As a parent, nothing compares to the joy of watching your child grow and develop. However, with each developmental milestone, there are often hurdles that come along with it. One such challenge is the 2 year old sleep regression.
All of a sudden, you may find yourself wondering, “Why is my 2 year old not sleeping?” If you are a parent dealing with this phase, you’re not alone.
This guide will help you understand what 2-year sleep regression is, what causes it, and how to handle it without losing your mind.
What is the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression?
Sleep regression is a phase where a child who was previously sleeping well suddenly begins to have difficulty sleeping. It can happen at any age, but one of the most common stages of sleep regression in toddlers is around the age of 2. During this phase, a child may have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up frequently during the night.
Signs of 2-Year Sleep Regression
A child who previously slept well may begin to have their sleep patterns disrupted and start to have frequent middle of the night wakings, have difficulty falling asleep, or resist going to bed. They may also experience nightmares or night terrors, which can make it difficult for them to settle down and go back to sleep.
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Causes of 2-Year Sleep Regression
As a parent, it’s normal to want to understand the causes of sleep regression and how to help your children get back to their usual sleeping routines. While each child is unique, some typical factors may be responsible for their sleep problems.
One of the most common is a child’s brain development. During this period, the brain is rapidly developing, and the child is learning new skills and experiencing new emotions, which can make it difficult to settle down and sleep.
One important factor that affects sleep is the development of the circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles. As a child’s brain develops, their circadian rhythm becomes more established and they begin to produce the hormone melatonin in a more consistent pattern. This helps them fall asleep more easily at night and stay awake during the day.
However, during periods of rapid brain development, such as around age 2, this process can become disrupted. Two-year-olds may experience sleep regression, where they start waking up more frequently during the night or have trouble falling asleep.
Separation anxiety is a common issue that many toddlers experience and it can play a significant role in the two year sleep regression, particularly when it comes to night wakings. Separation anxiety typically reaches its peak when a child is around 18 months old, but it may persist intermittently until they are five or six years old.
In some cases, it can even continue beyond that age, which is no fun for parents. When a child is two years old, their separation anxiety may be rooted in genuine fear. The child might be afraid of being left alone or left with unfamiliar people. Alternatively, the fear might stem from the child’s desire not to miss out on any exciting activities.
At this age, the child has a good understanding that when their caregiver leaves, they don’t simply disappear but are rather somewhere else, doing something fun without them. Naturally, the child wants to be a part of the fun and not feel left out. However, if separation anxiety occurs as soon as the parent leaves the room during naptime or bedtime, it could have a disruptive effect on the little ones’ sleep.
Being overtired can play a significant role in the 2-year-old sleep regression, as it can lead to difficulty falling and staying asleep, and can exacerbate other factors such as separation anxiety or developmental milestones. Contrary to popular belief, having an overtired child does not mean that said child will sleep for long periods of time. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.
At this age, toddlers typically need around 11-14 hours of sleep per day, including naps. However, if they miss naps or stay up too late at night, they can become overtired, which can make it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
An overtired toddler may produce higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can interfere with sleep. They may also experience more frequent night wakings, as their body tries to catch up on missed sleep.
To avoid overtiredness and reduce the impact of the 2-year sleep regression, it’s important for parents to prioritize their child’s sleep needs and establish consistent sleep routines.
Is your little one on a nap strike? Naptime resistance and the 2-year sleep regression can be closely related in toddlers. During the 2-year sleep regression, toddlers are going through significant developmental changes, including an increased desire for independence.
As a result, resisting naptime can lead to overtiredness, which can exacerbate the 2-year sleep regression. This then makes it harder for little ones to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
This can create a challenging cycle, where the child becomes increasingly resistant to naptime but is also unable to get the restorative sleep they need.
This is because the 2 year old is waking up at night for hours on end and never making up for that lack of sleep.
Transitioning to a Big Kid Bed
Transitioning a toddler from a crib to a big bed can sometimes be a trigger for sleep regression.
Moving to a toddler bed can be an exciting and positive milestone for toddlers, but it can also be a significant adjustment. For many children, the crib represents a safe and familiar sleeping environment, and moving to a new bed can be an unsettling change. This can lead to anxiety and disrupted sleep patterns, as the child adjusts to their new sleeping arrangements.
Additionally, transitioning to a big kid bed can sometimes lead to new bedtime routines or expectations. For example, a child may be more inclined to get out of bed because of their newfound independence. Or, they may get out of bed to play in their room, rather than simply falling asleep in their crib. This can lead to delays in falling asleep or waking up more frequently throughout the night.
Potty training is a major developmental milestone for toddlers, and it can be a source of stress and anxiety for both the child and the parent. The process of learning to use the potty can be physically and emotionally challenging for toddlers, and it can sometimes lead to disruptions in their sleep patterns.
For example, a child may wake up more frequently at night due to the discomfort of wet or soiled underwear or because they need to use the potty.
Teething and sleep regression are two common milestones that babies go through, and they are often related. Teething can be a painful and uncomfortable process for babies, and it can disrupt their sleep patterns, which can trigger sleep regression.
