Has your little bedtime superstar turned into a clingy, noisy sleep-refuser? It’s probably the 2 year old sleep regression – but don’t worry, there’s hope.
Was bedtime with your two year old so much easier a couple weeks or a month ago? Were they falling asleep easily and staying that way?
So you could squeeze them tight, enjoy the little arms around your neck and the wet toddler kisses as you said goodnight – and then head for the sofa? Or go do the dishes – but at least you weren’t spending forever doing bedtime.
Fast forward to now and you’ve got tears when it’s time to get into bed, cries of ‘hold my hand, mommy’ and demands that you stay with them? Or a little one who cries or appears next to you after ten minutes or in the middle of the night?
At two years old, sleep problems like these are very common so you’re definitely not alone in this.
(And the good news is that this is one sleep regression that’ll probably be over pretty quickly.)
Let’s see how you can make it through to the other side, momma.
What is the 2 year sleep regression?
Any sleep regression’s a period of time where your little one’s sleep patterns and habits get WORSE. Maybe they were sleeping like a little star or maybe it wasn’t that amazing but they were at least sleeping when you did certain things to help them.
But then boom, they regress. And stop sleeping like you expect and want them to.
You might find that she’s no longer able to fall asleep happily by herself, or that she refuses to go to bed at all, or goes just fine but then wakes in the night and cries or wants to get into bed with you.
If your kid’s run into sleep regressions like dominoes, you probably know what to expect. Even if this is the first one you’ve really noticed, long story short, you’re gonna have to work a little harder to get your kid to sleep – and staying asleep where you want them – for a while.
Luckily, this is the last of the big sleep regressions. (The earlier ones come around 4 months, 9 months and 18 months.)
Why is my two year old not sleeping?
Two year old sleep problems happen because your little one’s growing and developing quickly. Right now, a lot is going on in her little brain and body – talking is coming together fast and she’s getting much easier for others to understand, for example. And she’s probably climbing the kitchen cabinets and jumping off the sofa when she thinks you’re not looking so there’s a lot going on physically too.
And let’s not forget teething – those molars can be sore.
While all this development is happening so quickly, certain other areas that were running smoothly can hit difficulties – like sleep.
So while she used to fall asleep alone in ten minutes, now she might be clinging to your hand and crying when you leave her. Or waking up in the night crying.
What to expect from your child during a sleep regression
So what separates a sleep regression from a bad night or two? If your child’s showing a few of these behaviours, the chances are she could be regressing.
> Not wanting to go to bed
> Separation anxiety
> Getting out of bed at bedtime or after lights out
> Taking longer to fall asleep than usual
> Night wakings
> Wanting to sleep in mom and dad’s bed
> More fussiness than usual
> Fighting naps
2 year old sleep regression solutions
What to do if your 2 year old’s not sleeping well?
There’s actually a lot you can do to make things easier for you and your two year old while they’re not sleeping well. You get to choose what makes sense for your parenting style, your child and your family as a whole.
Active days and calm evenings
To have the best chance of a tired child who’s ready to sleep in the evening, keep them active and get them outdoors in the daytime.
Try to have a predictable routine most days and include fresh air and energetic play – outdoors if possible. This is because sunlight suppresses melatonin production and keeps your little one wide awake during the day. It’s great to get her outdoors for some sunlight and fresh air every morning if you can.
Exercise and outdoor play also help to encourage restful sleep because they wear her out.
Then in the evenings, try to keep all your activities very calm and relaxed, and avoid bright light as far as possible. You might not notice a big difference to bedtime right away – but a combination of sunlight and exercise during the day and calm evenings will begin to set your child’s body clock and that’ll help her sleep patterns in the long term.
But what can you do to make your two year old’s sleep better right now?
Don’t stop her naps yet
Nap strike happening? Standing up in the crib or jumping out of bed 20 times? Being reluctant to nap doesn’t mean she doesn’t need to nap – in the same way that pushing her dinner away doesn’t mean you should stop giving her dinner. (I know, that’s a ridiculous example but you see what I mean.)
Two year olds still need a LOT of sleep – around 13 hours (source) and some of that is nap time.
Changing her routine and having her nap at a different time might help. If you find she’s struggling to fall asleep at night, you could have a case for making nap time earlier in the day to give her longer awake time between nap and bedtime.
Or maybe she’s noticed that stuff happens while she’s asleep that she misses out on. Or maybe she just plain misses you – but she still does need a nap for a few months more so keep trying to encourage her to take one. If nap time eventually develops into quiet time – an hour or so of quiet play in a relaxed setting – that’s okay but try to keep naps happening for a little longer.
Do try to keep to your familiar bedtime routines
Routines make life with little people so much easier but it’s hard to stick to one during a sleep regression if your routine was to put her to bed, say goodnight and you do your own stuff – and now she howls if you try to leave the room. It’s a tricky spot because you probably worked hard to get to that point where you could go away and leave her to fall asleep by herself and you don’t want to undo all that now.
