My husband and I fall asleep very differently. As soon as his head hits the pillow, he drifts off into sleep. Whereas it takes me much longer. I have to adjust the pillows, toss and turn repeatedly until I am comfortable, and intentionally shut off my brain. 
It’s always been like this for us. This makes me wonder if the same is true for our little ones – if adults fall asleep differently, can’t the same be true for kids? 

Some kids are going to fall asleep as soon as you lie them down, while others are going to toss, turn, babble, sing, fidget, or play in their bed until their bodies are ready for sleep. Having children who fall asleep differently can feel frustrating and confusing for parents. 

This blog seeks to give those parents some answers and support so they can understand why it takes their little one longer to fall asleep. If you’re wondering why it takes forever for your toddler to sleep, wishing you knew what’s “normal,” and want tips for ensuring kids fall asleep within the appropriate amount of time, then keep reading!

Average Time It Takes a Toddler or Preschooler to Fall Asleep

The amount of time it takes for your child to fall asleep can vary based on their temperament, age, and stage of development. Here are some general guidelines:

  • For toddlers (ages 1-3), the average amount of time to fall asleep is around 30-45 minutes.
  • For preschoolers (ages 3-5), the average time to fall asleep is around 20-30 minutes. 

Note: The time it takes to fall asleep is considered the time from “lights out” to falling asleep, even if that means you’re lying beside your little one, holding their hand, or singing them a song. 

There are also five common reasons why it can take your child longer to fall asleep, including sleep pressure, sleep environment, pre-bedtime activities, and life situations. Getting curious about these factors gives you so much more information to work with, compassion for your child, and patience during bedtime battles. 

If your toddler or preschooler is taking significantly longer to fall asleep than the recommended time, it could be a sign that changes need to be made. For example, after I had my youngest daughter, my preschooler started taking almost an hour to fall asleep – my husband and I knew something needed to change. This wasn’t working for her, and it certainly wasn’t working for our family! 

This blog seeks to provide an answer I would have searched for when we were struggling with her sleep. 

Use our FREE checklist to help identify why your child struggles with sleep!

How to Know When to Put Your Child to Bed 

Have you ever noticed how your eyes get heavier as the day progresses? When the sun sets, the darkness sends signals to the brain that help our bodies prepare for sleep. This is true for children as well; toddlers and preschoolers also have biological rhythms in their bodies that promote sleep.  

It’s our job to work with these rhythms to help our little ones fall asleep within an age-appropriate time, or we are unintentionally working against these rhythms. 

When we understand the science of toddler and preschooler sleep, it can help us make sense of their sleep struggles, and help us determine where to start making some changes. 

Consider Your Child’s Wake Windows

Wake windows refer to the period of time toddlers and preschoolers can stay awake between naps or bedtime. Following age-appropriate wake windows ensures your child is the right amount of tired needed to fall asleep and stay asleep.

While every child is unique, there are general guidelines to help you determine an age-appropriate wake window for your toddler or preschooler: 

Age (Years)Approximate # of Hours of Sleep Per DaySuggested Wake Window
1-212-14 hours4-6 hours
311-13 hours6-7 hours (if napping)
11-13 (no nap)
4-510-13 hours11-14 (no nap)
6-129-12 hours12-15 (no nap)
*Use these wake windows as guidelines to help determine your child’s sleep needs. Remember, every child is unique!

Undertired vs. Overtired: Which One is Influencing the Time it’s Taking Your Toddler to Fall Asleep?

If your toddler is taking forever to fall asleep, and you’re not sure if they’re too tired or not tired enough, it can help to consider the wake window chart above, along with noticing their sleep cues.  

If a child doesn’t have a long enough wake window, they might show these undertired cues: 

  • Acting silly, playful, or hyper during the routine
  • Protesting, stalling, or procrastinating at bedtime 
  • Restlessness and fidgeting in bed

If your child is overtired, you might notice these signs: 

  •  Increased whining/fussiness 
  •  Clumsy movements
  •  Uncontrollable giggles 

Observing your child’s bedtime behaviours can help you pinpoint their “sweet spot” – the window of time when they are the right amount of tired to fall asleep in an appropriate amount of time. 

Related Post: Why Won’t My Child Calm Down at Bedtime? Let’s Talk About Sleep Pressure.

Sample Schedules and Bedtime Routines

A consistent and calm bedtime routine is crucial for helping toddlers and preschoolers transition smoothly into sleep. Studies show that consistent bedtime routines in early childhood lead to better sleep habits long-term. Establishing healthy sleep routines early on makes sleep transitions easier as a child grows.

It’s best to follow a similar plan each night, taking place in the 30-45 minutes before bedtime. Keeping a consistent routine helps your little one’s brain and body prepare for and anticipate sleep. 

Start by taking into consideration how many hours your child slept at night and their age-appropriate wake window, and work from there. Don’t forget to give yourself time to complete the routine before your little one gets overtired! 

The end of the routine is typically signalled by “lights out” – this final step in the routine ideally happens 20-30 minutes before your little one may actually fall asleep. Read on to see sample schedules and routines!

Sample 1: Toddler with Nap

Let’s say you have a 2-year-old who takes one nap each day and normally wakes up in the morning at 7:30. According to typical wake windows for a 2-year-old, they’d be ready for a nap between 4-6 hours later. If their nap ended at 2 p.m., they would be tired enough to sleep again between 4-6 hours later. Keep in mind, at this age, they typically don’t need more than 12-14 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Therefore, their bedtime could be around 7:30 p.m. 

