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

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If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’re likely no stranger to the concept of sleep regressions. You’ve probably experienced them first-hand, right? 😉 If you’re new here, and you haven’t yet heard about sleep regressions or the 2 year sleep regression, 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

2 year sleep regression1: 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. 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 was waking up at 3pm. 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. This happens 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. Even those 2 year olds who haven’t begun potty training yet are becoming 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 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). This 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 blog) 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 or 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 your toddler to form any bad habits while you’re working on getting through the 2 year sleep regression. Let this 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.

Toddler Sleep Training SecretsWant 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 start helping your toddler through the 2 year sleep regression today!

Did your 2-year-old experience any of these sleep challenges?

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239 thoughts on “5 Things You Need to Know About Your 2 Year Old’s Sleep”

  1. My 2.5 year old daughter has always been on a good schedule, but I swear the day she turned 2, her naps are so inconsistent. She’s asleep from 7:30-8 pm- 630/7 am and, so no night time issues. In the last 5 months we’ve tried adjusting her nap from 12, to 12:30, to 12:45 to 1, and I can’t figure it out. Some days she falls asleep in 10-15, sometimes she’ll just sit in there
    For an hour and a half and sing, and then I have a nightmare on my hands by the end of the day. I have another baby due in a month and I’m desperate to fix this.

    • Hi Jessi,
      Thank you for your comment on The Baby Sleep Site! I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling with naps, especially when you’re expecting another little one and could surely use the extra rest! There are a couple of reasons that naps could be inconsistent at this age – hunger, a scheduling issue, a sleep association, etc. We’d love to help you narrow it down – can you please email us a brief overview of your daughter’s current nap/eating schedule to [email protected]? Then we can make sure we’re offering the best possible resources. Hang in there!

  2. My son is 2 this month and he has always gone to sleep on his own, goes to bed without a fuss and goes down for naps no problem however, he goes through phases of waking up in the early morning around 5am and screaming while he tries to resettle himself. Whenever I’ve gone in he seems fine and asks to go back to bed. So it’s not pain from teething, he’s not cold, any other ideas of why? The screaming is so hard as we have an 11 week old too who sometimes gets woken up too!

  3. I have 2 year old boy/ girl twins. My daughter is a dream when it comes to sleep but my son, who used to be so easy, has recently gone through several transitions listed above and is really struggling to adjust. Right at 2 he started climbing out of his crib so we transitioned him to first a little futon bed and in the last week and a half to a twin bed. He is also about a month and a half into potty training. He wears a pull up at night and almost never wakes to go potty. Since about the time we got his new twin bed he has been impossible to put to bed awake- we have to get him asleep by rocking or just waiting for him to fall asleep to put him down, and he wakes up multiple times at night, each times crying out, getting out of bed to come to our room saying “Mommy”. Sometimes I can pretty easily put him Back in bed, sometimes I have to lay with him in his bed for a while, but sometimes he flat out refuses to go back in his room, throws a fit and insists on getting in “mommy’s bed”. We don’t want him to wake up his sister so we feel like we can’t fight too hard. Reading about the 2 year sleep regression I wonder if it’s just a phase that will return to normal in a few weeks or something else going on. I’m at a loss.

    • Hi @Shelby – Thank you for writing to us and for using our information for help with your 2 year old twins and their sleep! Sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling with your son getting out of bed at night! It is tough when a young toddler starts climbing out of the crib! We get it! It may be a phase that he’s outgrow, as he starts to understand the “rules” and the invisible boundaries that come with the freedom of a big boy bed. We sure hope things smooth out! With toddler’s, it’s all about being consistent and setting limits, as I’m sure you know with two toddlers in the home! If you do not want to encourage him coming to sleep in your bed, you’ll want to keep putting him back in his bed. Hopefully laying with him in his bed is helping? We’d love to help more with this tough time, and if things do not smooth out, please feel free to contact us for more one on one help! Hang in there Shelby!

  4. Hello there!
    I’m working a mother of 2year old baby girl. Till this day she never slept through whole night.
    My baby sleeps in her room on Kids bed, but every night I sleep with her because she wakes up 4-5times in the night asking for milk (which I’m giving her 3-4 times) to avoid dealing with her cry since Im tired and want to get back to sleep
    I very well know that I spoiled her, but I don’t know at this stage where to start from?
    I tried not giving her milk for 2 nights, but baby cried for straight 2 hours, so I gave up.
    Please help me!

