2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression: The Advice You Need To Know!

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 08/31/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Regressions

Is your child suddenly fighting sleep? Being fussy? Struggling to settle? The 2.5 year old sleep regression has arrived. Here’s what that means, and what exhausted parents need to know to get through it.

Can A 2.5 Year Old Have A Sleep Regression?

How Long Does The 2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression Last?

The 2.5 year old sleep regression should not last longer than 3 weeks. If you are consistent in how you handle this sleep regression and are aware of what the causes are, then there is no reason for this regression to be any more than a short blip in your little one’s sleep schedule.

However, knowing the signs of a 2.5 year old sleep regression and what the causes are will be key in preventing this sleep regression from becoming a bad habit.

2.5 Year old Sleep Regression Featured

2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression Signs

If you suspect your little one is experiencing a 2.5 year old sleep regression, here are some of the signs that will confirm your suspicions:

So, if you are nodding your head in agreement whilst reading this list… Then your little one is almost certainly experiencing a sleep regression.

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Causes Of The 2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression

The reasons your 2.5 year old is going through a sleep regression are very varied. Not every reason will affect every child but here is a list of the most common causes:

2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression Tips

1. Reaching A Developmental Milestone

Your average 2.5-year-old has a huge amount going in their brain developmentally and this can often result in them finding it difficult to sleep.

They are experiencing a HUGE leap in their physical developmental abilities too which can easily lead to them being overtired and their expanding language skills will mean they can come up with all sorts of reasons why they should not go to bed.

2. Increased Desire for Independence

2.5 year-olds will want to do things for themselves, often testing limits of things that are beyond their capabilities and pushing boundaries in their desire to exercise this newfound independence.

As a result, bedtimes can easily become a battleground and your toddler can easily get hyper before bed or have tantrums.

3. Increased Physical Abilities

Your toddler is now more physically able and this can cause all sorts of issues at bedtime.

They may start climbing out of their crib (which is a sure sign they are ready to be moved into a big toddler bed) but this in itself leads to them being able to get out of bed after you have said goodnight… Causing yet more 2.5 year old sleep regression dilemmas.

4. Fears And A Growing Imagination

Along with everything else that is going on with your 2.5 year-old, their imagination will be developing at a rapid rate and this can lead to age-appropriate night terrors, fears of the dark or monsters under the bed.

These are all very real fears that make it hard for them to settle to sleep and can trigger a 2.5 year old sleep regression.

5. Change in Family Circumstances and Routine

At this age, they are now so much more aware of what is going on around them that major changes in family circumstances or routine can easily trigger a sleep regression in your 2.5-year-old.

Moving house, the arrival of a new sibling starting daycare and or a parent returning to work are all major reasons that can trigger a sleep regression at this age.

6. They’re Teething Or Unwell

Your toddler’s second molars may be erupting at this age. If your little one is experiencing pain due to teething their sleep is very likely to be disrupted for a short while and although this is not a true sleep regression in itself, it may trigger one.

Investing in a teething toy can help soothe your toddler resulting in helping them sleep better!

And just like teething, illness may cause a sleep disruption for a short period of time and although this is not a true 2.5 year old sleep regression, sickness can trigger a brief one as your little one may have been used to you responding to every cry or unsettled sleep while they were unwell.

7. Overtiredness

Your 2.5 year old is a very busy person and has a huge amount going on physically, emotionally and cognitively.

As a result, they can easily become overtired and an overtired toddler is going to struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep as their body produces adrenaline and cortisol to keep them going.

If they have started daycare they may easily become more tired on those days.

8. Change In Nap Schedules

Along with the very real risk of overtiredness, there is the contributing factor to a 2.5 year old sleep regression that, at this age, many toddlers are transitioning from 2 to 1 nap per day.

This is not an easy transition and your toddler’s sleep needs and awake times will vary from day to day.

9. Potty Training

Another big developmental milestone for this age group is potty training. While some will sail through this phase, others will struggle which can result in them becoming more cranky and stubborn, especially with sleep issues.

10. Moving From Crib To Bed

Moving your toddler from a crib to a bed may well trigger a 2.5 year old sleep regression. Such a transition needs careful preparation and handling to ensure that it does not disrupt established sleep routines too much.

How Much Sleep Do 2.5 Year Olds Need?

The AAP recommends most 2.5 year old children require about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period with the bulk being taken at night and the rest in a 1-2 hour nap during the day.

However, I prefer to recommend slightly more…

Ideally, I say to have a minimum of 12 hours of sleep per day, simply because there is so much going on developmentally right now and you don’t want to enter an overtiredness cycle if you don’t have to!

Tips To Get Through The 2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression

So now that we know some of the reasons why our toddler may be experiencing a 2.5 year old sleep regression… how can we help them through this phase?

Causes of the 2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression

1. Stick To The Schedule

Having a bedtime routine is always top of my list of parenting tips and it has never been more important than when dealing with sleep regression!

In fact, if you already have a bedtime routine in place then the 2.5 year old sleep regression will be a lot easier to handle as you have a basic routine to hold on to. If not, establish one now and stick to it.

2. Be Creative With The Bedtime Routine

I know this sounds like a contradiction to my first point… And yes, having a consistent bedtime routine is super important but don’t be afraid to get creative with the steps in between to prepare your little one for bed!

Include activities at the end of the day that calm your toddler, such as blowing bubbles at bathtime, listening to calming music, doing a puzzle, reading books and cuddling up with their favourite soft toys.

Allowing your toddler to make some choices can also go a long way to helping the bedtime routine run more smoothly as they will feel in control.

Let them choose their pyjamas, what books they are going to read and which toy gets to sleep with them.

This will help your toddler to build strong sleep associations and develop healthy sleep habits to prepare them for sleep.

