This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for details.
You thought you were one of the lucky ones.
Your baby had been sleeping through the night in her own crib for months. You were waking up happy and refreshed, with no dark circles in sight.
“Wow, girl you look really refreshed,” your mom friends would exclaim.
Then sleep regression smacked you dead in the face ….and made you look…well …dead in the face.
You’ve officially entered the mystical land of toddler sleep regression. The land of Narnia has nothing on this place, sleep regression (or “sleep transitions” as some positive Polly’s call it) is real AF.
While night waking is super normal for toddlers — and very common, it is a huge bummer for moms who are already running on the fumes from yesterday’s cold coffee.
Keep reading to learn more about toddler sleep regression and solutions that helped me get my toddler to sleep through the night so I could keep my tired arse in bed.
What is sleep regression and why is it happening to my toddler?
A sleep regression describes a length of time when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping soundly through the night suddenly starts waking up at night, and/or skipping naps (or waking up early from naps).
Sleep experts say this special time of regression in toddlerhood come in threes.
Side note: isn’t it weird that everything in life comes in threes? 🤔
Most of these three sleep regressions typically occur during the first year of your child’s life, and since each one can last for up to 6 weeks it can feel like there is no end in sight. While there is a laundry list of possible reasons why your toddler isn’t sleeping, here are likely the main culprits.
8, 9, 10 Month Sleep Regression: For the most part, the 8-10 month sleep regression is due to a lot of brain development. Your baby’s motor skills are taking off, he or she may be crawling, scooting, sitting up, pulling up, cruising, and so on. Most babies also begin experiencing separation anxiety around 8 months old.
12 Month Sleep Regression: Even more motor skills (like walking) occur, and separation anxiety kicks into the ninth degree. For most babies, anxiety is strongest from 10-18 months. Also, your baby may have a few teeth already, and some more may be getting ready to debut which can also affect your baby’s sleep.
A toddler’s brain is even more active during sleep than it is during awake times.
18 Month Sleep Regression: Your child is standing up for her independence and words are coming out in full force. She knows when you’re not around and will be hooting and hollering for Mama or Dada to come and get her. Around 18 months, children are also starting to sprout the four canine teeth and molars. Ouch. This can also cause added discomfort. Don’t be afraid to give your kiddo Tylenol if they are drooling like crazy and clearly uncomfortable. For breastfeeding mamas, some extra nursing sessions may also help.
24 Months: Your child is testing their limits…. and sleeping is one easy thing that they can control. They want to get out of bed and explore. Their minds and brains are developing at full speed. Another possibility of sleeplessness at this age is nightmares or night terrors, which can be caused by overtiredness or stress relating to a new daycare, changed routines, scary images, and so on.
Signs of Toddler Sleep Regression
During naptime, your toddler may spend too much time playing in their crib, quickly becoming overtired and struggling to fall asleep; this can result in skipped naps, or naps that run too close to bedtime, disrupting their nightly zzzs. 😴
At bedtime, your toddler may start to “fight the power.” They dismiss the bedtime routine, dragging it out from the usual 15 to 20 minutes to 40 or 60 minutes (or forever and a day).
But wait, there’s more.
Here are other sleep regression signs to look for:
- Increased fussiness and crying (aka super cranky)
- Changes in appetite
- Starts waking frequently at night
- Naps become shorter (often 45 minutes in length)
- Extra clinginess and a need for more snuggle time
When your toddler doesn’t get enough sleep early in life, it can have negative long-term impacts on their health. Poor sleep early in life has been linked to complications such as behavior problems and cognitive deficits.
We see what lack of sleep caused in us: mushy mom brain. Don’t let your child’s lack of sleep wreck havoc on their brain development.
Try these solutions that worked for me, and hopefully, will work for you.
How to Get Toddler to Sleep Through the Night
Don’t drop the nap
I made this mistake early on, and after one week, I realized Violet wasn’t quite ready to lose that morning nap. When your kiddo is refusing their naps and waking up more in the middle night, it may seem like the best answer is to drop a nap. It’s not. Most babies aren’t ready to drop to one nap until between 15 to 18 months of age. Sleep expert Dr. Marc Weissbluth states that 90 percent of all 12-month-olds take two naps a day, but by 15 months, only 20 percent drop that morning nap.
Fight through the nap refusals and continue putting your baby down at the same time of day each day for the same length of time. If your child rests, awesome − if she goes to sleep, that’s even better!
Make sure they have a full tummy
Toddlers are such picky eaters. Some days Violet just wants to snack all day and refuses the good healthy stuff she needs. Before bed, however, I always make sure she has a piece of fruit, toast, or other healthy snack and a cup of milk. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, I know it won’t be because she is hungry.
Even when Violet is well-fed during the day, or had a light snack before bedtime, I nurse her a little before she goes to sleep. Even if only for 5 minutes. It calms and comforts her, and she actually sleeps better. Some people think you “shouldn’t nurse before bedtime because then your baby will rely on it to fall asleep.”
