You might have thought that staying up all night with a fussy little one was something you'd only have to deal with when they were a few months old - but unfortunately, toddler sleep regressions are common, and can be a real headache!
If you're struggling to deal with a toddler who struggles to go to sleep, we're here to help. We'll go over why your toddler might be fighting sleep, symptoms of sleep regression, the most common ages for sleep regression to occur, and some frequently asked questions about sleep regression in toddlers.
But first of all, just remember - sleep regressions are temporary, and you and your toddler will be able to get some more sleep soon enough! You just need to find some helpful ways of easing the stress of a regression in the meantime, and we have plenty of suggestions.
In this article:
My Toddler won't sleep-what's happening?
If your toddler has been struggling to sleep through the night or through naps after a period of consistently good sleep patterns, they're likely going through a sleep regression.
A sleep regression will typically last for a few weeks, and happens in most toddlers due to different developmental milestones. But don't worry - there are ways that you can ease them in the meantime, so that both your toddler and you can feel less sleep deprived!
What causes toddler sleep regression?
While sleep 'regression' suggests that your baby is going backwards somehow, they're actually experiencing it because of major leaps forward in their development!
Since turning a year old, your little one will have gained a range of new abilities - and sometimes they can't help testing these new skills out at night when they should be sleeping.
Sleep regressions can occur at any age, including 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, 18 months and 2 years. The 12-month sleep regression occurs at or near baby’s first birthday, though some children begin regressing at 10 or 11 months. The length of any sleep regression varies, depending on your child’s age and social and emotional development. Most sleep regressions resolve quickly, with the 12-month sleep regression lasting 2 weeks (or less). - Healthline
Additionally, there can be other factors that cause these temporary sleep regressions. Separation anxiety is a common issue for toddlers who don't like it when a parent leaves them to sleep, and other problems like teething can cause discomfort and stop your little one from falling asleep.
What are the symptoms of sleep regression in toddlers?
There are a few symptoms of sleep regressions to look out for in toddlers - and you're likely already familiar with quite a few of them if you've been dealing with one!
- Frequent night waking
- Struggling to fall asleep again after waking up
- Trying to climb out of bed in the night
- Refusing to go down for daytime sleep
- Calling for you to come back after you leave their side
As you can tell, a regression is essentially just about your toddler not sleeping when their bedtime routine says that they should be. And while it can be frustrating, there's plenty you can do about it, regardless of the age of your toddler.
Common ages for toddler sleep regressions
The 12 month sleep regression
The first regression you'll likely come across is the 12 month regression, which can actually happen anytime between 11 and 13 months. You might find this more challenging than the baby sleep regressions you've dealt with, partially because your little one is much more independent and headstrong now!
What causes the 12 month regression?
The 12 month regression is usually caused by your toddler developing new skills, such as standing and cruising (walking while holding furniture for support). They may want to practice these new skills at night, rather than during the day.
Additionally, a 12 month old will have developed much more complex emotional engagement, as well as greater communicative abilities - in short, this means that they're more aware of your absence, and they can tell you that they aren't happy when you leave them to snooze!
How to ease the 12 month regression
There are a few tactics you can use to soothe your 12 month old back to sleep again and prevent sleep problems from developing:
Create a calm sleep space
Whether you're an adult or a baby, it can be tough to get to sleep if your room isn't a relaxing place. Try to create a calmer atmosphere in your toddler's room free of sleep disturbances by installing blackout blinds, providing a nightlight if they don't like the pitch black, avoiding screens before bedtime, and using calming colours like blues and soft greens to decorate the space.
Use a consistent sleep routine
The most important part of tackling a sleep regression is to keep a predictable bedtime routine. By going through the same little ritual each night - bath time, bedtime story, kiss goodnight, sleep - at the same time, you create positive associations and good sleep habits that let your toddler know when it's time to snooze.
Stay active during the day
Sometimes, your little one might struggle to sleep because they still have toddler energy to burn off! By tiring them out a little during the day with playtime and other fun activities, they're more likely to fall asleep when bedtime comes.
