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50 Shades of Sleep: Toddler Sleep Regressions

50 Shades of SleepBurlingtonVT Moms Blog is partnering with Phoenix Physical Therapy to bring you our latest series titled “50 Shades of Sleep”, about…you guessed it….sleep.  Like an elusive treasure, we find ourselves obsessing about sleep not only for ourselves but for our children as well.  Although we may not consciously recognize it we are constantly making decisions surrounding the subject of sleep.  Is it OK to co-sleep?  Can babies really be trained to sleep?  What are night terrors?  When do you move your child from your bed to the bassinet or to his own crib or into his own bed?  Does the thought of SIDS scare everyone?  Is it normal for kids to wet the bed and up to what age?  And does it all change when they get older?  Our goal through this series is to invite you into an open conversation about all things sleep, and to acknowledge that no matter your struggles or choices, you are never alone. 

Toddler Sleep Regressions

When I was pregnant with Luna, Xander was two years old. He’d been sleeping through the night wonderfully for close to a year. We had a great bedtime routine: bath, story, songs, goodnight. As my due date approached, though, his sleep degraded. He started wandering into our room at night (talk about getting the heart rate going – waking up at 2AM to a little face inches from yours!). Tired and feeling somewhat guilty about the impending upheaval of his life, John and I let him sleep between us.

Guess what happened?

Yeah, he stopped wanting to go to bed without us at all. After Luna was born we ALL slept poorly. Ahh, newborns. Our evening routine went something like this: I’d make an attempt at a bedtime routine for the baby, which really translated into me nursing her to sleep for hours and hours because she woke up anytime I set her down. By the time I was done, John was in with Xander, who wouldn’t fall asleep without Daddy next to him. Anytime John attempted to extricate himself from the twin sized bed, Xander’s bedtime clock would reset. By the time that was done, I was ready to head to bed.

Needless to say, this wasn’t working well.

A two and a half year old is a much different story than a baby, in terms of sleep “training.” He could cry for HOURS and not get sleepy. Plus, it just seemed kind of cruel to force him to just deal with it. He already had so much to deal with. So we started looking for some gentler ideas to help reinforce some good bedtime habits.

We ended up doing a modified version of Harvey Karp’s (of the Happiest Baby On the Block) “Twinkle Interrupts.”  Over the span of a few nights, we stretched out and interrupted Xander’s bedtime routine so that he’d fall asleep waiting for us. It’s sort of tricky, but it worked and it didn’t make him cry for hours. On the first night, during bedtime songs, John would sing the song straight through once, and on the second time, he’d say something like, “Oh, no! I forgot to help Mommy turn off the light. Wait just one minute and I’ll be RIGHT back!” Then he’d leave the room and come right back. (If Xander cried, he’d come back in right away – the TIME was not the point, the being OK with the leaving was the point.) Then the next night he’d wait two minutes, etc…By the third night, Xander was falling asleep on his own during the interruption.

You can start to build this idea during the day, too, by making your kiddo wait for things and then rewarding that patience. If she asks you for milk while you’re washing the dishes, say “Oh, just wait one minute and I’ll get it as soon as this bowl is clean!” And then be sure to follow through and not try to do five more things. Pour the milk and then praise and praise your child for being SO patient!

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This technique worked so well for us that I ended up feeling silly for delaying it. I had been so worried about hurting Xander’s feelings and all the changes that I never thought of other methods of sleep training. He’ll be four this summer, and bedtimes are once again a breeze. We read stories, do some snuggles, and leave him to it. No drama for any of us. It’s wonderful.

50 Shades of Sleep

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3 Responses to 50 Shades of Sleep: Toddler Sleep Regressions

  1. Nissa March 25, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this Emily. Nora had some sleep regression issues too when Maggie arrived that we had to work through. Oh the joys 🙂

  2. Elissa March 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    I like to see how creative my excuse to leave can be — gotta keep it interesting.

  3. Sandra March 28, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    Will have to work up the will to do this… Although a four-year-old is a lot smarter than two and a half-year-old. He might not go for our excuses 🙂

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