Baby Unable to Sleep- How to Handle Sleep Regression in Babies and Toddlers?

Wondering about how to deal with sleep regressions in your child? You have come to the right place! Have you been in a situation where your toddler sleeps throughout the night and you breathe a sigh of relief thinking that your sleepless nights have gotten over? Well, you might be in for a surprise (or rather, a shock). Your toddler may probably go through a sleep regression pretty soon! Baby Unable to Sleep- How to Handle Sleep Regression in  Babies and Toddlers?

What is sleep regression?

Now, what is sleep regression? When your toddler who has been sleeping for long periods of time at night suddenly starts waking up often with disturbed sleep for no apparent reason like teething, illness etc., it is called sleep regression. It can last for anytime between 2-6 weeks. Sleep regressions usually coincide with milestones – cognitive or developmental. 

Your child most probably has experienced sleep regressions already at 6 weeks, 3-4 months, 6 months and 8-10 months. However, this timeline varies for each child and not every child experiences a full regression at all these times. The same goes for the toddler years. The sleep regressions that usually occur during the toddler years are at 12 months, 18 months and 24 months. Let us learn more about them.

Sleep Regression At 12 Months:

The 12 month sleep regression is not as common as the other sleep regressions. Many kids tend to skip this. This regression is more to do with skipping of naps or reduction in nap time rather than sleepless nights. You may think that that is a natural progression and that your one-year-old needs lesser sleep during this age but that’s not the case. Most toddlers do need 2 naps during the day till they reach 15-18 months so do consider this as a regression only.

What causes a sleep regression at 12 months?

It is usually at this age that your baby starts showing toddler tendencies. He now starts to test his mobility and limits. He now stands up and may even start walking. He also makes more noise and may start talking. These major developmental milestones contribute to the sleep regression. (This is also the time that your toddler may start teething. If he is teething, then the sleep disturbance is only for a few days and it is not a sleep regression).

How do I manage the 12-month sleep regression?

Although your 1-year-old thinks that he doesn’t need 2 naps, do not give in. As mentioned earlier most toddlers can manage with only 1 nap only when they are 15-18 months old. If he does skip a nap, he will become overtired by the end of the day and this leads to even more sleep issues. What you can do in such cases is, try to delay the second nap by 20-30 minutes from his usual time. Try to put him to sleep and even if he is unable to sleep, the time (trying to put him to sleep) will provide him with some needed rest. If after all efforts, he is unable to sleep then you should put him to sleep earlier at night so that he doesn’t become overtired. Ensure that you follow the same bedtime rituals as this will help in reducing the sleep regression time.

Sleep Regression At 18 Months:

The 18 month sleep regression is one of the major sleep regressions of your toddler. What you will see is that your toddler who was sleeping well will suddenly stop doing so with lots of bedtime drama, erratic and shorter naps, plenty of waking up at night and even very early wake-up times. At this age, your darling turns into a walking, talking (at least babbling) and tantrum-throwing toddler. This sleep regression has a lot to do with your toddler’s independence that he has newly found. A lot of developmental and cognitive milestones are achieved around this age that results in a sleep regression. Compared to all the earlier sleep regressions, this becomes much more difficult to handle as your toddler is now a defiant child who has his own opinions and does not like to have his wishes denied.

What causes a sleep regression at 18 months?

At 18 months, you will be realizing that your toddler suddenly has a favourite word – “NO”. You see a lot of defiance and independence being asserted by him. This carries over to his sleeping too.  It now becomes a battle of wills between the two of you! Added to this is the fact that separation anxiety (the anxiety that he feels when separated from you) is the strongest around this age. Teething is another factor at this age which causes disturbances in his routine the whole day. All these factors contribute to a sleep regression causing him to have less sleep which in turn makes him cranky the whole time. This crankiness and defiance combined leads to more sleep disturbances and it then takes on a snowballing effect.

How do I manage the 18-month sleep regression?

By now you should already be having good bedtime routines. Reinforce them. Though easier in the immediate, going back to bad sleeping habits will only hurt in the long run. Always be consistent so that your toddler is comforted with the same routines.

Ensure that you have firm rules and regulations that always adhered to. You can always set an earlier bedtime at night to compensate for the loss of daytime naps and to prevent crankiness and overtiredness. You can also start giving him his favourite toy as a buddy to go to sleep with. This may comfort him during his times of separation anxiety.

Nighttime fears may also occur at this age so you can have a small night lamp kept on throughout the night to help him out with this. If he is teething, do give him cold teething rings, pacifiers etc., to soothe his pain and gum irritation. At this age, he might also go through a growth spurt which may make him hungrier and makes him wake up at nights. A high protein bedtime snack will help in this regard. Taking care of all these will help ease the 18-month sleep regression. To reiterate, consistency is the key here.

Sleep Regression At 24 Months:

Another sleep regression at 2 years? You must be wondering when these regression stop. Probably once your child is a teenager when they hardly want to get out of bed!!! Jokes apart, the 2-year-old sleep regression is a very real and major sleep regression like the 18-month one. 

It is sometimes also known as the 20-month sleep regression. You will again see your toddler delaying or shortening naps and be waking up many times in the night when he had been sleeping well just before this. Just take comfort in knowing that is probably the last major sleep regression that your child will undergo.

What causes a sleep regression at 24 months/2 years?

At 24 months, your toddler most probably will be going through some major changes. Many parents move their kids from a crib to a bed (not that common amongst Indians though). That makes them pretty scared. On top of that, the nighttime fears of monsters, ghosts, dinosaurs, darkened rooms etc., are pretty strong at this age. Separation anxiety is back again at 2 years which further stresses him out. A 2-year-old also needs lesser sleep at this point in time so they stay awake for longer periods of time without any downtime or naps. Potty training is also very often started at this time. 2-year-olds are also very independent and defiant; that’s why the term terrible-twos even came about. All these factors lead to the 24-month sleep regression.

How do I manage the 24-month/2-year sleep regression?

Like for all sleep regressions, try to follow a regular and good sleep hygiene. That means, follow the same sleeping habits. The consistency will provide them comfort. He also needs only approximately 12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour cycle with most of it being at night. He might resist napping the whole day but most kids are not ready for it until 3-4 years of age. In that case, ensure that he at least gets some downtime and rest and have an earlier bedtime at night so that he doesn’t get overtired. To help him with his separation anxiety, give him a soft or cuddly toy as his sleep buddy.

It will provide him with some comfort and a feeling of security. For his nighttime fears, soothe him and listen to him but don’t start new practices that are a quick-fix solution for now but may cause poor habits in the long term. Rules, limits and regulations should be adhered to. Being firm but not harsh about it will help them follow it. Giving in to his demand once may lead to lots of tantrum-throwing at other times. So always remember, consistency is of prime importance.

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To conclude, sleep regressions are part and parcel of a toddler’s life but the good news is that it’s only temporary. Following good sleep habits consistently will definitely help. Also, note that the timelines given are not fixed. It will vary by a few weeks or months for each child; the reasons and actions are how you identify and manage it.

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