That hasn’t been my experience.
Just make sure your baby is still semi-awake when you put her down after nursing so you don’t impact her ability to fall asleep on her own.
As the parent, you will always be involved in your toddler’s bedtime routine, whether it is giving them a bath, reading a book together, or helping them brush their teeth. Experts suggest these tasks as part of most bedtime routines. There isn’t a concern if your toddler relies on those things to fall asleep, so don’t consider it a bad thing if your little one expects to nurse, or be rocked in a chair, at bedtime. You do you, mama.
Make your bedtime routine age-appropriate
What worked when they were 6 months old will be different for when they are 12 months old, and so on. For example, while it is normal for a newborn or younger infant to fall asleep nursing or drinking formula, around four or five months old you can begin putting your baby down while she is drowsy but still awake. Be sure that your child is also going to bed at an age-appropriate time. Alanna McGinn, sleep consultant and owner of Good Night Sleep Site, recommends 7 PM for most toddlers. Remember, the more tired your toddler is, the more times she will awaken during the night.
Create a calm environment
Try to limit TV and iPad use an hour before bedtime and do quiet activities like reading, coloring, or drawing. Violet just got a Magna Doodle a bit ago and it has quickly become one of her favorite quiet time activities.
Keep your bedtime routine short & sweet
A good bedtime routine will probably last about 15-20 minutes, or a little longer if you include a bath. Whether you are cleaning your baby’s gums or your toddler can brush their chompers on their own, make sure to include teeth brushing as part of the bedtime routine.
Be consistent in your bedtime routine
Your bedtime routine may change over time, as your kid gets older, but it should be fairly consistent from day to day, starting at the same time and going in the same order. For example, a toddler’s bedtime routine might start at 7 p.m. and include a bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a bedtime story, a dream feed if nursing, getting in bed, and a final kiss goodnight.
Use a stuffed animal as part of your bedtime routine
A stuffed animal, or blanket, is an important part of the bedtime routine, especially for toddlers and preschoolers. These objects aren’t safe in the cribs for young infants though. I think Violet was 11 months old when she started sleeping with her little owl stuffed animal.
When Violet has her owl stuffed animal, she knows it time to lay down and sleep. She cuddles it until she falls asleep, and the times when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she crawls around her crib looking for it to hold. The majority of the time it helps her to go back to sleep on her own allowing me to tuck the video monitor, and myself, back in bed.
Use a night light
Most kids don’t like to sleep in the dark. My girl Violet is no exception. There are many lights of varying luminosity to use. I’ve learned there truly is a happy medium with regards to night lighting. My toddler doesn’t like it too dark but doesn’t like the room too bright. I found a cute Disney Princess light at the Dollar Store that illuminates the room just enough to keep the girl content and aware of her surroundings. There are some reasonable night lights that offer dimmers and a variety of soothing colors too.
Try white noise
Even when she was a growing grapefruit in your belly, your child was falling asleep to your voice, movements, and the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Your toddler has come to rely on that white noise to fall asleep. I’ve always been in awe when Violet falls asleep in loud restaurants and large family get-togethers, even with her super loud cousins running amok around her. Help to mimic the effect in their bedroom by using a white noise machine or using a free white noise app on the iPad.
Understand that some crying is okay
Some toddlers, no matter what you do, will cry for a few minutes as they get ready for sleep or when they wake up in the middle of the night. This can be alright if they quickly settle down and you are okay with letting them cry for a few minutes. Remember though, that even the Ferber Method doesn’t advocate letting kids cry it out all night.
It doesn’t get better overnight. It took 5 days to get Violet back on track, but for some, it may take the full two weeks. If you are consistent with your routine, you should be able to regulate naptime and bedtime in one to two weeks.
Your toddler’s sleep can continue to regress if you fail to establish a consistent bedtime routine. Don’t rely on your toddler to set the tone or provide cues on when bedtime should be. The parent is responsible for setting the boundaries. This will help your child to feel more secure because they know what to expect. That’s why routine is so important.
The more consistent you are, the quicker they will learn. Just be patient and keep at it. Sleep is in sight.
When Should I Call a Doctor?
A 2011 study showed that most sleep disturbances among 18-month-olds resulted from environmental factors and parental behavior. About 25 to 30 percent of children, however, do suffer from sleep disorders.
If your toddler is sleeping way less than the recommended 12-14 hours a night or is experiencing other symptoms such as behavior changes or physical changes, speak to your doctor to confirm they do not have a sleep disorder. Be diligent about scheduling your toddler’s wellness checkups so that your child’s doctor can ensure your toddler is growing healthy and developing on track.
Whether it’s the 8-month sleep regression or the 18-month sleep regression, it means the same thing for all mamas.
Team #nosleep, ya’ll.
By implementing a good consistent bedtime routine, however, we can navigate the land of sleep regression with ease and keep our babies with the dancing sugar plum fairies in the land of sleep.
What helps your child to sleep better through the night?