How To Deal With Toddler Sleep Regressions
The dreaded phrase all parents want to avoid- “sleep regressions”.
You’re out of the newborn/infant stage, and moving into toddlerhood with your little one. And to your surprise you are dealing with sleep disruptions!? You may have thought once the infant stage was behind you, sleep regressions were too. Surprise! It's not over yet! Before you start to panic, know these regressions can be easily handled with knowledge of why they occur, and implementing a plan of action.
When are toddler sleep regressions? How long does toddler sleep regression last?
First let’s become educated on toddler sleep regressions. We may see a regression around; 12 months, between 15-18 months, 2 years and sometimes at the age of 3. Sleep regressions may only last a few days or upwards of 2 weeks.
What causes toddler sleep regressions?
Sleep regressions can occur due to a number of factors. Things as common as mental development, growth, teething, separation anxiety or transitional phases of life (starting daycare, welcoming a new sibling) are all factors that play into sleep regression.
You may be well aware of the signs of a regression, especially if you’ve experienced one before, but if you haven’t or you want the extra heads up, here are the main warning signs:
- Refusing naps
- Fighting sleep at bedtime
- Increased night wakings
- Shorter nap duration
- Experiencing early morning wake ups (anything prior to 6:00 am is considered middle of the night).
Your toddler is also learning all about independence and wanting to be more in control. This comes with pushing those bedtime boundaries you have worked so hard to put in place.
Not every toddler will experience a sleep regression at each age listed above. Some toddlers will not have any noticeable sleep regression, some may experience only one and others may experience multiple sleep disruptions, some being easier to deal with than others.
Now we know why sleep regressions may occur (and often they are out of our control), so how do we handle them?
How do you manage a toddler's sleep regression?
The number one rule to follow when handling a regression is consistency. This isn’t the time to throw out your established bedtime routine. This isn’t the time to start being loose with boundaries (reading every book in the house because your toddler wants them all). This isn’t the time to stay out really late every night, just because it’s summer.
This is a crucial time to maintain consistency with your current routine. Toddlers thrive with consistency and when there are boundaries in place, this allows them to feel secure. Security brings sleep- Trust me on this!
If you haven’t been consistent with a bedtime routine, now’s the perfect time to start! When you follow a series of steps leading up to bedtime, each step signals that sleep is approaching. This allows your child’s body to calm down and relax from a busy day. Focusing on having dim lights and limited stimulation (screens and music) an hour prior to bedtime can help.
If your little one is asking for “more”- whether it be more books, longer bath time, more back rubs, or toys in their sleep space, I highly recommend having a limit. Maybe you do add one extra book to the bedtime routine. So instead of just one book you allow a second for extra time to relax. However, this shouldn’t turn into a reading marathon.
Maybe you do spend 5 extra minutes snuggling while reading those books, but in your mind have a plan so that you, as the parent, maintain consistency. You maintain boundaries and if that means bedtime is 8:00 pm we are not letting a circus occur until 9:00, 10:00 or even 11:00 pm.
Toddlers will ask, request and then demand. When the demand (in their eyes) is not being met, they will become a lot louder in hopes their wish will be granted.
The calmer you are, the more in control you become. Getting into a screaming match with your toddler will not serve a positive purpose. Maintain your composure and use one single phrase, “It’s bedtime, I love you”.
Parents often try to negotiate with their 2 year old, only to feel defeated and exhausted which often results in giving into the tiny toddlers demands.
If you have a toddler who is pushing the limits at bedtime, ask yourself, “Did my toddler not nap today?” or have a really short nap? This may cause your little one to be over tired and you may need to slightly adjust bedtime.
If your toddler had a solid 2.5-3 hour nap and is refusing to go to sleep at your regularly scheduled time, this may be because your toddler no longer needs as much daytime sleep, depending on their age.
There is a shift in sleep needs after your little one hits the 1 year mark. Meaning they need less sleep compared to their baby days. This doesn’t mean we should throw the nap out the window, but they may need a slightly longer wake window before bed, which would naturally cut back their nap, to some capacity.
If your little one is waking more often at night due to teething, the best course of action is to treat the cause, which is pain from swollen gums. Always check with your primary care provider or pharmacist if you have questions regarding medication administration. If your little one is in pain, medication will help alleviate the discomfort and should allow your little one to get the sleep they need.
The more consistent you are in your sleep routine, your response to night wakings, and allowing space to let your toddler fall back asleep without intervention, the faster you should move through the regression.
Always know there is help and support if you need 1:1 assistance. There are plenty of professionals in the sleep consulting world that can help you through the regression, create a plan just in case, or help with independent sleep skills if this is something your family is wanting to work on.
Sleep is possible! Even with active toddlers!
*A friendly reminder: Your 1-3 year old needs 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period of time.
My name is Kayla Squier and I am a mama of two littles, each born during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to becoming a mom I worked as a Registered Nurse for 12 years. Now as a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I own and run Serenity Sleep Consulting full time.
After having my first baby, sleep deprivation hit hard. I was desperate for rest and knew I needed to focus on establishing a healthy sleep foundation. I researched infant sleep and started to focus on what I like to call Sleep Shaping. My son went from waking every hour to sleeping 4-5 hour stretch, followed by 6-8 hours, and eventually 12 hours at 3 months of age. This method has turned into my signature service, it allows me to provide education and tools to help families with newborns. I also work with those who have babies 4 months upwards of 4-5 years.
We all function at our optimal level with a full nights rest and I love to support parents in this journey!
Kayla Squier, BScN, CBE
Certified Sleep Consultant