What is A Sleep Regression?

A sleep regression is when a baby or a toddler who normally is a great sleeper suddenly is unable to fall asleep easily, awakens with a bad dream or nightmare, fights nap or bedtime, or does anything they can to stay awake, becoming cranky, overtired and irritable. 

Sleep regression typically happens during a growth spurt or brain development, however more commonly, these regressions are often a result of a new development, pushing a boundary, or the schedule that has worked up until now needs to be adjusted. 

If you are experiencing this now, we know you are probably exhausted yourself, and frustrated with trying to understand why this is happening and how to fix it. Please know you are not alone, this is common, and there are several solutions our certified sleep experts at Rocky Mountain Sleeping Baby can help you with during a remote visit. 

Setting Boundaries:

We know by now our toddlers love to push their boundaries. Everything is new to them, and their little brains do not understand the consequences of their actions quite yet. They love to challenge you and while it is frustrating, it is also a sign of normal development. 

Remember, our toddlers, children, and teenagers need boundaries and routines. As much as we want to let our children do and experience what they want, they need to have limits in order to thrive and feel secure. If you do not have firm boundaries your toddler will fight through each one, and eventually, you will reach a breaking point. To avoid that situation, our certified sleep experts are here to share some tips that will help you create and hold firm to boundaries. 


Sleep is one of the biggest health factors. It is proven that in all ages lack of sleep can cause serious issues to our minds and bodies. Adequate sleep helps keep our brains alert, our bodies flowing and reduces the risk of being overtired, falling asleep at dangerous times, and keeping our heart and mind healthy so they along with the rest of our body, can rest and recuperate. Think about how often you feel sad, unhappy, frustrated or overwhelmed. After a good night’s sleep, you feel a lot better about the situation or have clarity on how to move forward. Sleep is vital to our well-being. 

If our children are lacking adequate sleep, you will notice their behavior will start to change leaving them crabby, frustrated, clumsy, acting out, and possibly throwing temper tantrums. Sleep deprivation may also affect their immune system and you will notice they get sick easier, and more often. Another factor that can create life-altering situations is how the lack of sleep can stunt their mental and physical growth. As we sleep, about 75% of growth hormone is released. When we lose sleep, we fight this hormone and not allow it to perform at full capacity. 

Repetition is Key:

Remember, our children only know how to behave because we have taught them how. We cannot expect them to know everything we know, and often what we teach needs to be repeated several times before it becomes a habit to them. If we are going set rules at bedtime, we need to repeat them until they have become protocol and they are abiding by them without reminders. This may take time and can be frustrating. Please know you are not alone, and our certified sleep experts are available to help you through this. 

Setting small rules is key to toddlers. They can accept and remember these rules, though they may fight them and stay firm at first.  

Creating the First Rule:

Because most toddlers are not able to tell time, a great way to help them is to buy a Hatch light.  You can use the color green to indicate when it is time for them to start their day. Children thrive on knowing clear expectations.

If you are using a Hatch light, we recommend using the amber light for a night light. It has shown to be the least disrupting to sleep. I can also tell you after years of experience, that some kiddos really aren’t affected by the light color so you might not have to be strict with this amber rule.

Rule Roleplay:

Because repetition is key to helping a toddler learn, it is ideal to run through any new rules with your toddler a few times so that they learn the new rule, understand the new rule, and follow through with the new rule. An example of how to role-play with your toddler may look like this: 

  • Vocalize the rule, and have your toddler repeat it. Prompt them by going first a few times, and then have them say it without the prompt so they can recite the rule without needing to repeat it from you. 
  • Act out the rule. For instance, if you are going to show your child that the red on the clock means bedtime, mimic that routine. Look at the red on the clock and ensure your toddler knows red is bedtime. 
  • Go to your toddler’s bedroom and have them lie down. Let them know when the clock turns green, they can get up. Turn the clock to green and allow them to get up. 

Practice this routine. Set the clock to red and ask them to show you what they need to do. Allow them to see the red, go to their bed, and lay there until the green goes off. (Set it for 5 minutes later). If they stay in bed until it is green, praise them, make them feel that they accomplished something wonderful. You want them to feel like they are following the rules, and are allowed to perform actions on their own, even though they are dictated by a clock schedule. This helps create boundaries that both of you can create, understand and follow through on. 

Repetition of this action is important, and you may want to practice several times through the day and implement at night until they have it down and are following through without getting up. 

Based on your specific child’s needs, your routine may vary, and that is okay! The end goal is to have one in place that is easily identified and completed by your toddler. 

Providing a reward may help if your toddler is being very stubborn and not making it easy to implement this new routine and rule. A reward should not be a bribe, and they should only receive the reward if they are fully committing to the new rule. A little reward can go a long way with children, and it can be small and inexpensive as a reward is more about the idea of getting one rather than what the reward is. 

Nap and Bedtime

If your child is not having a behavior challenge at nap or bedtime, it could just be that their bodies need fewer naps during the day. This happens around age 2 to 3 years old. In previous blogs, we discussed the signs to look for when it is time to cut back on naps, and how to create that change. 

We have a few options for nap and bedtime changes. 

  • Take away one nap (if they have two)
  • If you are down to one nap, reduce the nap length, 45 minutes is the magic number!
  • Drop the nap altogether, and push back bedtime

If your toddler is ready to reduce or drop their nap, they may need a later bedtime. It will not be a significant change, more so around 30-60 minutes later, and the adjustment can be adjusted gradually. We want to eliminate putting a toddler to bed who is not at all tired as this will start to create a behavior issue and fight sleep. We do want to adjust their bedtime as we still want them to get the adequate sleep they need, though it is beneficial that they are going to bed when they are tired as they will be more likely to fall and stay asleep faster. 

Toddlers need about 10 hours of sleep each night to promote deep sleep cycles which allow their growth hormone to work at peak levels providing the mind and body growth our toddlers need to develop at peak performance. 

We are Here to Help:

As parents ourselves, our certified sleep experts at Rocky Mountain Sleeping Baby understand each of these phases you are going through with your baby and/or toddler. We are always here to provide any help we can and are excited to offer remote sessions so that we may be able to help you regardless of where you are located. We are sleep consultants located in Denver, Kansas City and Ft. Worth, but we help families all over the world!

Please reach out with a phone call, email or on our website if you have any questions, concerns, or would like to book an appointment. We are active on many social media sites, and we would love for you to join us and see how we have helped other families just like yours. We truly love what we do and look forward to working with your family. 

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