So rocking her probably isn’t the answer – it might work in the short term but then you’ll have to figure out independent sleeping all over again if you had it sussed before.
Lying beside her might also help in the short term to relax her and get her off to sleep – but then you’ll have to wean her off your presence once she seems calmer.
Separation anxiety – what to do if your child doesn’t want you to go away
…when they used to be okay falling asleep alone?
Grab a cuppa and sit down somewhere comfy because you’re gonna need to think about this.
She doesn’t want you to leave her – because she’s getting bigger and her imagination is developing. She understands now that you’re not with her – but might still be too little to be comforted by knowing you’re near if she can’t see you.
So what to do? Well, what’s worked before?
If you had a two year old who self settled or was at least a good sleeper, you must’ve been doing something right. What strategies have you used to encourage her to sleep before? If they worked before, they can work again, so start there.
If they don’t work, try something new.
Because your child’s older now, and going through all those changes we already mentioned, what worked for 18 month old her might not work for 24 or 28 month old her. It doesn’t mean the strategies are bad – just that she needs something else at this new stage.
So if you originally did some sleep training with a method like the chair method where you sit nearby to reassure her, try that again. Your presence in the room might be enough to relax her – and change it up if it’s not working.
For example, sit in the room opposite where she can’t see you but she can hear you – and shush her from there if she fusses.
This is what I ended up doing with my little girl because honestly, being where she could see me was keeping her up, not helping to settle her. But this way at least she could hear my voice and know I was close.
Introduce a lovey
Now’s the perfect time to try to introduce a lovey to your little one’s world.
That’s because for some two year olds, a lovey is the perfect distraction from night time fears. Encourage your child to play with a particular toy (one you can see they are fond of) during the day and take it to bed at night. Cuddling into their furry friend is very comforting – but you might need to teach them to talk to it and focus their attention on it by demonstrating.
(And if they say they don’t want the lovey, try again a few minutes later.)
Should we let our two year old sleep in our bed?
Do you get a little visitor sneaking in beside you in the small hours? Wake up with their stinky – but somehow cute – morning breath on your face and their feet in your ribs? Is it okay to have your toddler in your bed?
This is an issue where you have to figure out what’s best for your family.
If family bed is the way you want to go – and you can actually sleep that way – then go for it. You’ll save yourself some midnight trips to return your LO to their own room and give them the comfort they’re craving. So it can be a win-win, solving a couple of two year old sleep problems.
But if it’s not something you want to do long term, you’ll want to figure out a way of returning them to their own bed and be consistent about doing so.
Some kids respond really well to a wake up light that tells them they’re allowed out of bed now – but 2 might be a little young to grasp that.
Whatever you choose to do, try to be consistent
…because mixed messages will only make it worse.
It’s the hardest thing to get out of your cosy bed in the middle of the night. Who wants to do that? Even worse, take a protesting two year old who’s desperate for cuddles and return them, possibly upset, to their own bed.
So if you decide family bed’s not for you, you might have to dish up some serious willpower to push through and keep returning your little one to bed.
Because if you put her back today but let her sleep with you tomorrow, you’re sending mixed messages. To really discourage coming into your bed at night, you have to show her that you won’t let her stay – even if you actually want to in the moment.
It’s a lot nicer to snuggle in to your sweet baby and fall asleep beside her all warm and happy – but that tells her it’s okay. And maybe it is – you make the rules. But to make progress you have to decide on a plan and stick to it.
Supporting your child through the 2 year old sleep regression
She wants you – so give her your time.
Play with her, bake, make stuff with glue and pasta. Roll about on the carpet with toy cars and lego – just don’t roll on the lego.
Tell her you love her (or him) and cuddle her often. Snuggle up and watch Frozen again (it never gets old) whenever you can.
Let her know you’re always there for her – even if you’re in a different room.
And just so you know….
It’s not your fault and it’s not hers either
I’m sure you know this but just in case you don’t – it’s not your fault or your child’s that this sleep regression’s happening.
When something that was good goes backwards, it can be so frustrating for you are the parent. What am I doing wrong? Why isn’t this working anymore? …you might ask yourself (like I did.) But it’s not you – it’s a developmental phase and all you can do is keep trying to meet your child’s needs and ride it out.
She’s not doing it on purpose – just following her emotions and urges the only way she knows how. And you haven’t done anything wrong – it’s simply that her needs right now are not aligned with your actions like they were a couple weeks ago.
And let’s be honest, the whole situation isn’t helped by the fact that it all goes down in the evening when everyone’s tired, she wants you and you wish you could have your quiet evenings back.
On a personal note, once I realised we’d hit a sleep regression, I was able to put all the self doubt away and look for solutions – because I wasn’t blaming myself any longer.
So it’s okay to feel frustrated – and now you can move forward.
You’ve totally got this.