May 8, 2024

Toddler Sleep Regressions and How to Get Through Them

Older Children, Toddlers

We hear about the four-month regression and other baby sleep regressions all the time, but we don’t hear about toddler sleep regressions as often. However, they are just as real, and honestly, sometimes more challenging!

We often hear about the “18-month regression” and the “24-month regression” (or “two-year regression”), so we’re going to break it all down.

In this post, we’ll talk about:

  • What a sleep regression is
  • If all toddlers go through sleep regressions
  • The 18-month sleep regression and 24-month sleep regression
  • The “why” behind toddler sleep regressions
  • What to do when your toddler is going through a sleep regression
  • How long toddler sleep regressions typically last
  • Other causes of toddler sleep regressions

And more!

What is a sleep regression?

A sleep regression is when your child’s usual sleep habits change (for the worse), and this change lasts beyond a few nights.

For example, if you have a toddler who is able to fall asleep and stay asleep in their own crib independently, yet is now struggling to fall and/or stay asleep (for naps and/or nights), they may be experiencing a sleep regression.

toddler sleep regressions

Do all toddlers have sleep regressions?

Not necessarily! Some toddlers may only experience one sleep regression, some may regress what feels like five times, and other toddlers will never experience these sleep regressions!

And please know that your toddler going through sleep regressions or not isn’t based on how well you sleep trained them. the best of sleepers can go through sleep regressions, and the “worst” of sleepers can go through regressions! And some unicorn sleepers just skip them altogether.

The 18 Month Sleep Regression and 24 Month Sleep Regression

Now, if you Google “toddler sleep regressions,” you’re likely going to see blog posts galore about the 18-month regression and the 24-month regression (or 2-year regression).

And while some toddlers may hit a sleep regression right around 18 or 24 months, it’s really not dependent on age, but development.

Although toddlers have already hit the big physical milestones (they’re usually running by now!), language is a big deal and it’s bursting all over the place – talk about developmental milestone! And unfortunately, toddlers generally have a few language bursts, it’s not just a one-and-done milestone!

When it comes to language development, especially, there is such a wide spectrum of when. Many toddlers often have a big burst in language around 18 months, and another around 2 years old, while other toddlers have them sooner or later! So I really don’t like labeling toddler sleep regressions by age, because every child is different.

My older girls always took longer on the physical development side but were quicker on the language development side. They were signing a lot and saying several words by 15 months old, and I can so vividly remember our second daughter had her first big toddler sleep regression at that time.

The Why Behind Toddler Sleep Regressions

Let’s talk about cause and effect

In addition to learning so much language, toddlers are really starting to interact with their understanding of cause and effect.

For example:

  • I say, “Ow,” and Mom picks me up and gives me kisses. I might try to be silly and say, “Ow,” because it’s fun to get those kisses.
  • I cry when my two bedtime books are done, so Dad reads two more.
  • I sign and say, “More,” and get another serving of blueberries.
  • I do a silly dance and they clap and laugh, so I keep dancing.
  • I say, “Water,” after they’ve left my room for the night and they come back with a sippy cup.

This is a really fun part of development, because our toddlers’ personalities start shining so much more, and it is so important that they learn that their actions and words make an impact. It’s good that they learn that their toy gets taken away when they hit their sister with it. It’s good that they know you’ll pick them up and snuggle them when they’re upset.

So is it a problem for Dad to read two more stories one night? Or for mom to come back and give a kiss? NO! But do you also see where this understanding of cause and effect can become a slippery slope at bedtime?

It starts getting fuzzy when the next night we only read two stories, but they want two more. Or the next night they want one more kiss, then a drink of water, then a hug from dada, and then they want you to stay until they fall asleep.

Sometimes it’s just a one-off night (we certainly have them!), and that’s fine! We’re dealing with real human beings here. But when it becomes a pattern or a new expectation is when it gets sticky.

