Toddler Sleep Regression: What It Is And How To Handle It
Medically reviewed by Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP
It's 10:30 p.m., and your toddler is bouncing off the walls. Usually, they are asleep long before now. But they’ve been staying up later than normal the last few days and then waking up at night. Is it the dreaded toddler sleep regression you've heard so much about?
It could be. To help you get to the bottom of it, we've put together this guide on everything you need to know about toddler sleep regressions so you and your little one can get the rest you need.
Table Of Contents
- What’s A Toddler Sleep Regression?
- Signs Of A Toddler Sleep Regression
- Why Isn’t Your Toddler Sleeping?
- How Long Does A Toddler Sleep Regression Last?
- Sleep Regression Safety
- 14 Tips To Promote Better Toddler Sleep
What’s A Toddler Sleep Regression?
Like a baby sleep regression, toddlers having trouble sleeping is pretty common and not something to fret about. These regressions often show up after they’ve been sleeping well and suddenly start having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
Since it happens so suddenly, it can be confusing and frustrating for parents, especially when you were just starting to get used to getting a good night's sleep yourself!
While trouble sleeping can happen at any age, toddler sleep regressions typically occur around 18 months, two years, or four years. That means you may experience more than one regression as your toddler grows and develops.
Signs Of A Toddler Sleep Regression
There are certain telltale signs your child is experiencing a toddler sleep regression. If any of these seem all too familiar, read on:
- Fighting off sleep or refusing to go to bed altogether
- Climbing out of bed every time you put them down for a rest
- Overall fussiness
- Waking up in the night
- Waking up too early
Why Isn’t Your Toddler Sleeping?
The signs are there and the timing is right, but why is this happening? We’ve listed some reasons below why your toddler might start having trouble sleeping.
While some of these may be related to a sleep regression, others are simply typical causes for sleep troubles that might have nothing to do with a regression. Let’s take a look.
Most of the time, a toddler goes through a sleep regression because they're going through a significant developmental milestone that affects their sleep.
For example, the 18-month sleep regression is often caused by your toddler becoming more independent. They're starting to walk and talk and want to do everything themselves.
Not only that, but their vocabulary is also expanding. Imagine going from just a few words to nearly 200 by age three!
At two years old, your child is busy learning new physical skills like jumping, climbing, throwing, and catching. Their imagination is growing as well — they may love spending an afternoon dressed up like a dragon, engaged in “pretend play,” and may be resistant to stop the fun.
At three, they may be in pre-school learning not only new things but also how to cooperate and collaborate with their peers.
Each stage of this newfound independence can be exciting for them (and for you!), but it can also make it harder for them to settle down at night and get the proper amount of zzzs.
You may have riled up your little one with some playful fun too close to bedtime. That extra adrenaline will not do you any favors when it’s time for them to get some shuteye.
Children can get worried about any range of things at this age, and it’s no wonder. They are new to this world and just trying to figure things out, and they’re considerably smaller than the adults that surround them.
Toddlers are also unaccustomed to things like loud noises, dark rooms, and violence or negativity they may see on TV, on a computer, or in the real world.
Grappling with all of the anxiety and emotions related to all of these things can interfere with their sleep.
Dependence On Parents
You’re trying to be the best parents in the world, always there for your child, and your child may be becoming too reliant on you. If you’ve noticed they’re extra clingy, this could be the reason your child isn’t sleeping.
If your little one is cutting their teeth, that may lead to a sleep regression or, at the very least, a bit of trouble falling and staying asleep.
Cutting new teeth can be super uncomfortable for babies and toddlers. Teething starts as early as three months, with all 20 of their primary teeth coming in by three years old.
Between 18 months and two years old, your little one will get their canines. Molars come in between two and three years old. This is often thought of as the most painful period of teething. You may see some extra drool and fussiness along with the resistance to sleep.
Has your toddler recently made the transition from diapers to using the potty? Potty training is known to sometimes cause night wakings as your little one adapts to the new routine.
As your child’s imagination develops, so can their fears. As we mentioned, TV can fuel those fears, especially if they’re exposed to violence or content they are not developmentally prepared for.
This can result in nightmares, which, understandably, might make them more resistant to sleep.
A New Bed
If you’ve recently changed from a crib to a toddler bed or a toddler bed to a twin bed, the switch could have an impact on your little one’s sleep routine. Sometimes this could be a sign that you transitioned too soon. Or they may just need a little time to adjust.
Although many children transition to a toddler or twin bed before the age of three, some say that three is the magic age when they’ve gained more impulse control and are more likely to understand bedtime rules and expectations.
If your little one doesn’t feel well, it makes perfect sense that their sleep will regress. A stuffy nose, an ear infection, or a fever would make it hard to sleep for anyone!
