Sleep has got to be the most challenging part of being a new parent, and just as you’re finally out of the baby sleep phase and think your kid is on track you can face a 2 year sleep regression.
You expect them to sleep through the night, as they have been for ages, but instead they’re refusing to go to sleep or waking up a lot throughout the night. This means you also get less rest, which is extra hard if you have another baby or child to take care of.
A 2 year old sleep regression can be rough, but there is a gentle parenting approach you can take to handle it.
(This post might contain affiliate links, which means if you happen to buy a product I love then I may get a commission – at no extra cost to you! More information here.)
What is a 2 year old sleep regression?
A 2 year old sleep regression is any changes in your child’s sleep that leads to them to not getting enough sleep. This could mean:
- Struggling to fall asleep at naptime
- Struggling to fall asleep at bedtime
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Waking up early in the morning
Your toddler might experience one or more of these issues.
What causes a 2 year sleep regression?
Your 2 year old’s sleep regression may be caused by one or more of these common factors.
Your toddler’s brain might be going through a growth spurt, making their brains extra active which can make it hard to “power down” for bedtime.
Changes in their room/sleep set up
If you’ve recently moved them to another room/house, temperature change, blankets changed, started potty training or have made any changes to their bedtime routine (ex. Reading fewer books, a different parent doing bedtime, etc) then this can all make falling asleep harder for your 2 year old as they adjust to these changes.
Life changes or stressful events
Changes outside of the bedroom can also make sleep harder. If they’ve started to going to daycare or had a stressful event happen in their life this can contribute to their sleep problems.
2 year old molars
Teething might feel like a distant memory now, but most toddlers get new molars around this time and it’s possible the pain from that is making it hard for them to sleep.
If you’ve been potty training during the day they might be more alert to the feeling they have when they need to go pee and this could be waking them up. They might also start to be more aware of a wet diaper or peeing more than usual at night if they’ve been having more fluids before bed.
It’s very common for toddlers at this age to experience separation anxiety which you can notice during the day if you ever have to leave them with someone else, but it can also come up at night time even though you’re not that far away.
Night time fears
Some toddlers at this age will start to be afraid of the dark or be more aware and concerned with the noises they hear at night.
Overtiredness is probably the #1 unrecognized cause of sleep regression for toddlers. It seems counterintuitive but sometimes toddlers who are awake in the middle of the night are actually overtired. Think, have you ever stayed up late and get that second wind and suddenly it’s 1am and you can’t fall asleep even though you know you’re tired? Your 2 year old might be struggling to sleep because they’re actually so tired they can’t focus on settling down to fall asleep.
How long does a 2 year old sleep regression last
The length of your toddler’s sleep regression will depend on your child, why the sleep regression has happened, and how you handle it.
Some parents say it only lasted a few nights, some say a few months, and others say it felt like a year.
The important thing is to try to be in tune with your child so you can understand how to support them through this. If you’re not able to truly address their sleep needs this is what can make it last longer, but of course as parents we all have our limits, and sometimes it’s out of our own tiredness that we can create habits that can make sleep issues last longer.
Solutions for 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
These are some of the best solutions for handling a 2 year old sleep regression, but it’s very important to note that not every solution will work for every family and child. You don’t have to try everything on this list, and you might have additional ideas to try too.
As I always say, you’re the expert of your child. Use this list to empower yourself with advice that has worked for other parents, and then go from there to see what you think will work for YOUR child. I might be the expert in child development, but you’re the expert in your child.
For example, if you know if your toddler skips their nap that they’ll be super cranky for the rest of the day and over tired, then you already know that tip isn’t going to work.
Accept that you’re in a new season
It’s time to accept that you are in a new season of life right now. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve had this issue for awhile and it’s not just a one night fluke of bad sleep.
Your child’s needs might be changing and the way they slept as a baby might be different now. It’s important to accept that you’re in a new season and have to try new things rather than trying to force life back into the baby sleep season.
It is very important for you to try to stay patient and calm as this can become frustrating, especially if you feel helpless to get your toddler to sleep while you’re also exhausted.
It’s possible not all these recommendations will work for your child at all, and in the end it can feel like they “got over it” not by any of the things you did, but it does feel good to try some strategies to help them sleep, because it can help you feel like you’re in control and contributing to making things better.
Tighten up the sleep routine
Take a look at the nap time routine and the bedtime routine, are there any obvious ways it needs to be improved?
