The Ideal Toddler Bedtime Routine (Little Z’s Sleep)

Anyone have a toddler who things that bedtime is the perfect time to recount every detail of the day? Or maybe you DREAD bedtime. The evening is coming and you can think "I have no idea how long this is going to take!". Or you're laying in your child's bed trapped as they fall asleep. I am going to share with you the ideal toddler bedtime routine!

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36 Comments

  1. We used to sit and read after bath time, but I swear since around 14 months my son has been PLAYING before bed… and I’ve just been letting him do that. We close the door and turn the lights down a bit and he plays with a few toys and I read a few books to him while he’s playing. It’s worked out great!!

  2. Does play time need to happen after getting the body ready for sleep? Can we start with play time after our bedtime snack and then brush teeth and get ready for bed? We dont usually do bath as part of the routine. What are your thoughts?

  3. Would you recommend this for a 2 and 3 year old sharing a room? They go to bed roughly the same time as each other most nights but we are finding they just want to play – hoping this is just the novelty of moving in with each other only a few weeks ago

  4. I love this and we do this list every.Single.night. I have 3 kids. The oldest 3.5 years old gives me grief every single night. We read for about 30 minutes each night. That could be where we go astray? It takes me 2 hours of struggle each night. Crying, fits, and other things that just drain us. My other two boys go to sleep when asked but the oldest gets all of our attention because he is throwing the fits. It just isn’t fair! I need advice. This list is great, but what about after the list is over? Is there advice for protesting? -sincerely desperate for help

    1. My kids are older now. But we would not let our toddlers take naps at all or just short ones. They might have a meltdown during the day. But they passed out every night.

  5. love this! We do already incorporate play into our bedtime routine (which is really does feel like the magic within the magic), but our routine is not as structured and short & sweet as this. I believe your ideas will really help us out! thank you!

  6. What do you do when you’ve done all of this and they don’t go to sleep? Should I let her lay there and cry after her bedtime routine? She fights sleep so hard. We go up and down the stairs trying to put her to bed for hours until she can’t fight it anymore and finally goes to sleep. She’s 15 months old, she was breastfed to sleep until she was 13m/o. I’m so lost. I don’t know what to do.

    1. Is co-sleeping possible? It’s the method that results in the most sleep for the average mom. I would google “the family bed”. Co-sleeping is normal and standard in many countries around the world. It is not considered harmful or dangerous. There are lots of guidelines depending on the age of the kid for safe sleep so they don’t suffocate or fall down. But, other than that, it’s easy and works well. The big downside is that often men don’t want to help with child rearing and sharing a bed with a kid is annoying. So, that’s usually the reason it’s a dead stop from the start. The other downside is people think it’s the “easy way out” so people look down on your for not doing the more respected “cry it out” style of forcing unwilling children to sleep alone. Some kids sleep alone fine. Good for them. Some kids don’t want to. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. Especially little tiny ones. They need our support and being alone is very scary. It’s scary for adults!!!!!!! I know adults who have never lived alone before. And grown women who got scared their first night in an apartment alone. If you don’t have a partner telling you weird bullshit about bedsharing like my dad… who said sharing a bed with your baby would turn that baby gay… That’s a myth. A horrible bullshit myth by a hateful homophobe. But… that’s mothering… A constant shitstorm of hatred coming at you with hurricane force saying that you can’t even put your kid to bed “right”. Co-sleeping is normal and you’ll both actually sleep. It’s easy and makes common sense. Babies fall asleep on people all the time. It’s just an extension of that. Good luck. Being a mom… could be so much easier and more fun if anyone ever just did what made the most sense to them in the actual moment. Like falling asleep next to your baby might make a lot of sense to you. Maybe not. But if it does, just do it. Fall asleep next to your little one. And dream side by side.

  7. I find that if they get to play together after the bath it really winds my baby up and they stay up for a couple more hours. They are 1.5 & 5 yrs old

    1. Hey Carissa, playtime can help your child feel connected during bedtime routine. You could try a calmer form of play. For a while, my girls really liked playing card games during bedtime. That could be an option for your 5 year old 🙂