    • @Veena – Thank you for reading and for sharing with us! We’re sorry to hear that sleep with your little girl is so rough. Such frequent night waking must leave you all exhausted! It’s possible your little girl has kept on waking up and asking for milk out of habit. If this is the case, you’ll want to gradually break her of this habit using a method that you can consistently follow for at least a week or two. This will help her be able to learn that she CAN sleep through the night without the milk and without needing you there beside her. It may take some time, but it’s definitely possible to be done! Our sleep consultants walk parents through just this thing with their toddlers every day. If you’d like to connect with one of them, you can read more about them here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/about/ Hang in there, Veena!

  5. I hope you’re still responding to comments! ?

    My 27 month old has been going through something fierce! He’s never been a consistently amazing sleeper. Lots of regressions, etc. However, we recently FINALLY had the perfect sleeper. He finally had gotten to a point where we could leave the room with him wide awake without a fight from him, and he’d either go right to sleep or he’d play until he calmly fell asleep. We could finally feel like we could even make noise in the house without the fear of him waking up. Then it recently (about a month ago) started to where when we’d leave the room, he’d cry. We’d go back in, be stern in telling him to go to sleep, and he instantly would. Then his school moved him to a new class (with most of his same classmates, but new room and new teachers) because of their age. This sparked a whooooooole s**t storm. For the past 2 weeks, he cries as soon as we leave his sight. Even in the past, if he needed to CIO then he’d eventually fall asleep not too long after. But now, not at all. He will scream and scream. We’ve tried letting him CIO but he just screams “momma/dadda blankie onnnnn!” over…and over…and over. He’s like a little broken record. He does all of this while laying down, which is super confusing to me since his past regressions have included him standing in his crib. This is by FAR the worst it’s ever been.

    Anyway, we finally caved and decided to roll with it while he gets used to his new class and hopefully gets through this phase. So I stay in there and sing to him while rubbing his head until he passes out, then ninja crawl out of his room.

    But wait, there’s more. Now he also wakes up at least once a night SCREAMING “blankie on momma/dadda!” over and over again. We’re at a point where we don’t know what the best course of action is. Do we let him CIO for hours until he kicks the habit? Do we acknowledge that he’s still just a little guy and is afraid of something right now, and go in every time? We’re stuck. And tired. And sad. We hate the thought of him being scared or sad, but he’s also so quick to form bad habits that we feel totally stuck and like any decision will be the wrong one. In the past two weeks, we’ve only had two nights of full sleep from him. Mind you, he gets up at 5:30/6am instead of his normal 7am even still (whether he woke up throughout the night or not).

    Reading the comments above I see we aren’t alone, but I’ll take ANY advice! I did email myself the link you’ve posted in the other comments, so I’ll be reading that as well.

    Also, how long does the 2 year regression normally lost?! ?

    • @Cece – Thank you for reading and for sharing with us. A 2-year old’s sleep can be a nightmare, and that’s for sure. Generally, we see this regression lasting at LEAST a few weeks depending on your child’s personality and temperament and how they were sleeping before it hits. Separation anxiety and the development of new fears are both very, very, very common right now, fortunately for him as this is a sign of positive development but unfortunately for you all as you have to deal with it. We rarely suggest developing new “bad” habits but understand you gotta do what you gotta do to a certain extent. From the specific nature of your issue, though, I’d suggest you consider connecting with one of our expert sleep consultants who can walk you through a better schedule and plan for his put down and night wakings. She has handled zillions of situations just like this and would welcome the opportunity to get you all back on a better sleep track, too. You can read more about our lovely ladies here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/about/ Hang in there, Cece!

    • CeCe..
      I feel like I’m in the same exact boat! TO a tee!! Did you ever figure out what to help your situation.. This just started last week and I’m beyond exhausted! AND would love some advice! THANKS

    • @Sylvia – Thank you for reading – a good rule of thumb for these regressions is 3-6 weeks though it can vary with each child. Hang in there and let us know if you need any more support.

  6. My 2.5 year old has always been a great sleeper once the colic phase was over. He’s been in his own room since 2.5 months. He never slept in my bed. We always put him down awake but drowsy. We currently always read a couple books, turn his night light on, rock in the rocking chair a little bit, put him in his crib awake, say our good nights and I love you’s, and leave the room. Lately he’s been waking up crying and requesting strange things, like new sheets, or his blanket to be flipped over so the pattern is face up, or my favorite, “I want to lay down.” I’m FAIRLY certain he is waking up from nightmares (I’ve seen him get restless in his sleep during car rides and make some pretty painful looking faces before waking up) and maybe he just makes up these strange excuses because he doesn’t know how to say he had a nightmare, but I’m not sure. He’s still in his crib. Potty trained during the day, and occasionally wakes up to potty at night. For the most part, still naps during the day. If not a full blown nap, at least a “rest” period. Bed time is between 7 and 8. We don’t give in to the really strange requests and we never stay in his room until he falls back asleep. It’s always a simple “why are you crying? Okay, let’s tuck you back in and go back to sleep.” So I feel like we’re being consistent. This has been going on for maybe a month or two. How can I stop him from waking up for these weird reasons? Or what am so doing wrong?