Let them have a comfort toy
When your baby is under a year old, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that you shouldn't have anything in the crib with them while sleeping. However, once you're past the 12 month mark, one safe toy is allowed - and this could be key to keeping them calm, especially if the toy reminds them of you, or even smells of you!
The 18 month sleep regression
18 months is another common time for your little one to experience a regression, and also for developmental reasons. In fact, some parents claim that this regression is the hardest of them all! But don't worry - we have you covered with tips on how to handle it.
What causes the 18 month sleep regression?
Like other sleep regressions, this one also tends to come about because of exciting developmental milestones. However, this time it might be less to do with trying to walk, and more to do with learning to talk beyond just saying mama and dada! Again, this is a skill they might be practicing at times when they should be getting some nighttime sleep.
They'll also most likely be more independent at this age - and therefore more likely to reply with 'no' when you want them to go to sleep!
How to ease the 18 month sleep regression
Like the other regressions before it, there's plenty you can do to help your toddler sleep at 18 months and prevent sleep problems:
Return to sleep training techniques
If you've tried out training techniques when your toddler was a baby that you no longer use, now could be a great time to try to return to them! Whether you use the Ferber method, the chair method, or any other kind of training technique, you just need to be consistent with it and you'll hopefully see some great results.
Try out our gently weighted sleepwear
If your toddler is having trouble with self soothing after you put them to bed, you could try out our Zen Sack™, which can fit your toddler up to 24 months.
It features a gently weighted pad designed to mimic your soothing touch, helping them go to sleep on their own without you needing to calm them - great for little ones with separation anxiety.
Integrate some choice into their routine
As your little one is becoming more independent, you'll find that they appreciate you respecting their decision making abilities.
This is a chance to include some small choices in their routine that make them feel more listened to - even something as small as letting them choose their pyjamas or bedtime story can make them much less prone to fussing.
Turn off screens before bed
Tablets and other devices can be great educational tools for children, but you should have an hour or so before bedtime where you don't look at these screens. Instead, try doing a calm activity with your toddler, such as reading or colouring.
The 24 month sleep regression
Your little one is going through some major changes at the 24 month mark - from potty training to moving into a bigger bed, many things can throw off your toddler's sense of familiarity, and therefore their sleep patterns.
Unfortunately, your toddler might even start to have things like nightmares at this age - these are hard enough to fall back to sleep after as an adult, let alone a child who doesn't quite know whether the scary dream was real!
How to ease the 24 month toddler sleep regression
Here are a few tips to try out to get your two year old sleeping through the night again:
Check your nap schedule
Toddlers need around 5 to 6 hours of awake time between their naps - if there's less time than this between their naps or between a nap and going to bed, they're likely to fight sleep and feel too energetic to settle into bed.
If your toddler isn't staying awake for long enough between sleeps, you may want to think about changing the times of these naps, or maybe even dropping a nap altogether - but don't rush into routine changes if you've identified other causes.
Set boundaries with your toddler
At this age, your toddler will understand the boundaries you set them, and telling your toddler what you're going to do in a kind but firm way - that you're not going to come back to their room, for instance - is vital to setting a consistent routine.
Invest in a night light
Around 24 months is the time when toddlers start to develop natural fears of things like monsters, boogeymen, and the dark.
While you make sure they know that they're safe and that there's nothing to be afraid of, getting a little night light for their room can sometimes provide the comfort they need to go to sleep without your immediate presence.
Get help from friends and family
It's hard to take care of your toddler if you aren't able to take care of yourself first. Dealing with a sleep regression can be challenging - make sure you take a break when you need to by calling in a close friend or family member for help, whether it's for an evening or just for an hour in the afternoon.
Toddler sleep regressions: Mom hack!
'We’ve been using the Nested Bean Zen Sack, which is a sleep sack sized for 15-24 months or 26 to 36 pounds, and it has become a toddler bedtime essential. Of course, our toddler is a wiggle monster, but the Zen Sack has plenty of room.'
- Crystal, Our Kid Things
Commonly asked questions about toddler sleep regression
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