2 Year Sleep Regression – The Professional Advice You Need!

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 04/27/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Regressions

Got a toddler who is suddenly fighting sleep and waking throughout the night? You’re experiencing a 2 year sleep regression… Here’s all you need to know about surviving this trying time and getting your precious sleep back.

What Is The 2 Year Sleep Regression?

How Long Does The 2 Year Sleep Regression Last?

The 2 year sleep regression 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 this 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.

Signs Your 2 Year Old Is Going Through A Sleep Regression

Correctly identifying a sleep regression is the first step to overcoming it. So ask yourself the following:

4 Signs Of The 2 Year Sleep Regression
  1. They resist 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 bedtime resistance is not 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 to put off going to sleep.
  2. They wake more frequently 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. During a sleep regression, your toddler will wake more frequently regardless of how they slept throughout the day.
  3. They resist daytime naps. At 2 years of age, your toddler may be going through a nap transition. They still need 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, so what they are not getting at night will need to be topped up with a nap during the day. But during a regression, your toddler will stubbornly refuse to take daytime naps.
  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.

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:

10 Causes Of The 2 Year Sleep Regression

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 developmental 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. Desire For Independence

2-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.

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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 year sleep regression dilemmas.

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 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 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 sleep regressions. Here is a handy video about helping your toddler to navigate the arrival of a new sibling.

7. Overtiredness

Your 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 as their body produces adrenaline and cortisol to keep them going.

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

9. Teething

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. And whilst it’s not a proper “2 year sleep regression” it can certainly cause a blimp to your toddler’s sleep habits.

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. 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, 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 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.

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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.

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 and having a clam down corner will help too.

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 daytime sleep. Many 2 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 two-year-old 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 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 – even if it’s just for a walk to the park and back.

9. Gently Handle Nighttime Fears

For some 2 year olds, their toddler 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 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 your established routines as much as possible.

2 Year Sleep Regression Frequently Asked Questions

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 sleep training method to get things back on track first.

REMEMBER: 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 your 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 consistent 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.

How Much Sleep Should A 2 Year Old Have?

A 2 year old should be having around 11-14 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period.

What Does A 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule Look Like?

A 2 year old will take 11-12 hours of sleep at night and have about 1 to 2 hours of sleep during a daytime nap. To learn more about the 2 year old sleep schedule click here: 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule.

Can I Use A White Noise Machine During A Sleep Regression?

Absolutely. White noise machines will help to ensure that sudden changes in noise will have less of an impact on your sleeping toddler which will mean you do not have to panic if you accidentally drop the TV remote or if you have post delivered.

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When Should I Seek Medical Advice?

Despite following the advice given above – if your 2 year old is still struggling with sleep more than 5 weeks since you first noticed a change in their habits and it is accompanied by developmental delays and unusual behaviour, I would recommend visiting a medical or child development specialist in your area to rule out any underlying issues.

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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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