If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you’re likely no stranger to the concept of sleep regressions. You’ve probably experienced them first-hand, right? If you’re new here, however, let us fill you in. A sleep regression refers to a period of time when a baby or toddler who’s been sleeping well suddenly begins waking at night and during naptime, or even refusing to go to sleep at all.
There are several distinct regression phases that most babies and toddlers experience: one at 4 months, another at 8, 9, or 10 months, a third around 18 months, and (as if three weren’t enough!) a final one around 2 years. This article will focus on some of the challenges surrounding your 2 year old’s sleep, including elements that are part of the 2 year sleep regression.
5 Facts About Your 2 Year Old’s Sleep
1: Your 2 year old’s awake time is longer.
As your toddler grows, she needs progressively less sleep than she did as an infant. Most 2 year olds need approximately 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, on average; compare that to a newborn’s need for about 16 hours of sleep! And of course, most of your toddler’s sleep is happening at night now. You may also find that your 2 year old is showing more resistance to bedtime than usual, and that she’s falling asleep late. Or, she may be waking too early. All this adds up to equal less downtime (and maybe less sleep!) for you.
“We start getting a lot of e-mails around this time of year that toddlers are beginning to “fight bedtime.” Here in the States, when we are approaching summer, it stays light later and this can directly influence your toddler’s internal clock. Nights may get shorter, but this is temporary! She may truly be unable to fall asleep at an earlier time.”
2: Your 2 year old’s separation anxiety may resurface around this time.
Separation anxiety peaks around 18 months, but it can appear off and on until your child is 5 or 6 (or maybe even after! Yikes!!) At age 2, separation anxiety can be based on actual fear; your 2 year old may be afraid to be left alone, or with people he doesn’t know. However, it can also come from a desire not to miss out on the fun! By now, your 2 year old knows that when you leave, you don’t just disappear. Instead, he knows that you’re off somewhere not far away, having (in his mind, at least) tons of fun without him. Understandably, he doesn’t want to be left out! If this separation anxiety surfaces as soon as you walk out the door during naptime and/or bedtime, it can disrupt your toddler’s sleep.
“Many parents report they have to, all of a sudden, stay with their 2 year old as she falls asleep at nap and bedtime. This is SO common!”
3: Your 2 year old may suddenly stop napping.
Around 2 years of age, some toddlers abruptly stop taking an afternoon nap. You might find that when you put your 2 year old down for her nap, she spends the entire hour talking/laughing/singing/playing. Or, you may find that your 2 year old’s nap resistance isn’t nearly so pleasant — she may spend the whole hour screaming! As with separation anxiety, this sudden resistance to naps can come from your 2 year old’s desire not to miss out on anything. It can also be the result of her growing self-awareness and independence — she’s becoming more aware of what she wants, so if she doesn’t want to lie down for a nap, she’s going to let you know it!
We advise parents to treat this sudden naptime resistance as a regression, and not as something permanent. Most children won’t completely give up their naps until 3 or 4. It’s best to simply stay consistent with your 2 year old’s schedule and routine, and to not give up on the nap just yet.
“All 2 year olds are different, of course. We, personally, had to stop allowing a nap around 2 1/2, because my son’s awake time approached 7 hours after nap and waking up at 3pm…well you can do the math. It was after my bedtime!”
4: Your 2 year old may be going through some transitions that disrupt sleep.
There are a few common transitions your 2 year old may be experiencing:
- Moving to a big boy / big girl bed: Although more children make this transition closer to age 3, some toddlers make this step at age 2. This new sleeping arrangement can make it harder for your 2 year old to sleep well at night and for naps, since the new bed is unfamiliar. You may also find your 2 year old taking advantage of his new-found freedom and getting out of bed often, even when you’ve told him again and again to stay put! (A side note: Whether you do it age 2 or wait a bit longer, when the time does come to make the move to a big kid bed, we recommend that you toddler proof your toddler’s room carefully.)
- Potty training: Again, most children aren’t potty trained until age 3 (or even later.) But some parents begin the potty training process around age 2. If your 2 year old is in the midst of potty training, you may find her waking from sleep and needing to use the potty. And even those 2 year olds who haven’t begun potty training yet are still becoming more and more aware of their bodily functions. It’s not uncommon for toddlers this age to wake early in the morning from a full bladder or needing to poop. And by age 2, most children are much more aware of the uncomfortable feeling that a wet or full diaper causes.
- New sibling: Of course, this doesn’t apply to all 2 year olds, but around age 2, some children are preparing for or adjusting to having a new brother or sister around. This is a huge change for toddlers, and (as with all major changes) it can cause lots of anxiety for them. Couple that with the fact that the new baby is likely causing some anxiety for you, too (as you work to juggle multiple schedules), and it can mean that no one is getting much sleep!
“We potty trained around 2 1/2 with both boys (which was late for one and a good age for the other). You might remember my article about potty training my second son, here: 6 ways Potty Training is Like Sleep Training.”
5: Your 2 year old may begin having nighttime fears.
By age 2, your toddler is becoming much more imaginative. This makes for really fun and entertaining play, but boy, can it ever be a problem at night! Most 2 year olds’ nighttime fears are triggered by the dark, and all the things that come with it — spooky shadows, monsters lurking under the bed, etc. By this age, toddlers are growing more aware of the world and realizing that there are “bad guys” and things out there that can hurt them. These new nighttime fears can lead to things like nightmares, and even night terrors.
“My eldest (who inspired this site) began to be afraid of dinosaurs, no matter how many times I tried to define the word ‘extinct’. These aren’t always rational fears to us adults, but very real to them, so be patient and empathetic.”
As with any regression phase, the best thing to do when you encounter these problems is to cope as best you can. Work hard to stay consistent, and try to remind yourself that it won’t last forever. Keep in mind, too, that you don’t want to your toddler to form any bad habits while you’re working on getting through the 2 year sleep regression, so let that guide your decisions about how you’re going to cope. As Nicole always says, “You don’t want to make or continue long-term habits for a short-term phase.”
Finally, if you’re doing your best to cope with your 2 year old’s terrible sleep but are finding yourself at the end of your rope, consider contacting us! We have the products and services you need to get your 2 year old sleeping well again.
Did your 2 year old experience any of these sleep challenges? How did you cope? Share your story!
Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of Toddler Sleep Secrets, our e-Book offering tips to help your toddler sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.