Surviving Toddler Sleep Regressions

I’ll be honest: we breezed through the 4- and 8-month sleep regressions without a lot of problems. (I chalk it up to dumb luck). However, once our son turned one, karma came to bite us in the ass. His sleep went crazy and we were wholly unprepared to deal with it.

Sleep regressions get more challenging as children get older because a) they have much more physical stamina with which to fight sleep; b) they have many more tricks up their sleeves to get what they want; and c) they're probably beginning to talk.

In essence, they can wait you out, play dirty, and scream “MAMA, I LOVE YOU! I WANT YOU TO SLEEP WITH ME!” until you can’t take it anymore.If you haven’t gotten serious about sleep yet, now is the time.

Boundary setting is the key to toddler sleep. You don’t want to spend 2 hours putting your daughter to bed? Your 18-month old is still waking multiple times at night to eat? Your 3-year old ends up in your bed every night? It’s time to figure out what you want your long-term sleep situation to look like--and start working towards that.

Let’s talk about specific regressions that may pop up.

The 18-month sleep regression

At this age, your child will begin to assert his independence and has figured out that he can influence the outcomes of events. (“If I fuss long enough, mom will come back to rock me to sleep!”) At the same time, he may also have increased separation anxiety so could need more reassurance during daytime hours.

While you may be tempted to give in to his desire to be rocked/cuddled/cooed to sleep, it’s best to bunker down and enforce the family sleep rules. (If you've sleep trained your child before, you may need to go back to the basics for a few nights to re-emphasize the rules).

The 24-month sleep regression

This isn’t a developmental sleep regression, but kids’ sleep gets wonky around their second birthday. Full confession: This regression drove me batty. There were a few weeks where bedtime became a 2-hour battle until I regained my senses.

Like the 18-month regression, it’s extremely important to define and maintain boundaries around sleep. Many parents struggle with the bedtime routine at this age because their kids want one more book, one more song, one more cuddle, one more glass of water… they’ll keep going. This is an extremely slippery slope, so I advise determining the bedtime routine you want in advance and stickto it. (See my article: What Would Daytime Mom Do?)

Moving to a toddler bed

We recommend waiting until around 3 years old to make this move. At this age, children are more developmentally ready for such a big change (‘cause it’s a BIG deal to them to leave the comfy, safe space of their cribs).

One final note…

For any toddler sleep issue, always ensure that bedtime hasn't crept into the "forbidden zone". (For most toddlers, this is 7pm). Better to aim earlier so they can decompress in bed before falling asleep. Anything later, you risk them becoming overtired monsters who want to party all night.