“What time is the ideal bedtime for a 2-4 year old toddler? Are there any behavioral signs I can look for to see if my child is getting enough sleep?”
Children vary greatly in how much sleep they need in a 24 hour period. We have little ones with low sleep needs, and little ones with high sleep needs. Between the ages of 2-4 children often need between 10-13 hours of sleep total within a 24 hour period, but most children nap until around age 3 and so, if a nap is still happening, this will impact total nighttime sleep.
You want to consider total sleep across a 24-hour period, so, if your child currently wakens at 8am, naps for two hours around lunchtime, and needs another 10 hours overnight, this would make for a pretty late bedtime. If this schedule doesn’t work for your family and you are trying to arrive at an earlier bedtime, average your child’s total sleep over a period of a few days and then work backwards. You might need to gradually pull their wake time earlier and adjust their day accordingly to land on a distribution of total sleep requirements that works for you and your child.
If your child is waking often, I want to offer reassurance that fragmented sleep is not the same thing as sleep deprivation, and that fragmented sleep (stirring a few times a night and returning to sleep easily) is normal. Little ones at this age might still require some support to fall back to sleep; these brief wakings don’t necessarily result in a child not getting enough sleep and are not the same thing as a child who is awake for periods of the night, every night, for extended periods of time.
The truth is most little ones are getting enough sleep. If your child is usually content during the day, has periods of high energy, enjoys playing and interacting with others, is medically well, and is developing as expected, then chances are they are getting enough sleep. Dysregulated behaviour and crankiness are developmentally appropriate at this age, and, whilst children can be more emotionally volatile when they are tired, dysregulation alone isn’t a sign of a sleep deprived child as tricky behaviour and big feelings can be triggered by many, many more factors than sleep.
I hope this helps.