Is my toddler sleeping too little? Dear The Sleeping Child

Dear The Sleeping Child;

My 14 months old baby girl has never been a great sleeper but it seems to get worse and worse with age Since November, she’s been sleeping 9-10 hours a night, and now it looks like she is ready to drop one of her naps. She usually goes to bed around 7:30pm, falls asleep around 8pm, and wakes up between 5 and 6 am. In the last 2 weeks she has had only one nap, either in the early morning (around 8 am) or the late morning (around 10-10:30 am), and she slept for no longer than 1,5-2 hours. It makes the rest of the day very long for her but I can’t put her down to bed earlier at night because she wakes up earlier as well, between 4 and 5 am.

So my question is actually about if it’s ‘normal’ for a baby of her age to sleep so little? On average, she sleeps only 11-12 hours a day. It bothers me a lot because I am constantly concerned about her mental and physical development. She is tired, I can see it. She is not one of those babies who sleeps little but stays happy all day long, she needs sleep but she can’t figure out how to sleep longer at night or during her nap time.

Thank you very much for your reply!

Worried Mama

Dear Worried Mama;

According to the National Sleep Federation, the 'appropriate' sleep range for a 1-2 year old is 11-14 hours per day, into which your daughter's total sleep time falls neatly.

But, while it's great to have a reference number, the most appropriate sleep range is determined by your daughter. Her total sleep time required is solely dictated by what her body needs to learn and grow, so let's explore the behaviours you're noticing in her.

There is a normal increase in clinginess, tears, and frustration that comes with her developmental understanding of the world. These behaviours are present in all toddlers whether in the recommended sleep range or not. How intense these behaviours are wholly depends on the individual child's personality and the family dynamics.

You can only learn how sleep impacts these behaviours by confidently experimenting with connection and timing.

The first place to start is offering of Special Time to repeatedly fulfill her constant need for your warm attention, security, and trust. She's wired to thrive with your connection: it's what gifts her with the ability to explore, learn, and express the frustrations that are inevitable in throes of toddlerhood. 

Regularly offering her Special Time also fills her connection needs during daytime hours, which may shift her early mornings.

If you already offer Special Time, then experiment with either the frequency or length of each session. Whether Special Time is new to you or not, please see this Hand in Hand Parenting checklist for Special Time and pay special attention to the final point about having a timer. You may think that a timer is strange for a toddler, but it serves an important purpose.

The connection you offer with Special Time will equally help your daughter with her transition to one nap. Your role in this timing transition is to be confident and patience in finding her new rhythm.

Here are some timing ideas:

  • stretch her morning awake time with physically and mentally soothing activities e.g. a stroller ride or carrier walk (turn her to you and talk with her), reading books, snuggling and talking about your day

  • if you can't push awake time outside of nap time, try elongating her nap routines e.g. another book, song, story about your day

  • adjust bedtime based on her behaviours. Don't stretch her bedtime beyond fatigue just because of early mornings, allow her to have bedtime when her body asks for it.

As you experiment with timing, it's certain that you'll experience early days, shorter naps, and two naps: it's a part of the process of finding her new groove and you are not doing anything wrong. 

Here's the best part about using Special Time and confidence to experiment with timing: you will find YOUR own groove in learning from your daughter! (Which you'll need to do with every developmental leap!)

Most of all, my dear Worried Mama, have FUN and serve yourself lots of love too!

~ Kari