Attention jetsetters: Although it’s exciting to travel with your toddler, you need to appreciate that it’s not always easy for them to acclimate to change. Traveling, especially to new time zones, is sure to throw off their internal clock.
And don’t even get us started on Daylight Savings Time!
Have you dropped a nap or changed the routine in any way? Change management is difficult for all of us adults as well, and it’s a common culprit causing sleep issues.
Changes At Home
Has your toddler recently welcomed a new sibling to your home? Having a new baby can trigger sleep problems as your little one tries to adjust to the new family dynamic.
Other changes at home can also affect them, like moving or switching up the babysitter.
Improper Sleep Environment
One thing that could be disrupting your child’s sleep is their room. If you want your child to get their best sleep, they need to have a proper sleep environment.
For instance, if their room is too light, too hot, or too loud, they’re going to have a hard time getting the necessary shuteye.
Your child might be experiencing sleep regression — or sleep problems in general — because they’re uncomfortable. This could be thanks to a lumpy mattress, itchy pajamas (sometimes the tag is to blame), or a pillow that’s too big or too small.
In that case, a Newton Essential Crib Mattress might be just what they need to help them get a good night’s sleep!
Now that we’ve discussed some reasons your toddler may be experiencing a sleep regression or general sleep trouble, it's worth noting that some toddlers never experience an actual sleep regression.
If your toddler has always been a light sleeper or has never slept through the night, it's probably just their natural sleep pattern and not a regression.
How Long Does A Toddler Sleep Regression Last?
The good news is that sleep regressions don't last forever. In most cases, they only last for a few weeks as your toddler adjusts to their new stage of development. However, some can last for a few months.
For instance, if they are going through a growth spurt or teething, those sleep regressions might last a little longer since they're physical changes that can be uncomfortable.
However, they will eventually outgrow these aches and pains and get back to sleeping through the night.
One key to keeping a toddler sleep regression short is to respond to it consistently and calmly, making sure you don’t send your child confusing mixed messages. Be sure to make a plan with your spouse on how you will handle it together in a positive, empathetic manner.
Sleep Regression Safety
Because this is a common stage for toddlers to go through, it’s best for you to anticipate it and ensure that the room is safe for your toddler in case they do wake up in the middle of the night.
This means making sure the floor is clear of any toys before putting them to bed. You don’t want them stepping on a Lego in the middle of the night, or worse.
Beyond that, as a curious toddler can get into some trouble opening drawers or closets, you want to make sure all safety latches and wall anchors are secure.
If you’re afraid they’ll go and explore the house in the middle of the night or could get access to stairs, you might think about installing a gate. If you do so, consider keeping the door open so that your child feels safe.
14 Tips To Promote Better Toddler Sleep
If your toddler is going through a sleep regression, there are a few things you can do to help them (and yourself!) get through it.
1) Implement A Bedtime Routine
One of the best ways to help your toddler sleep better is to establish a bedtime routine. This routine should be short and sweet, lasting around 30 minutes.
Doing the same thing every night will signal your toddler that it's time to go to bed and make it easier for them to fall asleep. Keep their bedtime routine simple for best results.
It should include activities that help them wind down for the night, like reading a book together or bathing them with lavender soap.
2) Ensure A Safe And Comfortable Sleep Environment
For your toddler to sleep well, their sleep environment must be safe and comfortable. Start by ensuring their crib or bed is in a quiet, dark, and relatively cool room. If their room is too bright, try using blackout curtains and investing in a nightlight.
When we talk about a quiet room, we know there are some things beyond your control. The room itself may be library-level quiet, but other noises outside or inside the house could be distracting your little one from sleep.
If this is the case, you might want to invest in a white noise machine, as the constant noise can overshadow outside distractions and lull your toddler to sleep. As for temperature, it’s best to keep it between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
As we noted, another important factor in creating a comfortable sleep environment is selecting the right mattress for your toddler. For example, one that’s too soft can cause them to wake up with back pain, while a too-firm bed can be uncomfortable.
The Newton Waterproof Crib Mattress is the perfect option for toddlers. The 3D quilted cloud cover is soft, helping your child rest comfortably. In addition, it's 100% breathable so they won't overheat during the night. Be sure to top it with our Breathable, Organic Sheets.
If your child is transitioning from their crib straight to a twin bed, make sure their twin mattress is breathable and supportive.
Once you know their mattress isn’t a problem, try introducing a toddler pillow or a cozy blanket to your child's bed. While you don't want to put anything like that into a baby's bed, your toddler is growing up.
3) Limit Screen Time Right Before Bed
We know it can be tempting to let your toddler watch TV or play on your phone before bed, but screens are one of the worst things you can do for their sleep.
The blue light from screens suppresses melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. This is why using screens right before bed can make it harder to fall asleep.
