6 Tips to Get Through the Toddler Sleep Regression

From separation anxiety at bedtime to welcoming a new baby, toddler sleep regression can come out of nowhere. Discover tips to help your child.

Toddler Sleep RegressionWhat gives?

Why is your toddler fighting sleep all of a sudden? Why does she insist on sleeping in your bed every night and use stall tactics to delay bedtime? And where has your “good sleeper” gone?

Toddlers hit many developmental milestones during this stage, including those that aren’t so obvious. They might develop separation anxiety at night or a fear of the dark. Testing limits and learning appropriate ways to communicate and behave are common at this stage, too.

All these changes can disrupt your child’s sleep, even if she had been sleeping like a champ all this time.

Thankfully, you don’t have to “wait it out” and hope it passes. Not doing anything might enable the very habits that could be contributing to these sleep disruptions (like letting him sleep in your bed).

Take a look at these tips that have helped me during the toddler sleep regression. Hopefully, they work for you as well:

Toddler Fighting Sleep

1. Create a fun, safe sleep environment

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Struggling to convince your toddler to sleep in his big-kid bed, much less his own room? Start by creating an inviting sleep environment.

Get a new blanket and pillows with his favorite characters. Give him a special lovey (my kids love this kind) to sleep with for comfort and reassurance, or even a new toddler bed to replace the crib. Install a night light in case he’s afraid of the dark (and so that he doesn’t trip if he roams the room).

Plug a white noise machine to muffle sudden sounds that could startle him awake. Spend plenty of time in his room during the day so he ties it with positive experiences. And avoid placing him in “time out” in his bed or room, as he might associate it with punishment.

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2. Don’t enable habits you don’t like

It starts well enough. You hold your ground as your toddler demands that she can’t sleep in her room. Except after the 15th time of walking her back, you can’t take it anymore and relent to her sleeping in your bed.

Turns out this wasn’t a one-time thing, because come the next night, she’s back at it again.

And so, the cycle continues. Waking up in the middle of the night and sleeping in your bed—no matter how much of a hassle it is—has become your new norm.

Her behavior starts as a habit. And like any habit, it’s only reinforced with consistent repetition. The only way to break the cycle is to replace it with a new one, however difficult that may be at first.

In other words, if you don’t want her sleeping in your bed, don’t allow her to.

Yup, even if that means she throws a fit in her room. And yes, you may need to set aside a few nights, knowing you’ll be up multiple times to reinforce sleeping in her room and checking in. But in the long run, you’re breaking the habits you don’t want to continue.

A few tips to help:

  • Check in every few minutes to reassure her you’re still here as well as to check that she’s all right.
  • Don’t linger too long—30 seconds at most is all you need to check on her.
  • Keep your check-ins calm and confident—she can model her behavior after yours.
  • Use a baby monitor between check-ins so you can see what she’s doing.

Learn whether transitioning to a toddler bed at 18 months can work for you.

Transitioning to Toddler Bed at 18 Months

3. Make sure your toddler is actually sleepy

Part of growing up means needing fewer hours of sleep. While nighttime sleep holds steady at 11-12 hours, toddlers begin to decrease the amount of daytime sleep they need. For instance, your toddler might’ve been taking two naps for a while, only to now need one.

You can also experiment with when she’s getting her sleep. If she isn’t sleeping a long stretch at night, it could be because she’s taking lengthy naps during the day. Or perhaps she naps too late in the day and isn’t tired enough come bedtime.

If she resists sleep—either by putting up a fight or insisting on playing—try experimenting with her sleep.

You might drop a daytime nap, push the morning one back, or start bedtime later now that she’s older. Perhaps you wake her up from the last nap (she shouldn’t be asleep past 4pm), or have an earlier bedtime, especially if she’s overtired.

Check out 20 examples of a 2 year old sleep schedule to try.

2 Year Old Sleep Schedule

4. Talk about your toddler’s day

Many parents have found that their toddlers can’t fall asleep because they’re “talking” to themselves in bed. They might be rehashing what they saw at the park, reliving a television show they watched, or describing the events of an outing.

Other times, they’re talking about what they anticipate might happen the next day. This is especially common around the holidays or before events that they’re excited to start.

