Toddler Sleep Regressions: Signs, Causes, & What To Do
Did your toddler suddenly stop sleeping? They may be experiencing a toddler sleep regression! Learn what you can do to help your little one sleep better, and how you can get back to a full night’s rest.
Parents have already gone through 3-4 sleep regressions by the time their babies reach toddlerhood, but it doesn’t make it any less jarring. In fact, aside from teething, most of us seem to think that the nights of rocking and waking every 2 hours are long behind us.
At least, I know I did.
My son was always a great sleeper. I know, some of you want to strangle me right now. But it’s true! I was blessed! Don’t worry, baby number two is due in about 2 months, and I may be singing a completely different tune by then.
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It wasn’t until my son hit 2-years-old that I felt the pain that other moms experience for years at a time. It was a rude awakening.
My so-called ‘good sleeper’ turned into a monster that threw tantrums, kept me up all hours of the night and somehow had the energy to then wake up at the crack of dawn. Now, if you think this is coming for you, I don’t want to scare you, but it lasted for weeks.
I was one tired Mama.
I learned to adjust, and I changed up our routine to encourage my son to sleep through the night again. It took some time, but things did get better. Now I have my sweet little sleeper back, just in time for our next baby’s arrival. Let’s hope it sticks!
Overall, I think it’s really just a matter of getting through the regression without pulling out too much of your hair. But with that being said, there are certainly things you can do to make the experience a little less horrible.
According to a 2010 study published in Pediatrics, most babies are sleeping through the night by 3 months old. I was part of this statistic, and even during all the famous regressions, it really wasn’t all that bad. Because of this, I’d argue that the infamous 2-year sleep regression is by far, the worst. 18-month wasn’t super fun, either though.
What Are Toddler Sleep Regressions and Why Do They Happen?
Sleep regressions refer to the periods where kids who usually sleep fairly well are suddenly refusing sleep. Because they’re typically linked to periods of rapid growth and brain development, they tend to happen around the same age for most children.
Thankfully this allows parents to prepare (well, as much as you can prepare for total chaos and exhaustion).
These regressions are usually chalked up as nothing more than “teething,” but there’s actually a lot at play. Sleep regressions can last a few weeks, and can be brought on by factors such as stress, a change in routine, sickness, and travel.
Signs Your Toddler Is Going Through A Sleep Regression
If your toddler is suddenly refusing sleep, and it’s lasting more than just a day or two, it’s safe to assume that they’re experiencing a sleep regression.
Signs of a toddler sleep regression:
- Refusing to go to bed or staying up hours after bedtime
- Screaming at bedtime and fighting sleep
- Waking frequently at night
- Skipping naptime
When Do Toddler Sleep Regressions Typically Happen?
Toddler sleep regressions typically happen around 18 months old, and again at 2 years old. Of course every child develops at a different rate, so this can happen as early as 15 or 16 months, or as late as 2 and a half. And of course, teething, sickness, and changes in routine can all play a role in when it occurs as well.
18 Month Toddler Sleep Regression
The 18 month toddler sleep regression is fairly similar to the 2 year old sleep regression, though your child will obviously be at a different level each time.
I can’t speak for all toddlers, but for my son, the 18 month regression seemed to be sparked by an interest in learning, growing, and playing. He didn’t learn how to walk until around 17 months, with his regression following soon after. He had no interest in sleeping, because he wanted to continue developing his newfound skill! He wanted to play with his shape sorter, practice walking, and play, play play!
He wasn’t crying and throwing fits all night long, he was simply up all hours of the night, talking and playing in his crib until one of us got him. The 2 year regression was a totally different story.
2 Year Sleep Regression
Again, every child is different, but I figured I’d give my personal experience with both of these regressions. The 2 year regression was 10 times worse for our family, and seemed to be fueled largely by a sudden clinginess and attachment to my husband and I.
He wasn’t up all hours of the night because he wanted to play this time. He wanted to be held, rocked, and coddled like a baby. Even more so than when he was a baby, actually.
How To Survive Toddler Sleep Regressions
1. Don’t Give up Naptime
First of all, if you really feel your toddler is ready to drop naptime, then by all means, do what you feel is best for your kid and your family. I do want to say though, that sometimes this can work against you, especially when you’re batting a toddler sleep regression.
I say this from experience.
Your toddler might not seem like she wants a nap, and some days she might not fall asleep at all. But routine is so important, and I urge you to take your toddler to their bed every day you’re able, around the same time.
Maybe it was just us, but when my son was going through his 2-year sleep regression, our lives were turned upside down. He was up all hours of the night, and some mornings we slept in like teenagers. By the time we woke up, there was no hope for a nap.
