Are we still talking about SLEEP?! (Yes.)

The whole shebang starts during your first brave trip to the grocery store, solo, with a 2-week-old: You're rocking a look I might gently call postpartum chic (not in PJs) meets zombie apocalypse (green-grey circles under your eyes, paper-thin pasty skin, hormonally imbalanced and wild-eyed with hunger). 

A pack of evil grannies clucks and swoons and surrounds your youngling — TOUCHING HER — while asking just about every possible version of the following question: Is she sleeping through the night YET? 

Though you quickly learn that “sleeping through the night” is a myth from the early to mid-20th century — when babes were fed bottles fortified with cornstarch and Cream of Wheat — you nevertheless develop your own sleep obsession:

Is she getting enough sleep? Am I? Is dozing off in the stroller considered a nap? 

The new normal

As the months progress, you get a handle on your child’s sleep patterns, barring the occasional surprise all-nighter. But as your “baby” hits the one-year mark and as your 1-year-old becomes a toddler, you find that sleep is still very much a hot topic. 

Maybe the bedtime breastfeeding session is your last weaning step. Maybe the transition from crib to toddler bed seems insurmountable. 

Perhaps you’ve been co-sleeping up until now and are ready to take back a bit of autonomy (and uninterrupted nighttime matrimony). Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things — plus the closet monster, sleepwalking, refusal to settle down and just one last glass of water. 

And then Pull-Ups! And stomach bugs! DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME. And the trepidation that comes from that sly suggestion from one parent to the other, “Do you … um … think it’s time to do away with … um … NAPS … like forever?”

Add to all this the mix of both vague and so-called ironclad suggestions from the “experts” who quite frankly make you ask: “Do you have recommendations for human parents of actual 2-year-olds?”

Here’s the deal

The National Sleep Foundation says toddlers age 1 to 2 need 11 to 14 hours of sleep per night, but notes that 9 hours might be appropriate for your child, as may 16. 

The same organization says 3- to 5-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours, roughly. 

In their recommendations for setting good sleep habits, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you NOT let your child sleep in your bed, as it will make it more difficult for her to fall asleep alone.

Attachment Parenting advocate and many times over bestselling author Dr. William Sears recommends bed-sharing with your toddler to your comfort level, if it is a need of the child’s, rather than a habit or desire. He says that a parent should instinctively know the difference.

Do what works for you

Is your head spinning yet? 

I’ve done it all — including sleeping sandwiched between my two children. As a postpartum doula, I’ve seen a full spectrum of sleep choices amongst many different families — families with toddlers, infants, teens, a single parent, two mommies, twins and beyond. 

I know that “one more book” and “need a glass of water” are as habitual as bed sharing. 

I know many, many parents who wait with bated breath for the midnight visit: It’s the point at which they nuzzle close, smell their child’s hair, relax, appreciate the bittersweet nature of time — and connect in a way they’re unable to do amid the buzz of daily life.

I know working parents who need nighttime cuddles to restore, reconnect and reestablish the will to drop their children off at daycare the next day. 

And I know parents who say, “Nope. Never. This bed is where the magic happens — and I don’t mean Yo Gabba Gabba.” 

When I was a doula, from day one with a family, I’d say to the parents of infants and toddlers alike, “Do what works. Do what gets everyone here the maximum amount of rest. Just do it safely.”

As the experts tell us, there’s a wide range of possibility in terms of healthy toddler sleep. And as always, YOU are the expert when it comes to your own child. 


Jen Wittes is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in St. Paul. Learn more about her work at jenwittes.com. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.