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4 min read

Getting your toddler to go to sleep and stay asleep is the plight of parents of little kids. Nothing is as frustrating as finally getting into a good sleep routine, only to have your little one undo it all after a few weeks.


Changes in sleep patterns for little kids under three years of age is common and is often due to growth and brain development. As a parent reeling from your own lost sleep, try to manage your expectations and understand that sleep regression often has physiological causes.


Even though the cause of your toddler’s sleep regression may have physiological causes, there are some things that you can do to help the situation.


Reduce Stress

Bedtime routines and sleep spaces should be a relaxing environment. Sometimes half of the battle in getting your toddler to sleep is being able to get them to relax. If you leave a nightlight on, replace harsh white lights with softer yellow lights or calming colors light blue or lavender.


Use a sound machine, fan, or gentle music box to create calming sounds to lull them to sleep. In addition to calming sounds, a fan helps circulate air and makes the sleeping area more comfortable.


Create a calming bedtime routine that is focused around winding down and going to sleep. Enforce gentle boundaries surrounding bedtime in an effort to communicate your expectations about sleeping in a gentle way.


A stress-free, calming bedtime routine and sleep environment and help your little one relax in order to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can also help reduce the occurrence of night terrors.


Limit Stimulation Throughout the Day

Everything in a toddler’s world is stimulating. A trip to the park, the grocery store, preschool, and playdates provide an endless barrage of stimulation to the senses. As adults, we are often acclimated to the busy bustle of life and we forget to give these little minds a break from the noise.


Too much stimulation throughout the day creates a situation where your child is overtired and that actually works against their ability to get a good sleep. Exhaustion creates stress and makes it more difficult to relax which in turn makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.


Find a good pace for your day with your toddler and be firm with your boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no to extra activities, playdate invitations, and social gatherings.


Let them be in Control

Give your toddler a sense of control in the situation. This doesn’t mean that you have to let them call all of the shots about bedtime, it just means that you can let them make some little decisions so they feel included in the decision to go to bed.


Toddlers can choose what pajamas to wear, what story to read, or what prayers to say. These are minor decisions, but to a toddler who might otherwise feel stressed about a lack of control in the situation, it means everything.


Positive Reinforcement Builds Confidence

Another common cause of sleep regression is separation anxiety. When the toddler has to spend extended periods of time away from the primary caregiver parent, he or she may become physically stressed.


Find a comfort item that your toddler can keep with them while you are away. A favorite stuffed animal or blankie works well because they are soft, cuddly, and comforting. Many little ones attach to comfort items naturally, but if yours has not and they are experiencing separation anxiety, try having them pick out a favorite stuffed toy. Let them know that this buddy can sleep with them and keep them safe at night time when you are away.


If sleep regression is due to anxiety, finding ways to build your toddler's confidence is important. Instead of harshly scolding your toddler for getting out of bed, be gentle. Return them to bed, but don’t make a fuss out of it. Don’t give them any extra attention. Each time that you need to return your toddler to bed, make it strictly business.


Be positive and reassuring in your communications with your toddler. Use positive reinforcement whenever possible. If they have a good night where they stay in bed, reward them in the morning with verbal praise and a small treat.


Consistency is the Key

Toddlers are just tiny humans and all humans thrive with consistency. Sticking to certain routines and habits helps your toddler know what to expect. They will start to pick up on cues in your routine that let them know that bedtime is coming. These cues will help them prepare for the transition to bedtime and fight sleep regression.


Routines are an important part of tackling sleep regression. Define a set of activities that you and your toddler do every night in preparation for going to bed. Bedtime routines might include things like brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a story, and saying prayers.


The thing that is important about routines is that you have to be incredibly consistent in doing the routines or they will not work. If your lifestyle is unpredictable or chaotic, understand that the lack of consistency is contributing to your toddler's sleep regression. If full routines are difficult for you as a parent, start with just one thing that you do with your toddler at bedtime. A routine doesn’t have to be complicated to work.


The Takeaway on Curing Sleep Regression

Sleep regression in toddlers is common and can have a few different causes. For the most part, it is simply a part of growing up. Growth and brain development in the toddler years can disrupt sleep patterns and wreak havoc on bedtime routines.


In addition to natural causes, some toddlers suffer from stress or anxiety that makes the problem worse. Parents can help toddlers get back into a good sleep pattern by creating and enforcing bedtime boundaries like a set bedtime and rules about getting back up once they have been put to bed.


It takes a lot of patience to get through bouts of toddler sleep regression, but it is possible. Try to be as consistent as possible with schedules, routines, and rules and your little one will make the adjustment.