5 Things You Need to Know About Your 2 Year Old’s Sleep

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2 Year Sleep Regression


 

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.

Nicole’s note:
“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.

Nicole’s note:
“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.

Nicole’s note:
“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!

Nicole’s note:
“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.

Nicole’s note:
“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.

 
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Want FREE sleep help that you can put to use right away? Download a copy of our free guide, Toddler Sleep Secrets! The guide is available to download instantly, which means you can start using the techniques in it as early as tonight. So download now, and learn why your fodder is waking at night and resisting naps – and what you can do about it.
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Did your 2 year old experience any of these sleep challenges? How did you cope? Share your story!

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17 Responses to 5 Things You Need to Know About Your 2 Year Old’s Sleep

  1. Jane B. says:

    Thank you for this article! Recently it seems like you know us personally; all of your articles have really been geared towards us. :-) We have a daughter who just turned 2. She has been sleeping wonderfully: a 2-3 hour nap and 10-12 hours at night. I know that will change a little this year as we do plan to move her to a big girl bed and also prepare for her little brother to arrive this fall. Thank you for the tips in advance!

  2. Tiffany from China says:

    thanks for this article and its right time to come to me!
    my son is 22 months old and suddenly he need me to stay with him at naptime/bedtime. before that he could sleep well himself, just talking himself for 20 mins and fall sleep, no cry at all
    since i stay with him, it looks like his waking at night is more frequent and long, i am not sure if its my company with him in the naptime/bedtime.
    shall i change it? will it be a bad habit?
    now i am doing cry it out for 2 nights, he cried 40 mins for 1st night, but 1hr and 15 mins today! is it because not inconsisitant? (stay with him at naptime, but not at bedtime!) please let me know how shall i handle it, thanks!!

  3. Tiffany from China says:

    his nap never been good, avarage 45 mins-1.5 hrs(night was always good from 630pm to 530/6am), but once i stayed with him in his nap, his nap now is 1-2 hrs (get better. he will back to sleep immediately once he see me there when he wake up after sleep for 30/45 mins), so i still want to stay with him in nap, but if its not good for his night sleep training, i will consider about it…..

  4. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Jane B. — so glad you found the article helpful! Thanks for the kind feedback. Sounds like you have two big things on your horizon: switching to a big kid bed, and having another baby! I hope these tips help you navigate those big changes well with your 2 year old :)

    @ Tiffany from China — sounds like you’re right in the midst of the 2 year sleep regression! In terms of how to handle it, and whether or not you should be staying in your son’s room during naps and at night, that’s up to you. As Nicole says, “it’s not a problem until it’s a problem” :) If you don’t mind doing that, then you can continue. Judging by what you’ve said here, though, it sounds like it’s not working out well. If that’s the case, then you can slowly start to “wean” your son from having you around. You could start by sticking around for a bit and then leaving; then, gradually shorten the amount of time you spend in his room at naptime/at night.

    Hope that helps! If not, don’t hesitate to contact us at support@babysleepsite.com (or, you could start a live chat with one of our operators) in order to get more information on our products and services.

  5. Lynne says:

    Hi there,

    My daughter, who is now 21 months old, has been a great sleeper since 11 months old, sleeping through the night and falling asleep in her crib unaided. She has one nap a day, which lasts between 1 and 2 hours and her bedtime was 7:15 p.m.

    However, in the past few months her bedtime has gotten increasingly later and later – she simply won’t go down and doesn’t seem tired (although she’s probably overtired). These days her “bedtime” is hovering around the 8:15 p.m. mark and often much later (despite our best efforts). To top it all off, she has refused a nap for the past three days. She isn’t facing any external transitions (i.e. sibling, big-girl bed, etc.) and has a regular bedtime routine.

    Is there a benefit to waking her at the same time every day (i.e. 7:30 a.m.) so she doesn’t sleep in and/or cutting her nap down to 1 hour? We’ve tried these methods but they didn’t seem to work. Now I’m wondering if we need to do so more consistently so she has a regular wake time and nap duration…

    Help! We feel like we’re being held hostage by our daughter!

    Any guidance or suggestions you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you,

    Lynne

  6. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lynne — Sounds like you’re smack in the middle of this 2 year sleep regression! Sorry!! It’s no fun, is it? Just when you think your sleepless nights and exhausted days are over…

    I think cutting her nap down to an hour could work. Waking her at the same time each day might, too, but I’d be willing to be a little flexible with this — if her bedtime is particularly late one night, maybe wake her closer to 8. But I think that’s better than letting her sleep in until 9:30, or letting her nap in the afternoon stretch to 3 hours long ;)

    If that doesn’t work for you, consider checking our our free toddler sleep guide (http://www.babysleepsite.com/toddler-sleep-secrets-free-guide/) You may find a few tips in there that’ll help you navigate this season. Hope it’s short-lived, Lynne!

  7. Lori says:

    This is a very timely article since my son will be 2 next month. It seems he still needs nearly 14 hours of sleep a day! Is that normal? Of course, he doesn’t always get it and seems extra tired those days. His naps are finally about where they should be, about 1.5 hours most days. Since my son is not the best sleeper, we will probably wait until close to age 3 to transfer him out of the crib. Therefore, that is not a problem. And, although we are not anywhere close to ready to potty train, I do think the self-awareness you mentioned wakes him early some days. We have also recently been letting him go to sleep with a cup of water. Not sure how this is going to affect us down the road, but it has helped him sleep better since he recently weaned himself from breastfeeding. And, as we prepare for his new sibling to arrive in November, I dread the affect that will have on all of our sleep.

