Sleep

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Toddler Sleep Regressions Do Happen, But You Can Survive ⁠— Here's How

Just when you thought you could sleep through the night again.

It’s like a parental pitfall that no one tells you about. After all that time struggling to get your baby to sleep, they’re finally snoozing through the night (and woot, so are you). You can once again remember what it felt like to get a solid eight hours of sleep and feel fully functional again. You’re lulled into this fall sense of sleep security, and then, out of nowhere, your child is up again at all hours of the night for seemingly no reason at all. Toddler sleep regression is no joke, but rest assured (ha), it will eventually pass.

When your child is up almost every hour on the hour in the middle of the night, it can feel like a cruel joke from the sleep gods. But even the soundest of sleepers can experience a regression at some point. “When toddlers regress in the sleep department, we sometimes see them resisting bedtime, resisting naptime, and waking up at night,” Eva Klein, a certified infant and child sleep consultant, tells Romper in an email. And while that can be exasperating, sleep regression is perfectly normal (albeit annoying), the SleepFoundation.org reported.

Still, if you’re struggling with your child’s sleep regression, here are some ways to understand the how's and why's of it all — and get everyone (including you) a good night’s rest once again.

1
When They Occur
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Although it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact age and stage your child might start a sleep regression, it usually happens at the 4 month, 8-9 month, and 18-month marks, Alyssa Blask Campbell, M.Ed., an emotional development expert and baby sleep expert tells Romper in an email. “Sleep regressions typically happen in conjunction with some sort of development,” says Blask Campbell. “Gross motor (rolling, sitting up, crawling, or walking), cognitive development (maturation of sleep cycles at 4 months, object permanence, language development etc.), or a life transition (potty training, new childcare, travel, separation from a caregiver) can all be the start of a sleep regression.”

Or it could be behavioral, Klein points out. “The child is exploring boundaries, testing the waters, and is trying to assert their new-found independence,” says Klein. “They want to see what happens when Mommy says it's time to go to sleep and they respond by saying ‘no,' which is why toddlers tend to sleep regress in the 18-24 month period."

2
What Are Signs Of Sleep Regression?

Obvs, you’ll notice sleep regression if your kiddo is bouncing on their bed instead of snoozing in it, but there are other indicators as well. “Some signs of sleep regression include new and sudden nap and/or bedtime resistance,” explains Blask Campbell. ”Other instances include new night wakings that typically last the length of a full sleep cycle (90 minutes or so).” So if your child pushes their bedtime one night, it might not be a sleep regression, but doing so for several nights in a row (or refusing to nap at all) can be.

3
How Long Do They Last?

While you might feel like you’re back in the bleary-eyed newborn phase, your kiddo will get back to bed and sleep through the night soon enough. “As long as you don't introduce any new undesirable habits, these regressions typically only last for a few days or up to a few weeks at the most,” says Klein. But if the regression goes longer than that, you might want to speak to your pediatrician about it to see if there’s some sort of underlying issue, or find out if your kiddo hasn’t inadvertently created a new nighttime habit. “After that, we would look at "Did this regression turn into a new waking habit?” says Blask Campbell. That way, you can work towards getting your kiddo the proper sleep that they need.

4
What To Do About Them
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While you can’t stop a sleep regression, there are things you can do to make it easier on all of you. “Make sure you have a rock solid bedtime routine for your little one that's 100% consistent,” advises Klein. “Have a set number of bedtime stories and songs so that your little one isn't always asking for one more.” Still, if sleep is elusive, you might want to start a new bedtime routine from scratch in order to reset your toddler — and set the stage for sleep. Says Klein: “Avoid negotiating or getting into a power struggle with your toddler. You won't win!”

Another option to help stave off a potential sleep regression down the road (particularly at that 18-24 month mark), is to keep your kiddo in their crib for as long as possible. “Most toddlers are simply not mature enough to handle all the freedom offered by a bed,” says Klein. “Transitioning a toddler into a bed prematurely often gets parents unwanted visitors in their room throughout the night.”

Overall, though, if your child is waking at unwanted hours, you should maintain a consistent response, advises Blask Campbell. “What that response looks like (continuous support or timed check-ins) will vary from family to family depending on what works best for that individual child,” she says.

5
Can You Let Baby Cry It Out

Although a sleep regression might have you in tears, letting your kiddo cry it out might not get them back to bed sooner. “We recognize that with sleep modifications/changes, kiddos are going to communicate with us via crying,” says Blask Campbell. “We encourage parents to regulate themselves so they can interpret the language of cries (i.e. “What is my kiddo communicating?”), and respond with intention.” Having a loving, caring response will get you through the sleep regression and foster a kinder, more compassionate environment while you help your child restore their sleep patterns.

Sure, sleep regressions suck, but the most important thing to remember is that they don’t last forever. Whether it’s a few days or weeks, your kiddo will eventually be back on track (and safely snoozing in their beds), so that it’ll be lights out for all of you.

Experts:

Eva Klein, a certified infant and child sleep consultant

Alyssa Blask Campbell, M.Ed., an emotional development expert and baby sleep expert