How to Sleep Train a Toddler

Updated 
December 11, 2023
 | 
10
 minutes read
Written by
Amanda Kule
Parent Contributor
Medically reviewed by
Arik Alper, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Aerodigestive Specialist

Life with a toddler is busy, so a good night’s sleep is important for everyone. While some parents find that a consistent bedtime routine and comfortable sleep environment is enough to get their toddler to wind down every evening, others rely on more structured approaches to falling asleep—and staying asleep—at night.

Sleep training is one way to help your toddler fall asleep independently, so they don’t rely on you for support. Even if you sleep trained your toddler when they were a baby, your approach to re-sleep training a toddler may be different. This is because habits are harder to break as you age, and toddlers have more stamina and strong preferences. Don’t worry though, it’s not too late to sleep train!

There are many methods for sleep training a toddler, and the one you choose depends on your child’s temperament and your personal comfort levels. Each involves making sure the fundamentals of sleep, such as biological timings, sleep environment, and routines, are in tune.

While sleep training often involves some tears and protesting, sleep training is a safe way to teach your toddler how to be a great sleeper.

What is Sleep Training?

Sleep training, or sleep coaching, is the process of helping your child learn how to fall asleep independently. Sleep training uses science-backed techniques to help teach your toddler the skill of sleep. Just like rolling, crawling, and walking, sleep is a learned skill—and often structured support, along with patience and practice, are needed to master it.

There are many approaches to sleep training a toddler. Some include limited parent involvement, such as the Cry It Out method, while others are gentler. All methods include making sure your toddler’s sleep environment is comfortable and your bedtime routine is set.

Many parents choose not to sleep train, and some toddlers sleep well without formal coaching. Other toddlers who are sleep trained as babies need to be re-sleep trained if their sleep patterns or habits change as they age.

Why Do You Sleep Train a Toddler?

There are many reasons why a parent would choose to sleep train their toddler.

  • Break a sleep association: If your toddler is used to being fed to sleep or rocked to sleep, it makes it harder for them to become a strong independent sleeper. Studies show that sleep habits become harder to break as children get older, and sleep training is a proven, safe way to tap into their power of self-soothing.
  • Foster better sleep: If your toddler seems tired during the day because they wake often at night and can’t get back to sleep, helping them learn to self-soothe can make it easier for them to fall back asleep without working themselves up.
  • Create healthy sleep habits: Sleeping is important for your toddler’s growth and development. Studies show that consistent and earlier bedtimes can lead to improved learning skills, happier moods, and cognitive development.
  • Get your night back: Parents are often tired because of the sleep deprivation from the first months of their baby’s life. At around age two, toddlers can sleep through the night—and you should be able to, too. Getting between 7-9 hours of sleep a night as an adult can improve your mood, makes you less clumsy, and helps you be a more patient, attentive parent.

Approaches to Sleep Training a Toddler

There is no one best way to sleep train a toddler. It’s all dependent on your individual child and their sleep needs.

Whether your toddler is experiencing separation anxiety, dropping a dap, or in the middle of a growth spurt or sleep regression, there are many different reasons for sleep struggles which should be considered. You should figure out what the cause of their sleep struggles may be, as each can call for a unique sleep training approach. Your toddler’s temperament, and your personal feelings about sleep training, also can affect what approach you choose.

That’s why there are multiple science-backed and pediatrician-approved methods for sleep training. However, some experts think that certain methods work better for toddlers.

Certified sleep consultant Mandy Treeby, who is also co-founder of the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers app, typically recommends the Cry It Out method for babies eight months and older because she finds being more “black and white” with the method helps them break the habit easier.

Keep in mind that all approaches to sleep training or coaching, and to building healthy sleep habits, should include making sure your toddler has a consistent bedtime routine and that their sleep environment is dark and a comfortable temperature.

Sleep Training Methods for Toddlers

  • Gentle methods: The Gentle Method is also known as Pick Up, Pick Down method. It involves increasing the amount of time between when you go in and comfort your toddler in their crib. It requires more parental involvement than other methods, so it often takes longer.
  • Chair method: The chair method is considered a gentler approach to sleep training. If your toddler cries, you sit in a chair near their crib and offer only verbal reassurance until they calm down. If they start crying again, you return to the chair. The next night you do the same but with your chair a little further away. Keep it going until your chair is in the hallway and they are falling asleep independently.
  • Ferber method: This is a quicker way to sleep train, which means there may be more tears in the short-term. You leave your baby in bed and leave the room for progressively longer intervals before coming in and providing brief reassurance, such as shushing or patting. You can leave for different times between returning depending on what works best for you.
  • Cry It Out: The Cry It Out method is often the fastest way to help your child become a strong, independent sleeper and is works well for toddlers who become more upset when you check in. You make sure all their needs are met (food, diaper, snuggles) and after their bedtime routine, place them drowsy but awake in their crib and give them space to settle on their own. Rest assured, letting them cry is perfectly safe. However, we recommend using a video monitor and doing hourly safety checks.

If you want to sleep train your older toddler: They may be more likely to sneak out of their crib or wander out of their room. For some children, consistently returning them to their bed works. If you’re struggling with keeping your child in their room, your pediatrician may have tips.

