The Ultimate Guide To Baby & Toddler Sleep

Bedtime and naptime are incredible important for parents and babies alike.

For parents, this precious time is perhaps your only opportunity to get on with things like household chores, work or to even put your feet up for some much-needed rest.

And for a baby, you may be surprised to learn that a large amount of physical and mental development actually happens during their sleep, to the point where sleep builds your baby’s brain and plays a crucial role in their overall health and well-being.

A child who does not get enough sleep may have trouble functioning during the day, and in the evening they might find it harder to settle, which can lead to more tiredness, worse sleep and a vicious cycle which can be hard to break.

Because good sleep habits start from birth, it’s important that parents understand the basics of good sleep, and know how to diagnose and resolve any potential issues quickly and efficiently.

Recommended Sleep

Some children naturally sleep more than others, but as a starting point it’s good to know what the recommended amount of sleep is for a child over a 24 hour period by age group, which we’ve shown below (source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine).

Age Recommended Sleep per 24 Hours
Infants (4 to 12 months old) 12-16 hours
Toddlers (1 to 2 years old) 11-14 hours
Children (3 to 5 years old) 10-13 hours
Children (6-12 years) 9-12 hours

Safe Sleep Tips

All parents should be aware of the ABC’s of safe sleep, which stands for:

  • Alone: Your baby should always sleep on their own sleep surface.
  • Back: Your baby should sleep on their back for every sleep. Don’t move your baby if they roll over to their front, but do put them down on their back for every sleep until they are 12 months old.
  • Crib: Until your baby is 12 months old their crib or bassinet should be empty, which means no pillows, blankets, loveys or soft toys (although pacifiers are fine, which we’ll covers shortly).

Signs Of Tiredness

It’s important to know when your baby is tired and ready for sleep, because an overtired baby finds it harder to fall asleep and doesn’t sleep as well as a well rested baby.

Overtired babies can easily become stressed and overstimulated, particularly because their body produces cortisol and adrenaline, and both of these chemicals make it much harder for your baby to fall asleep.

Some of the signs of an overtired baby include yawning, pulling at the ears, neediness, being fussy with food, fighting sleep and sleeping for shorter periods than usual.

Where To Sleep

Newborn To 6 Months+

According to experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centres For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should sleep in the same room – but not in the same bed – as their parents for at least the first 6 months.

This is because studies show that co-sharing a room with your child can reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by as much as 50%, which is a hugely significant reduction.

After 6 Months

From around the 6 month mark parents you can begin to think about moving your child to their own room.

Some other things to think about include:

  1. Do you think you or your baby will sleep better if they have their own space and less disturbance?
  2. How long are your baby’s sleep stretches – if they are still only a few hours long and you need to feed or comfort a few times a night, your baby might not be ready for their own room.
  3. The proximity between your room and your baby’s, in so far as whether you’ll be able to hear them if they are unsettled.
  4. What effect the current sleeping arrangement is having on your relationship with your partner – tiptoeing around in silence and not being intimate in the fear of waking your sleeping baby beside your bed isn’t conducive to a strong and healthy relationship!

Crib Vs Bassinet

It’s important to understand the difference between a crib and bassinet before plunging in any buying one over the other.


Bassinets are specifically designed for newborns, meaning they are a smaller, cozier environment in which to sleep.

One of their main advantages is their size, meaning they are easier to fit beside your bed and they can be moved around your house without any issues.

Bassinets tend to be much cheaper than cribs (Snoo not withstanding), but if you buy a bassinet keep in mind you will still need to buy a crib several months later as well – after around 5-6 months your baby will need to transition to a crib.


Cribs are much larger and more solid than bassinets and as a result they cannot be moved around your house.

However, they do contain your baby in a safe environment in which your little one cannot fall out or get out themselves, and depending on the type you buy and if it converts to a toddler bed, your child can sleep in a crib until the age of around 5 (especially because most cribs can safely hold a child that weight between 35 – 50 pounds).

Both have their pros and cons and are safe for newborns, but if budget allows then the general recommendation is to use a bassinet for your newborn and then transition them to a crib a few months later.

Sheets & Blankets

For hygienic and comfort reasons you should always use sheets with a bassinet and with a crib.

Frustratingly there isn’t a universally standard size for a bassinet, meaning sheets are produced in slightly different shapes and sizes.

If you decide to use a fitted sheet on your bassinet, then you will need to ensure you either use one that comes with the bassinet, or if not, then sheets which have the exact same dimensions as the mattress.


The general rule of thumb when dressing a baby is simply to dress them in one more layer than you would wear.

When deciding what a baby should wear to sleep during cold weather, you should opt for heavier fabrics, use layers and avoid overheating.

In summer or hot weather the reverse is true, so you should always opt for lightweight fabrics, avoid overdressing and use common sense.

You’ll want your baby to be warm, comfortable and most importantly safe when dressing them for sleep, and for this reason sleep sacks or swaddle blankets are a great choice.

Sleep Sacks

These items are excellent because they help ensure your baby is the right temperature and provide plenty of freedom to move around, while eliminating the need for loose blankets (which pose a suffocation risk and shouldn’t be used until your baby is at least 12 months old, and even then you should only go for lightweight versions with no ribbons or other choking hazards).

A sleep sack (also know as a sleep bag or wearable blanket) is a wearable blanket designed to keep your baby a comfortable temperature during sleep.