We all need time to process what we’ve experienced during the day, and we’ve all had sleepless nights anticipating the next day’s activities. Toddlers are no different.

One simple way to combat this is to talk to your child. Dinnertime or bedtime snuggles are perfect opportunities to describe what she saw or talk about what she’s excited about for the next day.

The more she can process this information when she’s awake, the less time she might sit with her thoughts come bedtime.

Check out these conversation starters for kids.

5. Have a predictable routine

Do you tend to “go with the flow” when it comes to your toddler’s daily activities? That flexibility—while convenient and even fun—can be contributing to her toddler sleep regression.

You see, kids thrive with predictability. Knowing what to expect can feel reassuring, especially at an age when they don’t always know what might happen next. Many parents find that establishing a consistent routine helps not just with their toddlers’ days, but their sleep as well.

A routine can mean doing the same things in the same order—for instance, playtime, nap, and lunch every day. It can also mean doing the same things within each part of the day. Perhaps she bathes, puts on pajamas, reads books, and drinks a cup of milk every night.

And have a calm evening leading up to bedtime. If she’s too riled up to fall asleep, she likely needs time to transition to being quiet. Now is not the time for roughhousing or stimulating screen time. Instead, stick to calm activities like simple crafts and reading.

And most importantly, put her to sleep at the same time every night, preferably 8:30pm at the latest.

6. Stay consistent

One night you might hold your ground and refuse to let your toddler have another drink of water. But perhaps the next night, you end up caving in, desperate to end the middle-of-the-night tantrums.

The problem? Going back and forth sends mixed messages and only prolongs these sleepless nights.

Instead, stay consistent. Give your efforts a few days to see their effects before calling it quits. Even better, be intentional about your decisions—prepare and even expect a few rough nights, knowing it can all be worth it in the end.

Conclusion

Toddler sleep regressions are never easy, no matter the reason. But thankfully, these sleep patterns are temporary. In the meantime, you can do plenty to ease it along.

Start by creating a fun sleep environment your toddler enjoys spending time in. Avoid caving in to unsustainable habits, and instead be consistent with putting your foot down. Experiment with his sleep schedule to make sure he’s tired enough come bedtime.

Talk about exciting things that happened during the day, or what he might be anticipating the next to clear his mind once it’s time to sleep. And structure your days around a predictable routine, from specific times for activities to doing the same rituals around bedtime.

Now you and your toddler can get a full night of sleep—whether he’d been a “good sleeper” all along or not.

Toddler Sleep Schedule

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2 Comments

  1. Hi, I was just wondering if you have any other tips you can give me about a toddler who refuses to sleep. My daughter can and does quite often play in her bed for 2 hours fighting off sleep. Almost every day, does not take a nap so is exhausted by 3pm and then plays in her bed again until 8-830pm (bed time is 6:15). And for like 5 months she would not sleep past 5:30am no matter what time she went to sleep, but has now started waking up at 5! I’ve tried earlier/later naps, earlier/later bed time, her room is completely dark except for a very faint (blocked) nightlight so she doesn’t get scared, has a box fan for white noise, an alarm clock that turns yellow to tell her when its almost time to get up and green when its tike to get up, has the same daily schedule, taking things away, rewards if she laid still, pleading, sitting in the room with her, etc.

    Everyone keeps telling me maybe she doesn’t need a nap, but when she has bags under eyes and cries at the drop of a pen, I know she isn’t getting enough sleep. And maybe once a week or so, she will sleep 12 hours at night, wake up in a glorious state, refuse her nap and the cycle starts over again. Please please please, tell me you have some other trick up your sleeve! Thank you!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Kathryn!

      I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through all this. It does seem like you’ve tried so many things that still haven’t worked. It might be that it’s turned into a power struggle and less of a sleep need. Meaning, she’s fighting it off because she has seen a rise in reaction in you and thinks this is something to fight about.

      See what happens if, for several days, you don’t make a big deal out of it. If she plays in her bed, let her (so long as she’s doing it quietly and not disrupting anyone). If she doesn’t nap, no big deal—you can even praise her for trying to nap. Try to flip it so that it’s less about pleading with her to sleep and more about treating it as a matter of fact and moving on. She’ll hopefully realize that this isn’t an issue worth fighting about and will drop it.