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3. Restrict Screen Time

Too much screen time in the lead-up to bedtime has been proven to have a detrimental effect on young children’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep as the blue light inhibits melatonin production leading to sleep disruptions.

So in the lead-up to bedtime, you should avoid screen exposure for at least an hour prior to lights out.

4. Avoid Overtiredness

It is very easy for a 2.5 year old to get overtired… They are very busy little people who have not developed the ability to know when to slow down or stop yet!

An overtired baby or toddler will not settle well or stay asleep for long periods, so making sure your daily activities don’t tire out your little one too much is quite important and having a calm down corner will help too.

Getting the balance right and avoiding an overtired 2.5 year old can go a long way in avoiding a 2.5 year old sleep regression or at the very least… helping you deal with it.

5. Adjust Day Time Napping

Hand in hand with the last point goes adjusting daytime sleep. Many 2.5 year olds are transitioning at this stage to having only 1 nap time a day.

In fact, on some days they may not nap at all.

However, I would suggest that even if your toddler does not nap, you should have a quiet time where your toddler can spend time in their crib or bed, looking at books or doing something low energy.

6. Get Smart About Early Morning Waking

While it’s perfectly normal for toddlers to wake up between 6am and 7am… a 5am wake-up is not really ideal!

You can therefore, teach your little one to stay in bed a little longer by using a specially designed colour-coded clock and making sure they have something to play with in their room for when they wake in the morning.

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7. Be One Step Ahead Of Stalling Tactics

If your toddler uses stall tactics such as always asking for that last drink of water before bedtime or another trip to the bathroom…

Then make sure you stay one step ahead by having that cup of water ready and waiting and that you suggest they have one last toilet visit before lights out.

This will significantly reduce power struggles between you both and will help to build healthy sleep habits.

8. Manage The Crib To Bed Transition

Make sure that you prepare your toddler for the crib-to-bed transition. Ensuring that you handle this move properly may avert a sleep regression or at the very least make it short-lived. 

Tips to move your toddler to a big bed:

9. Get Outside Every Day

Fresh air and natural light are so important to balance out your 2.5 year old’s circadian rhythm so make sure you get outside every day – even if it’s just for a walk to the park or around the block.

10. Gently Handle Nighttime Fears

For some 2.5 year olds, their toddler sleep regression is triggered by age-appropriate fears and concerns.

Fear of the dark or gremlins in the cupboard is perfectly normal for this age as their imagination is starting to develop. So, try to avoid reading stories that may highlight fears and keep bedtime full of happy thoughts.

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11. Be Calm, Understanding And Consistent

The best way to help your little one through a 2.5 year old sleep regression is to stay calm and appreciate that this is all perfectly normal behaviour.

If they are repeatedly getting out of bed at bedtime or in the night always walk them calmly back to their bed no matter how many times you have to do it.

No matter what the reason is for your 2.5-year-old sleep regression, remember that your toddler is NOT being ‘naughty’… they are just experiencing some major changes in their life and need you to help them through it.

Along with being calm and understanding… comes being consistent.

Despite the fact that you are feeling unsettled by your toddler’s sleep regression, you will need to hold your resolve and maintain your established routines as much as possible.

12. Consider Sleep Training

In order to get your little one sleep back on track you may have to consider some form of sleep training such as gradual retreat or promised return. It is important to be consistent in your sleep training and keep your resolve to stop your toddler from developing bad habits that become hard to break.

Take a look at these posts for more help with teaching your toddler to stay in bed:

2.5 Year Old Sleep Schedule

Your 2.5 year old’s sleep schedule should now be hopefully well established and will not have changed much over the past 6 months so will follow the same schedule as your average 2 year old: 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule

The main exception may be that your toddler goes through a nap transition from 2 to 1 naps during this time. If you are struggling with nap transition take a look at this post: How To Navigate The 2 To 1 Nap Transition With Ease

Frequently Asked Questions About The 2.5 Year Old Sleep Regression

Looking for more information about the 2.5 year old sleep regression? Check out the most commonly asked questions here.

Why Does My 2.5 Year Old Keep Waking Up?

The most common causes of a 2.5 year old consistently waking up early and having frequent night wakings are:

Is There A Developmental Leap At 2.5 Years?

In the early years, your toddler is always developing at a rapid rate. One of the biggest developments at 2.5 years old involves their imagination. They show an increased interest in books and make-believe play.

However, this increased imagination can mean an increase in fears and anxieties and these in turn can disrupt sleep and sleep schedules.

Your toddler will also be refining their motor skills and social skills, as well as continuing to have growth spurts!

Why Is My 2.5 Year Old Upset At Bedtime?

Children of this age often develop a fear of the dark and separation anxiety which will result in them becoming distressed at bedtime when you try to leave. In addition, if they have not learned to self-settle they will also become upset when bed time comes around if you attempt to leave before they have fallen asleep.

Try a night light, and audio tapes and help your little one learn to self-soothe to help them become more comfortable with being left alone.

What Time Should 2.5 Year Old Be In Bed?

I would recommend that your 2.5 year old goes to bed at 7.30pm every night. However, it can be a little earlier or later (no later than 8pm) as long as it is at the same time every evening.

When Do I Need To Talk To A Doctor About The 22 Month Sleep Regression?

If you are unsure if your little one’s change in sleep patterns is due to a sleep regression, watch for the following signs. If they are present then you should consult a doctor:

If your little one has a persistent fever or a cough which is waking them at night you should also consult a medical practitioner. I would also recommend seeking medical advice or a sleep consultant if your little one’s sleep issues continue for more than 6 weeks.

Further Reading

If you would like to learn more about sleep regressions and how to handle them at different ages, check out these posts:

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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