Sleep sacks keep your baby’s torso, legs and feet within the sack, even if your baby moves around their crib.

Sleep sacks are perfectly safe for babies including newborns, provided the fit is correct, which means the fabric of the sleep sack cannot go over your baby’s head, which shouldn’t be an issue as long as it’s not too loose around the neck or arm holes.

TOG Ratings

When purchasing sleepwear it’s important to understand what a TOG rating is.

TOG, which stands for Thermal Overall Grade, help take the guess work out of dressing you baby for sleep.

Most manufacturers make sleep sacks and swaddle bags with a TOG rating between 0.2 to 3.5, and the key thing to remember is that the higher the TOG rating, the warmer and more insulated the garment it is.

Sleeping Positions

Babies can get in some pretty funny positions when they’re sleeping, for example with their arms above their heads or with their butts in the air.

Both of these positions are natural and safe, so there’s nothing to worry about and no need to move your baby’s or put them in any other position.


Pacifiers are safe to use during naps and at night, so there’s no need to remove one from your baby’s mouth when they are asleep.

Some studies indicate that using a pacifier when sleeping can reduce the risk of SIDS, even if the pacifier falls out after your baby falls asleep.

Some children better with a pacifier, as it enables them to resist fighting sleep, settle more quickly and stay asleep for longer.

There is no single correct answer regarding when to stop using a pacifier or binky, but many experts and pediatricians recommend taking the pacifier (or soother) away when your baby is around 2-3 years of age.

This is because the use of a paci or binky beyond this age can lead to dental problems, inhibit speech development and make the eventual withdrawal process even harder.

Prepping Their Room


Many experts agree that in both winter and summer, the ideal temperature for a baby’s room is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ideally your baby’s room should feel a comfortable temperature, but on the slightly cooler side.

White Noise

Using a white noise machine is generally safe for babies and children, provided the sounds level doesn’t exceed 50 decibels, the machine is at least 7 feet away from your baby’s crib or bassinet, and you turn the machine off once your baby has fallen to sleep.

The decision as to when to stop playing white noise in your child’s room is a personal preference which we can see from the wide range among parents – some stop playing white noise when their child reaches 12-18 months, while others keep going until their child is 3, 4 or even older.


Contrary to popular belief, babies are not afraid of the dark.

In fact, for a young baby the opposite is true and infants actually like the dark and often sleep better in darker conditions.

If we think about this it’s not surprizing, because darkness is all a baby knows after spending 9 months in the womb.

To help promote good sleep, a baby’s room should be as dark as possible before you put them down, and this includes both naptime and overnight.

Baby Monitors

Baby monitors are popular because they allow you to check on your child without having to enter their room, but they do also have some disadvantages as well, particularly because they can give you a false sense of security and can impact your sleep as well.

As with a lot of baby questions, there’s no one-size fits-all regarding when to stop using a baby monitor, although three of the most common reasons are the monitor is negatively impacting your sleep, your baby knows they are being watched, and you are concerned about hacking.

Overcoming Sleep Issues

Despite your best intentions and the strongest will in the world, it’s only natural for babies to face sleep issues at some stage of their development.

The reassuring thing to know is that there are often things you can do that will make an immediate difference, so never lose hope however challenging your current situation might be.

Fighting Sleep

Fighting sleep is very common for newborns, infants and even older babies, and even if you’ve been blessed with a good sleeper up until this points, it’s not unusual for a baby to start fighting sleep all of a sudden.

Common reasons for fighting sleep and fighting naps include separation anxiety, over or under stimulation, development leaps, teething or some other discomfort, and a disrupted routine.

The good news is there are some helpful solutions and things you can do to stop your baby fighting sleep, such as:

  1. Adjusting their bedtime, it might sound counter-intuitive back a baby that is fighting sleep may need to be put down earlier rather than later.
  2. Developing a routine by not stretching awake windows.
  3. Addressing any anxiety they may be facing.
  4. Winding your child down before bed, for example by having a warm bath and reading bedtime stories.
  5. Darkening their room, which is proven to help a baby sleep better and release melatonin.
  6. Using white noise, which can be soothing and calming for a baby.

Refusing To Be Put Down

Babies typically like to sleep on your chest because they find you and your heartbeat calming, safe and comforting as they transition from life in the womb to the big outside world.

This practice is typically safe if you are awake, but you should never let yourself fall asleep while your little one is resting on you, because it could increase the chances of SIDS as your baby could roll off or become strangled or suffocated underneath your body.

If your baby is refusing to be put down and instantly cries when you put them in their bassinet or crib, some things you could try to get your newborn to sleep without being held include:

  1. Keep to within awake windows
  2. Try swaddling
  3. Put your baby down when drowsy (but still awake)
  4. Use a pacifier
  5. Ensure their bed and sleeping environment is comfortable
  6. Ensure their room is a comfortable temperature
  7. Stroke your baby once you’ve put them down
  8. Play white noise
  9. Ensure feedings are calm
  10. Establish a bedtime routine

Excessive Movement

It’s common for a baby to move a lot in their sleep, to the point where they’ve turned 180 degrees in their crib and are in a completely different position to the one in which they started.

Babies and infants are naturally active while asleep because they spend the majority of their sleep in the REM sleep (also known as the dream cycle).

Provided you follow safe sleep recommendations there’s typically no need to be concerned about, but if your baby can roll over by themselves then you should stop swaddling them, and if they are still sleeping in a bassinet you may want to move them into a sturdier crib instead.