Summer sleep routines and issues for toddlers

Planning a summer vacation with your toddler? Sleep Consultant, Lauren Olson, shares invaluable tips on how to transition into summer sleep routines

toddler summer sleep routine

Summer is here. The days are longer, the sun feels hotter… and your child is suddenly waking up WAY too early in the mornings. Or perhaps your toddler’s nap seems to be going on for so long that it’s becoming difficult to put them down at night. You might even be thinking about not traveling at all until they are 18, because when you return home, sleep habits are out the window and everyone is exhausted.

Before we launch into my secret tips and tricks on toddler sleep, let me tell you a little about myself:  I am a mom of two extremely busy toddlers and a certified pediatric sleep coach. In my business I use contemporary approaches and custom plans designed to provide parents with the specific sleep information they need when it comes to developing healthy childhood sleeping habits. I also love to educate expecting and new/current mamas on the latest trends to help ease their transition into motherhood and make it more enjoyable.

In this article I will discuss the most common summer sleep issues I encounter with parents:

  • Early waking
  • Disturbed sleep routines after a vacation
  • How to create a consistent summer sleep schedule
  • Night wakings because of thirst, cold or being scared


Common Summer Sleep Issues for toddlers


“My child wakes up every morning before 6am

Every parent will inevitably watch the sunrise with their baby or toddler at some point, whether it be due to a bad dream, to night terrors or illness. If, however, your child regularly goes to bed around 8pm, then any waking before 6am (or after only 10 hours of sleep) can be defined as “early rising”. Early rising is characterized by your child acting like he or she is up and ready for the day with all the energy you’d expect from yourself after a few cups of coffee — but you know it’s much too early for your little one. 

A couple of clues could lie in your schedule: a child that skips an afternoon nap during the summer due to social events, or just plain old having too much fun could result in an overtired child, thus they will “crash” at bedtime. Due to the extended window of time spent awake, this alone could cause a young toddler to wake up much earlier than usual.  If you choose to allow your toddler to get up before 6am and shift your schedule back to accommodate, slowly this will become your child’s new internal rhythm.

My recommendation

Invest in a black out shade and light/clock that illuminates when it’s time to get out of bed in the morning. This will help your child understand the difference between ‘wake-up time’ and ‘stay-in-bed’ time.

“Post vacation: My child won’t fall asleep on their own, experiences night wakings, or refuses to nap”

Oh boy.  Many parents will joke that vacations are now described as “family trips”, meaning it’s not always a “vacation” for everyone involved.  While traveling, sleep can be heavily disrupted due to the change in sleep environments, inconsistent schedules, and perhaps even the introduction of a new sleep crutch for a parent desperate to keep a young child quiet in a house full of family members.

My recommendation

I recommend traveling with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Once home, return to your “home routine” as quickly as possible. To ease your child back into your old routines surrounding bedtime, a reward chart for bedtime can assist an older child with understanding and accepting your sleep wishes. 

“How do I create a consistent summer sleep schedule?”

The key to staying on schedule when the sun rises much earlier and sets MUCH too late, is adhering to a consistent, yet flexible summertime schedule that involves physical and mental stimulation for your toddler. 

My recommendation

A good rule of thumb is that from the time a child wakes in the morning, he or she should go to bed about 13 hours after waking for the day, leaving the next 11 hours reserved for sleep. Be sure to offer a nap to those under three years, or allow children to catch a quick catnap in the car or stroller should they need one after a busy morning. If holidays or family gatherings push bedtime back further than usual, your child may wake at the same time the following day (or earlier as discussed above), so be sure to offer a nap slightly earlier than normal the following day after a big activity, and return to his or her normal bedtime thereafter.

“My child complains about being thirsty, cold or scared at night”

Physical activity for most children peaks in the summertime, the season is packed with BBQs and three-day weekends where everyone stays up too late.  Due to an increased level of physical activity, children may complain of being thirsty… at midnight.

My recommendation

Should you choose to allow a drink in the middle of the night, offer only water to those children no longer requiring a feed at night; avoid juices and milks which can contain sugars. With the air conditioners pumping, always dress your baby or toddler in organic long sleeve PJs to ensure they’re comfortable and warm. For children who may wake suddenly and experience nightmares, or simply are afraid of the dark, introduce a “nighttime friend” that’s only offered at bedtime, and encourage your child to hold/squeeze/sing to their friend should they wake worried at night (vs. coming to wake you up, eek!).

More on toddler sleep…

Toddler Nightmares

Is your toddler suffering from nightmares? See our article on How to manage toddler nightmares and hight terrors.

Sleep routines when traveling

Planning on going on a family vacation? Make sure you read our guide on How to manage sleep routines when traveling.