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Infant and Toddler Sleep

Get answers to frequently asked questions about why infants and young children have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime and wake during the night.

infant asleep on their back

1. Why does my child wake up often during the night?

Night wakings are normal, your child wakes briefly at the end of every sleep cycle (e.g., deep sleep, light sleep, REM sleep), with sleep cycles lasting only 50-60 minutes. What you notice are the wakings when your child is unable to put herself back to sleep.

2. Is it ok to rock my baby to sleep?

While it is okay to rock your baby to sleep, this is called a sleep onset association. Because your child has learned to fall asleep while being rocked (or nursed), he may then need this same sleep onset association following a normal night waking.

3. What's the best way to help an infant fall asleep at bedtime without me?

Put your baby in the crib drowsy, but awake. You may check on the baby as often as you want, but try not to take her out of the crib. The goal is for her to fall asleep without your help.

4. How can I teach my infant to go back to sleep without my help?

First, your child must learn to fall asleep without your help at bedtime. Once that has happened, he will learn to put himself back to sleep without your help.

5. How can I stop my toddler from putting off bedtime?

It is developmentally normal for toddlers and preschoolers to stall at bedtime with curtain calls and requests (e.g., one more book, one more drink, etc.) You can stop this behavior by having and enforcing a consistent bedtime routine.

6. What is a good bedtime routine?

Bedtime routines should be short and sweet, moving toward and ending where the child will sleep for the night. Using a bedtime chart with pictures of each step of the routine (e.g., snack, bath, pajamas, a toothbrush, one or two books, a drink of water, bed) can help keep you and your child on track every night.

7. How can I help my child stop being afraid of monsters in the bedroom?

Fill a spray bottle with “Monster Spray” (water) for your child to spray around the room. Tell your child the monsters are allergic to the spray and will sneeze if they get too close. This gives your child control over their fears.

8. Any tricks to help my preschooler go to sleep?

Try a nightly visit from the Sleep Fairy (like the Tooth Fairy), who comes only after the child falls asleep and leaves a sticker (or other small reward) under the pillow. After two weeks Sleep Fairy visits taper off.

9. Can I let my child play a game on my phone to get drowsy?

We recommend that all bedrooms are technology free. Both the light from devices and stimulating games can tell the mind to stay awake instead of getting sleepy. Parents can use this rule and sleep better too!


This information has been approved by Lisa J. Meltzer, PhD (March 2019).