  8. Connie Boyd says:

    I have to say that each of the emails and articles are timed perfectly with what sleep ‘issue’ we’re dealing with, and we’re definitely in the midst of this! Not only is she going through the separation anxiety, waking early from naps/night and through the night, she’s also teething, started climbing out of the crib so we converted it to a daybed, possibly afraid of the dark (or something in her room) and while we want all this to be ‘settled’ before potty training, she is definitely showing signs of being ready for that stage as well. We aren’t sure if we’re creating bad habits or not, but are definitely trying to be consistent and loving through it all.
    Any additional tips?! We are considering purchasing a service, but just struggle with the budget allowing the purchase.

  9. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lori — Congrats on baby#2! That’ll definitely be an adjustment ;) I’d say it sounds like you’re doing well; 14 hours of sleep is certainly normal for some kids. My oldest son was like that — he’d take these marathon naps during the day and then sleep 12 straight hours at night. It was heavenly! Now, at age 5, he sleeps about 11 hours a night and doesn’t nap at all. Ever. Not as heavenly ;)

    No big deal, of course, on waiting to make the move to the big kid bed, or on delaying potty training. Each kid as his own timetable, and it’s probably smarter to wait until you’re sure he’s ready. Best of luck to you, Lori!

    @ Connie — Boy! Sounds like you have a lot going on in your house at the moment! This can be such a hard age, for all the reasons that you mention here. Throw in some strong-willed defiance, and it’s enough to make a parent want to head for the hills, isn’t it?

    In terms of utilizing some of the products/services on the site to help you through this stage, have you downloaded our free toddler sleep guide yet? You can find it here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/toddler-sleep-secrets-free-guide/
    If you think you’d rather have a consultation, and you want more info on that, feel free to email me at emily@babysleepsite.com. I can give you some general info, including ways to make the plan fit within your budget :)

  10. Sarah says:

    I have an almost 3 year old who is recently beginning to “regress” as well. Any information for that age group? He is waking early (before 6am!) and typically is waking 1x per night. This has been since the daylight savings change. I have tried having an earlier bedtime, but it doesn’t work since there’s too much light (even w/ darkening curtains). He continues to take a 1 1/2 to 2 hour nap each day.

  11. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Sarah — not sure about the night waking, but the early rising could be related to his nap. I’m speaking from personal experience here, and not from any expert wisdom (since I’m not a sleep consultant), so don’t take what I’m saying as gospel truth or anything :) But when my boys were each around 3, I started noticing that when they took afternoon naps, they slept less at night (fell asleep later, woke earlier). When they didn’t nap, though, they slept a full 12 hours at night. So this could be your son starting to grow out of that nap.

    Keep in mind that most kids don’t completely give up napping until 4 or 5, but I didn’t find that both of mine starting napping more intermittently around 3. So, maybe try skipping that nap one day and see if it makes a difference in the nighttime sleep?

    Again, I’m not offering that opinion as a sleep consultant; just some conventional wisdom ;)

  12. Kathy says:

    Is there any information available as to how long these sleep regressions last? My daughter is 2 1/2 and I think is experiencing one of these. It’s funny how I got this link in the newsletter several weeks ago and thought to myself “hooray! She’s sleeping great, no need to read this.” And then just in this past week it’s like everything fell apart. So I searched for this article and Lo and behold – this is describing what we’re going through!! So frustrating when things have been humming along nicely. But reassuring that it’s a phase. It coincided with my husband and I going away for a weekend. She hasn’t been the same (sleep-wise) since then. But it could also be the regression.

    Anyway — all of this to ask if there’s a general length of time these regressions take to work their way through? Many thanks.

  13. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Kathy — Glad you found the article helpful, but bummer on the actual regression! I think all of us secretly hope that our kids will be among the few who don’t go through those common regression phases ;)

    As far as how long these stages last, I’d say a few weeks isn’t uncommon (although there’s certainly no “standard” length of time). I know that’s probably not what you want to hear — sorry! But if you find yourself needing some tips/tools to help you cope, you could consider downloading a copy of our free Toddler Sleep Secrets guide: http://www.babysleepsite.com/toddler-sleep-secrets-free-guide/

  14. Steph says:

    I read this but wonder is there could more than 5 reasons.
    Could it be milk or food intolrance, gastric reflux at 2?
    My son is 2 years 3 months and had 7 full night sleep since he was born,
    We are exhausted and tried EVERYTHING. I’ll keep reading your newsletter, you never know when the bulb light moment will come.

  15. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Steph — You’re right, of course, that food issues can cause sleeping issues. And something like milk intolerance could cause problems at night. But in my (limited) experience, I’ve found that most serious food allergies and issues crop up during infancy, well before the baby is a toddler. Serious milk issues, for example, often arise during breastfeeding or when a child begins drinking whole milk (for most, right around 1 year).

    Of course, food allergies can develop at any age, but my guess is that most children show signs of food intolerances earlier than this, and that the intolerances are dealt with before age 2.

    Sounds like you’re coming close to the end of your rope with your own 2 year old! So sorry to hear that :( Have you downloaded our free toddler sleep guide yet? You can find it here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/toddler-sleep-secrets-free-guide/

  16. Joseline says:

    Thank you for this wonderful news!
    I thought that my 2yr and 10months old girl was not normal and just was sick because she does not sleep and wants to watch cartoons all night. Now that i read this article its amazing and i can now relax and see my daughter goes through stages of growth.
    Joseline and also Thank you

  17. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Joseline — so glad this article was encouraging (and comforting!) to you :) Thanks for commenting!