The 2-Year Sleep Regression

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  • February 20, 2014
2 year sleep regression

2 year sleep regressionMany parents breathe a sigh of relief once their child hits the toddler years. But then you’re dealing with molars, budding independence, and (for some) potty training. Logically, we think that development keeps moving forward, but when it comes to two year olds, you’ll notice that there’s a bit of backsliding as they learn new skills and grow up a bit, which includes the potential for another sleep regression. The 2 year sleep regression is another common backslide, but you can fix it!

You may find that your 2 year old who was sleeping perfectly every night is now up multiple times. Or your partially potty trained toddler suddenly can’t remember to use the bathroom half the time. Or maybe your perfect napper suddenly screams all through naptime. The 2-year sleep regression is enough to drive parents crazy with all of the development and changes that are occurring.

In reality, it’s a very good sign! It means that your toddler’s knowledge and skills are advancing and that they are sacrificing sleep to master another skill. Frustrating as this may be, consider this:

Your Child’s Awake Time Has Lengthened

Your toddler is down to just one nap, and only needs 10 1/2 to 11 hours of sleep every night. This can take some getting used to, and also means that you may experience a rash of nighttime awakenings.

A note from The Sleep Lady: Many parents assume that because their toddler is a little older, bedtime can get pushed back, and this is definitely not the case. If anything, due to her rapid growth and development, a toddler needs an earlier bedtime, so that she can awake refreshed in the morning and avoid becoming overtired. If you are finding that bedtime is a fight, try moving your routine forward. Most parents find that their toddler’s natural bedtime falls sometime between 7 and 7:30 p.m.


Naptime Resistance

2 year olds are known for testing (and re-testing) boundaries. One of the most common hot spots is naptime. Your toddler is going to test boundaries. She knows that life goes on while she’s napping, and she’s not okay with that anymore. This phase can be incredibly frustrating, because a toddler who fights naps is a very tired toddler indeed.

I often tell parents that 2 year olds think they are ready to give up them naps…but we as parents know better.

Bedtime Resistance

If you have a toddler, I’m sure that you’ve heard pleas such as “Just one more story, mom;” “5 more minutes;” “I just want to snuggle a bit longer;” and the ever-popular “One more song, please?” These stall tactics are just that, stall tactics. Your child wants to see what she can get away with. It’s a power struggle, and she’s asserting her independence. If this is a regular occurrence, consider starting the nighttime routine earlier so that she gets to be one time AND gets her extra story.

Toilet Training

Some 2 year olds are ready to be potty trained, while other children aren’t ready until closer to 3. If your child is working on potty training, expect that her focus in other areas (like sleep) may regress a bit, as learning such a big skill takes a lot of concentration and effort.

Separation Anxiety and Nighttime Fears

You may notice that your once-independent toddler is suddenly clingy and afraid to let you leave the room. Part of this is your toddler’s imagination, which is a wonderful thing, until she starts imagining that there are monsters under the bed. This is totally normal, and may cause some bedtime resistance.

How to Handle the 2-Year Sleep Regression

Like the other sleep regressions, the 2-year sleep regression may or may not affect your toddler. If you find that you’re suddenly dealing with a no-napping, bedtime-resisting, cranky ball of whine, then you’re probably looking at the 2-year sleep regression. The good news is that it may be the easiest regression to manage.

Consistency is Key

As with anything sleep-related, consistency is key. Continue to nap on your toddler’s schedule, even if she just sits in her crib quietly for 45 minutes. Remember, most children nap until they’re 3, so stick with it. Likewise, continue your normal soothing bedtime routine, and make sure that you are keeping the same bedtime every night.

Avoid Making Assumptions

Many parents assume that if their toddler is resisting naps or sleep, that they really don’t NEED a nap anymore, or they should have a later bedtime. Developmentally, though, your toddler still needs her sleep. She still needs her nap and bedtime to be at an age-appropriate time, so make sure that you’re getting her into bed, even if she sits and sings for 45 minutes. You don’t want to move her bedtime later or skip naps, only to want them back in 2 weeks when she’s totally melting down from lack of sleep.

Set Some Rules

Toddlers (and all children, really) thrive on boundaries, and it’s up to us to set those for them. When it comes to sleep, make sure those items are non-negotiable. Bedtime is always 7:30 p.m. Naps happen at 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. every single day. Even if your toddler claims that she’s not tired, or doesn’t want to, make sure that she at least lies down and lets her body rest.

When all else fails, blame it on the clock. “See the clock? It’s 12:30, which means it’s time to rest for a bit.” Most 2 year olds will not be able to read a clock, so if it helps, consider a wake up clock with a nap setting that changes the color or picture to indicate naptime and bedtime.

Be Understanding About Your Toddler’s Fears

Nighttime fears are a big deal to our little ones. Your toddler has an incredibly vivid imagination, so take that into account and fuel it with good thoughts. Use Dream Cards, introduce (and encourage bonding with) a lovey, or do some light toddler yoga or visualization to help her relax.

Perhaps the best thing to remember about sleep regressions is that they’re temporary, usually lasting about 2-3 weeks. Your toddler may be a bit more snuggly, needy, or sleep resistant during this time, but follow your gut, don’t change the rules, and your 2 year-old will be sleeping through the night again soon.

If you find that these problems have been problems for years, or continue past 6 weeks, then it’s time to sleep coach. To get started with sleep coaching, GO HERE (article in progress).

Toddler sleep can be challenging, and you don’t have to go through this alone. I’ve created Gentle Sleep Solutions, which contains my gentle, step-by-step, attainable alternative to cry-it-out sleep coaching. Your family deserves better sleep.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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