If baby is experiencing disrupted sleep patterns during the teething process, there are several things parents can do to help ease their discomfort and promote better sleep. Massaging the gums with a clean finger, using a teething toy or ring, offering cool, soft foods, and using over-the-counter pain relievers as recommended by a doctor are all ways to help alleviate teething pain and promote better sleep for babies.
That being said, this can be an especially tough time for parents and baby. Try to remember that it’s temporary and it too shall pass.
Once your kiddo hits the big two, their imagination really starts to take off. Some common fears for toddlers include monsters under the bed and the dark. Unfortunately, these fears can result in nightmares and night terrors, causing your child to wake up in the middle of the night and disrupting their sleep.
Another cause of the 24 month sleep regression is the child’s desire for independence. Children are beginning to assert their independence at this age and may resist going to bed or following a routine. This can cause stress and anxiety for both the child and the parent.
Lots of changes in the child’s environment can also trigger 2-year sleep regression. For example, moving to a new home, starting daycare, or the arrival of a new baby can disrupt a child’s routine and cause sleep disturbances.
Top Sleep Tips to Manage the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
It’s tough to see your toddler struggling with sleep, but don’t worry. Just like other sleep regressions, this is a phase that will pass. I can help you take some clear steps to get them sleeping soundly once again.
2 Year Old Sleep Regression Solutions
Consistent Bedtime Routine: Toddlers thrive on routine and consistency, especially at bedtime. Establishing a predictable routine that includes calming activities like a warm bath, storytime, and snuggles can help your child feel safe and secure as they prepare for sleep.
For those experiencing separation anxiety or adjusting to a new sibling, adding a few extra moments of snuggling can make all the difference.
- Make it Clear and Consistent – Establish consistent boundaries for bedtime and stick to them. Decide on the number of books, songs, and cuddles your child gets each night, and follow through with your plan. This way, your little one won’t use bedtime as an opportunity to push boundaries.
- Don’t Give in to Stalling Tactics – Children will often try to delay bedtime by asking for extra cuddles, stories, or drinks of water. While it’s important to be responsive to your child’s needs, it’s also important to set firm limits and avoid giving in to their stalling tactics.
- Be in Control – Remember, as the parent, you’re in charge of the bedtime routine. It’s important to establish limits and boundaries that work for your family and to stick to them consistently. This can help your child feel secure and make bedtime a smoother process for everyone involved.
Don’t Give Up Naptime: Most toddlers still need an afternoon nap until they are around 3 to 5 years old. So, if your 2-year-old is going through a nap strike, it doesn’t mean they suddenly need less sleep. Instead, offer quiet time in their crib or bed, which can help them rest their bodies for at least 60 minutes every day. This way, they’ll be more likely to resume their nap when the regression passes.
Be Consistent – Even if your toddler resists naptime, it’s important to stick to your routine and offer quiet time. This will help establish a consistent sleep schedule and ensure that your child gets the rest they need to stay healthy and happy.
Stay Positive – It can be frustrating when your child goes through a nap regression, but try to stay positive and patient. Remember that this is a normal part of toddler development, and with time and consistency, your child’s nap routine will likely return to normal.
Include Common Requests in Your Night Time Routine: Have you noticed that your children appear to be dehydrated every night after you leave their room? Suddenly they are sooooo thirsty…and they cannot go another minute without more water. Instead of dealing with this same situation every night, make sure they have water next to their bed.
If your toddler is toilet training and bedtime is typically delayed by trips to the bathroom, make sure to build potty time into the routine. After your usual bedtime routine, you can offer “one last” trip to the bathroom.
Similarly, you can end your routine with “one last” hug or story — whatever your child likes to request at bedtime. It’s important to be firm and consistent when you explain something is the “last time” for the night. Because once you start giving in, they will come to expect it from you.
Offer Choices: Giving your child choices can be a powerful tool to reduce bedtime battles. Offering options that they can make for themselves can help your child feel more empowered and in control. For example, “Do you want this story or that story?” “Do you want these pajamas or those pajamas?” This sense of control can lead to a more positive bedtime experience and less bedtime resistance.
Positive Reinforcement: It’s important to praise your child when they do well at bedtime or throughout the night. Offering specific praise for good behavior can encourage more of the same.
For instance, you could say, “You did such a great job putting on your pajamas so quickly!” or “You didn’t get out of bed once last night after I left the room. I’m so proud of you.”
Apart from offering verbal encouragement, utilizing small incentives can be an effective way to motivate your child to maintain positive behavior. An instance of this could be rewarding a child who manages to stay in bed for the whole night with a sticker or perhaps a special activity with a parent.
For particularly challenging sleep problems, such as waking up too early, some families have found it advantageous to incorporate visual aids like a sticker chart to track progress.
By implementing these small yet impactful tactics, parents can foster good habits in their children while also building a positive and rewarding relationship with them.
It’s important to keep in mind that the rewards should be reasonable and age-appropriate, and the focus should always be on encouraging positive behavior rather than using rewards as a bribe or punishment.
