How Does Sleep Affect Speech & Language Development in Toddlers?

Everyone wants to know: how does sleep impact speech and language development in toddlers? The simple answer? Sleep plays an essential role in brain development.

We all need a good night’s sleep to feel our best, but the need for quality sleep is critical for toddlers. It is especially important for little ones who are behind on their speech and language development.

But why is sleep so important? And how much sleep is enough sleep when it comes to speech and language development in toddlers? Let’s find out.

Why Is Sleep So Important for Speech Development in Toddlers?


Your child’s brain is growing and developing at a rapid pace. They are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of new pieces of information daily.

According to the Sleep Foundation, “Early in life, a person experiences tremendous development that affects the brain, body, emotions, and behavior and sets the stage for their continued growth through childhood and adolescence.”

Quality sleep is even more critical for a child with a speech and language delay. But first, let’s explore what happens with the brain during language development:

  • A particular section of the brain is devoted to speech and language. The brain of a child with a delay is not developing quite like the other parts of the brain and struggles to make connections between bits of information. While it’s not making the same connections, this does not mean that your child lacks in intelligence. It just means that learning in this area is not happening quite as expected, so it’s essential to nurture and provide as many opportunities for success as possible.
  • The deepest part of sleep, the REM cycle of sleep, is where your brain is organizing information. Our brain is putting new knowledge into different files to categorize it, understand it, and combine it with other information to make sense of it all. These could be memories, emotions, and most important for our children—new words.

If your child is not getting enough high-quality, deep sleep, their brains cannot appropriately organize the new information. This can result in a variety of issues, including language and speech delay.

How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) formulates total daily sleep recommendations by age since the brain requires different amounts of sleep during critical development stages.

  Age Range Recommended Hours of Sleep
Newborn 0-3 months old 14-17 hours
Infant 4-11 months old 12-15 hours
Toddler 1-2 years old 11-14 hours
Preschool 3-5 years old 10-13 hours
School-age 6-13 years old 9-11 hours

Don’t stress if your child struggles to get the full amount each night. These ranges are for total sleep, including at night and during naps.

If you believe your child is not getting enough sleep, start a sleep diary to track your child’s sleep patterns. If you’re concerned, book an appointment to speak with your pediatrician. Sleep Foundation also recommends improving “sleep hygiene by creating a consistent sleep schedule and routine, and ensuring that the child has a calm and quiet environment for sleep.”

There are many different things your doctor may recommend to begin helping your child sleep better. Some suggestions may be behavioral changes, including limiting screen time, getting proper exercise, nutrition changes, and getting regular sleep habits. Additionally, they may recommend certain foods that have properties that help encourage sleep, as well as a sleep aid supplement called Melatonin (talk to your doctor first).

VIDEO: Science of Sleep and Toddler Language Development


Sleep Is the Key to Speech-Language Development

When your child sleeps poorly, they tend to be super cranky and will struggle to retain the information they learn during the day.

It’s essential to talk to your medical professionals and not ignore ongoing sleep issues, as long-standing sleep issues may be a sign of a sleep disorder. Especially when working on intentional language development with your child, a good night’s sleep will ensure they are focused, making eye contact, and ready to learn.

Are you interested in learning more about how sleep may be affecting your child’s speech-language development? Subscribe to the Walkie Talkie Speech Therapy YouTube channel to learn the latest from Speech-Language Pathologist Kayla Chalko.

* indicates required
What best describes your role?