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The Two Year Sleep Regression

Holy moly, if you thought toddler years were a breeze, you might all of a sudden be questioning that logic at bedtime! Your baby is a full-blown toddler now and not afraid to show it! Not only does turning two come with a sleep regression, but it comes with quite a few other changes that may impact sleep as well!

This regression usually comes as a bit of a shock to parents. There is a good chance that you have been in a rather peaceful and predictable place for the last 4-6 months or so. All of a sudden it may seem your toddler woke up one day and decided sleep just wasn’t their jam anymore. Don’t worry, I’ll go through everything you need to know to get back on track!

To review, regressions fall into three categories:

1. Skill-Based Regressions: Your baby is learning a new skill like crawling, sitting, or talking!

2. Separation Anxiety-Based Regressions: Your child is learning more about how they exist in relation to you in space. They might also be learning what is an effective way to have you come back to them!

3. Cognitive-Based Regressions: We see this often in the toddler years! Toddlers are learning a variety of skills that include power, control, and reasoning.

The two-year regression is a cognitive-based regression! Your toddler is learning their love for independence! This age is known as a time when your child CRAVES doing everything for themselves when, in fact, they really can’t do everything on their own.

Symptoms of the Two-Year Sleep Regression

· Nap strikes

· Delaying bedtime or nap time by whatever means possible.

· An increase in emotions, especially at bedtime

· Early morning waking

· Occasionally, you may experience additional night wakes due to overtiredness from nap strikes

Strategies to Manage the Two-Year Regression

1. Foster your Child’s Need for Independence and Control

Your child has a drive to do things themselves, so let them! This can feel a little frustrating at first. If you are running late to get out of the house and your toddler is insisting that they put on their own shoes (which takes a whopping 15 minutes per shoe), then you might quickly find yourself in a power struggle.

It’s okay if you aren’t able to accommodate your toddler’s every need to be independent, but what I want you to focus on is making sure that you are intentional about giving your toddler time to practice these skills!

If they can do it themselves (or want to try ), let them as much as possible! Take a back seat in the task and be on standby. Try not to intervene unless they ask for help. Failure and frustration are normal in learning!

In addition to letting your child do things themselves, I want you to offer your child choices throughout the day! Giving them a choice between two things is rather easy and it can help fill their independence and control bucket. Here are some examples where you might offer choices:

· Do you want to read Goodnight Moon or our 10 Little Monkeys book?

· Do you want eggs or yogurt for breakfast?

· Do you want to play with cars or paint today?

2. Stay Consistent with your Bedtime Routine

This one can feel quite tricky because your toddler may have two things happen at bedtime:

1. They might start becoming very upset during or after their bedtime routine

2. They may come up with new reasons to procrastinate their bedtime routine.

The increase in emotions is HARD, especially if you’ve had fairly peaceful bedtimes up until this point. It is important to understand that your toddler CAN understand cause and effect now, and they know that their tears are likely to yield a response!

I want you to complete your bedtime routine like you normally would. In fact, this can be an incredibly helpful age to introduce a bedtime routine chart. If you don’t have a bedtime routine chart then I have a simple one that you can customize yourself!

If your little one is upset throughout the bedtime routine, then I recommend offering a few extra snuggles throughout the routine. Otherwise, hold your boundaries! This might look like:

“I know you don’t want to go to bed. Right now, it’s time to put on your pajamas. Would you like to wear the Minnie Mouse pajamas or the princess pajamas?”

In addition, your toddler may be full of requests at bedtime! This one is especially tricky because these requests usually start rather small: After all, it’s not ridiculous to need one more drink of water. 5,000 sips of water later and not only has your toddler already soaked through their nighttime diaper but they STILL aren’t sleeping. If this is the case for you, then check out my blog below!

3. Introduce an Okay to Wake Clock

This is a GREAT age to use an Okay to Wake Clock. Your toddler may not understand time yet, but they do know their colors! An Okay to Wake clock will give them a simple indication of when they need to be sleeping and when it’s time to get up! If you have not read it already, be sure to check out my blog about Okay to Wake clocks:

What Else Can Impact this Regression?

1. Molars

The good news? This is your LAST tooth for a while! The bad news? Molars SUCK. The two-year-old molars are the big teeth that will come in the very back of your child’s mouth. They can be very painful when coming through. It is important to remember that not EVERY sleep disturbance is due to teething, and pain from teething really only lasts 48-72 hours.

When you are experiencing a sleep regression, it’s always good to do a quick teething check. If you notice swelling, redness, or some tiny white bumps in the back of your child’s mouth then they likely have their molar coming in! Talk with your pediatrician about offering over-the-counter pain medication, like Children’s Tylenol.

