Normal Toddler Sleep By The Numbers

  • Toddlers can be awake for a while. The average duration of the longest awakening was 31.18 minutes at 30 months, 25.77 minutes at 36 months, and 23.89 minutes at 42 months.  So it was quite common for toddlers to have a longer awakening in the middle of the night.  How many of these kids got their parents during this time, we don’t know, but if you’re co-sleeping or your child wants to see you, chances are you’re being awoken. 
  • Later bedtimes are normal. Despite earlier bedtimes of around 8:50pm at all three ages, the average time of actual sleep onset was around 9:30pm at all three ages.  This is something I have spoken at length to families about as later bedtimes actually are quite normative in the infancy and toddler years and is reflected in average bedtimes in other cultures. 

So no, you’re not a bad parent for having a bedtime that’s more in line with your child’s biology. 

  • They sleep less than we think. The average amount of time in bed was around 10.4 hours at all three ages, but the actual time asleep was 8.18 hours at 30 months, 8.43 hours at 36 months, and 8.51 hours at 42 months.  The increase over time likely reflects a normal decrease in day sleep that tends to happen in that 2.5 to 3.5 year range.  Now this includes the long time to fall asleep that most of these kids had so the time awake overnight isn’t quite this bad, but the fact that the kids are sleeping far less than we think is worthy of discussion.  Too often we worry about kids needing things like 11-14 hours when in reality they are getting less than this and seem to be functioning just fine. 

What do we take from this?  Toddlers wake. 

Depending on many other factors such as whether or not you’re still breastfeeding or you co-sleep or your child just likes you a lot, they may or may not wake you during these periods.  These wakings will decrease in time and you can rest assured that your wakeful toddler is likely very normal, thank you very much.  If you are worried, take a look at your toddler’s daytime behaviour and if all seems well, I wouldn’t worry about those times they just want to sing you the alphabet at 3am. 

[1] Hoyniak CP, Bates JE, Staples AD, Rudasill KM, Molfese DL, Molfese VJ.  Child sleep and socioeconomic context in the development of cognitive abilities in early childhood.  Child Development 2019; 90: 1718-1737. 

Originally published here.

Tracy Cassels, PhD is the Director of Evolutionary Parenting, a science-based, attachment-oriented resource for families on a variety of parenting issues. In addition to her online resources, she offers one-on-one support to families around the world and is regularly asked to speak on a variety of issues from sleep to tantrums at conferences and in the media. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada with her husband and two children.

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