Instead of letting your toddler have screen time before bed, try reading them a book or playing a quiet game together.
4) Rule Out Any Medical Problems
Sometimes, physical problems can cause toddler sleep regressions. For example, if your child is cutting molars, they might wake up more at night because their mouth hurts. But teething isn't the only medical problem that can cause sleep problems.
Allergies, autism, colds, and other conditions can all lead to restless nights for your toddler.
If you're concerned that there might be a medical problem causing their sleep regression, it's best to talk to their doctor.
They can help rule out any physical problems and give you some tips on how to help your toddler sleep better.
5) Stay Calm When Your Child Wakes
While you're up with your child, avoid displaying negative emotions, like anger or exasperation. If they sense you’re upset, it will only make them more worried and be more challenging for them to fall asleep.
Instead, stay calm. And do your best to keep the environment quiet so it doesn't overstimulate them. This means keeping the lights low and speaking in a soft voice.
If your child is old enough, try explaining what's going on. For example, you could say, "I know you're upset because you had a bad dream, but it's OK. I'm here with you, and it's safe for you to go back to sleep."
Reassuring your child will help them feel better and help them get back to sleep more quickly.
6) Reevaluate Your Child’s Bedtime
As your child grows, their bedtime naturally changes. As they go through growth spurts, they’ll need more sleep and may need to go to bed a bit earlier.
It could also be that your toddler's current bedtime is too late, so they're getting overtired waiting for it to arrive. Again, this feeling can make it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
If you think your child’s bedtime is the problem, try moving it up by 15-30 minutes and see if that helps. If they’re still having trouble sleeping, you might need to make their bedtime even earlier.
On the other hand, some toddlers benefit from a slightly later bedtime. If your child is napping well during the day and doesn't seem overly tired at their current bedtime, you could try moving it back 15-30 minutes at a time to see if that helps them fall asleep more easily.
7) Adjust Nap Time
Toddlers don't need to nap as much as they did when they were infants. In fact, most toddlers only need one nap a day.
If your child is still taking two naps and having trouble sleeping at night, it might be time to switch their schedule. Just know that this could lead to short-term crankiness as they adjust.
If they’re already down to one nap and still having trouble sleeping, it might be that their nap is too late in the day. A late afternoon rest can make it harder for your toddler to fall asleep at night. Try moving up naptime by an hour or so to see if that helps them sleep better at night.
8) Maximize The Daylight Hours
When you’re spending time with your little one during the day, make the most of it. Go outside, let them exercise, and breathe in the fresh air. Make sure that they’re getting loads of attention.
All of this activity should make it easier for them to wind down at night since they’ll be tired from all the fun!
9) Spend Focused Time Together
When it’s time to put your toddler down for a nap or the night, make sure you’re giving them your full attention. If they sense that your attention’s split, it may cause them to seek more of it or feel anxious.
A half-hour of focused attention from their loved one before bedtime can mean a full night’s sleep.
10) Talk About Your Expectations
During the day when your toddler is awake and alert, start a conversation about bedtime. Let them know the importance of sleep and what you expect them to do.
You can even walk them through their routine so they’re clear about what they should be doing, when, and why.
11) Give Your Toddler Calming Strategies
If your toddler gets anxious at night, talk during the day about calming strategies they can use. For instance, if they don’t like sleeping alone and crave company, let them pick out a special stuffed animal to sleep with.
12) Engage In Daytime Pretend Play
One way to get rid of your little one’s trepidation at night is to engage in pretend play. Encourage them to put their stuffie to bed just like you would them. See where their imagination takes them.
This can give you better insight into what could be getting in the way of their good night’s sleep.
13) Plan Specific Check-Ins
If your toddler is anxious before going to bed, another good strategy is to explain that you will check in on them at specific times. Knowing you’ll be back may put their mind at ease.
You’ll likely find that after a couple of check-ins, they’re off to dreamland.
14) Remember It’s Only Temporary
When you're in the middle of a toddler sleep regression, it can feel like it will never end. But the good news is it always does.
In the meantime, just do your best to get through it. Take some deep breaths, remember that it's only temporary, and know that you'll both be sleeping better before you know it.
Help Your Toddler Catch Some ZZZs
Toddler sleep regression is a normal, albeit frustrating, part of child development.
The tips above can help you survive it by improving your little one’s sleep. But, if you’ve tried them all and your child still has trouble sleeping, it might be time for professional help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your little one’s pediatrician for advice.
In the meantime, give your child the best chance for sleep with our Essential Crib Mattress. This 100% breathable mattress is just the right firmness for babies and comfort for toddlers, and its breathability helps regulate your little one’s temperature all night.
With our mattress and your love and support as they navigate these new, big milestones, pretty soon your toddler will be snoozing soundly all night long!