2 year old sleep regression: What causes it and what to do
Is your toddler suddenly behaving as if they’re allergic to sleep? Trust us, you’re not alone. The 2 year old sleep regression can cause predictable routines to come crashing down around you, much like a too-tall tower of precariously stacked wooden blocks.
Since you deserve to keep feeling confident about your child’s sleep, we’re sharing everything you need to know about toddler sleep regression, including how to navigate it successfully.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
What do you mean 2 year old sleep regression?
If your 2 year old’s sleeping patterns have taken an abrupt turn for the worse, the 2 year old regression may be to blame. Skipping naps, resisting bedtime, sudden night waking, and waking up too early for the day are all common challenges seen among toddlers experiencing this regression.
What’s behind the 2 year regression?
Parenting through the “terrific 2s” can be an exciting ride. There’s a whole lot of magic as toddlers discover their world, mixed with a whole lot of developmental changes. Here’s a breakdown of the most common factors influencing sleep changes at this age:
Limit testing and independence-seeking behaviors
It’s a toddler’s job to explore their world and test boundaries. While these behaviors are integral to their development, this can be a time when they no longer just lie down and fall asleep as they used to do at sleep times. Instead, their busy brains are going to wonder what happens if they: eat the bubbles in the bathtub, run out of their bedroom during story time, or refuse to lie down to sleep.
In their search for autonomy, they might decide to continuously remove their diaper at bedtime, refuse to get pajamas on, or throw all of their belongings out of the crib — none of which is conducive to a peaceful bedtime routine and good night’s sleep.
A change in sleep needs
To make matters even trickier, children this age are often able to comfortably stay awake for prolonged periods. This means that they usually need to be awake for a longer period of time to be sufficiently tired before bed. When they’re put to bed too early, this can result in long, drawn-out battles at bedtime.
It also means that toddlers are capable of going on a successful nap strike for longer periods of time. This, in turn, can result in a child who’s super cranky, falling asleep too late in the afternoon (which creates difficulty with bedtime), or waking really early in the morning.
Transition to crib too early
We see a lot of families transitioning to toddler beds at this age, especially when a new sibling is on the way. Since children haven’t always developed the self-regulation to stay in bed, this can create a situation where the toddler is suddenly popping out of bed ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
Milestones, like potty training
Mastering new motor skills and developmental milestones often causes temporary issues with sleep. Toilet training is no different. During potty training, it’s common for toddlers to repeatedly request to use the potty both during and after the bedtime routine, resulting in a late bedtime and an overtired child.
Toddlers in the midst of potty training may also need (or want) to use the bathroom during the night or early in the morning. These sleep disruptions can lead to a shortened night’s sleep and overtiredness, especially if your child has difficulty falling back to sleep quickly.
Big changes at home
When a child starts nursery school or welcomes a new sibling, it can take time to adjust to the significant changes that occur in their routines. This can temporarily impact sleep, especially if a nap is skipped or delayed, due to the change in circumstances. When naps are skipped, that typically leads to overtiredness, which can make it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
If your 2 year old seems particularly clingy, you’re in good company. It’s common for toddlers this age to go through another wave of separation anxiety, making it harder for them to separate from caregivers at sleep times. Children who’ve been falling asleep on their own may suddenly want their parents to stay with them at bedtime until they fall asleep. This can lead to a sleep onset association that disrupts their sleep (and yours!) throughout the night.
As children grow, their imaginations continue to expand, which can lead to new fears.
Your toddler may also want you to stay with them at bedtime because they’re feeling scared. Similarly, when they wake at night, they may be more likely to call out for your comfort.
How long does the 2 year old month sleep regression last?
When does it start?
Regressions don’t have a definitive start time. The 2 year old or toddler sleep regression can be caused by a variety of factors and strike at different times. Some children will have a big shift in sleep as they approach 2 years of age. Others won’t have a significant change in sleep habits until after their second birthday.
We should also note that some kids aren’t particularly impacted by developmental regressions. However, since we do tend to see similar patterns often occur among 2 year olds, we want you to be prepared in the event you notice a change in your toddler’s sleep like your toddler not sleeping.
When does it end?
This depends on which factors are contributing to the regression and whether new sleep patterns are created. Some developmental regressions can last a week or two and then resolve on their own. Other times, a toddler may get stuck in a new sleep habit which impacts sleep for much longer.
My 2 year old won’t nap. Does the 2 year old regression affect naps?
Yes, it’s common for children to fight daytime sleep around the time they turn 2 years old. This is a temporary phase, and we recommend continuing to offer a daily nap; even if they don’t sleep, it will give them an opportunity to rest. Most children aren’t ready to completely drop their last nap until they are 3 - 5 years old.
7 sleep solutions for 2 year olds to handle sleep regressions
1) Offer simple choices and set boundaries
Toddlers want to feel heard and have control over their lives. Foster your child’s independence by including them in some of the decision-making at bedtime. An easy way to do this is to give them discrete choices such as, “Would you like to wear the yellow pajamas or the green pajamas?” or, “We can read two books tonight. Which two would you like to choose?”
Since stalling at bedtime is common in this age group, it’s more important now than ever to set limits and stick with them. Maintaining a consistent routine with a definitive end helps them understand what comes next and cuts down on their use of stall tactics, e.g., “We’re going to change into your pajamas, read two books, and then go to sleep.” When parents occasionally give in to requests for “one more book” or “one more snack,” this encourages the behavior to continue.
