Sleep Regression in Toddlers

by Eliza Martinez, Demand Media Google
    Consistency helps your toddler return to normal sleep habits.

    Consistency helps your toddler return to normal sleep habits.

    Finally! Your toddler is sleeping through the night. You cruise along on months of uninterrupted sleep, then boom, suddenly your toddler regresses. Now he won't go to sleep at nap time and he wakes several times through the night. Yes, this is exhausting and frustrating, but understanding the reasons helps you work through the problem. Pretty soon, you'll all be back to restful nights.

    Naps

    During the toddler years, your child needs progressively less sleep. Between the ages of 1 and 2, toddlers need an average of 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. This counts naps and nighttime. So, if your toddler is still taking two naps that last a couple hours, he might not be tired at bedtime, which might make it hard to get him to sleep and hard to get him to stay asleep. It's difficult to give up the break that a nap gives you, but it is likely to make sleep time go more smoothly. During the toddler years, many children give up naps and are often tired enough to sleep all night. So, don't push naps if your child resists or he has trouble sleeping at night.

    Routine

    Disruptions to your toddler's routine may cause temporary regression because he is looking for comfort and safety. Toddlers begin to fear being separated from mommy, which might make it scary to go to sleep alone. A new sibling and potty training are other changes. They simultaneously make your toddler feel like a big kid and make him want to go to back to being the baby, which is familiar and safe. Yes, you're going to be frustrated with the sleep time battles, but try to remember how new everything feels to a toddler and give him a break as he adjusts to changes in his life.

    Fear

    Something that fascinates and excites your toddler during the day, often to the point that you wish it never existed, is something that might scare him at night. A runaway imagination has caused many a toddler to wake up at night and refuse to go back to sleep. Scary scenarios can also make it hard for a toddler to fall asleep at nap time or bedtime. If you feel like something, such as aliens, might make him nervous in the dark, try to limit his exposure as it nears time to hit the sack.

    What to Do

    You might be at the end of your rope, running on three hours of sleep (and not all at once) for several days in a row. You want to drop into bed and stay there for days. But, just as you're drifting off, screams arise from the next room. It's tempting, but refrain from getting into bed with your toddler and going back to sleep. This might calm him and let you get some winks, but it sets up a bad habit that is going to be very hard to break down the road. Instead, have a consistent bedtime and nap time routine, such as stories, a warm bath and a drink. This creates a comforting routine when it's time to sleep. During wake ups, go in and reassure your child, but then leave. Your child will probably cry, but over time he'll learn to self-soothe himself back to sleep.

    About the Author

    Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.

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