How to Manage Your Toddler’s Sleep Regression

Sleep is an important part of your toddler’s health. It's common for your toddler to go through a sleep regression, but there are methods you can use to manage it.

Causes of Toddler Sleep Regression

Sleep regression happens when your toddler starts waking up more often in the night, or if they start having problems going to sleep. This can happen for a few reasons.

Growth. As kids get older, they start to learn independence and test limits. They may develop separation anxiety and a fear of missing out. At bedtime or naptime, this can show up as stalling techniques, power struggles, or playing instead of sleeping.

Sickness or travel. Being sick or traveling can shake up your child’s routine. If your toddler is sick, they may need more comfort, wake up a lot during the night, or sleep more. It’s a good idea to be close to your child at night while they’re sick to make sure they’re safe and comfortable.

Life changes. Changes to routines or environments can be overwhelming for children. A new sibling, a new house, moving to a new big bed, and a new daycare or caregiver can all affect your toddler’s sleep.

Being overtired. Sometimes we think it’s good to keep kids busy so that they’re tired at night. However, kids can quickly become overtired and then have trouble falling asleep at bedtime.

Inconsistent naps. Toddler’s don’t grow out of naps until between the ages of 3 and 5 years. If your 2-year-old is having a sleep regression and isn’t napping regularly, they might be overtired.

Keeping a Steady Sleep Routine for Toddler Sleep Regression

The best way to overcome toddler sleep regression is to be calm and consistent. It’s important to help your child learn how to self-soothe and to fall asleep on their own.

Your child probably can’t tell time. The same bedtime and naptime steps will create a comfortable routine. It’s a good idea to keep the routine simple and short. A sleep routine can look like:

  • A warm bath or shower
  • A healthy snack and a drink
  • A short quiet time with no screens
  • Teeth brushing and going to the bathroom
  • Goodnights and lights out

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Go to bed awake. It’s important to put your child to bed while they’re awake. This allows them to learn to fall asleep on their own. A security blanket or stuffed animal can make your child comfortable.

Set time limits. Setting a limit on quiet time and routines will prevent the process from dragging on.

Give choices. Most toddlers will test limits and this can show up as stubbornness. Try giving your toddler control over little things, such as which book to read or which pajamas to wear.

How to Sleep Train Your Toddler During a Sleep Regression

It’s easy for sleep regression to turn into unhealthy sleep habits. Try these steps if your child starts getting out of bed and playing:

Step 1: Back to bed with a warning. If your child gets out of bed, take them back to bed. Warn them that if they get out of bed again, you will close the door for 1 minute.

Step 2: Close the door for 1 minute. If your child gets out of bed, follow through and close the door for 1 minute. Don’t lock the door. They can quickly learn that they have control by staying in their bed. If they are out of bed when the time is over, put them back in bed and then give another warning.

Step 3: Close the door again, this time for 2 minutes. Be consistent. If your child gets out of bed again, close the door again. You can keep it closed for longer this time, but no more than 5 minutes.

Step 4: Calmly continue . Your child may cry and be angry, but stay calm. Reassure them that they are fine, but state the rules again and keep putting them back into bed. If they stay in bed, praise them and say goodnight. They will eventually learn that staying in bed gives them control of the door and they will learn to fall asleep on their own. This is important for keeping good sleep habits as they get older.

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Other Sleep Tips for Toddler Sleep Regression

A few other daytime and sleep tips can help build better sleep habits:

  • Keep a balanced routine with play time and nap time.
  • Spend time outside in fresh air.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Keep the temperature cooler.
  • Block out daylight.
  • Use a nightlight or turn on a bathroom light if they’re afraid of the dark.
  • Move bedtime earlier as you start phasing out naps.

Sleep regression is common in toddlers. Try to stay calm and be patient. It can take some time for your child to adjust.

If your child is extra sleepy, or if they still have trouble with sleep after you try changing their sleep routine, talk to your doctor to rule out other problems.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE: “Health Sleep Habits.”

Sleep Foundation: “Children and Sleep.”

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