Their schedule and calming bedtime routine might look like this: 

  • 7:30 a.m.: Wake up for the day
  • 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Nap
  • 6:15 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Bedtime routine
    • Clean up toys
    • Diaper change and pj’s
    • Brush teeth
    • Read two books
    • Sing one lullaby and kiss all the stuffies
  • 7:00 p.m.: Lights out
  • 7:30 p.m.: Falls asleep

This schedule gives the 2-year-old 5 hours of awake time before their nap, 5.5 hours of awake time before it is time to fall asleep, and a total of 13.5 hours of sleep through the night and day. Their bedtime routine also starts well before they reach the point where they will become overtired, which could cause a longer, more challenging bedtime.

Having a consistent routine doesn’t mean you have to time every single step, but it can help to have a plan in place so you and your little one stay on track, ensuring they get into their bed around the time their bodies are the right amount of tired to fall asleep.

Sample 2: Toddler with No Nap

For a toddler who has dropped their nap, aim for a bedtime that is roughly 11-13 hours after they woke up that morning – keeping in mind their sleep cues and temperament. If you have a highly sensitive toddler (i.e. a child who needs less sensory input) who is no longer taking a nap, you might need an earlier bedtime and a slower, calmer routine. If you have a more active toddler (i.e. a child who needs more sensory input), you might notice that they need more awake time, closer to 13 hours, before they are tired enough for sleep. They might also need a bedtime routine that includes rough and tumble play to help their active bodies get the movement they need before they can fall asleep. 

An hour or so before bed, get the routine started. This might look like transitioning to quiet play for highly sensitive kids or roughhousing for active little ones. Next, you can “wind down” with a bath or some stretching. Once your toddler has had some time to wind down, you can begin the more structured bedtime steps.

Their schedule and calming bedtime routine might look like this: 

  • 7:00 a.m.: Wake up for the day
  • 5:45 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.: Rough and tumble play
  • 6:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.: Bedtime routine
    • Clean up toys
    • Pj’s
    • Brush teeth
    • Read two books
    • Sing one lullaby and kiss all the stuffies
  • 6:30 p.m.: Lights out
  • 7:00 p.m.: Falls asleep

This schedule gives the toddler 12 hours of awake time before it is time to fall asleep and a total of 12 hours of sleep through the night. A toddler who has just dropped a nap may need an earlier bedtime, around 6-6:30, for example, as they adjust to being awake all day. 

Sample 3: Preschooler with No Nap

3-5-year-olds typically need 11-14 hours of awake time before they can fall asleep. For example, if they are awake at 6:30 a.m., and their sweet spot is around 13 hours of awake time, then you can aim for lights out at 7:00 p.m. Keep in mind that this means the bedtime routine should start 30-45 min before lights out so they’re not overtired or undertired. Here’s what this might look like:

  • 6:30 a.m.: Wake up for the day
  • 6:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.: Yoga stretches
  • 6:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Bedtime routine
    • Clean up toys
    • Brush teeth and go potty
    • Pj’s
    • Read a chapter of a book
    • Sing two songs while snuggling in bed
  • 7:00 p.m.: Lights out
  • 7:20 p.m.: Falls asleep

This schedule gives the preschooler almost 13 hours of awake time before they fall asleep and a total of 11 hours of sleep through the night. 

Even with a perfect plan in place, prepare to adapt the routine if you’re running out of time or sensing your child needs more or less time before bed that day.

The Importance of Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is essential for children’s growth, learning and development. Think about your own experience – if you don’t get enough sleep, it can be difficult to focus or retain information. For children, this is even more true because their brains are rapidly developing. They need adequate sleep to retain important information that enables them to cope with stress, learn new skills, and control their impulses. A lack of sleep has been shown to negatively impact behaviour, mood, focus, and overall health in children. This is why it’s so important to get curious when your little one is taking too long to fall asleep. 

While every child is different, being consistent with age-appropriate wake windows and bedtime routines can help encourage children to fall asleep within an appropriate amount of time. 

If significant sleep problems persist despite schedule tweaks, be sure to seek guidance from your pediatrician or a sleep consultant. 

Your Guide to Better Sleep

If you’re struggling at bedtime, we have the perfect course for you. Our Solving Bedtime Battles course will help you determine the amount of sleep pressure your child needs, confidently respond to big feelings or pushback at bedtime, and create a connected bedtime routine to support separation anxiety. And, we added a “Sensory Seekers and Avoiders” bonus guide as an added resource and sleep support for parents.
Grab the course today!

Key Takeaways

  1. Average Time to Fall Asleep: Toddlers typically need 30-45 minutes to fall asleep, while preschoolers may doze off in 20-30 minutes. Understanding these averages helps set realistic expectations for your child’s bedtime.
  2. Wake Windows: Following age-appropriate wake windows helps ensure your child is neither overtired nor undertired at bedtime.
  3. Signs of Overtiredness and Undertiredness: Recognizing the cues of overtiredness (such as increased fussiness) and undertiredness (like restlessness) can help you adjust bedtime routines for better sleep outcomes.
  4. Consistent Bedtime Routines: Establishing a calming, consistent bedtime routine is crucial for signalling to your child that it’s time to wind down, aiding in faster or smoother bedtime.
  5. Tailored Bedtime Schedules and Routines: Depending on your child’s age, nap status, and individual needs, bedtime routines and schedules may vary, emphasizing the need for flexibility and adaptation to each child’s unique requirements.
  6. The Role of Sleep in Development: Adequate sleep is essential for a child’s growth, learning, and emotional regulation, underscoring the importance of addressing sleep struggles proactively.

WRITTEN BY

Shannon Wassenaar

Registered Psychotherapist & Mom of 1

Learn More About Shannon

WRITTEN BY

Jess VanderWier

Registered Psychotherapist & Mom of 3

Learn More About Jess
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