The 3 Key Ingredients For Better Baby and Toddler Sleep

3 Key Ingredients For Better Baby and Toddler Sleep

I’m no baker-extraordinaire, but I’ve baked enough in my time to know a thing or two about recipes. And I know that when it comes to a recipe for a yummy baked good, there are things I can change and things I most definitely cannot.

For instance, I always substitute unsweetened applesauce for half the amount of oil called for whenever I make muffins or quick breads. But there are also elements to every recipe that you absolutely cannot change, aren’t there? Leave out the salt, for instance, and what you’re baking will not rise. Try to substitute baking soda for baking powder, and yuck!

This is because these are key ingredients – they have to be present in order to produce whatever it is you’re baking. While other ingredients can be omitted, or swapped out for something else, the key ingredients have to be included, and in very specific amounts.

So — what’s all this talk about baking doing on The Baby Sleep Site®?? Stick with me here. 🙂 You may not have thought about it in these terms before, but did you know that there are also key ingredients to better baby and toddler sleep? It’s true! There are elements of your baby or toddler’s sleep that you can shift, or ‘fudge’ a little, and then there are elements that are critical. They’re ‘key ingredients’, so to speak.

What are these 3 key ingredients? That’s the question we’re tackling in today’s blog article. Let’s take a look!

3 Key Ingredients For Better Baby and Toddler Sleep


This is an easy one to anticipate. Obviously, the amount of sleep your baby or toddler gets each day is critical to his overall growth and development. How much sleep does your baby or toddler need? Here’s an overview:

  • Newborns to 3 month olds: 10-11 hours at night, 4-5 hours day in 4-5 naps (short naps are common)
  • 4 to 5 month olds: 10-12 hours at night, 2-4 hours day in 3-4 naps (at least two 1+ hour naps)
  • 6 to 8 month olds: 11-12 hours at night, 2-3 hours day in 2-3 naps (two 1+ hour naps and 1 short one)
  • 9 to 17 month olds: 11-12 hours at night, 2-3 hours day in 1-2 naps (1+ hour long)
  • 18 month olds to 3 years: 10-12 hours at night, 1 nap (1 to 3 hours long)
  • 3 to 5 years: 10-11 hours, sometimes 1 nap (1 to 2 hours, usually), but most lose the nap between 3 & 4

Not sure if your baby or toddler is getting enough sleep each day? If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night, it can feel like no sleep is happening at all! 😉 Try keeping a sleep log for a few weeks. This will give you a good record of your little one’s sleeping habits, as well as some sleep averages you can use to determine whether or not enough sleep is happening.


This ingredient may be a bit less obvious than the first. While the quantity of sleep is key, so is the quality of your baby or toddler’s sleep. What do I mean by quality sleep? I mean sleep that is deep and restorative, and that lasts long enough to leave your baby or toddler truly rested.

On-the-go sleep, for instance, tends to be lower quality than sleep that happens on a flat, non-moving surface. For instance, a nap taken in the backseat of the car, or in the shopping cart at the grocery store, will be less restorative for your baby or toddler than a nap that happens in bed.

It’s also important to remember that, in general, nighttime sleep is most restorative for your baby or toddler (although your little one certainly needs naps – they’re important, too!). Therefore, if your toddler has shifted sleep from nights to days, and is napping too much while not sleeping enough at night, you’ll want to address that, and shift sleep back to its proper balance.


This is probably the most surprising ingredient on our list. What does consistency have to do with how well your baby and toddler sleeps? Well, as it turns out, the consistency of your baby or toddler’s schedule matters.

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, children who have inconsistent and varying bedtimes from one night to the next exhibit more behavioral problems than children who have more consistent bedtime schedules.

Here’s what’s really interesting about the study: consistency seems to matter as much as – and perhaps more than – quantity. From an NPR article analyzing the study:

“Children who went to bed after 9 p.m. were rated as having more behavior problems than children who went to bed earlier. That’s no surprise; there’s abundant evidence on the effects of lack of sleep on children’s school performance and behavior.

But irregular bedtimes actually caused worse behavior than short sleep.”

Did you catch that? Inconsistent sleep, according to this study, may actually be a bigger problem than not getting enough sleep. Wow, right? Having a consistent bedtime (and, by extension, a consistent napping schedule as well) makes a big difference!

Here’s something else to consider: according to researchers, toddlers (specifically, 3 year olds) are most likely to have inconsistent bedtimes. By the time children are school-aged, bedtime is usually more consistent. In my opinion, this is quite a wake-up call to those of us who have toddlers at home, and who may be inclined to think that a chaotic evening schedule isn’t such a big deal. (Believe me, I’m talking to myself here, too! 😉 )

So, what does this mean for you? As you think through your goals for sleep, and what you want for your baby or toddler, keep these 3 ingredients in mind. It’s important to make sure that your baby or toddler is getting enough sleep, for starters. But you also need to think about the quality of that sleep – is it happening mostly at home? Is the bulk of your little one’s sleep happening at night? And finally, you need to think about how consistent your little one’s sleep schedule is. If the schedule is erratic and unpredictable from day to day, it’s time to think about building in more consistency.

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“Cook Up” Better Baby and Toddler Sleep!

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