To add to all of this, around 18 months old your toddler might start experimenting with saying “No!” So they may say, “No,” when it’s time to brush their teeth, change their diaper, or get their jammies on. They may say, “No,” as you’re laying them down.

Our sweet toddlers are going to start to make sense of what “no” means and what we’re going to do about it! And again, this is a good thing.

Our kids need to learn how to say no! And we need to recognize that they don’t always know what’s best for them – that’s our job, as their parents. They need our loving boundaries. Being consistent helps our kids feel safe because they can predict what will happen next.

So those first “No”s, or requesting more books, will likely happen somewhere around the 18-month mark, hence the “18-month regression.” So why do people talk about a 24-month regression or 2 year regression?

Well, now toddlers are often stringing more words together and making sentences. Not to mention our toddlers are seeking even more independence, and determination is at an all-time high. So it’s like cause-and-effect, part two.

It might start with a random day of, “I no nap!”, so that one day you pull the plug on their nap because they’re just hysterical. But that could turn into, “I no naaaaaap,” every day for two weeks, so you therefore pull the plug on the nap every day, and all of a sudden you have a toddler not napping who definitely still needs a nap.

Toddler sleep regressions might come out as more bedtime protesting, it might look like night wakings popping up again, it might look like nap time protesting, or it could be a mix of all of the above.

So I have found that when it comes to toddler sleep regressions, it’s almost always connected to language bursts. The language burst led to some boundary-pushing, then boundary flexing, then yikes, what boundaries?  And now have a new habit!

Now Dad holds my hand every night until I fall asleep. Or, I have 12 stuffies in bed with me because I just kept asking for more, and I need all of them. Or, I kept fighting sleep, and Mom and Dad thought it might be because I’m ready for a big bed. So I’m out of my crib, in a big bed, but guess what…I still don’t want to sleep, so I keep getting out of bed. And guess what now? I just sleep with Mom and Dad, because it’s too exhausting to take me back to my bed every time I wake up.

This may sound crazy if you’ve never experienced it, but it’s REAL! I work with families all the time whose “great sleeper” became a toddler and things went downhill quickly. Language bursts plus learning cause and effect, and Mom and Dad just not knowing what to do with it, so enter survival mode. And now it’s not just survival mode but everyday mode, and what started as a toddler sleep regression is just the daily norm.

This was us right before I became a sleep consultant! My daughter was almost two and she would call out for us after we laid her down for bed, we’d respond, she’d want us to stay, we’d try to leave, it was really hard, so we’d end up staying, and before you know it, we’re back to sitting by the door for every nap and night time.

What to Do When Your Toddler is Going Through a Sleep Regression

The “easy” answer is to remain consistent and hold your boundaries.

Remain consistent with how you’ve approached their sleep before – still only read two books, still leave the room even though they don’t want you to, and don’t start giving them milk or a snack in the middle of the night.

If your goal is that same independent sleep they had before, don’t continue to go back again and again and again, fulfilling every request, because your toddler will learn to keep making those requests and sleep will remain a challenge.

But remaining consistent does not have to mean you just let your toddler scream for hours while you stay out of the room. Remember, cry it out isn’t the only sleep training method, not to mention it just really doesn’t work for toddlers.

So when your child starts protesting sleep and you think you might be hitting a toddler sleep regression, here are my top three tips.

1. First WAIT!

If your toddler is struggling to fall asleep, or they randomly wake in the night, first wait before you jump into their room to see what’s going on!

My middle daughter’s “18-month regression” happened around 15 months old, when she was acquiring what seemed like 10 new words a day. And it all came out at nap and bedtime. Rather than giggling as we got her into her sleep sack, she fought it. And rather than tucking her head into our shoulder as we sang our sleep song, she would say (or shout), “Noooooo!”

And rather than lying down quietly and just drifting off into sleep like she normally did, she would fuss or cry for 2-5 minutes before falling asleep, calling for Mama, Dada, books, water, etc.

