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How to Handle the 2 Year Sleep Regression

After all of the hard work you have put in over the past two years to get your little one sleeping well, you have once again hit another regression! Many people are not familiar with this regression, but it can be a doozy. However, it might give you a little comfort knowing that this is typically the last regression we see with good sleepers, so once you are over this hump it should be smooth sailing.  

Why is This Happening?

At this age, your child is going through many developmental changes and milestones.  He is walking/running, talking, sprouting like a weed, and likely protesting more with his new found independence. He is learning that he has opinions about things, and when things don’t turn out the way he wants them to he will want to express his dissatisfaction intensely and try to push the boundaries.

Separation anxiety- also comes into play here; your toddler may genuinely be distressed when you leave at nap time, or when you walk out of the room at bedtime. This is why it is so important to give extra love and attention to him during the day while he is going through this change.

Teething- can play a factor at 24 months – they are often cutting their back molars around this time. Try to treat his teething pain before nap time or in the middle of the night if it is waking him up.

Fears-At 2 years old, many little ones are beginning to see the world in new ways and have access to many avenues to fantasy in books and shows, etc. With this new view of the world often comes new fears. When your child is suddenly not sleeping well, the cause may be an age-appropriate fear of the dark or of something scary their imagination is bringing to life.

Finally, the timing of his sleep may need to be adjusted a little bit. Nap time and bedtime might need to be a little later, or if your little one is refusing to take a nap or the nap has significantly shortened, then you will need to bump up bedtime 30-60 mins earlier.

How Long Will it Last? 

When we are going through this regression, it seems like it will never end! But rest assure it will; this regression typically lasts between 1-3 weeks before your little one gets back to their normal sleeping habits. I know 3 weeks of sleep troubles can seem pretty daunting, but keep reminding yourself that it is normal and temporary and there are things you can do to help your child get through it while keeping your sanity at the same time.

What Can I Do During the Regression?

Although the regression itself is temporary, any bad habits that are created during the regression can last much longer. It is important to continue a consistent sleep routine, and steer away from creating sleep habits you won’t want to continue in the future.

CONSISTENCY is going to be the key to getting through this regression. By remaining consistent with the schedule and your response during a sleep regression, you are setting boundaries and letting your toddler know what behaviors are expected and giving them a sense of structure.

To support your child’s new sense of independence while at the same time setting boundaries and expectations, it can be helpful to allow them to make a few age-appropriate choices during their sleep routine. Allowing them to have these small choices allows them take ownership of their sleep process.

A few simple choices they can make may include choosing between pairs of pajamas. I recommend giving them two options to choose from, for example, “Would you like the red pajamas or the blue ones tonight?” Another simple choice could be which book to read at bedtime, “Would you like this book or that one?”.

A Few More Tips

  • Create a bedtime routine chart with pictures on it to hang in his room. Go over the chart with him once a night before starting the bedtime routine. They are very visual learners at this age, and images for each step of the routine will help cue their minds and bodies that sleep is coming.
  • Limit screen time at least 60 mins before bedtime and 30 mins before nap time.
  • Watch the milk intake. Sometimes I have found that too much milk can create sleep problems for toddlers. I recommend no more than 20 oz per day.
  • Avoid big changes like potty training or transitioning out of the crib during this time.
  • Sometimes bedtime needs to be pushed 30 minutes later at this age if they are taking a nap. If the nap has been dropped bedtime may need to be pushed 30-60 minutes earlier.
  • Give him lots of love and attention during the day and in the evening before bedtime.

While I know this regression can be frustrating for parents, know that is normal and common to see in toddlers and will soon pass. Not every child will go through this regression, but I hope these tips help if you find yourself in a situation where your 2 year old has started to struggle with his sleep. If it has been over a couple of months since seeing these changes and you are still struggling, reach out to us and we would love to help! 



About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

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Working with Shannon, I went from 2-3 wake ups every night to 1 or 0. She aligned the plan with my preferred sleep cycle. She was always coaching, never judging. Shannon was great, I have referred MANY people to her! That's the best testament to her work that I can give.

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