Help! My daughter was a great sleeper and since she turned two, she just won’t sleep. She fights both naps and bedtime. What do I do?
As a child sleep consultant, when I receive messages like this from parents, I instantly think “2 year sleep regression! Ugh!”
Common sleep time behavior changes that point to the 2 year sleep regression include:
- Fighting naps
- Bedtime resistance
- Night wakings
- Early morning wake ups
If you are experiencing any of the above, read on to learn more about the 2 year sleep regression and tips to help everyone to get back to sleeping well!
WHAT IS A SLEEP REGRESSION?
When a child is sleeping well and then begins to wake frequently at night or begins to fight naps or refuse them, chances are your child may have hit a sleep regression.
On the bright side, when our children are going through a regression, it usually means that they are working on some pretty impressive developmental milestones. While they are progressing developmentally, sleep will usually take a hit. Another bright spot is that sleep regressions usually only last a few days to a few weeks.
WHAT FACTORS PLAY INTO THE 2 YEAR SLEEP REGRESSION?
MENTAL / EMOTION
- Separation anxiety peaks again and can intensify – this means that your little one doesn’t want to be left alone and will let you know it LOUDLY!
- FOMO – 2 year olds begin to realize there is a lot going on when they are asleep and they don’t want to miss any of the fun!
- Fears – around 2, the imagination explodes. This means lots of fun and silly play, but it is also the start of real fears. They begin to become more aware of their surroundings and the world around them. Top fears are usually fear of the dark, shadows and monsters.
- Testing limits and an increased desire for control and independence – 2 year olds are known for wanting things to go their way and continually pushing back. Their “NO!” game is strong and they’ve got stamina to try to sway us for things to go their way.
- 2 year molars – teething discomfort won’t cause the regression, but it can cause night wakings which will create a snowball effect of becoming overtired
- Sleep needs change – 2 year olds need between 1-2 hours of daytime sleep which is a decrease from when they were 1 and needed a solid 2 hours. They also are able to tolerate longer awake periods. If nap time begins to push too late (after 1:00 pm), it may cause more resistance at bedtime. Ensure your little one is awake by 2:30 – 3:00 pm at the latest. This will ensure they will be ready for bed around 7:00 – 7:30 pm. This is an average bedtime at this age.
- Transitioning to a big kid bed too early – toddlers aren’t ready to transition to a toddler bed until much closer to 3 years of age or when they can ask for a big kid bed. If they are transitioned too young, it can be difficult for your toddler to control their impulse to leave their bed. This means you may have a little visitor continually coming out of their bed / room!
- Potty training – some 2 year olds are ready to be potty trained and some aren’t ready until much closer to 3 years old. If your child is working on potty training, sleep will usually take a hit while they learn to master such a big skill. This will happen no matter what age you work on potty training.
- Arrival of a new sibling – around 2, lots of families begin welcoming a new sibling to the family. This is a HUGE change for toddlers, plus it can be a challenging adjustment for you, learning to juggle two plus little ones!
- Starting preschool or daycare – the entry into childcare can be a fun and overwhelming change. It may be your child’s first time away from Mom. Or their first time trying to nap somewhere other than their crib at home. In addition, there is a lot of increased stimulation and activity, which can quickly tire out your toddler.
WHAT DO ALL OF THESE FACTORS HAVE IN COMMON?
Your 2 year old may become VERY overtired and quickly when going through the 2 year sleep regression. When children are overtired, it fuels a downward spiral, which includes:
- Difficulty settling into sleep at bedtime
- Frequent night wakings
- Early morning wake ups
- Difficulty with naps
The regression factors play into the 2 year sleep regression because they all contribute to your child becoming overtired.
So, what should you do?
TOP TEN SURVIVAL TIPS FOR THE 2 YEAR SLEEP REGRESSION:
- Maintain or develop a consistent, connecting sleepytime routine – children love routine and consistency. It makes them feel safe. Toddlers also crave connection, especially those that are experiencing separation anxiety or who have a new sibling. A consistent bedtime routine, with a few extra snuggles, hugs, and kisses can help make the transition to sleeping independently a little easier for your child.
- Set limits – be mindful that you are still in control of the bedtime routine. Determine how many books you are going to read, how many songs you are going to sing, and how many hugs and kisses are part of the routine. Then stick to it! Their cute little requests (aka stalling tactics) can begin pushing bedtime too late.
- Keep the nap – most toddlers nap until in between 3 – 5 years old. This regression isn’t a sign they don’t need a nap anymore. Continue to offer quiet time in their crib or bed. This will allow them to rest their bodies at naptime for at least 60 minutes every single day. When the regression is done, the nap will come back.
- Stay consistent with their schedule – start nap in between 12:00 – 1:00 pm every day to capitalize on their natural sleep window. Don’t allow bedtime to push too late. If anything during nap strikes and any transition, toddlers tend to do better with an earlier bedtime.
- Empathize with your toddlers’ fears – these fears are real to them and they may need some extra TLC while working through this time. To help provide some comfort, consider adding a sleep safe nightlight and / or an ok to wake clock if your little one expresses fear of the dark. Talk with your toddler about their fears during awake times. Provide reassurance that monsters aren’t real. Save your money on monster spray and don’t go on monster hunts. These activities validate that monsters are real. I reassure my kids “monsters aren’t real. Monsters are Elmo and Cookie Monster on Sesame Street and remember they aren’t real.”
- Avoid creating new habits – if you don’t want to continue doing something in the long term, don’t start any new behaviors during this time. Remember this is a temporary regression. If you begin having your child sleep in your bed or you lay down in theirs, that can cement longer term habits. At some point, you’ll need to break these habits and it will likely be WAY after the regression has passed.
- Create a plan – if your little one wakes in the night, or comes into your room or won’t take a nap, know how you will handle it. Determining a course of action in advance will help you to avoid making less desirable decisions at 3:00 am! If your child comes to your room, silently and calmly return them to their bed as many times as it takes.
- Offer choices where you can – “Would you like to wear the pink pajamas or the striped pajamas?” “Do you want strawberry toothpaste or orange toothpaste?” Giving your child choices that they can make for themselves helps to make them feel empowered. This can help to decrease bedtime battles if they feel like they have some control.
- Keep your child in a crib as long as possible – this sleep regression isn’t their way of telling you that they don’t like their crib anymore. Transitioning to a bed too soon can make the challenges with this regression even more challenging.
- Fall back on sleep coaching – if your child doesn’t adjust back to their normal, healthy sleep habits within a month, it may be time to think about sleep training again
Keep in mind – the 2 year sleep regression is temporary! As long as your little one has a solid sleep foundation AND you follow the tips above. If you do need help, let us know! We help families get back on track after sleep regressions and can help you! To learn more, book a intro call to talk about working together and learn what it’s like to work with us, by checking out our reviews on Facebook.