2-Year-Old Sleep Regression: Common Signs & Tips For Dealing With It

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2 year old sleep regression


What’s The 2-Year-Old Sleep Regression, Or Is It Just A Myth?

Are you finding yourself up in the middle of the night with your 2-year-old who used to sleep through till morning? This could be a sign of sleep regression, a common phase that can be particularly challenging for parents juggling other responsibilities or simply needing a good night’s sleep. 

Pediatricians also refer to this sleep issue as BIC (behavioral insomnia of childhood). This condition affects 5% to 20% of children, according to a 2021 study in the Clinical and Experimental Pediatrics journal. (1)

Sleep insufficiency in kids can lead to poor health outcomes such as cardiovascular, metabolic (e.g., obesity), and social or mental health problems (e.g., receptive vocabulary, social skills and engagement, etc.). (2)(3)(4)

Lack of sleep can also affect your toddler’s attention span and mood (think grumpiness or hyperactivity). It can also affect their daily life and health, leading to anxiety, depression, immune system problems, or even allergic rhinitis. (5)

Sleeping problems can also increase a child’s risk for hypertension, diabetes, and other health outcomes later in life. (5)

While the 2-year-old sleep regression is very real, the good news is not all kids experience it, and there are effective strategies to help your child (and you) get back to a peaceful night’s sleep.

How long does sleep regression last? Can getting a toddler bed help? Should you skip nap time so they’re more tired at night? What’s the most effective way to deal with your 2-year-old’s sleep issues?

This article will answer these sleep regression questions and help you understand why it happens, what signs to watch for, and how to help your toddler sleep better.


Is Sleep Regression Normal For A 2-Year-Old?


Sleep expert Cara of “Taking Cara Babies” explains that it’s normal for young kids ages 2 to 2.5 years to experience sleep regression for many reasons, including endless energy, significant developmental milestones, life changes, etc. (6)

During this phase, your child’s brain is working hard on various developmental tasks, which can disrupt their sleep. (6)


Do All Toddlers Experience Sleep Regression?

Not every toddler goes through sleep regression. While a significant percentage of children are affected, many sail through this age without major sleep disruptions.


Six Signs Of Sleep Regression In Your 2-Year-Old

Here are the most common signs of sleep regression in toddlers and tips on how to address them: (1)


Problem/Sign: Taking Longer To Settle For Bedtime Routine

Possible Solution/s:

  • Establish simple and predictable bedtime routines 
  • Stick to routines consistently
  • Gently nudge them in the right direction by mentioning what they’re supposed to do next
  • Introduce a comfort object like a lovey (stuffed animal)
  • Stay calm but firm and consistent


Problem/Sign: Stalling & Trying To Delay Bedtime With Requests

Possible Solution/s:

  • Consider moving their bedtime to a later time (bedtime fading), sleep researchers believe that the delayed bedtime might actually create pressure for the child to sleep because it fits their natural tendency or need (1)
  • Try the ‘response cost’ method by taking your child out of bed if they aren’t ready to sleep so they won’t associate awake times with being in bed; return them to bed after a predetermined time (e.g., 30 minutes) and try coaxing them to sleep (1)


Problem/Sign: Napping For Shorter Periods Or Refusing To Nap (Nap Strike)

Possible Solution/s:

  • Recognize their active brains might prevent naps.
  • Ensure their total sleep time fits the recommended 11-14 hours for their age.


Babies 4-12 months old usually sleep for 12-16 hours, then gradually nap or sleep for shorter periods. Don’t worry if your 2-year-old sleeps less hours because they only need about 11-14 hours, based on the recommendations for their age. (7)

Some might also drop their naps early on. My daughter dropped her naps completely at 26 months. 


Problem/Sign: Waking Up More Frequently At Night 

Possible Solution/s:

  • Avoid engaging them; simply tell them to go back to sleep.
  • Create a soothing sleep space by adding a nightlight or a white noise machine or lullabies
  • A sleep training refresher may also help them learn to soothe themselves back to sleep.


