10 Causes Of Toddler Sleep Regression

Sleep Regression: It’s Not Just For Babies


Christopher Futcher / iStock

You’ve heard about how kids eventually start sleeping through the night, but this is a flat-out lie. That’s right, a lie, an untruth, a fib, a tall tale—like Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox. The only place sleep exists is in your life before kids. The random and incredibly odd sleep regressions of toddlers and preschoolers are real. In our house those have included:

1. Night Terrors

Nothing gets you moving faster than a toddler screaming at 2 in the morning. When I tried to calm my daughter gently, she screamed like Jamie Lee Curtis in any Halloween movie—take your pick. Once I managed to get to a “quiet place,” this child, who seems very much awake, would look around the room like she’d never been there before. She moved with slow, jittery motions, and stared right through me, not at me, through me. This went on for about two years. If you’re ever lucky enough to experience these, never mind the fact that you’ll be more awake than if you had chugged an entire pot of espresso, good luck getting back to sleep.

2. Outgrowing Naps

We discovered our oldest didn’t need naps anymore when her one-hour nap recharged her with enough energy to rebuild an entire high-rise in an eight-hour period.

3. Lost Loveys

Finding Bunny is a strategic game of cloak-and-dagger that takes up more time than both World Wars. We rarely find it in logical places—like in the bed, with our children, or in plain sight. It always ends up in weird places like a toolbox in the garage, packed inside a Priority Mail box sealed with stickers and chewed bubblegum, or wedged so far in between couch cushions, it’s halfway to the center of the Earth.

4. ‘I’m Thirsty’

Between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. our entire house time travels back to the 1930s—right smack-dab in the middle of the Dust Bowl years with my kids playing the role of the drought, needing forty million gallons of water in an eight-hour period. This is primarily caused by two things: poor hydration practices before bedtime and some weird biological phenomenon toddlers have that prevents their eyes from shutting.

5. Bad Dreams

I can’t fault any of my kids for having bad dreams. That would make me a jerk. However, the What to Expect books did a pretty piss-poor job preparing me for the aftermath of nightmares, and the fact that it’s not possible for me to leave my children’s beds. They could be in the deepest level of sleep that exists (a coma) and the second my foot hits the carpet their eyes fly open as they latch onto me like an octopus, wailing away like I’m abandoning them at a McDonald’s PlayPlace. I lie back down with them so they can sleep—in their tiny little toddler bed that has just enough room for them and a snack-sized bag of Ritz crackers.

6. Big Kid Beds

After the thud heard round the household, we are signaled to assemble toddler beds so that next time, their fall has less momentum. This means our children have an accessible exit out of their tiny baby jail, leaving them to pitter-patter around the house at night like miniature horses trailblazing the Western territory—or the toilet water.

7. Sleepwalking

If you ever want to experience what it might be like to be a part of a scene from a Stephen King novel, then I suggest this. Few things in life are more disconcerting than noticing a living room light on at 3 in the morning, walking in, and seeing your toddler sitting up on the couch asleep with their eyelids mostly open.

8. ‘Where’s Daddy?’

Daddy works hard. Because of this, we see Daddy fewer amounts of time during the day than we see Mommy or the cats. So, Daddy is a celebrity in our household. Everyone loves Daddy. Everyone wants time with Daddy. On some nights, we have about three hours of kids popping into our room and scaling our bed like mini-alpinists. It’s like having a screaming posse of baby groupies breaking into our bedroom to touch his hair.

9. Not Tired

Some nights, our kids are just aren’t tired. It’s very unfortunate for us.

10. Monsters

We’ve been lucky with this one—so far. Monsters haven’t been a huge thing in our house. We’ve only had a couple interrupted nights because of “lurkers” in the shadows that almost always end up being a reflection from the nightlight, the moon, or a giant slug-like man hiding under the bed. Just kidding. He sleeps in the closet.

So, unless you have a time machine and can go back to when you didn’t have kids, catch a few z’s, then head back to make dinner, you’ll have to survive like the rest of us: coffee and hope. Daydream of a better tomorrow, because you don’t sleep long enough for real dreams at night. Even when you think you might, there’s always someone lurking around the house looking for a toilet bowl to play in or asking for forty million gallons of water in an eight-hour period.