For example, does your 2 year old know that bedtime is coming or does it feel sprung on them? Keeping the routine consistent is one way to make it predictable for them, for example if you always have dinner, bath time, then bedtime it will make it easier for them to know that bedtime is coming. If when they’re playing you just announce it’s time for bed and rush them away from their fun this can make the transition too abrupt.
You might also notice you’re not allocating enough time for the bedtime routine. If it’s your goal to have lights out by 7pm but you’re only starting to put on pajamas at 6:50pm you might be getting super frustrated when they’re taking their sweet time.
It’s also helpful to stick with the daycare routine. Do nap at the same time, and maybe even the activity that happens beforehand or recreate a similar environment to daycare. A lot of kids sleep better at daycare than at home because the routine is so predictable.
Here’s an article I wrote on how to create a great toddler bedtime routine.
Make sure they’re getting the right opportunities for sleep
It’s possible your toddler isn’t getting enough time to sleep or they’re getting too much sleep (hint: it’s usually not too much sleep).
Think about the times that bedtime and naptime start at, maybe they’re not getting enough time to sleep or you’re putting them to bed when they’re not even tired enough to fall asleep.
One thing you don’t want to do is put them to bed when they’re overtired. This can lead to meltdowns and them really struggling to fall asleep.
So it bedtime too late and they’re overtired, or maybe it’s too early and they still need another hour before they can sleep.
If you’re putting them to bed at 6pm but they don’t fall asleep until 7pm it could be that they’re not tired yet, but it could also mean they just need a lot of time to wind down. You can try putting them to bed an hour later, but if it still takes them an hour to fall asleep then it’s not likely that they’re just not tired yet.
You also might think that if they’re waking up too early that you need to put them to bed later, but that’s often not the case either. They might be overtired which is why they’re waking up early (or in the middle of the night) and they might have a set time they’re body wakes up at, so even if you put them to bed 2 hours later it doesn’t mean they will wake up 2 hours later. Instead they’ll have gotten 2 hours less of sleep which can lead to a cranky, overtired day.
It can be really hard to figure out how much sleep YOUR child needs and when.
According to Kids Health when your child is between ages 1 and 2 they will need 11-14 hours of sleep, and around 18 months they will condense their two naps into 1 nap.
You might be tempted to cut out their daytime nap altogether in order to get them to sleep at night, but that might be opening you up to cranky afternoons and overtiredness at bedtime. Really work on these other strategies to help them sleep before cutting out the nap, and be sure they can really last the whole day without it. Even once they drop that last nap it still helps a lot to have a daily “quiet time” in what used to be nap time. I highly recommend checking out what Busy Toddler does for quiet time with her kids. She’s managed to make quiet time a daily 2 hour event.
Meaningful choices at bedtime
Small changes can go a long way, and it can help to give your 2 year old some choices to make because it fosters their independence.
You can offer them two choices, as long as you’re ok with both options. Let them choose their pajamas, which books to read, etc. This boost of confidence can help them sleep because it won’t feel like everything about bedtime is being forced.
Meaningful choices was emphasized a lot when I was in college for Early Childhood Education, and it’s an important part of Gentle Parenting, which I teach here on this website and in my paid and free content. If you want more Gentle Parenting strategies then make sure to check out my free “power tools” for Gentle Parenting, it has lots of quick wins to make parenting easier.
Connection time at bedtime
Another super important aspect of Gentle Parenting is our connection and relationship with our child, I even consider it one of the 6 pillars of Gentle Parenting.
Your child is about to be away from you for several hours – the whole night! Whether or not they have separation anxiety it can help so much to fill up their love tank before they go to sleep. Here are some ways to make that happen:
- Be present at dinner time. Put your phone aside and try to focus just on sitting and eating together.
- Play a little bit at bath time to get them laughing
- Read books together while cuddled
- Avoid rushing them or getting impatient
- Sing them a song, tell them how much you love them, or a story from when they were a baby
Even if you have another baby to take care of try to find even short ways you can give them your full attention to make them feel seen and loved.
If your child feels loved, safe and secure at bedtime it will be much easier for them to sleep vs if they feel anxious because you have been distant or impatient with them.
Note: This of course isn’t always easy, we can be tired or at the end of our rope by bedtime, but finding any way you can connect more can make a big difference.
