The 3 Key Ingredients For Better Baby and Toddler Sleep

Better Baby Sleep 3 Ingredients

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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19 thoughts on “The 3 Key Ingredients For Better Baby and Toddler Sleep”

  1. Hello…I have a 3 month old and her sleep and naps are very sporadic. We usually put her to sleep for bedtime between 7:30-8pm and she sleeps until 12am after that stretch she will wake every 2-3 hours until around 8:30am then she is up until 10 then is down for a nap. Her naps are usually 30-45 min at the most. Is this normal for a 3 month old?! Thanks for your help

    • @ Shari – yes, I would say this is pretty standard 3-month behavior. Naps really don’t get consistent for most families until 5 or 6 months – that’s when babies start consolidating their nap sleep into several long(ish) naps. And the night-waking is normal, too, at this age – those night feeds are still very necessary.

      Overall, I wouldn’t worry at all about this – young babies are, for the most part, notoriously unpredictable in the timing of their naps! Hang in there; you should see naps start normalize in the next few months. Until then, you may want to try out our sample schedules, to get a sense of what a good daily rhythm looks like for your baby.

      Thanks for commenting, Shari, and good luck!

  2. Monica, I’ll bet your little guy is too alert and aware of everything at daycare. Probably doesn’t want to miss anything there, then he’s making up for shorter naps by sleeping so long at night. At six months of age my kids needed a dark quiet room to nap. (Before that they’d sleep anywhere!) They’d nap one hour twice and a third nap about 45 minutes- then only sleep 11 hours at night. I wouldn’t worry too much as at least he’s getting lots of sleep!

    Heidi, my daughter started fighting naps and bedtime when she turned 3. Same story- if she took a nap, she’d take up to 2 hours to fall asleep at night and then only sleep 8-9 hours. Sounds like you should just cut out her nap altogether. We found by taking away her nap completely, our daughter would fall asleep very quickly in the evenings. (We had to move get bedtime earlier). And she started sleeping 11 hours total once nap was removed. She’d still nap once a week or so, but fight bedtime again on the days that she did nap.

  3. What if consistency, at least with naps, just isn’t possible? My 6-month-old goes to daycare and he just doesn’t nap there. A typical day has him napping twice, once in the morning and once several hours later in the afternoon, for only half an hour. He’s exhausted when he gets home, so he goes to bed at 6pm and sleeps (waking twice for feeding) until 7pm.

    He naps slightly better at home, but still only for an hour at most. The bad napping started when he was five months old, he napped quite well before then.

    He’s a ridiculously happy baby despite not napping. In fact, the ladies at daycare say he giggles at them when they try to put him down for nap – he’d just rather play than sleep. So it doesn’t seem to be harming him really. But he does seem so exhausted by the evening and I also worry about how the napping will affect his learning and development.

    • @ Monica Young – oh, yes, daycare can totally mess wit your best efforts at consistency. In this case, it may be best to have two separate schedules – one for daycare days, and another for non-daycare days, and then work to stay consistent with each depending on the day. Have you considered trying that?

      You may also be interested in this article on Tips To Make Daycare Nap Schedules work – some good, concrete steps in that article that outline how to get a modicum of consistency when you’re dealing with the daycare’s nap schedule.

      Thanks for commenting, Monica! Best of luck to you 🙂

  4. As an avid baker, I can say that salt does not contribute to the leavening process 😉

    Still a valid metaphor though!

    • @ Erica Perry – oh, does it not? I’m a baker too, and I’ve thought for years that salt helped along the leavening process (ask me how I know – I’ve left salt out of recipes by mistake at least half a dozen times, and each time, whatever I’m making doesn’t rise properly – ends up flat and dense). But thanks for letting me know this! 😉

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