Dealing with the 2 year sleep regression? Another sleep regression might not have been something you thought you'd have to go through again, especially with a 2-year-old toddler who has been a good sleeper for a while. As out of the blue as this regression may feel, the good news is that it's extremely common and temporary.
Here at Babogue, our aim is to help families establish healthy sleep habits so that both children and parents can stay well-rested (and sane!), resulting in a healthier and happier lifestyle.
In this article, we give you all the tips and tricks to surviving the 2-year-old sleep regression, so that your family can get their life, and sleep habits back.
What is the 2 year sleep regression?
The 2-year-old sleep regression is a disturbance to your toddler's usual sleep routine. It can happen to anyone, even if your child has been sleeping through solidly for months, and can happen anytime from your child's 2nd birthday up until they're 2.5 years old.
These disruptions to your little one's sleep patterns may feel out of the blue, but it's connected to all the developmental changes happening in your toddler's life.
Sleep regressions can happen at any age, and it's likely you've already experienced a few weeks of your toddler fighting bedtime before. They're most common at developmental milestones such as 4, 8, 12, 18, and 24 months old. The good news is that it is usually temporary and most toddlers are back to sleeping normally after a week or two.
Symptoms of sleep regression
Some signs and symptoms of the 2-year old sleep regression include:
- Fighting bedtime
- Night waking
- Early morning wake-ups
- Crying ay night
- Relying on other sleep aids such as comforters or cuddling a parent
How do I know it's a sleep regression?
You know your baby best, so only you can work out whether this is a sleep regression or not. If you've tried everything to get your toddler to soothe and nothing is working then it's very likely your child is going through the 2-year-old sleep regression.
It's important to ensure your 2-year-old is healthy and that there are no underlying issues causing them to fight sleep. If you notice any of the following, you should speak to your doctor:
- High or low temperature
- Not eating their food
- Not going the toilet (could suggest dehydration)
- Constant crying that won't stop
- Rapid breathing
- Blotchy skin
What causes the 2-year old sleep regression?
When a sleep regression hits, it's perfectly normal to want to understand what's causing it and how you can help your little one get back to their regular sleep pattern. While every child is unique, there are some general reasons why they may be struggling with their sleep.
As your child reaches the age of 2, they are experiencing many developmental changes every day. Sometimes, all the developmental progressions they're making causes sleep issues, making it difficult for them to fall asleep and stay consistent with their routine.
Separation anxiety usually peaks around 18 months, but it can crop up at any age. As your little one approaches 2 years old, they may be experiencing separation anxiety as they are genuinely scared of being left alone with people other than you. You may find that your child becomes clingier and may have a tantrum when left at nursery or with grandparents.
Separation anxiety can affect your toddler's ability to fall asleep meaning that they fight off nap times and become overtired, which affects their nighttime sleep too.
When adults are overtired, we often collapse into bed and fall asleep pretty quickly, but most kids will often do the opposite and fight sleep time. This is because they struggle to calm themselves down, so can't drift off to sleep as easily as they usually can.
Just as your toddler is learning lots of new things and experiencing developmental changes, so is their desire for independence. Often referred to as the 'terrible twos' this is just your child's way of telling you they are ready to start doing some things for themselves. Whether it's feeding themselves or tucking themselves into bed at night, your toddler's newfound independence can cause disruptions to their bedtime routine.
Don't let their cute faces fool you, 2-year-olds are smart. They know that there's a whole world ready to explore out there and don't want to miss any of it, hence they start resisting naps. Also, their drive for daytime sleep shifts and tweaks or small changes in napping routine might be needed to keep them in the sleep picture.
Transitioning to a big kid bed
New sleeping arrangements such as moving to a new bed can affect your toddler's sleep as the new environment is still unfamiliar to them. You may find that your little one experiences more early morning wake-ups than usual as they have the freedom to get out of their new bed.
Potty training often doesn't start until the age of 3, but some parents begin the process earlier around the age of 2 when little ones seem ready. While every child is different, you may find that a child who is being potty trained is likely to wake up more times throughout the night to go to the toilet.
If your toddler is crying and fussing when they have previously relaxed into sleep independently, this could be due to getting their 2-year molars.
2-year molars are uncomfortable for your little one and often cause night waking or early morning waking as they struggle to soothe themselves back off to sleep.
By the time your child is 2, they start to develop their imagination which can lead to fears such as monsters under the bed and the dark. Toddlers are more aware of the world around them and these new fears can lead to things such as nightmares and night terrors which can cause night wakings.
New baby in the family
Of course, this doesn't apply to all 2-year-olds but at 2 years old some children are preparing to welcome a new baby to the family. Although they are not quite old enough to understand fully, they know that something major is changing and this can cause fears and anxiety which make it much harder for them to fall asleep.
How long does the 2-year old sleep regression last?
