Toddler Fell Asleep Without Dinner – What You Should Do

If your little one dozes off before dinner time, it is perfectly fine to allow them to sleep. Nevertheless, it is crucial to have a small snack prepared in case they awaken during the night. Additionally, consider modifying their dinner and bedtime routines to be a bit earlier.

As toddlers transition away from daytime naps, it’s normal for them to fall asleep earlier in the day, resulting in skipped dinner. 

This change is often a sign that your little one is reaching a new and healthy developmental milestone of earlier bedtimes and longer sleep.

Serving meals and snacks at a fixed and consistent time during this transition is key. 

A 2022 study published in the international nutritional journal Nutrients explored toddler diet in relation to sleep and found that inconsistent meal patterns were linked to shorter sleep duration. 

“Meal patterns and timing are known to be important circadian timekeepers.

Thus, consistent, predictable schedules of eating could be associated with more consistent naptimes and bedtimes and subsequently longer overall duration of sleep.”

As long as your toddler is well-fed, falling asleep before dinner shouldn’t be a cause for concern as they will usually make up for it the following day. 

My twin boys occasionally fall asleep before dinner and sleep soundly until the next morning.

Each time they do this, I adjust their mealtimes to be slightly earlier than usual, and this seems to help a lot.

Toddler Falling Asleep Before Dinner

Despite your best efforts, your toddler won’t always be able to stick to a solid dinner-then-bed structure, but that’s okay!

Let’s look at how to work around this routine disruption, the pros and cons of letting them sleep, and recommended meal schedules.

Is It Okay for a Toddler To Miss a Meal?

Absolutely. Based on pediatric dietician Jill Castle’s expertise:

“This is a result of the variable appetite that goes with toddlerhood, and they’ll always be able to eat again at other meals and snacks.”

Remember that your little one wouldn’t have fallen asleep if he/she were really hungry, so missing a meal every now and again won’t harm them.

Should You Wake a Toddler for Dinner?

There’s a school of thought among many mom and parenting message boards that you should let sleeping toddlers lie and simply be ready with a cup of milk or a very light snack if they wake hungry in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.

If your toddler sleeps past their usual mealtime, some also advise serving their breakfast a little earlier than usual the next morning to make up for it.

Pros of Letting Them Sleep

  • They could be coming down with a cold and have little appetite, preferring to rest.
  • Sleeping a little longer during the night could prevent daytime sleepiness the next day and fussiness, and it can even improve their memory and learning abilities, according to Sleep Doctor Dr. Michael Breus.
  • Toddlers need around 11-14 hours of sleep a day, so on occasion, a longer sleep may plug this gap if your child isn’t getting enough.

Drawbacks of Letting Them Sleep

  • They may wake up too early the next day or struggle to sleep throughout the night.
  • If sleeping through dinner becomes routine, dinner time may need to be pushed back earlier.
  • Other meal times may be disrupted.
  • Frequent snacking may become a habit if dinner is routinely missed.

How Long Before Bed Should a Toddler Eat Dinner?

To ensure digestion won’t impact sleep quality, toddlers should ideally have their last meal/snack around 1 ½ to 2 hours before bedtime.

Is It Normal for Toddlers To Fall Asleep While Eating?

It’s not uncommon for toddlers to fall asleep while eating, especially if they’re tired or are disinterested in the food itself.

However, there are a few things to consider when this happens:

  • Safety: Ensure the environment is safe if your toddler falls asleep while eating, and make sure they are in a safe position, especially if they are eating anything that could pose a choking hazard.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Falling asleep mid-meal could indicate that your toddler is lacking certain vitamins. Growing requires a lot of iron, for example, so if you’re concerned that mid-meal dozing is happening too often, speak to your child’s pediatrician, who may suggest testing your little one for iron deficiency.
  • Mealtime Routine: Establishing a consistent mealtime routine can help prevent your toddler from falling asleep during meals. Limit distractions, create a calm eating environment, and encourage interaction during meals.

In most cases, toddlers falling asleep while eating occasionally is not a significant concern, but observing patterns and making adjustments to their routine might help prevent this from becoming a habit. 

Don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about these habits.

A young mother comforting her toddler who isn't feeling well.

Meal Schedule for Toddlers

The best toddler feeding schedule, according to What To Expect, is three meals and two to three snacks, “with eating opportunities spaced about 2-3 hours apart.”

It should look something like this:

  • 7:00 a.m. Wake up
  • 7:30 a.m. Breakfast
  • 10:00 a.m. – Morning snack
  • 12:30 p.m. – Lunch
  • 1:30 p.m. Nap
  • 3:30 p.m. Afternoon snack
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner
  • 7:00 p.m. Bed

As they start to reduce their daytime naps, you can start to rearrange their dinner and bedtime slightly earlier.

Should they need a bedtime snack around this transition, a very light protein-filled bite or two should be okay — opt for a piece of cheese or a slice of apple.

Avoid sugary bedtime foods at all costs as these can cause lighter sleep and prevent them from entering deep sleep as the stomach gears up for digestion.

Rearranging Toddler Schedule

Try not to feel discouraged about making changes to your toddler’s schedule when it’s needed.

If your child has started to consistently wake up earlier than normal or no longer appears tired at her usual nap/bedtime, then it’s okay to begin putting her to bed a little later.

Dr. Harvey Karp notes that:

“The key to thinking about routine isn’t protecting it, but altering it respectfully and in a way that makes your child feel they’ve been part of the process.”

Karp also recommends starting a conversation with your toddler about the change to give them agency and to give them “recognition that they’ve done really well in the transition.”

Ideal Time for Toddlers To Go to Bed

A good time bracket is between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. as toddlers “tend to sleep deepest between 8 p.m. and midnight,” according to the Raising Children network.

What To Do if Toddler Falls Asleep Before Bedtime

If it’s more than 2 hours before their usual bedtime, you could leave them for 15-20 minutes to help them feel refreshed before waking them and settling them into quiet time.

If they fall asleep well under an hour before bedtime, leave them, and see how they sleep throughout the night — this could be a transition to an earlier bedtime.

Toddler Sleep Patterns by Age

Your toddler’s sleeping patterns change all the time as they develop, and factors such as teething, illness, and big routine changes can all contribute to sleep regression, so their patterns aren’t always easy to predict.

Below is what the average sleeping pattern looks like as they grow.

Age 1-2 Years

12- to 24-month-olds typically sleep for 11-14 hours (including naps) and may start to take fewer naps as they begin to walk and talk.

Age 2-3 Years

At this age, 10-13 hours of sleep (including one or two naps) is fairly typical.

Naps gradually begin to cut down altogether as they approach preschool age and the majority of sleep is focused on nighttime.

Average Length of a Toddler Nap

Nap length will depend on their sleeping patterns.

According to sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus, studies show that most 18-month-olds tend to nap for under 2 hours a day, and this shortens to 1-hour naps by age 2.

Longer or shorter naps may be needed depending on their sleep quality during the night.

Is My Toddler Sleeping Too Much?

11-14 hours of sleep is healthy in a 24-hour period, and some children simply need a little longer than others throughout the day.

If your little one is sleeping significantly more than usual, pediatric neurologist Dr. Stephanie Jackson notes “certain medications or an iron or other vitamin deficiency could be the cause,” so speak to your local pediatrician if you have concerns.