When your two-year-old who usually sleeps well starts frequently waking up in the middle of the night and refuses to go back to sleep, they might be experiencing 2-year-old sleep regression. Sleep regressions are a common phenomenon among babies and can happen at any stage in a baby’s life. However, babies usually experience sleep regression at four months, six months, 12 months, 18 months, and two years.
Sleep regression is a part of normal development. It is triggered by several developmental changes that enable a two-year-old to speak simple sentences, walk with support, build towers with blocks, and take part in simple activities (1) (2) (3). However, sleep regression can also occur due to illnesses or a change in the baby’s sleep routine. But, overall, sleep regression is temporary and may not be a cause for concern.
Keep reading to learn more about two-year-old sleep regression and some tips to help you deal with it.
How Long Does A 2-Year-Old’s Sleep Regression Last?
There is no set time frame for when the 2-year-old sleep regression will exactly end, as every child is different and has separate needs. With patience and proper care, you can help your baby get back to sleep peacefully in a few weeks.
What Causes The Two-Year-Old Sleep Regression?
- Change in daytime naps: As babies grow, their sleep needs start reducing. A two-year-old needs about four hours of daytime naps compared to five hours when they are six to 12 months old and eight hours when they are infants. This change in the total hours of daytime naps might influence the nighttime sleep and lead to sleep regression.
- Exploration: As there is so much new to do and explore, the toddler may not want to sleep and miss activities. They may not understand that their body needs rest and that the activities can be done the next day. As they explore the world around them, they may resist sleep.
- Separation anxiety: The toddler may feel anxious as the parents put them to bed. They may also behave irritated and feel insecure when the parents are out of sight. This separation anxiety could make it difficult for the toddler to fall asleep at night. They may also find it hard to fall back to sleep after night wakings if they don’t find you around them.
- Over tiredness: Adults usually fall asleep quicker when tired. This may not apply to some toddlers. The unhappy feeling generated due to tiredness can make them want to express their frustration rather than sleep, and they may find it challenging to settle down.
- Sleep habits: If you had the habit of cradling your baby to sleep, your toddler might have associated it with sleep time. When this stops abruptly, your child might find trouble falling asleep. Similarly, some babies associate night feeding with sleep. Such habits need to be gradually reduced and weaned off.
- Changes around them: Some toddlers may find it difficult to sleep when they notice changes around them. A sudden shift from their crib to a toddler bed, change of room, new color of night lamp light, etc., can confuse a toddler. The toddler may take some time to adapt to the changes and find it hard to fall asleep.
- Arrival of a new sibling: The arrival of a new baby could majorly impact a toddler’s sleep pattern. While some toddlers might feel neglected due to the attention paid to a newborn, others may want to play and observe the new member of the house by compromising sleep. Either reason could lead to sleep regression.
- Fears: Learning new things can bring along fears with it. Children may develop fears for certain things after exposure to certain stories, films, or images. Fear of darkness, fear of shadows, and fear of being left alone in a room are a few common fears children of this age have. These fears could also lead to night regression in your toddler. Nightmares and night terrors could also be contributing factors.
- Teething: Teething could be one of the causes of sleep regression in toddlers. The increased pain and poor coping skills can make it difficult for toddlers to fall asleep at night or take naps during the day. The pain can also make them wake up frequently during the night.
How To Deal With A Two-Year-Old’s Sleep Regression?
- Reduce the daytime naps: Toddlers need fewer hours of daytime naps compared to newborns. If your toddler naps for more than four hours per day, try to reduce their nap time gradually so that they sleep well through the night. Your objective should be to allow them more active periods during the day while ensuring they do not get over exhausted.
- Create a healthy sleeping environment: Ensure the child feels safe and comfortable when in bed. You can place a night lamp to fight the fear of darkness provided your toddler is not light-sensitive. Maintain an ideal room temperature for the baby, which according to experts is between 65 and 70°F (18 and 21°C), irrespective of the season. You may also play soothing music and try to minimize stimulation an hour or two before bed.
- Make changes gradually: Acquaint the child with new things and environments gradually. For example, introduce the child to the toddler bed or adult bed by letting them sit and play in the bed for a few days and then make the bed a new place for them to sleep.
- Prepare the toddler for new siblings: If you are expecting a new baby, plan how things will be when the toddler’s new sibling arrives. Make the toddler aware that some things may change as the baby may have more needs to be fulfilled. Prepare your toddler mentally and let them know that the new baby’s schedule will be different from theirs.
- Try self-soothing techniques: It is essential for toddlers to self-soothe themselves to sleep. Make sure you don’t rush to lift them when they wake up at night. Instead, sit by the crib and try to hush them to sleep. You could also try self-soothing techniques, including the cry it out method and the controlled crying method.
- Maintain a routine: Maintaining a bedtime routine is important to make the child aware of their bedtime. Stop screen time at least one hour before bedtime, give them a warm bath, dim the lights, reduce any noise to create a calm environment, and read them a bedtime story. All these, when done consistently, can help the toddler associate them with bedtime.
- Feed them well: Feed the toddler well during the day and right before putting them to bed. This will prevent night wakings due to hunger.
When To See A Doctor?
A 2-year-old sleep regression is quite common and, often, a temporary phase. However, in some rare cases, it could indicate an underlying condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux. Consult the child’s pediatrician if (11):
- The child has trouble breathing.
- The child snores or makes sounds while breathing.
- You notice unusual breathing.
- You notice unusual behavior.
- The child’s nighttime sleep regression affects their daytime behavior.
While 2-year-old sleep regression is a common phase in toddlers and is a part of their normal development, it could be distressing for both parents and babies. Changes in sleeping routine, environment, separation anxiety, and fears could explain sleep regression in your two-year-old. Nevertheless, you may help them cope with this problem by implementing beneficial changes and simple strategies in their routine. However, if you notice other symptoms such as snoring or breathing difficulties in your toddler, contact a pediatrician without further delay.
- Sleep requirement decreases as a baby grows and sleep regression in two-year-olds is common.
- Developmental changes, separation anxiety, exploration, over-tiredness are some of the common causes of this condition.
- Consult the pediatrician if your little one has trouble breathing, snores while breathing or if you notice abnormal behavior in them.
2. 6-Month Sleep Regression; Sleep Foundation
3. Toddler development; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – National Institutes of Health
4. Healthy Sleep Habits; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
5. How to Ease Your Child’s Separation Anxiety; American Academy of Pediatrics
6. My Toddler Isn’t Sleeping Through The Night; University of Utah Health
7. Toddler Has Trouble Sleeping in New Home; Toddler Has Trouble Sleeping in New Home
8. Toddler Sleep: Early Morning Awakenings; Seattle Children’s Hospital
9. What Is the Ideal Sleeping Temperature for My Bedroom?; Cleveland Clinic
10. New Baby Sibling; Regents of the University of Michigan
11. Sleep in Toddlers & Preschoolers; Cleveland Clinic