The perfect sleep environment for a toddler

A toddler sleeping in a crib
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Most adults can't fall asleep in broad daylight, with all kinds of noise and stimulation surrounding us, and the same is true for most toddlers. Creating a good sleep environment is the first step to solving sleep troubles, extending the amount of time your toddler naps or sleeps at night, and helping your toddler develop a healthy relationship with sleep in general.

To create a perfect setting for sleep, provide your toddler with:

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A dark room. Darkness activates the release of melatonin – the body's "sleep hormone" – while light suppresses it. If your toddler is afraid of the dark, though, a night light that casts a soft glow may help them.

A quiet space. Put your toddler to sleep in a room or a space that's away from the traffic center of your home. No need to tiptoe around, however: Simply wait until your toddler's been quiet for about five minutes, then feel free to make ordinary noise around the house. If your child seems especially sensitive to noise, you can try putting a white noise machine or fan in their room to cover unexpected sounds.

Cool temperatures. Our core body temperature has to dip in order for us to fall asleep, so don't overdress your toddler. Of course, you don't want them to be shivering, either. Shoot for a room temperature of about 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and dress your toddler in light cotton pajamas.

Use your own comfort level as a guide: If you need to wear long pants and a sweater in the house, your toddler probably needs cozy pajamas and a blanket, too (but remember that it isn't safe for babies under a year old to sleep with blankets). If your toddler gets really sweaty at night, it doesn't always mean they're too hot. It's normal for toddlers to sweat while they sleep.

Safe sleep tips for toddlers

After age 1, the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) decreases; in fact, 90 percent of SIDS deaths happen in the first six months of life. This means you can let your toddler have favorite blankets and lovies in their crib. (They don't need a pillow yet, though; it's suggested that you wait until they're at least 2 years old, since pillows can be a suffocation hazard.)

A reduced risk of SIDS doesn't mean there are no rules for safe sleep when it comes to toddlers. In some ways, the risks simply change: While SIDS is less of a concern, your toddler's growing skills – like crawling, walking, and climbing (potentially out of the crib!) – leave them vulnerable to many curiosity-induced hazards.

To keep your toddler safe during daytime and nighttime sleep, practice these tips:

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  • Avoid blankets, lovies, or stuffed animals with long strings or loose buttons (and other potential choking hazards).
  • Avoid placing the crib near windows with curtains or blinds and large pieces of furniture, like dressers, or anything else your toddler could climb on. Keep other potentially hazardous items, like diaper creams and medications, away from the crib, too.
  • Avoid using crib bumpers or overcrowding the crib with objects. These all make it easier for your toddler to attempt climbing out.
  • Place your toddler's crib on the lowest possible setting to make it harder for them to climb over the railing.
  • Delay moving your toddler from a crib to a big kid bed for as long as safely possible. While it's tempting to upgrade your toddler to a bed, it introduces new challenges. Your newly free toddler might wander around the house at night and get up many times throughout the night to find you or play. As long as there's no risk of them falling out of the crib, resist the temptation to switch to a toddler or twin bed until you have to, usually anywhere from 18 months to 3 years old.
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American Academy of Pediatrics. 2022. How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained. a new window [Accessed November 2022]

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Undated. Healthy Sleep Habits. a new window [Accessed November 2022]

Cleveland Clinic. 2021. What’s the Best Temperature for Sleep? a new window [Accessed November 2022]

Masters, Alina, et al. 2015. Melatonin, the Hormone of Darkness: From Sleep Promotion to Ebola Treatment. DOI: 10.4172/2168-975X.1000151 [Accessed November 2022]

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Undated. SIDS by Baby's Age. a new window [Accessed November 2022]

Nemours Health. 2019. Sleep and Your 1- to 2-Year Old. a new window [Accessed November 2022]

Raising Children Network. 2020. How to sleep better: 10 tips for children and teenagers. a new window [Accessed November 2022]

Sarah Bradley

Sarah Bradley is a freelance health and parenting writer from Connecticut, where she lives with a lot of boys (a husband, three sons, and a golden retriever). When she isn't writing, Bradley is usually homeschooling, binge-watching TV shows, and taking care of her many houseplants. She might also be baking a cake.