  8. My 3 year old child has an abnormal sleep schedule. She stays up till 9-10 most nights and naps for about 2 hours starting at 4 in the afternoon. I am a Stay at home mom and my husband has a later work schedule in which he doesn’t get home till 8 most nights. The later schedule allows my daughter to spend time with her dad after work, and since we don’t have to rush off to daycare in the morning, she just sleeps in later than the average kid. And her later nap also allows me to spend time with her old sister after school doing homework uninterrupted. Her schedule is consistent, but not typical. We typically do not have a lot of issues getting her to go to sleep or getting her to wake up in the morning. I never thought that was an issue, before but recently we were criticized by a friend about our daughter’s sleep schedule claiming that it was doing her harm or at least a disservice. I have been asking around for some explanation as to why an alternative schedule that works for our family is bad. Some of the responses I got was that a child should have a schedule consistent with their peers for socialization, but our neighborhood has many children available to play with at all different hours of the day, and I make it a point to take her to playdates, library events, and parks on a regular basis to interact with kids during the school day when some of the neighborhood kids are at school. I was also told that it would be harder for her to adjust to an earlier sleep schedule when she started school and when she would need to adjust to an earlier bedtime to account for waking up earlier. We had a lot of success transitioning our older daughter to an earlier bedtime leading up to school, and did so in gradual stages in the months leading up to her going to kindergarten. I have never been one to believe that just because something is different it is inherently wrong, but if there is some sort of scientific evidence that supports the idea the time of day is just as important as the number of hours of sleep, I want to know that. I would hate to shake a routine that works for my family for no good reason, but I also want to be aware of any real side effects of this routine if any exist.

    1. Hey there! Many children’s circadian rhythms naturally do not allow for later bedtimes and later wake times. But if your child is well rested, happy, and this works for your family, there is no need to change! The beauty of parenting is you get to decided what is best for your family!!!

  9. So ready to give these a try in my never ending quest of putting myself to bed on time when I’m too tired and cranky to want to go through all that work…

  10. This works!!! My wife and I tried it with our 2 year old who only slept if one of us was in her bed. And would cry soooo hard if we leave and then she’d come out the room as well.

    We’ve been doing this for 4 days. First night was the hardest, lots of crying. Second night – no tears 😳. Third night, just a little and tonight, none! 🕺🏾

    Thank you so much for sharing your tips!

  11. If they’re not used to putting themselves to sleep and won’t stay in their beds, what do you do?

    1. Hey Jacosa! If you are ready for them to fall asleep independently, check out my toddler course!
      littlezsleep.com/toddler

  12. Hey, we tried this for the first time tonight on our 4 year old boy, bedtime routine is normally around an hour with a protest at the end. Tonight 2.5 hours I think we can say that was a fail. He refused to clean his teeth and have a bath even though he’s normally fine, when the time ran out of 10 mins he wanted to have his bath. Play and story time was OK but just wound himself up as normal. Screaming the house down not wanting to go to bed.

    We shall try again tomorrow but 🤷‍♂️ Didn’t work for us tonight. Infact made it worse.

    1. Hey! I would recommend my preschool course to implement rewards and consequences during bedtime routine!
      littlezsleep.com/preschool

  13. Ooooh, I was so excited when u said u had FREE bedtime routine charts!! I was looking for a suitable routine BECAUSE I was about to make a chart using canvas, u have just simplified things for me sooo much. I always get stuck on the details when I am trying to do charts, to the point where it often derails my efforts

    1. Aww, I’m so glad to hear this, Julia! I hope they have been helpful to both you and your little one!

  14. I am definitely willing to try playtime before sleep because it is taking my 19 month old quite a while lately to fall asleep in his crib. He doesn’t cry but he is still winding down. He does really enjoy books. How does that work if he wants to read books during that play time? Do we still do that part of the bedtime routine?

    1. Hey, Amanda! You will do 10 minutes of play and then 5-10 minutes of books during your little one’s bedtime routine!

  15. Hi there, twin mum over here :-} So excited to try your techniques. My bedtime routine it takes I was really frustrated so very keen to try this method as soon as tonight! I’ll keep you posted.WX

  16. My daughter is 4 years old this year, I’d like to find out how long before bedtime should dinner be given? I have a very strict routine one would say, dinner at 6:30 then some play, bath time and then bedtime with a story or foot rubs which she would ask for often then I leave for her to fall asleep.

    She doesn’t sleep through the night, I’m definitely going to try this tonight.

    Hopeful

    1. Hey, Gabrielle! We recommend serving dinner within 1-1.5 hours before your little one goes to sleep!

    1. Sometimes bath time may be longer than 7 minutes, and that’s totally okay! 7 minutes of time is just an example, and we know it will vary from family to family!

  17. Hi, thanks for this. It works for us. Although I don’t know what to do when she wakes up and night and what to be with us in our bed. Thanks

    1. Hey there! This is a great question and we would LOVE to help you tackle this challenge! Could you please copy/paste the above message and email it to support@littlezsleep.com so that we can give you the best guidance?? Thank you!!!💛

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