Acknowledge Nighttime Fears: It’s crucial to acknowledge and empathize with your toddlers’ fears, as these fears are very real to them. Your child may require some extra love and care during this challenging time.
To overcome this fear of the dark, parents can take several steps:
- Create a bedtime routine: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine that includes relaxing activities such as reading a story, taking a warm bath, or listening to calming music can help your child associate bedtime with relaxation and comfort.
- Provide a safe sleeping environment: Ensure that your child’s sleeping environment is safe and comfortable. This includes ensuring that the room is at a comfortable temperature, there are no scary shadows or objects, and that your child has their favorite stuffed animal or blanket.
- Talk to your child: Encourage your child to express their fears and concerns and validate their feelings. Let them know that it is normal to feel scared sometimes and that you are there to support them.
- Gradually expose your child to darkness: Gradually expose your child to darkness by turning off the lights for a short period of time and gradually increasing the duration. This will help your child to become more comfortable with the dark.
- Consider a night light: If your child is still afraid of the dark, consider incorporating a nightlight, a Galaxy projector, and even a white noise machine.
Adjust Bedtime: If your toddler starts skipping naps or just taking small 20-minute naps, it’s best to consider an earlier bedtime. Keep track of your toddler’s sleep patterns and adjust their bedtime accordingly.
If your toddler is consistently skipping naps or having difficulty falling asleep, it may be a sign that they need more sleep. Gradually move up bedtime: Start by moving up your toddler’s bedtime by 15-30 minutes each night. This will help your toddler adjust to the new bedtime gradually without causing too much disruption.
Stay Calm: In the midst of a sleep regression, maintaining a sense of calm can be a powerful tool in your arsenal. Not only can it help you to think more clearly and devise effective strategies to help your child, but it can also offer you the resilience to cope with the inevitable stresses and exhaustion that come with this phase.
From adjusting bedtime routines to experimenting with new sleep aids, there are a range of approaches you may consider. Nonetheless, the secret to success often lies in your ability to identify the underlying cause of the regression and find a solution that caters to your child’s unique needs.
It’s natural to feel a sense of frustration and overwhelm during this time, but it’s important to resist the urge to become emotional or reactive. By staying calm and focused, you can create a nurturing environment that supports your child’s needs, while safeguarding your own emotional well-being.
I know it’s hard, but try to stay strong! Remember, the key to overcoming the challenges of sleep regression for your 2 year old lies in your ability to remain adaptable, creative, and responsive.
Common Sleep Regression Questions & Answers
I understand how challenging this period can be for both parents and children. Now that we’ve gone over the causes and management of sleep regression, let’s move on to some commonly asked questions about the 2 year old sleep regression.
Is sleep regression real?
The answer is yes, it is. Sleep regression is a real phenomenon that affects many babies and toddlers. However, it is important to note that sleep regression is not a clinical condition, but rather a normal developmental stage that babies go through.
Is there a 2 year sleep regression?
Yes, there is a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “2-year sleep regression.” It typically occurs around the age of 2 years old when toddlers may experience changes in their sleep patterns and behaviors. During this regression, children may have difficulty falling asleep, wake up frequently during the night, or resist going to bed altogether. It is a temporary phase and often linked to developmental milestones and changes in routine or environment.
Can sleep regression only affect naps?
The answer is no. While sleep regression can certainly affect a baby’s daytime naps, it’s unlikely that it would only affect naps and not nighttime sleep. During a sleep regression, a baby’s sleep patterns are disrupted, which means they may wake up more frequently both during the day and at night.
The reasons for the regression, such as physical development or changes in routine, are not limited to daytime or nighttime. Therefore, it’s unlikely that a sleep regression would only affect naps and not nighttime sleep.
Is sleep regression normal?
Yes, sleep regression is a normal and common occurrence in infants and young children. It’s a period of time when a baby who was previously sleeping well suddenly starts waking up more frequently at night or having difficulty falling asleep. Sleep regression can happen at any age, but it’s most common around 4 months, 8 months, and 18 months.
When is the toddler sleep regression?
Toddler sleep regression is a normal and common occurrence that can happen anytime between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. It’s a period of time when a toddler who was previously sleeping well suddenly starts waking up more frequently at night, having difficulty falling asleep, or resisting bedtime altogether.
When does sleep regression end?
The good news is that sleep regression is a temporary phase. It can last for a few weeks to a few months and the duration of it depends on the underlying cause of the regression and the individual child’s temperament and sleep patterns.
Can you avoid sleep regression?
Sleep regression is a normal and temporary phase that most children will experience at some point, and there is no way of avoiding it. However, following the steps above can help minimize the impact of the regression.
Can sleep regression cause a fever?
Sleep regression itself is not known to cause a fever, there are some instances where a fever may be present alongside a sleep regression. For example, when little ones are ill or have an infection.
Final Thoughts on The 2 Year Sleep Regression
In summary, the 2 year old sleep regression can be a challenging phase for both parents and toddlers, but with the right strategies and support, it can be managed effectively.
By identifying the underlying causes and establishing a consistent sleep routine, parents can help their children overcome these temporary sleep difficulties and return to their usual sleeping habits.
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