Toddler Sleep Regression – How to Handle Changes in Sleep

toddler sleeping

All babies are different, so the exact time of transition from an infant to toddler varies, but will be around age one. This transition usually precedes the start of toddler sleep regression. Whether you have a great little sleeper, or your toddler is still trying to adjust to a sleep pattern, you may suddenly experience, bedtime struggles and/or night waking.

On a personal note, my younger daughter is the more consistent sleeper and has been since birth, whereas my older daughter still has ever-changing sleeping habits and patterns. I’ve used a combination of some great sleep methods to overcome some of the toughest sleeping challenges.

Here are some common toddler sleep challenges, and some well-proven solutions to follow.

Reading to get ahead?

If you are looking to get ahead of some sleep habits before the toddler stage, check out our post on Baby Sleep Tips and Tricks.

Toddler Sleep regressions

Toddlers have been facing sleep regressions since they were in the newborn stage. They occur due to the fast pace at which babies and toddlers grow. The increasing development of senses and awareness of the environment can cause sleep interruptions. The growth in young children often causes a need for adjustment in sleep schedules, or an adjustment in the daily routine completely. 

Toddler sleep regressions and night waking

Toddler sleep regression is most commonly portrayed as night waking, and can happen for many possible reasons.

  • Simple interruptions can wake a toddler like suddenly hearing a sound, noticing a light flicker on or off.
  • Discomforts such as teething, earaches, feeling sick.
  • Not being tired or being overtired.
  • Excitement or stress before bedtime. Even getting too worked up during a bedtime struggle can lead to an interruption in sleep later in the night.
  • A soaked diaper or needing the washroom can also disturb sleep. This can especially be the case in a toddler that is currently potty training or getting ready to start potty training.
  • Screen time – this can contribute to the excitement and overstimulation that causes bedtime struggles. This can be whether your child has a high amount of screen time throughout the day, or even a small amount before bed.
toddler sleep regression book and toy

Toddler sleep regression and early waking

This type of toddler sleep regression can be due to the same reasons as night waking. There are also additional reasons for early waking specifically.

The bedtime schedule may need to be revisited, as your toddler grows, they may need longer or shorter naps, an earlier or later bedtime. Discomforts can play into early waking as well.

Nightmares and fear of the dark

These fears and emotions that sometimes come with the night are very real to your child. Sudden and intense crying before bed and in the middle of the night can alert you to this. You may also simply notice fear or anxiety in their facial expression when getting ready for bed.

For nightmares and fear of the dark, try to pinpoint something that may be contributing to this. There may be a toy, book, movie/tv show that has overstimulating sounds and images.

A night light can be a simple solution to help with the fear of the dark. Check out this line of nightlights geared towards toddlers that are becoming more aware of their surroundings.

Toddler sleep reression solutions

Sound machines – for a sensitive sleeper this can be a lifesaver! The consistency of the sounds can help drown out distracting squeaks and creaks that may be happening around the house. You can involve your toddler by letting them explore the buttons and choose the sounds together.

A soothing bedtime routine is also key. This provides calming bedtime activities, which in turn provides time for your child to settle down before bed. This prepares their brains and bodies for sleep. Also, the bonding that your child experiences during the routine can contribute to decreasing the anxiety of bedtime.

A major tip for the bed time routine is to keep it simple. Fun but not overly exciting. Some activities you can include in the bedtime routine are:

  • Bath time – this can be made fun with bath toys and bubbles. *Brushing teeth can be a challenge on its own as some toddlers put up a fight for this too. Try brushing together, staying positive and showing your child that brushing is important and fun.*
  • Reading a book – keep it to one or two books. Try to keep the focus on getting ready for bed.
  • Singing songs and telling stories
  • Counting stars or sheep – night time ceiling stickers or night lights that project fun shapes are helpful tools for this gentle activity

What about when nothing is working?

Sometimes, your child may just have to work through a sleep regression with time. The key is to recognize the sleep regression and also recognize when the regression may be resolving as time passes. It is not uncommon to have a lapse or a change in your night-time routine during a regression. Try to gradually return to your regular night-time habits when the regression is resolving.

toddler sleep regression toys and nightlight

What about when your little one is sick or feeling unwell?

When your child is sick, the need for comfort definitely increases. Night waking may be unavoidable. There is no problem with reassuring your child with cuddles and comfort especially during high levels of discomfort.  

If you are trying to avoid habits like co-sleeping or having to rock them to sleep, this is understandable and even recommended. But more often then not, there’s a change in your habits during a sick episode. When this happens, you can gradually proceed with your regular bedtime methods as your little one starts feeling better.

For issues of discomfort, baby pain medications can help with teething, and pain from coughing or sneezing. A cool-mist humidifier can also help with stuffy noses.

A feel-good tip to wrap it up…

Night challenges can be some of the toughest. But your toddler does respond positively to your calm and encouraging words. Speak to them, let them know they are safe and that you are always there. And speak these words to yourself as well! Your child will mimic your attitudes and reactions towards bedtime, so demonstrate that going to bed is good and that it is expected.

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