During the early months, you expect to have broken nights and plenty of ups and downs when it comes to sleep…
But by the time your little one is 2 years old, you have got your toddler into a stable bedtime routine that works well and they and you are happily sleeping through the night.
Then suddenly they’re fighting sleep and refusing to sleep!
“Why is this happening?!” you internally scream after putting them back to bed for the 5th time…
Well, if you find yourself with a toddler who is suddenly fighting sleep and waking throughout the night, you may be experiencing the 2 year sleep regression…
But don’t worry!
We’re here to help you navigate this tricky time and get you both sleeping peacefully once again!
So, What Is The 2 Year Sleep Regression?
The 2 year sleep regression is a brief period of time where your 2 year old suddenly starts to fight going to bed, wakes up often during the night and starts to wake very early in the morning.
How Long Does The 2 Year Sleep Regression Last?
The one thing to remember about a sleep regression is that it is a transitory phase and should not last longer than 3 weeks.
If you are consistent in how you handle the 2 year sleep regression and are aware of what the causes are, then there is no reason for the 2 year sleep regression to be any more than a short blip in your little one’s sleep schedule.
However, knowing the signs of a sleep regression and what the causes are will be key in preventing this sleep regression from becoming a bad habit.
4 Signs Your 2 Year Old Is Going Through A Sleep Regression
So, how can you identify if your little one is going through a 2 year sleep regression?
1. They Resist To Bedtime
With their newfound independence, your 2 year old may start to resist established routines.
This is quite normal, but you need to make it clear that certain things are non-negotiable and the bedtime routine is one of them.
Your 2 year old is very likely to try delaying tactics, such as saying they are thirsty or asking for another book to be read.
2. They Wake More Frequently At Night
Your 2 year old may also start waking more at night.
If your little one has moved to a big bed, they may take the opportunity to get out of bed and come and find you rather than going back to sleep, as they did previously.
3. They Resist Day Time Naps
At 2 years of age, your toddler may be going through a nap transition.
They still need 11-14 hours of sleep every 24 hours, so what they are not getting at night will need to be topped up with a nap in the day.
Nap transition is a delicate balance and can easily trigger a 2 year sleep regression.
4. They Wake Early In The Morning
Toddlers like to wake up early and anywhere between 6-8am is quite normal.
However, if they are waking up as early as 5-5.30am this may indicate that they are suffering from a 2 year sleep regression.
So now we know whether our toddler is going through a 2 year sleep regression, we need to identify the causes and figure out the best ways to help them through it!
Psst... The secret to peaceful parenting starts with your routine!
10 Causes Of The 2 Year Sleep Regression
The reasons your 2 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:
1. Reaching Developmental Milestones
Your average 2-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 abilities 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. Growing Independence
2-year-olds will want to do things for themselves, often things that are beyond their capabilities and will push 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.
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 bed) but this in itself leads to them being able to get out of bed after you have said goodnight…
Causing more 2 year sleep regression issues!
4. Separation Anxiety
It is also perfectly normal for your 2 year old to have increased separation anxiety which manifests itself in them not wanting you to leave them at bedtime.
5. Fears And A Growing Imagination
Along with everything else that is going on with your 2-year-old, their imagination will be developing at a rapid rate and this can lead to age-appropriate 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 year sleep regression.
6. Change In Family Circumstances And Routines
A major change in family circumstances can also trigger a sleep regression in your 2-year-old.
At this age, they are now so much more aware of what is going on around them that any big change will almost certainly impact their behaviour.
Moving house or the arrival of a new sibling are two major reasons that can trigger a sleep regression.
Here is a handy video about helping your toddler to navigate the arrival of a new sibling.
Your average 2 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.
8. Change in nap schedules
Along with the very real risk of overtiredness, there is the contributing factor to a 2 year sleep regression that, at this age, many toddlers are transitioning from 2 to 1 nap per day.
At two years old, your toddler is likely to have sleep disruption due to the emergence of their molars. This can cause enough discomfort for them to be awoken at night or struggle to fall asleep.