Problem/Sign: Waking Up Much Earlier Than Usual (Early Morning Waking)

Possible Solution/s:

  • Invest in blackout curtains. 
  • Similar to waking in the middle of the night, consider putting them back to bed without engaging 


Problem/Sign: Escaping Their Crib/Bed

Possible Solution/s:

  • Set the crib at the lowest setting
  • If they can still escape at the lowest setting, maybe it’s time to transition to a toddler bed or a floor bed. 


Causes: Why Is My 2-Year-Old No Longer Sleeping Through The Night?

There may be several reasons for a 24-month sleep regression. It may be because of any or a combination of the following: (1)(6)(8)


Overexcitement With Developmental Changes & Learning New Skills

For some reason, developmental changes such as brain development or motor skills learning can lead to sleep regression. The mechanisms of why it happens are still unknown, but sleep researchers have observed them. (8)


Quest For Independence Or Power Struggle

Toddlers love to test their independence, sometimes leading to power struggles with you or other caregivers. (9)


Changes In Their Nap & Sleep Needs

Remember that kids 1-2 years old only need around 11 to 14 hours of total sleep over a 24-hour period. If they go to daycare, ask their caregiver how many hours or minutes they are allocating for sleep time so you can include those with your calculations. (7)(9)

Naps for 2-year-olds usually last from 1.5 to 3 hours. You can adjust your bedtime hours accordingly. (9)

It’s also ideal to keep nap schedules early instead of late afternoon, making them less likely to interfere with bedtime. (9)

Note, however, that about half of kids stop napping by three years old. So, if your child is close to that age, their ‘nap strike’ might not be a power struggle but simply a change in their sleep needs. (9)


Circadian Rhythm (Body Clock) Mismatch

Our bodies have an internal ‘clock’ that makes us sleep and wake up at roughly similar times. It keeps sleep patterns. Your toddler might be alert during the new nap schedule. (9)


New Milestones Achieved

Learning to do something new, such as potty training successfully, can excite your child, which can affect their sleeping routine


Experiencing Separation Anxiety

At two years old, your child might begin to experience separation anxiety, making them fear ‘losing’ you, even if you’re just in another room. (9)


Major Family & Life Changes

Having a new sibling, moving to a new home, or other major life changes can also affect your child’s sleep, especially if they also have to move to a different sleeping space. (9)


Teething Discomfort Or Pains

Growing molars are especially more painful than other teeth, causing more discomfort for your 2-year-old. (8)

Kids’ teeth grow at varying rates, but molars usually begin to appear from 13 to 19 months of age. Their teeth continue to come in until age 3. So, you can expect sleep disruption from teething pains when these 2-year molars grow. (10)


Developing New Nighttime Fears (Nightmares & Bad Dreams)

Young children who experience bad dreams and nightmares may be more likely to be scared of sleeping. They have to learn how to deal with these new fears with assurance so they can have a good night’s sleep. (9)

At this age, some kids might also develop a fear of the dark, which may also be due to their nightmares.


Overtired Or Fatigued

Overtiredness can block your toddler’s ability to sleep because their body’s response might mistakenly believe they’re in ‘danger’ and try to keep them awake even if they’re already fatigued. (11)


Transition To A New Sleeping Environment

Changes in a 2-year-old’s sleeping environment might affect their naps or sleep. For example, a toddler used to a quiet, darkened nursery might struggle to sleep in a noisier, light-filled daycare facility. (9)

This can also hold true for 2-year-olds who are used to sleeping in a crib (which has walls) when they transition to a toddler bed (which does not have walls). 


Possible Illness, Discomfort, Or Something Bugging Them

Some reasons why your toddler might wake up at night:


Your Bedtime Schedule Might Need Adjustment

The older your child gets, the fewer naps or sleep hours they need. As they approach three years of age, sleep time is reduced to 10 to 13 hours per 24-hour period. (7)


Your 2-Year-Old Is Dependent On Your Help To Sleep

It will be harder for your child to go back to sleep if they’re used to falling asleep in your arms or having you around. Consider sleep training and leaving their nursery when they’re still drowsy but not yet asleep so they can learn self-soothing techniques independently.