2) Provide an age-appropriate schedule
When you have a child already looking to test boundaries, it can make for bigger bedtime battles when sleep is mistimed. Around the 2 year old sleep schedule, the awake windows lengthen and most kids need 5.5 - 6 hours of awake time between sleep periods.
At this age, many kids need as much as 6 hours of awake time between their nap and bedtime in order to be tired enough to sleep. This means that if your child gets up from their nap at 3:00 PM, a 9:00 PM bedtime can go a long way to limiting the drama at night.
Likewise, the need for longer awake windows also makes it easier for kids to skip naps in the short term. Parents understandably start to wonder if their child is ready to drop a nap entirely. However, this nap refusal tends to be a temporary phase that can last a few weeks; 2 year olds are rarely ready to drop the nap entirely. Children who drop the last nap too early often start to wake more at night or too early for the day and don’t get enough sleep overall. We encourage parents to continue to offer the nap (try 5.5 hours after waking in the morning) until at least 3 years of age.
3) Keep the crib
If possible, we recommend keeping children in their crib until at least 3 years of age. When children begin sleeping in a bed after their self-control skills are further developed, the transition tends to go smoother. We hear far fewer reports of bedtime refusal and unwanted middle-of-the-night visits from parents whose children remained in their cribs until 3 years old.
If climbing out of the crib is a concern, consider using a wearable blanket at bedtime. This will make it harder for a toddler to hoist their leg over the side of the crib. Be sure to have the mattress at the lowest setting and remove any objects in the crib that could be used to step on and reach further over the crib. Note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends transitioning out of an enclosed crib when the child reaches 35 inches or when the side rail is about nipple level.
4) Include common requests in your bedtime routine
If your toddler is toilet training and bedtime is typically delayed by trips to the bathroom, make sure to build potty time into the routine. After your usual bedtime routine, you can offer “one last” trip to the bathroom.
Similarly, you can end your routine with “one last” hug or sip of water — whatever your child likes to request at bedtime. It’s important to be firm and consistent when you explain something is the “last time” for the night.
5) Move bedtime earlier when naps are skipped
Chances are that, despite your best efforts, your 2 year old will skip their nap entirely from time to time. When this happens, it can be helpful to move bedtime earlier to limit overtiredness, which can lead to increased night waking and early morning waking.
How much earlier? While we don’t want to offer bedtime too early and get caught in an early waking cycle, keep in mind that many toddlers are able to sleep for 12 - 12.5 hours at night if they haven’t napped. So if your child normally wakes around 7:00 AM, try targeting a 6:30/7:00 PM bedtime on days they skip their nap.
6) Build feelings of security
If your toddler is showing signs of separation anxiety and/or fear at night, you can take steps to increase their feelings of security as much as possible. Many parents find it helps to designate one-on-one time with their child each day, even if it’s just 10 - 15 minutes, during which your toddler has your undivided attention.
Some toddlers feel safer with night lights in their room or if their door is left open. Since blue lights can suppress melatonin production, look for a night light that isn’t blue light based. You can also consider introducing a new special stuffed animal friend to help keep your child feeling safe at bedtime.
7) Heap on the positive reinforcement
When your toddler does a good job at bedtime or through the night, be sure to let them know what a great job they did with specific praise. This will encourage more of the behavior you want to see. For example, you might say, “I love how you just changed into your pajamas so quickly!” or, “You slept the whole night without calling for mommy. We both got the sleep we need. I’m so proud of you!”
These accomplishments can be paired with small prizes for extra encouragement. For example, a toddler who stays quietly in bed all night may earn a sticker or a special time or activity with a parent. Many families also find it helpful to use external visual cues, like a toddler clock and/or sticker chart, to help overcome more challenging sleep issues such as early waking.
2 year old sleep regression FAQ
Q: Is the 2 year old sleep regression a myth?
No, it’s not a myth. Many toddlers this age experience a sudden change in sleep patterns that include resistance at bedtime, fighting naps, increased night waking, and waking too early for the day.
Q: Do all babies have a sleep regression at 24 months?
Nope! Some children continue to maintain their sleep habits, and parents don’t see the quality of their child’s sleep regress.
Q: Can the 2 year old sleep regression start early?
Yes, some toddlers will start to experience big sleep changes as they approach their second birthday.
Q: Why is my 2 year old baby not sleeping?
Sleep patterns are influenced by a number of factors. Common reasons for sleep difficulties include: having a parental sleep onset association that disrupts sleep (e.g., being held or rocked to sleep at bedtime), needing a schedule adjustment, hunger, and attaining developmental milestones.
Q: My 2 year old baby won't sleep unless held. What should I do?
If you’d like to transition away from holding your child to sleep, there are several options for doing so. Many families prefer to take their time and gradually teach their child to fall asleep independently by first shifting to a new, “easier” sleep association. For example, you can start by rubbing your toddler’s back or holding their hand while they fall asleep instead of holding them. From there, parents can continue offering less assistance over time, so the child learns to fall asleep independently.
Q: My 2 year old baby never had a sleep regression. Is it normal?
Lucky you! Yes, this is perfectly normal. Not all children experience toddler sleep regressions around this age.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.