How to get your baby or toddler to sleep well at daycare

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

Your little ones sleep will most likely be disrupted during the daycare adjustment period so here are a few strategies that can help with getting your child’s sleep back on track and how to deal with lost sleep during the transition.

When choosing a childcare option

Ask lots of questions when visiting the centre. Ask to see the sleep area and ask if they are willing to make changes to the sleep environment if necessary (replace lullabies with whitenoise, make the area darker etc.).

Further find out what the centre’s policy is on sleep. A lot of childcare centres will not wake sleeping babies and will generally not let your little one cry so will most likely rock or pat your baby to sleep. If this is not how you settle your little one to sleep, ask if they will change their sleep settling methods to align with the one you use at home.

Many centres will also try and put all the children down to sleep at roughly the same time which might not work with your little one’s sleep schedule. A good childcare centre will be happy to follow your little one’s sleep schedule and work on re-settling your child should they wake up from a nap early. So don’t be afraid to ask all of these questions when first visiting the centre.

Replicate sleep environment

Once your little one has started at daycare, try and replicate the sleep environment as much as possible. Pack your little one’s familiar sleep items from home (lovey if age appropriate, cot sheet, sleep sack etc.), ask daycare to play the same white noise and make the sleep area as dark as possible.

If your baby is still sleeping in the cot room, request a cot in the back area of the room where it will be quieter and darker and less disruptive as the door of the sleep room will be opened and closed frequently during nap time.

Have dinner ready to go

Keeping to an early bedtime on daycare days is key to ensure your little one does not go to bed overtired. So I recommend having dinner ready to go as this will also allow you some bonding time with bub as you won’t be stuck in the kitchen preparing dinner.

Some options to make dinner prep quick and easy are:

  • Bulk cook a few different meals and freeze them in individual portions

  • Chop fruits and veggies the night before to have them on hand for a quick stir fry or omelette

  • Buy a frozen meal (there are lots of baby and toddler meal options available that are generally lower in sodium and packed with veggies)

  • Prepare a quick sandwich with healthy fillings (peanut butter and banana, chicken and cheese, hummus and veggies etc.)

Follow same sleep schedule at daycare

Provide the daycare centre with your bub's sleep schedule/routine that you follow at home so they can replicate this as much as possible at the centre.

I also recommend to always let the centre know at drop off if your little one woke up early that morning or had a bad night’s sleep so they can make adjustments to your little one's sleep schedule and avoid your baby getting overtired.

Also explain to educators how you settle bub to sleep at home so they can replicate this at the centre, if you don’t rock or feed your little one to sleep, neither should they, Simply discuss a method that will work for both parties.

What do if sleep falls apart at daycare

Early bedtime

You can always make up for bad daycare naps with an early bedtime. Don’t be afraid to put your little one to bed as early as 6 pm. Not only does this allow your baby to catch up on lost sleep, it also reduces the likelihood of your child going to sleep completely overtired and waking up early in the morning or waking up frequently overnight as a result.

Focus on sleep on off days

I also recommend to focus on good sleep on days where your baby is home with you. So try not to schedule in a thousand activities throughout the day, ensure you are home for nap times and put your little one down early for naps and bedtime if necessary. Allow for lots of down time at home if your little one is overtired and use an early bedtime at night if needed. Not only will this give your baby a chance to catch up on lost sleep, it will also give you some much needed downtime in the evening, for you to re-charge.

Make daycare transition easier for your baby or toddler

No matter how much you prepare in trying to set up your child for great sleep once they are at care there will be an adjustment period during which your little one’s sleep will get disrupted. So try to let go a little and accept this. I know this can be a very stressful period but there are a few strategies to make this transition period easier on both you and your little one.

  • If your child is old enough to understand, prepare them for daycare by explaining that they will be starting daycare to play with other children and learn lots of new things

  • If possible, visit the childcare centre on a few different occasions so your child can familiarise themselves with the new environment while you (their trusted caregiver)are with them

  • Try to start daycare before you have to return to work so you are able to pick your little one up early if necessary

  • Pack a familiar item in your little one’s bag that they can hold on to when feeling upset

  • Don’t sneak out of the door when your child is not looking as this can lead to your little one not leaving you out of sight for fear of you disappearing again, even when at home

  • Confidently say goodbye to your child when dropping them off and don’t linger as this can make the drop off more stressful, pay attention to your body language as your little one will pick up on your feelings of anxiety

  • Explain to your little one that you will be back later to pick them up and if possible spend some one on one time with them at home before bed


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