2 Year Old Sleep Regression: 5 Reasons It Happens, and 5 Tips To Cope

2 year sleep regressionYou might think that having a 2-year old at home means you can finally (FINALLY) kiss the exhaustion of sleep regressions goodbye. But sadly, you’d be wrong.

The truth is, there is one final sleep regression you’ll have to contend with when your child reaches around 24 months. You’ll have to tangle with the 2 year old sleep regression. Now, the good news is that this sleep regression is indeed the last! So once you get through this, you’re done navigating true sleep regressions. But the not-so-good news is that the 2 year old sleep regression can be a tough one to overcome if you don’t know how to deal with its unique sleep challenges.

2 Year Old Sleep Regression: 5 Reasons It Happens

1. Separation Anxiety – Separation anxiety can strike at any time, but there tends to be a resurgence of it around 2 years old. This 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! 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.

2. Disruptive Life Changes – There are a number of big, life transitions that tend to converge around the time your toddler is 2 years old. Specifically, many families of 2 year old toddlers are working on potty training. Or perhaps working on the transition to a big kid bed. In addition, some families are welcoming new babies around this time, too! These transitions, while natural, can cause major sleep disturbances.

3. Longer Awake Time – 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. Perhaps 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.

4. Misleading “Nap Transition” – 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! 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.

5. Nightmares, Night Terrors, and 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, 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.

2 Year Old Sleep Regression: 5 Tips To Help You Cope

1. Offer comfort, but don’t form new (bad) sleep habits. If your toddler just won’t cooperate at bedtime, or is waking often at night, it’s fine to offer lots of comfort and cuddles. But avoid forming any new (bad) sleep habits that you’ll have to undo later. In general, be sure that your child is still falling asleep without much help from you, and is sleeping in her own sleeping space.

2. Consider putting off potty training or transitioning to a big kid bed. If you can tell that transitioning to a new bed or potty training is at the root of your 2 year old’s sleep regression issues, consider putting off the transition for a few months. It can be a great idea to wait and then try again later, when your toddler is a few months older.

3. Adjust your toddler’s schedule as necessary. If you need to incorporate more wake time in your child’s day, adjust the schedule so that you allow more time between the end of the afternoon nap and bedtime. You can shift the nap earlier or shift bedtime later to accomplish this.

4. Institute a rest time to deal with your 2-year old’s nap strike. If your 2-year old is on a nap strike, don’t rush to give up the afternoon nap. Instead, institute rest time. Put your toddler in bed with a few books and toys. Let him know that while it’s fine if he’s awake, he needs to stay in bed. This ensures that if he does get sleepy, he’s already well-positioned to fall asleep.

5. Give your 2-year old tools to cope with nighttime fears. Nightmares and nighttime fears are normal at this age. Fortunately, there are many ways to help your child cope with these fears. This 2-part blog series on nightmares and night terrors is a great resource. It lays out a number of strategies you can use to preserve your toddler’s sleep

Free Toddler Sleep GuideWant 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. This means you can start using the techniques in it as early as tonight. Download now, and learn why your toddler is waking at night and resisting naps! And learn what you can do about it and how!

Now, go tackle that 2 year old sleep regression!

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16 thoughts on “2 Year Old Sleep Regression: 5 Reasons It Happens, and 5 Tips To Cope”

  1. SOS! My 2 year old is going on 4 weeks of crying and crying at nap time. MOST of the time he ends up falling asleep for a normal or short nap. Sometimes, he cries off and on and plays off and on during his nap time. It’s awful to hear him cry, but he is definitely a kid that is all or nothing – we’d have to rock him all the way to sleep or just let him cry. We end up letting him cry because going in to comfort just makes it so much more worse, and giving up naps is not an option since he still needs them. He has a six week old sister and his independence and vocabulary have exponentially increased in the last couple of weeks so I know those things are making it hard for him to nap, but I am at the end of my rope with hearing him cry and cry and nap time. Should we just keep going with the consistency and ride it out until it’s normal again even though it’s been four weeks, or is there something else we can try?! Thank you!

    • Hi @Rachel – Thanks for writing and so sorry to hear that your 2-year-old is struggling so much with naps!! It is very common to have big nap issues at this age, but 4 weeks is a long time and can feel like an eternity when you’re in the thick of things, so hang in there!! Don’t give up, and keep working on those naps! Taking a look at his schedule and being sure that you’re offering naps and bedtime at good times for him may help! Here’s a link to our sample schedules:
      Good luck Rachel and please contact us if you need further help!