While even one night of poor sleep can leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted the next day, it’s important to remember that the 2-year-old sleep regression, like all other sleep regressions, is just a phase and won't last forever.
If you respond consistently to your child’s nighttime antics, keep calm, and maintain your routine, then the 2-year sleep regression is likely to pass in 1 to 3 weeks.
How to manage the 2-year sleep regression
Watching your toddler struggle with sleep is hard. But, just like the other sleep regressions you have experienced keep reminding yourself that this is just a phase and it will pass.
When it comes to solving this sleep regression, there are some clear steps you can take to help your toddler sleep peacefully again.
First and foremost, remember this is only temporary. Try not to stress out too much and stay calm, even in the most challenging situations.
If properly handled, this temporary setback in your little one's routine will resolve itself quickly. Stick to your child's sleep routine wherever you can, and ensure your toddler's sleep environment sets them up for success.
Maintain your child's bedtime routine
When your child is fighting both daytime and nighttime sleep, it can be hard to stick to their usual routine. As hard as it is, sticking to their routine will make it much easier for you and your toddler when the regression ends.
Even if your toddler is napping less than usual throughout the day, it’s important to aim for the same bedtime routine each evening – no matter how much their daytime sleep is disrupted.
If you end up disrupting their routine and falling into additional habits while trying to get your baby back to sleep, this may cause a permanent change in their routine and sleep expectations.
Ensure nothing else is causing them to stay awake
It may seem obvious, but you should ensure that there is nothing else causing your child to stay awake. After ensuring that your little one is healthy and free from pain, you should look to solve any environmental issues that are causing problems to your child's sleep.
If your little one is continually trying to climb out of their toddler bed, ensure the mattress is at its lowest setting or look to transition to a toddler bed.
If your child has already transitioned to a toddler bed, ensure their room is safe by childproofing all the furniture and plug sockets. Doing so means that if your child does wake up in the middle of the night that it's completely safe for them to move around freely.
If your child is struggling with falling asleep due to a fear of the dark, consider investing in warm night light (stay away from any blue or white-light omitting lights as this will make sleep worse) to make their bedroom feel safer.
Sticking to your toddler's nap schedule is important as it means they will be more rested when it comes to their nighttime sleep. An overtired toddler will struggle with overnight sleep more than a toddler that is well-rested so try and adhere to their naps as much as possible, even if they have gone on a nap strike.
A two-year-old typically need around 11-14 hours of total sleep a day, including one daytime nap. If you are experiencing naptime struggles with your little one and they are being extra fussy, or are extra tired in the evening and haven't napped much, consider an earlier bedtime & adjust the timing of their offered nap time.
Give them choices
If your toddler wants to become increasingly independent, consider giving them choices where you can. Asking them which pyjamas they would like to wear, or what bedtime snack they want can be a great way of doing this.
Offering your 2-year-old choices that they can make themselves, makes them feel empowered and gives them a sense of independence. This can help to decrease bedtime resistance if it feels like they have some control.
Assess your toddler's bedtime
Your child's sleep regression could be down to their bedtime and it may be the case that they aren't ready for the same 7 pm bedtime any longer, or perhaps their 8 pm bedtime is too late.
Tweaking your little one's bedtime by 15 minutes can have a big impact, so consider this approach if they are fighting to go to bed.
Also, address napping changes as needed. Often toddlers need a nap to fall a little later or for it to be reduced somewhat in order to support the overall sleep picture.
Curb separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can make it hard for you to leave your child with someone else. You might feel guilty or distressed by their clinginess and worry about the effect on your child every time you need to leave them.
Remember, it's only natural for your child to feel anxious when you're not there so there's no reason to feel guilty when leaving them at nursery or with grandparents. In fact, separation anxiety is often a sign of how well you have bonded with your child.
Instead of feeling guilty, try to help your toddler understand their feelings so they feel more secure. They will learn that if you leave them, they will be OK and you will come back.
If your child has been sleeping independently in their cot bed up to this point, keep encouraging this behaviour. If they are wary of you leaving, consider introducing a comforter such as a stuffed animal or blanket as you may find it helps your little one to self-soothe and focus less on you not being there at bedtime.
The 2-year-old sleep regression can take its toll on parents and being sleep deprived can make you feel grumpy, impatient, and sad. The key thing to remember is that regressions don't last forever, and you'll be through it before you know it.
Be kind to yourself and when needed, ask others for help so you can get some rest and time away from your little one if you need it.
Being a parent can be tough, and there's so much to learn about your child as they grow. To help you navigate the 2-year sleep regression we have created the Toddler Sleep Series course to empower you with everything you need to help your child sleep sound from 18 months to 3 years.
If you want to handle the 2-year-sleep regression and lay foundations for settled sleep long into the future, this course is for you.