Even those parents who would call their baby a super sleeper get baffled by the changes and challenges that come with toddler sleep. Because the age range for these toddler sleep challenges can vary quite a bit, I won’t acknowledge a specific age in terms of months for this article. However, I absolutely will acknowledge the most predictable toddler sleep challenges such as the 18 month sleep regression and the two year nap strike as the issues that cause parents the most grief.
In my own house, once my youngest hit 14 month it was as though the predictability of sound sleep that our family had become accustomed to no longer applied. Bedtime would go from being a calming and predictable time of day to being a full on battle of wills. Naps would be beautifully restorative, just sailing right along, and then the next week going so far sideways I feared they would never return. And then language hit and good grief, everything took longer. She would eventually fall asleep, but only after she had babbled to herself for 20-40 minutes throwing her entire schedule, and my sanity, out the window.
So let’s consider what happens once our little ones hit toddlerhood and the impact that these monumental leaps might be having on sleep.
Exploring Toddler Sleep Challenges
Whether walking/crawling/shuffling (on the horizon or in the throws), toddlers sure start to pick up speed and their drive to be independently mobile goes through the roof. That being said, it’s rare that our little ones have an opportunity to practice on their own during the day. If you really think about it, we are always there “helping”, right? Whether it be offering a supportive hand, encouraging them, clearing obstacles…we are always there when they are trying out their new skills. So, doesn’t it make intuitive sense that our little ones would use their “alone time” in their crib to practice these skills on their own? It’s one of the very few times during the day that they are unobserved and unhampered. And so they use this time to practice rather than sleep. Makes sense. Darn disruptive, but it makes sense.
Again, practice makes perfect and it’s not surprising that when our little ones are left to their own devices that this is the time that they work on this burgeoning skill. What makes things quite difficult for parents is when they start forming those heart string pulling words and using them in replace of sleep. Nothing is harder than hearing a formerly rock-star sleeper yelling “mamma” or “daddy” instead of sleeping. I know it’s incredibly hard. And I also know it is the fast-track to second guessing the sleep foundation that you have come to rely on.
A toddler wants to do things their own way. Sound familiar? I have been fired from the job of removing my toddler’s diaper this week. She’ll have none of it. She stands, swats my hand away and says “no, no, no” over and over again all the while lifting her baby belly to get at those pesky diaper tabs. She determined to do it and I’m just a bystander. Same goes for sleep. Here is another time of the day (or night) that toddlers attempt to take ownership of tasks and experiences. However, at this age, our toddlers will rarely choose sleep over an exciting activity, so it’s important to continue to offer sleep consistently and predictably.
Seriously, do I need to say any more?
Please don’t get me wrong – I love toddlerhood. I wasn’t the mama who thrived on the newborn stage simply because I felt so out of my element. But this is the stage that while incredibly draining some days, gives me an unbelievable amount of joy. That being said, toddlerhood is just about a perfect storm for sleep disruption and in order to keep sleep intact, I do believe it’s important to appreciate what factors are coming into play.
Surviving Toddler Sleep Challenges
Be patient. Simple but not so easy, I get it. This is that time of parenting when we do a really good job of second guessing ourselves. What had worked for so long doesn’t seem to be working so well. But before you make the big move, whether it be transitioning a nap or adjusting the timing of sleep, take it slow. Don’t jump to the conclusion that “something” needs to change just because you find yourself faced with one or more of these toddler sleep challenges.
It is likely a time of adjustment and so the more patient and CONSISTENT you can be, all the better. If there was ever a time that your child is looking for the predictability of our response, it’s now. The more they can rely on the key components that go into your bedtime and nap time routines, the faster the sleep ship will right. Again, not always easy, but doable when you make the commitment to ensure that your child gets the restorative sleep they need to continue hurdling down the path of growth and development.
Written by Good Night Sleep Site Consultant.
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