Because of this, our schedule completely shifted, and naptime was cut out for almost 2 weeks! I had no plans of dropping naptime. Like, zero interest. Naptime is SACRED. But I was pregnant, and too tired to fight with him about when he wanted to sleep. If he was still asleep at noon from the night before, I let him be. Shoot, I needed the rest as much as he did.
The moment I fixed our routine and added naptime back into his daily schedule, I was amazed at how quickly things turned around. When you let your toddler get overly tired, they’re more likely to continue fighting sleep, driving you nuts in the process. Don’t ask me why, but it’s just the way it is. More sleep somehow equals better nighttime sleep. I don’t know, but I’ll take it!
I’ll admit, it was not easy. Who in their right mind wants to wake their toddler up at 8am when they were just up with them a few hours before? No one. But, after a day or two of suffering, it can help them get back to square one.
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2. Stick To a Routine
Routine is your best friend. Your toddler will thrive on it, and so will you! As well as making naptime a priority, you should really try your best to stick to a routine that works for your family. Whether you need to adjust your old schedule or get back to it (like we had to do), just make sure you try your best to stay consistent during this time.
It’s not easy to stick to a schedule when you’re exhausted and your patience is wearing thin. It’s even worse when your toddler is so tired they’re constantly whining and carrying on. Just stick it out, Mama!
3. Tire Your Toddler Out!
Your toddler’s little mind is growing and developing at a super fast rate right now. It’s why they’re up at 2am singing and talking to themselves (or screaming) instead of sleeping. They’re learning, and they don’t want to slow down long enough to get some rest in!
Something that may help is to tire them out during the day. And I’m not just talking about taking them to a play center to burn off some steam and run around, though that can be helpful too. I’m talking about activities that get the gears turning.
What skills does your toddler seem to be working on at the moment? Language? Gross motor development? Matching? Whatever it is, help engage them in developing these skills. Obviously, this is good to do no matter what, but when it comes to battling a toddler sleep regression, this seems to be vital.
If they’re learning letter recognition, try out some fun activities that help them learn the alphabet. If they’re more interested in learning life skills and copying Mama, encourage them to learn how to clean up after themselves.
It’s almost as if you’re helping them “get it out of their system” so to speak, allowing their minds to rest at night because they feel they accomplished a lot during the day.
4. Tell Your Toddler When Bedtime is Near
Transition periods are really hard for little ones, particularly toddlers. And it makes total sense! Even as an adult, it’s frustrating when things change suddenly. Everyone likes to feel prepared for whatever’s coming for them.
To make the transition to bedtime easier, tell your toddler that it’s approaching.
“20 minutes until bedtime.”
“Let’s read one more story, and then it’s time for bed.”
These phrases help get your toddler in the mindset that they need to be preparing for bedtime. Even if your little one isn’t talking yet, they understand more than you know.
5. Create a Calm Atmosphere Before Bedtime
Dim the lights a bit, and turn the tv down (or off). Use the environment to ease your toddler into bedtime mode. It also helps to start lowering your voice and acting calm and relaxed. No more rough-housing or tickle fights. This allows your toddler to cool down and chill out as bedtime approaches.
Obviously, it won’t work every time, but it can help your child with the transition. Plus, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to put a toddler to bed moments after Daddy riled them up.
6. Don’t Move Your Toddler To a Big Kid Bed Too Early
Is it just me, or are parents moving their toddlers to big kid beds earlier and earlier these days? A little too early if you ask me.
Look, I get it. It’s exciting! Also, it’s not my business. If you think your toddler is ready, go for it! It’s simply my opinion that moving your toddler to a big kid bed too early is detrimental to everyone’s sleep.
I see moms do it all the time. Some do it as early as shortly after their first birthday! If you’re thinking about transitioning your little one to a toddler bed, ask yourself a few things:
- Do I trust my toddler to have free reign over their room and possibly the house if they wake up while I’m sleeping?
- Is the house 100% toddler-proof and safe?
- Does my toddler have the restraint and discipline necessary to not hurt themselves when left unattended?
- Do I hate sleep?
Okay, okay. All jokes aside, I realize some people make the switch because their toddler is climbing out of the crib, which can be dangerous. And maybe they just seem ready to you! That’s totally fine. But if you suspect that your toddler may not be ready for the responsibility of having that amount of freedom, you might consider reverting back to the crib, or holding off on the toddler bed.
Switching to a big kid bed too early can be a bit much for some toddlers. It’s normal to struggle to keep them in bed for a while, but if it’s practically impossible, it might be too early. Of course a one-year-old isn’t going to stay in bed at bedtime when they have the ability to climb out and wander around the house. What else could we expect? Unfortunately for them, they need sleep, whether they want it or not. And so do we for that matter.