  2. Please help! My little girl is 2 and has been fighting sleep. She’ll go to bed really late, (whether she’s in bed at 730/8/9) and still wake up at 8! She’s just laughing and talking! Yesterday I cut off her nap after 3 hours, to try and help. I thought today I’d cut off nap…. she’s “gone without” a nap before, (vacation/road trip), only to completely pass out in car. I don’t know what to do. I’ll definitely try rest time, which is what I was planning on doing today, but what if she falls asleep and stays up til 11/12 again?!

    • Hi Fredee,
      Thank you for your comment! I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling with the 2 year sleep regression – it’s definitely a doozy! I’m not a sleep consultant, but based on your description of what’s going on with your daughter, I would consider whether you could shorten her nap first, rather than just eliminating it if she seems unready. Most children her age are taking a 1-2 hour nap in the afternoon, which does bring up bedtime a lot earlier for you, and would give her enough sleep to make it through the late afternoon/ evening without getting grumpy. Then, if that doesn’t work, you could move to eliminating the nap, but many two year-olds are just not ready for no nap yet 🙂

      I hope this helps, and good luck!

  3. Hello! My son is 2 years old. Before his 2nd birthday he went through a 2 year sleep regression. For over 2 months he would refused to sleep (nap and night time). I’ve tried everything to help him to get back to normal sleeping schedule. It was absolutely miserable ?. Finally we got over the hump. He was back to normal for about a month. And all of a sudden 2 weeks ago he started going through “nap strikes” again. Waking up very early in the morning. Last night he was up all night. All the tricks to get him to sleep I tried before don’t work. Not really sure what’s going on at this point. I don’t think I can survive another sleep regression lol. Any help would be very much appreciated!

    • Hi Olga,
      Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had such a miserable time with your 2 year-old’s sleep. We’d love to help! There are so many reasons you could be having trouble that it’s hard to give good advice from this comment, but could you email a brief outline of your son’s schedule and how he’s falling asleep now (when he does!) to [email protected]? Then we can give you some more specific resource to help. Hang in there!

  4. I am at a complete loss with my 2 year old. He went to bed so well, then all of a sudden screams and cries when we put him down. Now he is refusing naps too. I’ve tried just going in giving him hugs and kisses, encouraging words and even a drink. He gets so angry he starts beating his head against the crib. I refuse to let him do that so I take him out and the only way he sleeps is in my bed with me (at night). Naps just dont happen now unless we are riding in the car. I’ve tried putting his mattress kn the floor and laying next to him, he just runs around the room. Completely out of ideas. Please help!!!

    • Hi Colleen,
      Thank you for using The Baby Sleep Site as a resource! I’m sorry to hear you’re having so much trouble with your son’s sleep – I’m sure skipping naps and getting poor night sleep is just making the whole thing harder :/ Because he seems like he’s a sensitive child, and because all sleep is not going as well as you want it to, I’d really encourage you to consider a Personalize Sleep Plan and a consultation package, where you can work with an expert sleep consultant to prioritize your sleep concerns, find a method that feels comfortable for your family, and ask lots of questions about how to address some of the behaviors that are getting in the way of sleep. You can read more about all of our packages here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
      or send us an email at [email protected] if you’d like to talk through what might be the best fit for you – we’d love to help!

  5. Hi I’m Brad my 2 an half year old is not sleeping at all. The transition from cot to bed was fine. But now he refuses to sleep in his bed an sleep . He go down at 7:01 pm an he wakes up at 10 or 11 pm and jump in bed with us but still won’t settle he has a good routine an it never changes but this has got me stumped he no longer has a nap at lunch time

    • @Bradley Williams – Hi, Brad, thank you for writing to us. I am sorry that you’ve been struggling with your 2 1/2 year old’s sleep! Toddlers can be really tough so hang in there and try to be as consistent as you can for him. Here is link to an article with some limit setting tips to help keep him in his own bed: https://www.babysleepsite.com/toddlers/limit-setting-toddler/ If you find you need more specific advise, we have many more resources that may help. If interested, please contact us directly at [email protected] and we can help you further! I hope this helps!