But I was now a sleep consultant, I knew toddler sleep regressions were a thing, her language was exploding, and she did not need another book or water, so we simply waited. And after a few minutes of crying, she was asleep! And after a week or two, the extra protest was done – she was used to having more language now, and she also knew we weren’t going to simply give her what she was asking for!

So in a perfect world, you simply wait a few minutes and your child falls asleep! This won’t, however, always be the case.

2. Use the Leave and Check Method

For a sleep-trained kiddo, my next recommendation would be to fall back on the leave and check method. You essnetially stay out of your child’s room for 10 minutes, do a quick 1-2 minutes pop-in, leave for another 10, check in again, and keep repeating this process until they’re asleep.

For some toddlers, going up to the crib, patting their back and giving them a little shhhhhh is super helpful; it really helps reset them! For others, however, this makes them all the more upset, because they want you to hold them, maybe they want to sleep on you, or they expect you to now take them out of the room.

So if a brief 1-2 minute pick-up really helps, go for it in that check-in! But if your little one becomes even more upset after you lay them down, try to avoid those pick-ups.

For some toddlers, however, having you coming right up to the crib can be too much. It doesn’t calm them at all but just makes them so much more upset that they’re not getting all of you! So in this case, I recommend a little check-in from their door. Pop your head in the door, and say, “Lay down and shhhhhh,” a few times, and then leave again.

This magical phrase doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be happy with it, but the idea is that they learn that you’re not going to give in to whatever it is they’re asking of you, and that you’re going to just keep saying, “Lay down and shhhh”, so they might as well lay down and shhhhh.

For older toddlers, depending on their development, that check-in could even be something like, “Lay down and shhhhh. Mommy is going to get a drink of water and then I’ll come back and check on you.” You’re reminding them it’s time to sleep, but you’re letting them know you’ll be back, and that you’re going to go do something that’s quick or temporary.

The idea here is that they’re still in their crib, they know sleep is the goal, and they get to hold on to the idea that you’ll be back! And the hope is they’ll fall asleep in one of those “leaves” before you come to check on them again.

toddler sleep regressions

3. Use a Modified Chair Method

And finally, if leave and check just isn’t working, I recommend a modified Chair Method. You may have to (temporarily!) stay in your toddler’s room to help them fall asleep, but it’s all with the goal of slowly making your way out of there again!

We did this with my youngest when she was 20 months old. I put her to bed one night and she had a really tough time. I first tried leave and check, and even picked her up, but she kept saying “No” as I told her it was time to sleep. After doing two check-ins I could tell it wasn’t going to be enough.

So I went in and sat right on the floor next to her crib, and put my head at the level of her crib mattress. The hope was that she’d not only hear me saying, “Lay down,” but she’d hear my voice down by the mattress, and that would encourage her to lay down to be near me! I tapped the mattress with my hand, and said, “Lay down and shhhhh” a few times.

She was still upset and crying for about 5 minutes, but she eventually laid down with her head right by my head/voice. I patted her back for a bit while I shushed, then stopped shushing, then took my hand away, stayed for a few minutes longer to make sure she was asleep, and then left. She woke up for about 30 seconds after I left, but it was thankfully brief and then she was asleep for the night!

I still wanted to hold the boundary of, “You sleep in your crib,” and this allowed me to do so while also helping her because she clearly needed it! The next night was right back to normal, so was this a “toddler sleep regression?” I wouldn’t say so, because it was only one night, but it certainly could have become one quickly had I rocked her right to sleep, or patted her to sleep from the get-go, or let her just not go to bed yet since she was saying, “No.”

How Long Do Toddler Sleep Regressions Last?

In general, I have found that toddler sleep regressions can last up to two weeks (just like with babies!). So if you suspect your toddler is going through a sleep regression, try to remain consistent with how you approach sleep for those full two weeks, with the hopes that time and consistency will get them right back on track.

If it’s been over two weeks of sleep being off and you’ve remained pretty consistent, yet your toddler still seems to be regressing, there’s probably something else going on.

