness and independence, adjustments have to be made.

It is also common for toddlers to have a new sibling in the household. This can complicate everyone's schedule and may lead to anxiety as the change and disruptions are accommodated. Fortunately, young children benefit from consistent parenting and expectations.

Consistent Expectations and a Regular Routine

This may be an important time of developing good sleep habits in children, including bedtime routines. With changing sleep needs among toddlers, it is important to accommodate some variation in the sleep schedule. However, children (and adults) respond with optimal sleep when the timing of sleep is very consistent. This should apply to bedtime, wake time, and daily nap time. A bedtime routine helps reinforce and ease the transition to sleep.

Try to minimize the exposure to light and screens (such as television, computers, and tablets) in the evening hours before bedtime. This light may make it harder to fall asleep. Moreover, the activity may be too stimulating. Instead, transition to sleep with a bath or reading books before bedtime.

By reinforcing a regular schedule, and adhering to consistent expectations, it becomes easier for toddlers to weather the transitions that are occurring both in sleep and life. If you struggle to get your child to sleep, speak with a pediatrician or sleep specialist about interventions that may be helpful in your situation.


Durmer, JS et al. "Pediatric Sleep Medicine." Continuum. Neurol 2007; 13(3):153-200.

Ferber, R. Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Simon & Schuster, Fireside edition, 2006.

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