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Conquering Toddler Sleep Regressions: Expert Tips for Restful Nights

Does it feel like your toddler has suddenly forgotten how to sleep? Battling bedtime resistance, increased nighttime wakefulness, or heightened clinginess? This could be a sign of toddler sleep regression. In this blog, we’ll explore common reasons for sleep disruptions between age 2-3 and offer strategies to smoothly navigate these sleep challenges.

What is a Sleep Regression?

Sleep regressions, linked to developmental milestones, are times when your toddler’s growth affects their sleep. 

During the first three years, growth and development are rapid. You might feel like you’ve been navigating a continuous cycle of sleep regressions since your toddler’s birth! Sleep regressions don’t adhere to a strict schedule and can vary based on your child’s unique growth timeline, temperament, and personality, affecting them differently at various milestones.

How Long Does Toddler Sleep Regression Last?

Typically lasting 2-6 weeks, the duration of sleep regression is influenced by your toddler’s unique temperament and your approach to their sleep challenges. Managing these challenges thoughtfully is key to preventing temporary phases from evolving into persistent sleep issues.

What Causes Toddler Sleep Regression?

Toddlerhood brings significant milestones and changes, such as starting daycare and the end of daytime napping. Let’s explore these changes and how to address them:

Starting Daycare

Big changes in routine, like starting daycare or changing caregivers, can disrupt nighttime sleep during toddler sleep regression. Some toddlers adjust more readily, but often the first few weeks can be challenging.

  • Adjusting to a New Nap Schedule: Expect changes in nap times, which may require adjusting bedtime routines and managing accumulated sleep debt to avoid overtiredness.
  • Separation Anxiety: Increased anxiety around separation at night might need more reassurance from you. It’s important to provide just enough intervention to comfort them without inadvertently creating a new sleep association.
  • Quality Time: To help manage this transition, spend one on one with your child first thing in the morning, after daycare, and before bedtime. Quality time during these moments fills their need for connection. Consider lengthening your bedtime routine before bed to include more snuggles during this adjustment period to help your little one settle to sleep.

New Sibling

The arrival of a new sibling is thrilling but can be stressful for the older sibling, leading to mixed emotions and toddler sleep regression.

  • Preparation Ahead of the New Arrival: Help your little one prepare before their new sibling arrives by spending some quality time together.
  • Include Your Toddler in Preparations: Involve them in the preparations whenever appropriate to help them feel included.
  • Keep Routines Consistent: Try to keep routines as consistent as possible, and if you must move your older child to a new room or bed, do so well ahead of the new baby’s arrival as sudden changes can cause stress and intensify sleep disruption.

Potty Training

Potty training is another big milestone in your toddler’s life. Most families start daytime potty training, and wait to work on nighttime potty training once the daytime is going smoothly. Learning to use the potty can contribute to toddler sleep regression. Here are some tips to help you navigate nighttime potty training:

  • Transition to an Open Bed: When you’re ready to start nighttime potty training, it’s best to transition to an open bed (converted crib, or floor bed) so that your child has the ability to access the potty more easily.
  • Address Nighttime Feeding: If your toddler is still having a feed at bedtime or during the night, that needs to be addressed before beginning nighttime potty training.

Bed Transitions

Transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed often leads to exploration and some sleep disruptions as your child enjoys their new freedom.

  • Ensure a safe sleep environment: When you’re ready to transition to an open bed, consider your toddler’s room setup. Remember, once the crib is removed, the entire room becomes the sleep space. Your toddler will likely explore this newfound freedom, particularly at first, as it’s a new experience for them. This exploration is a normal part of the process.
  • Set Clear Boundaries: Implementing a door boundary can help set clear routines and expectations, reminding your toddler to stay within the room even when they have the freedom to move around.

Developing Imagination

A growing imagination can lead to fears and bedtime anxieties. Fears can sometimes turn into bedtime stall tactics. When you address your little one’s fears, do your best to acknowledge and validate their feelings without dwelling on them or being dismissive.

  • Night Light: It can help to use a small, warm-toned ambient night light in your little one’s room.
  • Limit Screen Time Ahead of Bed: Screen time before bedtime, even if the content seems harmless, can sometimes contribute to increased fears when it’s time to sleep. Turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime, and instead use this time to engage in activities such as play, conversation, singing, or listening to soothing music to wind down.

The Two-Year Nap Strike

Around 2 years of age, it’s common for toddlers to start resisting nap time. You may wonder if your child is ready to drop the nap altogether but beware because prematurely eliminating the nap can result in a crabby and overtired toddler who struggles with bedtime and experiences frequent wake-ups during the night or early mornings.

  • Rebrand Nap Time: To help alleviate nap time battles, allow your little one to have some control over the situation. Instead of calling it ‘nap time’ try calling it ‘quiet time’ or ‘rest time’ and let your little one know they can sleep or rest quietly – this appeals to their growing sense of independence.

The End of Napping

The age at which children drop their last nap varies. Some signs that your child might be ready to drop their nap include consistent nap resistance, short or late naps, delayed bedtime, or being well-rested and happy without a nap.

  • Rest Time: When your little one is ready to drop their nap, introduce a midday rest time of 30-60 minutes. This is a great way to break up the day and encourage some downtime to help them make it to bedtime.

How To Help Your Toddler Through a Sleep Regression with Batelle

Facing challenges with toddler sleep regression? Batelle is here to help. Our app provides tailored strategies to empower you with the knowledge and tools to confidently address sleep regressions. We offer expert support and guidance ensuring your family gets the best sleep possible.

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists.   

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