Other Causes of Toddler Sleep Regressions

Here are a few other things that could be throwing off your toddler’s sleep:

Separation Anxiety

In addition to establishing a sense of cause-and-effect, with all of this new learning can come some separation anxiety, as well. It’s as if the excitement of this newfound independence also results in some separation anxiety because your child is still so young. They’re still unsure of so many things, and all that new learning can be exhausting!

So if your toddler seems to be going through a sleep regression and it seems connected to separation anxiety, my main tip is to try to carve out some extra time during the day to have really intentional one-on-one time to fill those little love tanks. You can read this blog post for more help when it comes to separation anxiety.


In my experience, molars can impact sleep a bit more than normal teeth coming through, so it may feel like a toddler sleep regression. I remember thinking my oldest had an ear infection, so we took her to the doctor to learn it was just her molars coming through! Sweet girl needed some extra comfort for a few days and was back to normal.

But her other molars came in with zero problem! We had no idea they were there until her dentist pointed them out. Same kiddo, different molars, totally different sleep outcomes.

Read this blog post for more tips and tricks when it comes to teething and sleep!

Potty Training

Potty training is a big deal. Your toddler is learning a huge new skill that’s exciting and overwhelming and all of their senses are on high alert. It’s common for toddlers’ sleep to regress while potty training, so like everything else we’ve talked about, the key here is having both a plan and also extra grace!

Becoming a Big Brother or Sister

Similar to potty training, becoming a big brother or sister can certainly cause a toddler sleep regression.

Bringing home a new baby is a big deal for everyone, and your toddler doesn’t quite know what’s going on! It’s not uncommon to see their sleep regress a bit during this transition, and again, consistency and lots of grace are key. Read this blog post for more tips when bringing home a new baby.

Early Crib-to-Bed Transition

Another transition that can cause a toddler’s sleep to regress is going from the crib to a big bed too soon.

If you’ve recently transitioned your toddler to a new bed but they’re not yet three, this could be a matter of them just not having the impulse control or understanding to actually stay in their bed all night long. For this reason, we recommend keeping them in the crib until as close to the age of three as possible! Read here for more tips about this transition.

A Schedule Change

If your toddler seems to be going through a sleep regression, they might need a schedule change!

I do not recommend changing their schedule as soon as you suspect a sleep regression, as again, this may be a toddler sleep regression that simply needs those two weeks of consistency.

But your little one may simply be protesting their nap or bedtime because they’re not tired enough! And a toddler who’s just not tired is going to have a lot of stamina to fight. So try pushing their schedule back by 15 minutes, maybe even 30, and see if that helps!


Toddler sleep regressions are REAL, but they can happen at different times for different toddlers. Remember that this is a natural part of your child’s development, it is good, and you get the amazing opportunity to help guide them through this new learning.

And remember that the plan is to remain consistent! Have all of these tools in your back pocket so you know what to do when your toddler is struggling, and their sleep will get back on track!

Also remember to give yourself grace and your little one grace during those toddler regressions! They may just need a bit more help on those rough nights, and you will get through it.

If you’ve bene reading this and are interested in learning more about toddler sleep, you’re in the right place! Big Kid Sleep from A to Z is our online sleep class that covers kiddos from 18 months to 5 years old. You’ll learn what their sleep needs are and how to make sure they’re getting the best sleep possible. You’ll learn several tips and tricks very similar so you can approach their sleep with confidence and a plan.

Or, if it’s been two+ weeks since your toddler hit a sleep regression and you’ve “tried all the things” and something’s just not clicking, or maybe sleep has been a struggle for a long time now, but this toddler sleep regression was the last straw, I want to remind you that that’s why we’re here!

We can help you figure out what’s going on and what needs to be adjusted, and then we’ll guide you through a step-by-step plan to get your toddler’s sleep (and yours!) back on track. Plus extra accountability and encouragement along the way. If you’re interested to learn more, check out our sleep packages.

With Grace,


toddler sleep regressions