The Complete Guide to Toddler Sleep Regression: What It Is and How to Handle It

by Emma Brown
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With your 18-month-old baby following a regular sleep routine, you thought that those long sleepless nights were finally behind you. But just when you were congratulating yourself and feeling like you had this whole parenting thing figured out, you get a rude awakening.

Your baby is refusing to go to sleep at their normal bedtime, refusing to settle down for a second daytime nap, or waking up in the middle of the night. Cue the exhaustion, tears, and feelings of frustration!

This sudden change in a toddler’s sleep routine is known as sleep regression. This is a temporary occurrence that happens alongside mental or physical development milestones such as teething, learning to walk, or learning new words.

While the exact timing may differ for each child, sleep regression usually takes place between 18 months to 2 years age period. It is also difficult to state clearly how long a sleep regression will last as it also varies for each child – it can last for a week, two weeks, or even for six weeks.

But the good news is there are a few tips and tricks you can employ to help ease this transition and establish a new normal for you and your little one. With patience and consistency, you will get through this sleep regression and come out the other side with a toddler on a much-improved sleep schedule. So take a deep breath, grab an extra coffee, and read on.

sleepy and cranky toddler photo credit:  Kevin Peterson from Photo Images
Photo Credit: Kevin Peterson from Photo Images via Canva.com

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Signs of toddler sleep regression

If your toddler’s sleep schedule is changing, they may be going through sleep regression. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Going from two naps to one nap a day: If you were ever wondering when do toddlers stop napping, then let us tell you that around 12-18 months, most toddlers transition from two shorter naps to one longer nap in the middle of the day. If your toddler seems ready to drop a nap but isn’t quite ready for a longer nap yet, they may fight sleep or wake up cranky.
  • Taking longer to fall asleep at night: If your toddler is having trouble settling in for the night, then it can be a sign of sleep regression. Your toddler’s body is adjusting to longer awake periods. So be patient through this transition—it can take a few weeks for their body to adjust to the new schedule.
  • Waking up more during the night: The same reasons your toddler is struggling to fall asleep can lead to more night wakings or early wake-ups. Do your best to soothe them back to sleep without turning on the lights.
  • Seeming overtired or cranky: If your toddler isn’t getting enough daytime sleep, they may act fussy, clingy or have more tantrums. Make sure to schedule in some quiet time and avoid overstimulation.

The switch from two naps to one is a big milestone, but with patience and consistency, you’ll all make it through this sleep regression. Stick to a calming pre-nap and bedtime routine, avoid screens or sugary foods before sleep, and give your toddler plenty of time to explore and play during their waking hours. Their sleep schedule will regulate again, and you’ll be back to more restful nights in no time.

Tips for Toddler Sleep Regression

Around 18 months to 2 years of age, most toddlers experience major physical and mental development. They start walking, they learn to speak new words and some toddlers start teething. As a result, they stay awake for a longer period of time and their body starts adjusting to that.

While this is a normal and temporary occurrence, it can disrupt their sleep schedule and they may seem more cranky and fussy. Here are some tips that can help you to manage your toddler’s sleep regression.

Follow a consistent bedtime and nap-time routine

Sticking to a predictable series of quiet activities like a bath followed by a book before bed and naps can be soothing. The repetition is comforting for toddlers and helps them understand that it’s time to sleep.

Create a calm environment

A dark, quiet room at a comfortable temperature will make it easier for your toddler to fall asleep. Use a sound machine, white noise, or soothing sounds from this plush Lovey to block out unpredictable noises and help your toddler relax. Make the sleeping space cozy and inviting.

Limit screen time and stimulation before bed

The blue light from electronics and excitement from TV shows or games make it harder to fall asleep. Avoid screen time, rough play, and sugary foods within an hour of bedtime. A quiet, calming activity like coloring or snuggling together is better.

Check for other issues

Teething pain, hunger, stress or discomfort can contribute to sleep regression. Gently soothe a teething toddler with a cold teething ring or gently massaged gums. Offer a snack if your toddler didn’t eat well at dinner. Reassure them if they seem anxious.

Be Patient but firm

During this period of sleep transition, you need to be patient as it a typical occurrence but also be firm. Don’t give in to letting your toddler stay up late or reducing naps, as this can lead to over tiredness and prolong the sleep regression. Gently but firmly guide your toddler back to the usual sleep schedule and routine. This will help ensure they continue to get the rest they need to support healthy development. Before you know it, your toddler will be back to sleeping well and thriving on one nap and a good night’s rest.

Wrapping Up

While it may not seem like it now, this is only a temporary stage and your little one will adjust to the new schedule. Hang in there and remember that this too shall pass. Before you know it, you’ll be looking back at this time and wondering how you ever survived on so little sleep, but also missing those sweet daytime naps you once shared. Take each day as it comes, be flexible and patient, lean on your support network when you need to, and know that you’ve got this under control. The rewards of fewer naps and more consolidated nighttime sleep are just around the corner. Sweet dreams!

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