Too Much Or Increased Screen Time

Gadgets (e.g., TVs, tablets, smartphones, computers, etc.) can also interfere with your 2-year-old’s sleep. (9)


Too Much Stimulation & Active Energy Before Bedtime

Young children might feel more active if they get too much stimulation before bedtime. If possible, avoid active play close to bedtime.


Tips: How Do I Get My 2-Year-Old To Sleep Through The Night Again?

Some sleep tips to consider for your 2-year-old: 


Establish & Maintain Sleep Habits Or Routines

Put your baby or toddler to bed when they’re drowsy but not asleep yet. This helps them learn how to self-soothe and go to sleep independently, even during sleep regressions. (8)(9)

Don’t forget that sleep training can take time. So, don’t be too hard on yourself and your baby when things don’t go as planned.


Plan The Day’s Activities With Bedtime In Mind

  • Avoid soda and drinks or food containing caffeine (e.g., chocolate)
  • Give them bedtime or sleeping books to read
  • Plan active play earlier in the day and quiet time close to bedtime
  • Give them a warm bath and a gentle massage to wind down


Establish Boundaries, Be Consistent, & Stay Calm

  • Stay calm because further stressing an already stressed-out kid can stop them from falling asleep, and can spike their cortisol, leading to worse sleep quality (11)


Watch For Signs Of Drowsiness

  • Temper tantrums
  • Crankiness
  • Looking tired (although some toddlers might become overly active when drowsy)
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Yawning


Make Routines Simple, Predictable, & Easier For Your 2-Year-Old to Manage

Bedtime routines are ideally easy for everyone, including you, your partner, and other caregivers – not just your toddler. This helps everyone stick to the same routine and memorize doing things in the same order. (8)

The repetitive steps also signal your toddler that sleep comes after the routine is completed. (8)


Incorporate Regular Requests Into Their Bedtime Routine

If your child keeps asking for a second bedtime story, consider adding that to their routine. It might help them settle faster and sleep straight.


Check Their Health (Possible Illness) & Safety

Sometimes, kids might have certain illnesses that don’t show visible symptoms but still make them feel uncomfortable. 

If they frequently climb out of the crib, the excitement might affect their sleep. Consider moving them to a toddler bed instead.


Consider Big Transitions Or Milestones & Let Them Take The Lead

Talk to your toddler when there are major changes in their life (e.g., new sibling) to help them understand the situation and feel assured that they have nothing to worry about.


Assure Them They’re Safe

If your toddler is afraid of the dark or having nightmares, assure them they’re safe in their sleep space and that monsters aren’t real or coming to get them.


Introduce A Lovey Or Comfort Object

Promote quiet time and offer a comfort object, such as a lovey (e.g., stuffed animal), to help them sleep. 


Creating A Dark But Safe & Calm Sleep Space 

Here are some tips for creating a serene environment for better sleep or helping your little one go back to sleep: (8)(9)

  • Turn off the main lights or keep the lights low
  • Get a night light
  • Close the windows and add blackout curtains
  • Set the stage by keeping their bed clear of toys (except a comfort toy) to associate it with sleep instead of play


Create Age-Appropriate Sleep Schedules

You might need to adjust your toddler’s sleep schedule because they need fewer hours than younger children. (9)


Check Whether Bedtime Is Too Early Or Too Late

Stick to your child’s circadian rhythm, so you don’t put them to bed when they’re still active or too late (they’re already tired). (9)(11)


Avoid Screen Time, Especially Close To Bedtime

Because gadgets can affect sleep, it makes sense to avoid their use, especially close to bedtime. (9)


Keep The Crib & Transition To A Toddler Bed When They’re Ready

Moving to a toddler bed when they aren’t ready can affect their sleep. Consider transitioning gradually or waiting until your child is ready before making them move. 


