Toddler Sleep Regression

Two to Three Year-Old Toddler Sleep Regression

Just when you think you have this parenting thing in the bag, your two-year-old, who was sleeping soundly, begins to wake in the night or way too early in the morning. Maybe your three-year-old simply does not want to go to bed as regularly scheduled. Wait! What? Welcome to the reality of toddler sleep regression. It’s not a fun place to visit, but you don’t have to stay long.

What is Toddler Sleep Regression?

Toddler sleep regression usually occurs between the ages of two to three when your child, who had embraced regular naps and a bedtime routine, begins to resist going to sleep. Your child may be waking frequently in the middle of the night and finding it difficult to settle back down without parental intervention. This too is considered sleep regression. Believe it or not, this is a positive sign of normal growth and development in your toddler. With some loving patience and a lot of consistency, you can usually guide your child back into a sleep routine again within 1 to 3 weeks.

Signs of Toddler Sleep Regression

When a two to three-year-old who had been sleeping well begins to resist the bedtime routine they once gladly settled into; or the toddler who slept 8-9 hours through the night is now waking several times throughout the night and is unable to settle themselves back to sleep, you may be dealing with toddler sleep regression.

What Causes Toddler Sleep Regression?

There are several causes for toddler sleep resistance and frequent waking, but you can distinguish a regression based on when it happens and how long it lasts:

  • Developmental advances in toddlers such as leaps in physical abilities and language skills can lead to more stimulation that makes it difficult for the child to unwind and settle in for bedtime.
  • Separation anxiety makes it difficult for some children to let mom and dad out of their sight at bedtime.
  • Overactivity and being overtired can increase the odds of a bedtime battle.
  • A toddler’s newfound independence makes it less likely for them to embrace a nap in the middle of their day or stay in their crib at night.
  • Teething can make a toddler physically uncomfortable and disrupt sleep.
  • A burgeoning imagination can cause a new fear of the dark and make nighttime scarier.

Solutions to Toddler Sleep Regression

The bedtime routine that was working before may have to be revamped but consistency is key. Consistent toddler sleep training will re-establish a healthy sleep pattern. Barring any illness or serious family upheaval (and yes, a new sibling counts as upheaval if you’re a toddler), the following are some ideas for meeting your child’s needs and establishing a new bedtime routine that will help everyone get the sleep they need. And just how much sleep does a 2 year old need? 12-14 hours of sleep per day is the recommended amount. These tips will help you reach your toddler sleep goals:

  • Evaluate your timing. It may be that nap time can be shortened or moved to the point in the day when your child needs it most and bedtime can be adjusted accordingly. For instance, if your toddler has been taking two naps, consider dropping one of them and moving the one naptime to just after lunch and moving an 8:00 pm bedtime to 7:30 pm.
  • Better earlier than later. Putting a child to bed earlier means they are less likely to be overtired and have difficulty settling in. Starting the bedtime routine before your child is exhausted may mean more cooperation.
  • Tackle the issue of independence.  By giving your child limited choices at bedtime such as what lovey to snuggle with; what Woolino toddler sleeping bag to wear; or what stories to read before bed, you can help satisfy your toddler's need for independence.  A child that will not stay in their crib may be ready for a toddler bed or a mattress on the floor; and for safety’s sake, a baby gate so their door can be left open.
  • Separation anxiety tamed. Again, keeping safety in mind, provide your toddler with a piece of Mom’s clothing or a cozy toddler blanket that Mom has slept with previously. Your scent can calm and comfort them even if you are not in the room.
  • Stop the pain before it starts. A preemptive dose of Tylenol or a rub of Orajel on the gums before turning out the lights may provide relief if teething is the cause of your child’s wakefulness.
  • Put some light on the subject. A nightlight is the universal prescription for chasing away a fear of the dark. Make it special with constellations on the ceiling or their favorite cartoon character, but keep it dim or the light will have the opposite effect and become overstimulating. White noise or restful sleep music may be comforting as well.
  • Sleep training methods revisited. Review the sleep training methods shared in the Woolino blog “Proven Sleep Training Techniques for Babies.” Fortified with wisdom that works, you’ll be able to reestablish a routine that helps your child once again happily embrace their bedtime routine. 

If the above steps are still leaving you sleepless after consistent training efforts over 1 to 3 weeks, there may be other issues at play. You may want to discuss with your pediatrician if any underlying health issues are preventing your child from resting peacefully.

And lastly, a note of encouragement, as tired as you may be. Remember that toddler sleep regression is typically a healthy sign of growth and development in your child. And, as in many parenting struggles, this too shall pass.

Happy sleeping!


Related Blogs…

Separation Anxiety in Infants and Toddlers: What is It and What Can I Do About It?

Why The 18 Month Sleep Regression Is One of The Hardest

Baby Sleep Regression: What is It and How to Fix It.

How to Establish a Perfect Bedtime Routine

Tips on How to Help Your Teething Baby Sleep