  6. I don’t know what to do with my son at this point. He is 23 months old but this has been going on for about a month. He’s always not been a good sleeper. He’s always had less sleep time/ more wake time than the average child. A few months ago, his bedtime was around 10pm. Not a big deal, we are night owls and he was always very tough without his nap. So the later bedtime was worth giving him the nap. That was in the fall. We had the winter time change, a few illnesses, and a few times where the schedule fell off the rails due to switching between me, dad and my mom. Now my son’s bedtime is 1am!!!! I don’t know how we got here but it is just too late!! He has his nap around 3pm and will not fall asleep any earlier than that. He will nap for either 2 or 2.5 hours. We can get him down at 10 without the nap but if he needs the nap then he wont go down till around 1. But it just kept creeping later slowly and slowly. It used to be midnight but i need to put an end to this but dont know how. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • @Katelyn – Thank you for writing to us. I am sorry to hear you are struggling with your son’s late bedtime. It will take some work but it is certainly possible to help adjust his schedule to have bedtimes and naptimes at a more reasonable time to work with your family.
      First off, here is a sample schedule for a toddler (just to give you an idea, I know you can’t just switch to that, although that would be nice!): https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/toddler-schedule/
      Here is another link to an article about adjusting your baby’s schedule: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-news/baby-sleep-daylight-savings-2010/
      We also have an ebook all about shifting schedules that I think you would find really helpful and it is available through our Members Area. In our Members Area you will have access to the Shiting Schedules ebook, along with all of our other ebooks, exclusive member articles, tele-seminars, case studies, and we have a weekly chatroom where you can speak with one of our sleep consultants and get specific advise on your situation. Members also receive 20% off of our Personalized Consulting services which is great if you find you need more one-on-one help. You can read more about the shifting schedules book and sign up for the Members Area here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-waking-too-early/ If you have any additional questions about this or need help selecting the best next step for you, feel free to email our client relations team at [email protected]
      Hang in there, Katelyn, we are here to help!

  7. My 25 month old is crawling out of his crib so we transitioned to a toddler bed. It is definitely the trigger to this sleep regression but he refuses to sleep and I am going insane. He has been awake since 12am and it is now almost 6am. Is there a safe way to put the crib back together and keep him from crawling out and us try this transition later?

    • Hi! I’m not a professional but I thought I’d try to help… Did you try putting your son to bed in his crib with a sleep sack on? It’s really helping us buy time with our toddler… I don’t know if it would work for you but maybe it’s worth a shot? Hope things get better soon for you!

  8. Hi!
    I’m not sure if my 22MO is in the 2yr regression, or I’m just getting him to bed too late. It feels like we just came out of the 18 month regression! lol!
    For the life of me, I can’t find his ideal bedtime. Most nights he ends up falling asleep between 9/9:30. That’s pretty late. We usually start the bedtime routine at 7:30, and he’s clearly showing sleepy cues. We’ve had lights out at 7:15, and every time in between! He will take a 1.5-2 hour nap (some days 3)…even days when his nap is shorter, he wont fall asleep until 9ish, which seems to me is after his second wind.
    He gets up around 7:45/8am.
    Part of me is thinking to wait until the fall back time change…hoping that will shift his bedtime back to 8/8:30 and his wake time 7/7:30. I’m just out of ideas. What would you recommend?

    • @ christi – you know what, this is common. It really is. With older toddlers who still nap once during the day, a later bedtime actually works better (even though that seems counterintuitive, since we emphasize again and again that babies need earlier bedtimes!). It sounds to me like it might make sense to just accept the later bedtime (maybe 8:30 ish? 9:00?), and start your bedtime routine later, provided you are okay with the later wake-up time.
      You may also need to start limiting the amount of nap sleep – 1.5 hours is good, but anything more than 2 is probably too long. You may also need to dial back the nap time, so that you are allowing 5 hours of wake time between the end of the nap and the start of bedtime.

      This chart may help – it lays out baby and toddler bedtimes by age:https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-needs/baby-toddler-bedtime-chart/

      Hope this info helps, christi! Eventually, when your son transitions away from napping, you’ll find you can go back to an earlier (7ish) bedtime, as his nighttime sleep will increase due to dropping the nap. Best of luck to you!

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