From separation anxiety to welcoming the new baby, the toddler sleep regression can come out of nowhere. Discover tips to help your child.
The toddler sleep regression can take on many forms, don’t you think?
Maybe your toddler has always been a “good sleeper” or, quite the opposite, he’d always been waking up every night for at least an hour. He refuses to sleep until late into the night, only to wake up at 4am, ready to go. He screams for 30 minutes at nap time, or refuses to let your partner put him down.
In short, he has decided to boycott sleep, leaving you completely exhausted and losing your mind.
Ever since he started daycare, he’s been up at least once a night, and you’re tired of going in to check each time. Or you soothed him to sleep when he was sick, except now he’s grown used to sleeping in your bed—even though he’s well and happy.
Or he wakes up asking to watch TV, drink a cup of milk, or crawl in your bed. But each time you say “no,” he cries so much, you’re seriously starting to resent all of this.
At four hours of sleep and waking up every 2 hours, the toddler sleep regression has been kicking your butt.
How to handle the toddler sleep regression
Why is your toddler fighting sleep all of a sudden? Why does he insist on sleeping in your bed every night? And where has your “good sleeper” gone?
For some, a big change at home—from a new baby to a new preschool—could be the telltale trigger of a toddler sleep regression. But for many of us, it comes without warning, with no change in routine.
Toddlers hit many milestones during this stage, including those that aren’t so obvious. They might develop separation anxiety at night or a new 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 toddler’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. In fact, not doing anything might enable the very habits that could be contributing to her interrupted sleep (like letting her sleep in your bed).
Take a look at these top tips I and many moms have found to be most effective at handling the toddler sleep regression. Hopefully they work for you as well:
1. Create a fun, safe sleep environment
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Struggling to convince your toddler to sleep in his own bed, much less his own room? Start by creating an inviting sleep environment.
Get new bedding and pillows with his favorite characters. Give him a special lovey (my kids love this kind) to sleep with, 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 on things if he roams the room).
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.
Free chapter: Interested in learning about teaching him to self-soothe? Join my newsletter and get a preview of How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe (works for toddlers, too!). This chapter is all about the mindset needed for successful self-soothing and helping him put himself to sleep:
2. Don’t enable habits you don’t like
It starts off well enough: you hold your ground, despite the sleep deprivation, 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. Now, 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 off 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 interruption may be.
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, or that you install doorknob locks so she can’t get out. And yes, you’ll likely need to set aside a few nights, knowing you’ll be up multiple times to reinforce sleeping in her room and checking in. But you’re breaking the habits you don’t want once and for all.
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.
- Keep your check-ins calm and confident—she’ll model his behavior after yours.
- Use a baby monitor between check-ins so you can see what she’s doing.
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 he’s getting his sleep. If he isn’t sleeping a long stretch at night, he could be making up for it with lengthy naps during the day. That might be fine, except when they happen too late in the day and he’s not tired enough come bedtime.
If he resists sleep—either by putting up a fight or insisting on playing—try experimenting with his sleep.
You might want to drop a nap, push the morning one back, or start bedtime later now that he’s older. Perhaps you wake him up from the last nap (he shouldn’t be asleep past 4pm), or have an earlier bedtime, especially if he’s overtired.
A different sleep time could be just the thing to end his toddler sleep regression.
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 will happen the next day. This is especially common around the holidays or before events 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 type of toddler sleep regression is to talk to your child about her day. Dinner time 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 during the day, the less time she’ll sit with her thoughts come bedtime.
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 his 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 will 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, play time, nap, and lunch every day. It can also mean doing the same things within each part of the day. Perhaps he bathes, puts on pajamas, reads books, and drinks a cup of milk for his bedtime routine.
You also want to have a calm evening leading up to bedtime. If he’s too riled up to fall asleep, he likely needs time to transition to being quiet. Now is not the time for roughhousing or watching stimulating television shows. Instead, stick to calm activities like simple crafts and reading.
And most important, have a consistent bedtime each night, preferably 8:30pm at the latest. Going to sleep at the same time each night will help him reset and get a good night of sleep.
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 the toddler sleep regression.
Instead, stay consistent. Yes, you’ll experiment, but give your new 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’ll all be worth it in the end.
The toddler sleep regression is never easy, no matter the reason. But thankfully, you can do plenty to ease it along.
Start by creating a fun, safe 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 a toddler sleep schedule to make sure he’s actually sleepy when it’s time to sleep.
Talk about exciting things that happened during the day, or what he might be anticipating the next day 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.
Now you and your toddler can get a full night of restful sleep—whether he’d been a “good sleeper” all along or not.
Get more tips:
- Why Your Toddler Is Going Through the 1 Year Old Sleep Regression
- How to Quickly Get Through the 12 Month Old Sleep Regression
- 8 Mistakes You’re Making When Your 2 Year Old Refuses to Sleep
- How to Get Through the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
- How to Respond when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Sleep
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