Smart Sleep Coach can walk you step-by-step through whatever method you choose. Take this free 3-minute quiz to get your personalized sleep plan which includes an approach that may work best for your unique toddler. If you decide sleep training is not for you, you can try the app’s Smart Sleep Schedule to see if a schedule adjustment could help your toddler sleep better.

Remember, whatever you decide, consistency is important for instilling positive sleep habits for your toddlers.

Best Tips to Sleep Train a Toddler

Here are tips from our team of expert sleep consultants and pediatricians to consider when you choose to sleep train your toddler.

  1. Create a comfortable sleep environment: Before your first night of sleep training, you should make sure your baby’s bedroom is dark, the temperature is between 68-72° F, and there’s no outside noise to distract them.
  1. Make sure bedtime is at the right time: Wake windows for toddlers are often need between 5.5 to 6 hours. If your toddler isn’t sleepy enough, they are more likely to protest at bedtime. Smart Sleep Coach has a Smart Sleep Schedule that tells you the exact time to put your toddler to bed based on their biological rhythms, which makes it easier to find the “sweet spot” for an easier bedtime. Also, putting them into their crib drowsy but awake is key here.
  1. Follow a consistent bedtime routine: The set of actions you do with your toddler every night before bed helps cue them that it’s time to sleep. Consistency also helps promote calmness.
  1. Try a toddler clock: A clock that turns color to signal when it’s time to sleep or get up could help your toddler recognize when it’s time to be in bed. It’s also a good way to implement a sticker chart or a small prize after a successful night of sleep.
  1. Accept naptimes may be exempt: Toddlers may struggle to sleep train during naptime. Most toddlers don’t stop napping until around 3 or 4, and you don’t want to rock the boat of skipping naps by upsetting them during the day. If you sleep train at night though, you may see their independent sleeping skills come through during the day.
  1. Don’t reward crying: Toddlers are smart, and they want attention. They also often use crying to get what they want, whether it's more cuddles or to come into your bed! If your toddler is protesting at bedtime, reassure them that they are okay, but stay firm that they need to stay in their own sleep space. Try offering reassurance from the door instead of going right over to them. It may take some time, but they will eventually learn to self-soothe.
  1. Be patient: Just like with us, habits get harder to break as you get older and changes in routines can cause adults to get cranky, too. Your toddler has opinions and wants, so expect some tears and pushback. However, they naturally can self-soothe, so just need a little support to get there.
  1. Do what's best for you: Every method or approach to sleep training can be customized to your child and family. Whether you want to take a more structured approach or just tweak their schedule, there’s no judgement. Smart Sleep Coach has tools to help you with the entire spectrum of sleep struggles, ranging from early wakeups to constant night wakings.

How Long Does It Take to Sleep Train a Toddler?

The time it takes to sleep train a toddler depends on what method you choose. Success of each method also depends on your toddler's age and temperament.

Most parents see improvements in just a few days with a simple schedule adjustment, but completely resolving overnight sleep and naps can take anything from a week to a month to more. It all depends on consistency, the method you choose, and the personality of your toddler.

For example, some methods such as the chair method can take 3-4 weeks, while the Cry It Out method is much faster.

Methods such as the Ferber Method aren’t as successful for babies eight months and older because it is confusing for them if you come in and out of their room. As they age, and their stamina increases, breaking habits can get even tricker.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, your toddler isn’t going to be up all night or fighting bedtime forever. Toddlerhood is a moment in time, and sleep training is simply one option for promoting healthy sleep habits.

Whether you want to formally sleep train or just learn ways to set your child up for sleep success, try out the Smart Sleep Coach app for free. It can walk you step-by-step through various sleep training methods or just teach you ways to structure your routine to promote better sleep.

Whatever you choose, just know that there are many ways to build and sustain healthy sleep habits in your toddler. Be kind to yourself, and know that whatever you decide, sleep training is safe and effective and can be worth the try.

Sources

CDC, “How Much Sleep Do I need?”

American Academy of Pediatrics, “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5”

American Academy of Pediatrics, “The Wonder Years”

American Academy of Pediatrics, “Media and Young Minds”

Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “Parental use of 'cry it out' in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18 months”


Pediatrics, “Five-year follow-up of harms and benefits of behavioral infant sleep intervention: randomized trial”


Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, “Sleep and Early Brain Development”

Nature and Science of Sleep, “Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth: a narrative review”

How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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FAQs:

Even if you sleep trained your toddler when they were a baby, your approach to re-sleep training a toddler may be different. This is because habits are harder to break as you age, and toddlers have more stamina and strong preferences. Don’t worry though, it is not too late to sleep train!

The Cry It Out method is often the fastest way to help your child become a strong, independent sleeper and is works well for toddlers who become more upset when you check in. You make sure all their needs are met (food, diaper, snuggles) and after their bedtime routine, place them drowsy but awake in their crib and give them space to settle on their own. Rest assured, letting them cry is perfectly safe. However, we recommend using a video monitor and doing hourly safety checks.

All approaches to sleep training or coaching, and to building healthy sleep habits, should include making sure your toddler has a consistent bedtime routine and that their sleep environment is dark and a comfortable temperature.

Toddlers are smart, and they want attention. They also often use crying to get what they want, whether it's more cuddles or to come into your bed! If your toddler is protesting at bedtime, reassure them that they are okay, but stay firm that they need to stay in their bed. Try offering reassurance from the door instead of going right over to them. It may take some time but they will eventually learn to self-soothe.

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