    • Hi @Casey Osborn, thanks for visiting the Baby Sleep Site! I am sorry you’ve been struggling with weird excuses from your toddler, but if I’m being honest with you your comment made me laugh because I can SO relate!!! My son is a little younger than yours and the amount of time I have had to “fix” his blanket for him (which must be balled up in the corner of his crib in a specific way) is unbelievable. Toddlers are strange little creatures. 😉
      So to answer your question, I don’t know either. I think you are handling it the best way you can and as he continues to understand more he’ll probably grow out of it. My older son (4.5) use to be VERY particular about things and would loose his mind if anything was out of the ordinary routine, and he’s really grown out of that, I do believe it was around 3 years old just as his comprehension grew. Hopefully the same will go for you! If you find anything that works for you, please come back and share it here so we can all benefit from it too!

  7. My oldest son is almost 26months. We had trouble with sleep in the past and had to do some CIO. He would always cry when we put him to bed (sometimes for 5mins, sometimes 45mins). Lately it has gotten worse. He will cry on and off for literally hours at bedtime. He still takes a nap (which is sometimes just spent crying too). Is still in a crib. We so have a new baby in the house (2.5 months) but he seems to like the new baby. He doesn’t use a lot of words so sometimes it is difficult for him to communicate things though. He won’t stop crying even when we go on to comfort him or lay on the floor beside his bed. We have tried a couple times to let him sleep in our bed our of desperation, but once he calms down he just wants to run around and have fun instead of cuddle up under the covers and sleep. I have no idea what to do anymore. I have my hands full with the baby and I am exhausted and feel horrible listening to him cry… I feel like such a failure as a mother.

    • Hi @Kate – Thank you for writing and I am SO sorry that your little guy’s sleep has been so tough! Please know that you’re not alone, and NOT a failure! SO many families have these same issues, and I’m certain that you are trying your hardest and doing the best that you can! Sleep issues do not equal parenting failures! Since you are exhausted and feeling so bad, and also have your hands very full with a 2 year old and a newborn, I would recommend getting some one on one help from one of our experts! This will allow you to tap into our over 10 years of experience with thousands of families to quickly get you and him sleeping better! You can see a full description and purchase any of our consultation packages here:
      Hang in there Kate, and please contact us if you have any questions!

  8. I need so much help. My daughter is just over 2 and has been waking in the middle of the night since 18 months. And by waking I mean, wide awake happy, laughing, chatting to herself.

    She puts herself to sleep at night and will actually go back to sleep after her wake up after 2 hours without tears or crying. She does have a soother, we don’t feed her in the middle of the night, we’ve tried to leave a leak proof water bottle in her bed at night (incase she’s thirsty??) but nothing works. She does have a special blanket, a sound machine and a pitch black room.

    I thought by now she would grow out of it. And it wasn’t so bad when she had 2 naps a day but now that she is down to one she is miserable all day. I have no idea what to do. We’ve tried leaving her and ignoring it but that approach hasn’t improved things, we’ve tried going in and telling her it’s not time to be awake etc and tucking her back in and she will still be up for the 2 hours.

  9. Hi, I guess it’s about time I seek help. I had sleep trained my kid with help of books etc. at 4 months and he STTN 8-7am till 15 months in his own room. Then we went on a couple of holidays where his cot was next to our bed and since then the habit of coming into our bed started and constant teething and cold, etc. didn’t help.
    Now he started his night sleep in a single bed with rail in his own room but needs me to be there throughout else follows me if I try to sneak out. Thereafter he wakes up in the night multiple times and immediately sleeps if we sit next to him. Usually we lose the battle at 2-3am and just bring him in our bed. Need help to sleep train my kid!!

    • Hi @Ruby, thank you for writing to us. I’m sorry you’ve been struggling with your son’s sleep! Toddlers can be so tricky so we have a free guide available for you to download with tips on how to manage sleep issues when there’s such a great desire for independence, real fears, etc to navigate around as well: https://www.babysleepsite.com/toddler-sleep-tips
      The free guide linked above really scratches the surface, so if you find you need more help, please let us know as we have several options. One of them is an ebook all about toddler sleep, and we offer support all the way up to one-on-one consulting with one of our amazing sleep consultants. You can read through our different available resources here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/ or feel free to contact us directly to [email protected] if you need more clarity on anything. Hang in there!

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