Why play the “lay-your-toddler-down-200-times-before-they-finally-stay” game when you can simply wait until they’re old enough to comprehend the words “please stay in bed, it’s time to sleep.” They may not listen every time, but it’s certainly better than expecting a young toddler who doesn’t speak to stay in bed when they just don’t get it.
7. Ease Your Toddler’s Fears
Sometimes regressions stem from fear or a sudden developed attachment, which means you’ll need to adjust the way you do things. Maybe your toddler used to go down without a fuss, but now they need to be held for 10 minutes, rocked, sang to, read 3 bedtime stories, have each of their toes kissed, and be tucked in, all in that order, every single night.
Far too often, parents tend to forget that their children are little humans. They have their own desires, needs, and fears. It’s easy to forget that we must remain selfless and put them first. It’s not about what’s convenient for us, and it’s equally not about bowing down to their every command. There’s a balance that must be achieved, and it’s 100% up to us to find it, since our little ones are incapable.
But think about it – even as an adult, haven’t you ever felt lonely in your bed alone at night? Have you ever gotten spooked and wished someone was there to comfort you? Of course you have! Our toddlers are no different! In fact, they deserve a few more passes than we give them!
It’s healthy to encourage your toddler to sleep on their own in their room, and to learn to fall asleep without a big fuss every night. But they’re not robots, either. It’s okay for them to need us to comfort them more some nights. Try holding your baby just a little longer if they seem upset, or let them sleep with you on nights where it’s just too tough. Don’t make it a habit unless you want that to be the new normal, but don’t forget that we’re their whole world, and sometimes they just need a little extra lovin’.
8. Keep Things Calm Until They Fall Asleep
This may seem obvious to some of you, but it didn’t cross my mind until recently! If your toddler is usually a good sleeper, you may be used to laying them down and going about your business in the living room or kitchen with no problem. But when they’re struggling to sleep, it might be helpful to keep things a little more quiet and calm until they fall asleep.
I mean, think about it. They already don’t want to sleep. They want to play or be with Mommy or Daddy. Then they hear you two laughing it up or watching tv in the other room without them, and they’re definitely not going to be happy.
9. Stay Strong
Your toddler may want to play, but they need to sleep. They want to assert themselves and make decisions, but this is something that you should make non-negotiable. Make exceptions sure, but make sure they stay just that: exceptions to the rule.
They should understand that the majority of the time, Mommy isn’t going to cave in and let them run around wild at 1am, eating all the snacks in the house and watching tv. Allow them to do this too many nights in a row, and you’re only hurting the chances of getting them back on track.
10. Don’t Lose Your Cool
I’m not going to lie, I’ve been brought to tears while dealing with my son’s sleep regressions. Maybe it’s just pregnancy hormones coupled with lack of sleep, but sometimes it just feels like too much. When this happens, try to do it when they’re not around. We have to stay strong, composed, and even. Breaking down or losing our cool isn’t a step in the right direction.
11. Try Limiting Screen Time
I’m not an anti-technology mom by any means. In fact, I could probably stand to be a little more firm about television time. However, excessive screen time has been linked to restlessness and sleeping issues in toddlers. Heck, in adults, too!
Sometimes simply turning the tv off an hour before bedtime can help you set the stage for a better nights’ sleep.
12. Cut Back on Sugar Intake
Hopefully you’re already good about how much sugar your toddler has, but if not, maybe it’s time to consider cutting back a little bit, especially in the evening. Don’t make dessert an everyday treat, especially while your toddler is struggling through a sleep regression. It definitely affects their sleep cycle.
Toddler Sleep Schedule (Sample)
If you’re wondering how long an 18 month old should nap, (or even a 2 or 3 year old), here’s a sample schedule! Remember, every family is different. You don’t have to follow this schedule. It’s simply meant to show you what a typical schedule looks like.
Toddlers typically require about 14 hours of sleep every day. For many families, this is the time they cut back to one 2-3 hour nap a day, with 11-12 hours of sleep at night.
Toddler Sleep Schedule (One Nap)
8:00am – Wake up / Breakfast / Lunch
12:00pm-2:30pm – Naptime
2:30-8:30pm – Wake up / Snack / Dinner
8:30pm – Bedtime
Toddler Sleep Schedule (Two Naps)
Toddlers who have two naps are usually early risers.
6:30am – Wake up / Breakfast
9:30am-11:00am – Morning Nap
11:00am-1:00pm – Wake up / Lunch
1:00pm-2:30pm – Afternoon Nap
2:30-8:30pm – Wake up / Snack / Dinner
8:30pm – Bedtime
How do you handle sleep regressions? Do you have any tips for moms dealing with a toddler that won’t sleep? Let us know in the comments below!
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