Just when you start having your sleep time back after the long sleepless nights in the infancy stage, your toddler suddenly has problems with sleeping again – he refuses to go to bed and requires you to stay with him for hours until he eventually sleeps.
What your toddler experiences is possibly a ‘sleep regression’. And, unlike sleep regression during the infancy stage, toddler sleep regression is a lot trickier to handle as he now has learned how to speak his mind and wants.
You may experience many other sleepless nights again, which would require a lot of patience and make you feel frustrated. However, keep in mind that this is just a growth stage in your child’s life, and their sleep (and yours too) will eventually go back to normal again.
To help you through this stage, here is everything you need to know about toddler sleep regression, what causes it and what should do about it.
What Is Toddler Sleep Regression? And What Are the Signs?
Sleep regression is when your toddler struggles getting enough sleep time and breaks their healthy sleep pattern. Having many sleepless nights is the most obvious sign, but here are some tip-offs that indicate your toddler is having a sleep regression:
- He refuses to sleep
- More bedtime battles, fussing and crying at bedtime
- Frequently wake up at night and does not go back to sleep
- Waking up to early in the morning
- He refuses napping
These sleep struggles are actually a normal part of a child’s development, and can also occur when your child is 4, 8, 12 and 18 months, and 2 and 3 years of age. It’s usually temporary, ranging from 2 weeks to more than a month.
Causes of toddler sleep regression
Sleep regression isn’t necessarily caused by a specific factor. Most of the time, it’s a part of the developmental stage where they, as a toddler, start to become more capables of understanding the world around them, expanding their imagination and becoming more curious. This causes them to start feeling night fear or being afraid of the dark, separation anxiety, or having a curiosity to explore what’s around them, which keeps them awake the whole night or refusing to nap.
Other factors can be:
- Changes in your home such as having a new baby or family member
- Transitioning to a new toddler bed
- Starting nursery
How To Deal With Toddler Sleep Regression
As your toddler is now physically more capable and has developed a better speaking ability, handling his sleep regression is a lot harder than when he was an infant. It’s essential to remind yourself to be patient and persevere, and that this is just temporary and will be behind you and your toddler. However, here are some tips that you can apply to help with the struggle:
- Stick to bedtime routines. Keeping your child’s bedtime routine consistent is essential, as it will signal to their brain that it’s time for bedtime. Include positive activities such as a bath, storytime, and a lullaby.
- Consider sleep training your child. Sleep training is basically training your child to sleep on her own without your help. It’s a great way to build independence and let her learn to self-soothe.
- Adapt the sleep routine to his age. Your child is no longer an infant, and it’s a natural part of development that they will change, too. Their awake time increases, and their hobbies change, too.
- Avoid drama and be firm. When your child refuses to go to bed, keep your composure and avoid negotiating or even threatening him to stay in bed, as this will only escalate the situation. Be patient and calm while reassuring him that it’s time for bedtime.
- Avoid TV and digital screens before bedtime. Watching TV, or digital screens or playing video games are stimulating activities, which can keep your child awake for longer. Keep your child away from the screen for at least two to three hours before going to bed.
- Get them involved in bedtime decisions. Asking them a question to decide what colour of pyjamas or book to read can make them feel involved, and make them more cooperative. Plus, it’s also a great way to establish independence.
- Make your child feel secure. Some of the causes of sleep regressions are night fear and separation anxiety. Find a way to make him feel secure by using night lights, leaving the door open, or giving him a comfort object they can associate with bedtime.
- Give them healthy bedtime snacks. It’s fine to give your little one some snacks before bed. Not only is it great for nutrition, but a full tummy also helps make them sleepy and fall asleep faster.
- Appreciate their improvement. Expressing appreciation always motivates your child to do better. Always acknowledge their improvement, such as sleeping on time, for instance.
Good Nutrition is Key For Your Child’s Great Sleep
There are plenty of possible causes for toddler sleep regression, and it’s not easy to identify one specific underlying cause. Sometimes you have tried everything but it seems like your toddler’s sleep regression doesn’t go away. But did you know that your child’s sleeping struggle can also be caused by what he eats?
Some foods that are stimulants such as sugar, caffeine, chocolate or soda can actually keep your child away at night.
On another hand, foods that are rich in tryptophan and serotonin are great to make your child feel sleepy by increasing the melatonin production in your child’s body. Some examples of these foods are bananas, rice, oats and eggs. So, you can now add these foods into your child’s bedtime snacks list.
How Will Toddler’s Sleep Regression Last?
In general, toddler sleep regression can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. However, it depends on what causes your child’s sleep regression. If it’s a developmental stage, then it will most probably last quickly, two weeks utmost. On the other hand, it depends on how you solve it if it’s caused by separation anxiety or fear.
When to Seek Help
When should you see a doctor? If your toddler sleep regression persist for than a few weeks or a month, or if you notice other concerning symptoms such as snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness or behavior changes, it is important to consult with your doctor.
A pediatrician can help diagnose the underlying medical condition that may be contributing to your child’s sleep issues, and provide the solution to improve the symptoms.
It’s also a great idea to see a doctor if you feel your toddler sleep regression causes stress or affects your family’s daily routine or life. A health professional can help develop coping strategies so that everyone get a good sleep they need, including you and your little one.