You’re the expert of your child, so maybe think if it’s possible they’re waking up at night because they’re hungry. Do they ask for a snack in the middle of the night, or in the morning do they seem super hungry?
A bedtime snack can help, especially something with protein to help them feel more full. If dinner is right before bed then make sure they’re eating foods that will make them feel full for longer.
Related: What to Do About Picky Eaters
Water bottle in the bedroom
If your little one is struggling to sleep at night because they get thirsty and then have to call you to come then an easy solution of course would be to keep a water bottle in their room or a toddler drinking cup so they can get a drink on their own.
Late night trip to the potty
Your 2 year old might be experiencing a sleep regression because of bladder reasons if you’ve been potty training lately. You might want to consider taking them to go pee right before you yourself go to sleep.
Keep the room very dark, even for naps
A night light can be tempting, but often these sort of lights can keep your toddler awake. It’s best to keep their room as dark as possible (even for naps). You might want to consider some black out curtains to really make the room dark.
Also make sure there isn’t any extra light in the room such as any electronics with little lights on them.
If you feel your toddler really needs a night light try to find something with red light because that’s less likely to disrupt their circadian rhythm. You might consider keeping it in the hallway though instead of in their bedroom that way they still have enough light to find their way to the bathroom or your bedroom if that’s something they do. Using the overhead light in the bathroom can wake them up. Here are some great red light night lights.
I am a firm believer in white noise to help anyone sleep better. This could mean a sound machine, playing sleep sounds from a bluetooth speaker or old phone, or running a fan.
Noises at night time might be disturbing your 2 year old and either making it hard for them to fall asleep or waking them up when they’re trying to sleep. These sounds might be normal to you, but in the dark your 2 year old could start to feel scared when they hear these sounds, especially if they don’t know what they are.
Some white noise can help block out these mysterious, distracting sounds.
With fears it’s also worth noting if there is anything in their room that could be creeping them out such as weird shadows from a tree outside their window, or just the mysteriousness of the open closet.
A lot of parents swear by using an essential oil diffuser with lavender essential oil to help their child sleep. Lavender is known to aid in sleep, always check instructions and labels, but it’s generally safe for children by 2 year old. Making this part of the routine can also be helpful, and they might start to associate the smell with sleep time, especially if it’s only used when it’s time for them to sleep.
Here is a highly rated essential oil diffuser for you to consider.
You might need to do some testing to find a good nap and bedtime routine, but once you do it’s very important to stay consistent.
Toddlers thrive with predictability. Keeping bedtime consistent can help them know what to expect, and also know that even if they try to convince you to do things differently, you will keep the boundaries firm.
As I’ve said before, bedtime can become a frustrating and exhausting part of your own day which can lead to some serious impatience.
It is extremely important to stay calm during your 2 year old’s bedtime so you can help them fall asleep. If you are calm it will help them to stay calm too, but if you are getting tense and impatient they will feel that. It will overstimulate them and make them feel tense, which will make it harder for them to fall asleep. It’s a vicious cycle.
If you’re dealing with toddler tantrums then one piece of advice I always give is to stay calm, because toddlers are greatly affected by our moods. You can either bring them into your calm or into your chaos. It’s up to you.
Should you try the cry it out method?
The cry it out method of sleep training is very controversial. I have never used it or felt comfortable with it, but you can find evidence in support of it or against it. I used to be completely against it but after talking to a friend of mine who is a sleep coach I can see it might not be as bad as I thought. I do think though that it’s an area of parenting everyone has to make their own decision on. I can’t tell you whether or not you should try it, especially because it’s not something I’ve had experience with.
If it’s a method you think would work then I highly recommend getting support from a sleep coach so they can teach you how to do it in a loving way, rather than just getting frustrated and leaving your toddler to cry because you don’t know what else to do.
If you’re not comfortable with the cry it out method though, then no problem, it’s not essential and you don’t have to do it.
This is an area where every parent is different and it’s just important to make sure you have the support you need for the strategies you are using with your child.
Conclusion on 2 Year Old Sleep Regressions
You might feel defeated by your 2 year old’s sleep regression, but there are ways you can help them to sleep without losing your cool.
These recommended strategies should help, but it’s important to remember that sometimes it’s just something they will grow out of as a short season of their life. Be there to support them through this, as it’s hard for them too to not be getting enough sleep.
Try some of these recommendations, and be sure to try out gentle parenting in other areas as it’s a highly effective strategy, and these power tools can make it easier.