10. 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.
How Can You Help Your 2 Year Old Get Through A Sleep Regression?
So now that we know some of the reasons why a toddler may be experiencing a 2 year sleep regression, how can we help our toddlers through this phase?
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 year sleep regression will be a lot easier to handle as you have a basic routine to hold on to.
Bedtime schedule charts like these are ideal to try and implement!
2. Be Creative With The Bedtime Routine
I know this sounds like a contradiction to my first point…
And yes, keeping the bedtime routine constant is super important but don’t be afraid to get creative in how you 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.
Let them choose their pyjamas, what books you are going to read and which toy gets to sleep with them.
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.
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 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.
Getting the balance right and avoiding an overtired 2 year old can go a long way in avoiding a 2 year sleep regression or at the very least… help you to deal with it.
5. Adjust Day Time Napping
Hand in hand with the last point goes adjusting the daytime naps.
Many 2 year olds are transitioning at this stage to having only 1 nap a day.
In fact, on some days they may not nap at all.
However, I would suggest that even if they do 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 is perfectly normal for toddlers to wake between 6-7am… a 5-5.30am wake up is not really ideal!
You can 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.
7. Be Prepared
If your toddler is 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.
8. Get Outside Every Day
Fresh air and natural light are so important to balance out your 2 year old’s circadian rhythm so make sure you get outside every day!
Here are some great Outdoor Activities For Toddlers to get you started!
9. Gently Handle Nighttime Fears
For some 2 year olds, their sleep regression is triggered by age-appropriate fears and concerns.
Fear of the dark or gremlins in the cupboard are 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.
10. Be Calm, Understanding And Consistent
The best way to help your little one through a 2 year sleep regression is to stay calm and appreciate that this is all perfectly normal behaviour!
No matter what the reason is for your 2 year old’s 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 goes 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 established routines as much as possible.
2 Year Sleep Regression FAQs
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the 2 year sleep regression that may help to answer any further questions you have!
Does A 2 Year Old Need A Nap?
Most 2 year olds still need at least 1 day time nap.
During their 3rd year, your little one will definitely transition to 1 nap a day… but this may not occur every day and many will have stopped daytime napping by their 3rd birthday.
Should I Let My Toddler Cry It Out During Sleep Regression?
I am never a fan of crying it out unless absolutely every other avenue has been explored.
In my experience, if a healthy bedtime routine has been established well before the toddler years, then any sleep regression is easier to deal with when it occurs.
I would always advocate returning your little one to bed as many times as it takes and trying the gradual retreat method to get things back on track.
TOP TIP: Determined action for a couple of weeks now will save you months of disrupted evenings and sleep in the future.
What Time Should 2 Year Olds Go To Bed?
I would recommend that 2 year olds should be in bed between 6.30-7.30pm depending on what time the family day starts.
It is also important that this bedtime is consistent 7 days a week and does not change drastically at weekends.
Why Does My 2 Year Old Suddenly Not Want To Go To Bed?
2 year olds will quite naturally push boundaries and resist bedtime.
This can be triggered by the fact that they are overtired and or they simply do not want to be away from you.
Along with any of the many reasons we have talked about, whatever the cause it is important that you stay calm, consistent and understanding.
2 Year Sleep Regression Recap/ Final Notes
Dealing with the 2 year sleep regression is not always easy, but if handled correctly it should be short-lived.
Recognise that your toddler is going through a regression, identify what you think maybe the causes and then act appropriately.
It is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that if you give in for a while your toddler will get over this on their own.
Because… THEY WON’T.
It is up to you to keep them on track and help them navigate their way through the 2 year sleep regression!
I hope this article has given you the knowledge and advice to get through this tricky sleep stage with your little one!
But if you have any further questions for me about the 2 year sleep regression, drop me an email at [email protected] and ask away. I’ll be happy to help!
But for now, thank you for reading and with love and support, Happy Parenting!
Paula McLarenPaul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.
Psst... The secret to peaceful parenting starts with your routine!