Adjust Bedtime If They Skipped Their Nap

  • Put them to bed earlier if they skipped a nap
  • If they keep skipping naps, consider permanently adjusting their bedtime hours (they probably need fewer sleep hours)


Positive Praise For Expected Bedtime Behavior

‘Catch’ your child doing something good, such as an expected bedtime behavior (e.g., changing into pajamas without being told). This might help them breeze through their bedtime routine and sleep earlier.


Be Flexible & Understanding With Your Child’s Sleep Changes

Kids don’t always follow routines and schedules – and that’s okay. 


Promote Active Play During Awake Hours

Encourage kids to actively play during their awake hours (but away from bedtime). Sleep consultants also recommend going outside and playing under natural light. (9)


Consider Not Engaging & Leading Them Back To Bed 

If your child ‘escaped’ from bed and went to your room in the middle of the night, don’t lecture or talk to them. That might keep them more awake or make them think the behavior is okay. Instead, lead them back to bed without a word or simply tell them to go back to sleep. (13)


Other Tips To Consider

If your child feels emotionally exhausted but can’t sleep, getting angry and forcing them to go to bed can add stress. Consider trying to calm your toddler down and lulling them to sleep instead. (11)

Often, physical contact, such as cuddling, also works. However, be sure to put your child back to bed after cuddling so they won’t get used to getting carried and cuddled to sleep. (11)

If your child feels active and can’t go back to sleep, allow them to read a book or play as long as they keep quiet and do not disturb other family members. (13)


What’s The Usual Duration Of A 2-Year-Old’s Sleep Regression?

When Does A 2-Year-Old’s Sleep Regression Start?

Sleep regressions can happen at any age, even to younger babies or big kids. So, a 2-year-sleep regression can happen anytime throughout this age range. (9)


Can Sleep Regression Start Early?

Yes. Sleep regression can happen anytime, even to 4-month-old babies. (14)


When Does A 2-Year-Old’s Sleep Regression End?

It varies, lasting days or weeks. Some kids go back to their sleep routine sooner or later than others. (6)

Follow our tips above and try to be consistent with your rules to guide your toddler back to sleeping soundly throughout the night. 


What If Your 2-Year-Old’s Sleep Regression Doesn’t Go Away?

Talk to a sleep consultant or your pediatrician. Some offer sleep training classes to help you guide your toddler and address their sleep regression based on their needs.


How Many Hours Of Sleep Do 2-Year-Olds Need?

  • The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s recommendations (including naps): 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours for children 1-2 years old (7)


When To Call Your Pediatrician

  • Frequent nightmares (15)
  • Fear of going to sleep (usually because of the nightmares) (15)
  • Breathing difficulties (5)
  • Excessive snoring (5)
  • Loud breathing (5)
  • Sleep disruption affects their daytime behavior (15)
  • Night terror (screaming in the middle of the night, but without waking up or remembering it in the morning) (5)
  • Sleepwalking (5)



Should I Just Drop The Naps If My 2-Year-Old Keeps Skipping Them?

It depends on your toddler’s situation. Young children eventually skip naps, especially when they’re ready for school activities. So, about half stop napping at around age 3 (when they start preschool), and nearly all kids might stop daytime sleep by age 5. (9)

During the transition, however, many kids still have naps occasionally. Let them rest and get that nap when they want to. You can take their cues and let them nap for shorter or longer times when necessary. (9)


Should You Force Your Toddler To Nap Or Sleep To Solve Regressions?

No. Forcing your toddler to nap or sleep might negatively impact the situation and lead to poor nighttime sleep. (9)


What Should I Do If My Toddler Only Sleeps When Held Or Carried?

Start training them to sleep on their own. It can take time, but your toddler will eventually learn to self-soothe and sleep without being cuddled, held, or carried.


Can I Just Move My Toddler To My Bed When They’re Having Sleep Regression?

That might not be a good idea. Your toddler will think it’s okay and might keep doing it again. It’s better to lead them back to their own bed.


Can I Just Let My Toddler Cry Themself To Sleep?

Toddler sleep regression can be stressful, and your kid might cry out of frustration. You don’t have to let them cry themselves to sleep. Instead, you can help them learn independent sleeping techniques to reduce these crying sessions. (6)





















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