2. Sleep Needs are Dropping

Over time your child’s overall sleep needs will drop! This means that they will need slightly longer wake windows than they did before. In general, we will see your toddler’s total nap length decrease slightly and their bedtime will push back a bit later. It’s really normal for this drop to feel like it happens all of the sudden around 24 months, but it can happen up to 6-8 weeks early or 6-8 weeks after their second birthday!

This change does not need to be drastic! Consider adding 30 minutes onto each wake window but waking your child at the same time they usually get up in the morning.

For example, if your child’s previous schedule was:

7:00 AM Wake

12:30 to 3:00 Nap

7:30 PM Bedtime

Now, their adjusted schedule would be:

7:00 AM Wake

1:00 to 3:00 Nap

8:00 Bedtime

If you are not noticing any sleep disruptions (Such as: taking a long time to falling asleep at bedtime, additional night wakes, or early morning wakings) then don’t change anything yet! However, if you consistently notice sleep disruptions for up to two weeks, then it may be time for a change!

3. Transitioning out of the crib too early

Often, parents move to transition toddlers out of a crib between 18-24. Unless there is a safety reason* to do so, I highly recommend delaying this transition!

Remember how this regression is all about independence and control? Your little one will likely LOVE to practice these new skills when it comes to their sleeping arrangements. If they CAN get out of bed then they WILL. They simply don’t have the impulse control needed to know that they should be staying in bed, and they may decide that your bed is MUCH more inviting.

Hold off on transitioning to a toddler bed until your child is closer to three years of age. If you have already transitioned, remember it is NOT too late to bring the crib back!

*Safety reasons to transition out of the crib would include your child being able to climb out of the crib or being too tall for the crib height. Your crib manual will state how tall your child can be to safely maintain using the crib, or otherwise the AAP recommends moving your child to a toddler bed once they are 35 inches tall. Keeping a child in the crib once they can climb out can result in injury.

4. Potty Training

Potty training introduces a whole new conundrum when it comes to sleep! You have a few options when potty training:

Option 1: Maintain pullups at night, and potty train during the day. For many children, this may be your best bet, as it takes a very special skill set to know not to go to the bathroom while sleeping! You will know when it’s time to switch over when your child starts consistently waking up dry in the morning.

Option 2: Continue wearing pullups at night UNTIL you transition to a toddler bed.

Option 3: Limit liquids in the 1.5 hours before bedtime. If your child is thirsty, offer them a small amount of water. Then, offer a double void at bedtime. This simply means letting them use the bathroom before the bedtime routine starts and then having them try again right before getting into bed. With this method, you may still need to help your child use the potty at nighttime, but you should also feel confident in limiting potty trips after bedtime has occurred. When your child does need to use the potty after bedtime, consider bringing a training potty to their room so that you can keep the environment as dark and boring as possible.

5. New Baby

This is a very common age for a new sibling to make an appearance. Having a new sibling is WONDERFUL, but it’s also a big transition for our tiny tots. The solutions for this transition lie in:

1. Keeping consistent with your schedule and routines to the best of your ability! Give yourself a little slack here though, especially in the early days! Try to maintain your schedule but also accept that it’s okay if your days are not perfect. Everyone will need to learn their new normal when we add a new baby into the mix!

2. Increasing the quality of 1-on-1 time spent with your toddler

Your toddler has to share your attention with a very needy newborn! This is hard! So, there are a few things I want you to focus on when Baby arrives:

1. Increase the amount of physical contact that you offer your toddler DRAMATICALLY. I know your hands are busy with a newborn, but whenever you see your toddler, take a few seconds to offer them a quick hug, a high five, or a pat on the back. Those tiny acts of contact can go a long way in filling their cup.

2. Have a special treasure box of toys that your toddler gets to use during feeding times. We all know that babies need to eat ALL the time, and their feedings can take a while in the beginning. This can be really hard for a growing toddler. Having a special treasure box of new toys helps them look forward to a time that they might otherwise begin to resent.

3. Spend 10 minutes playing with your toddler one-on-one before bedtime. I know that this seems like a small amount of time, but this MATTERS. Sometimes, this little action can make all the difference for a good night’s sleep. Call this play time “special mommy time” or “special daddy time,” set a timer, and allow them to choose the activity. Make it a daily part of your bedtime routine.

Final Thoughts:

This regression can feel difficult, and it is often combined with a handful of life events! Take it one day at a time. If you are consistent with your routines, things will improve! If you do get stuck in some new habits, then I’m not going anywhere and I’m happy to help!

Edited by the outstanding Emily Schafer

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1 Comment

Alyssa Gay
Alyssa Gay
Aug 11, 2023

Going through the 2 year sleep regression right now! This was so helpful! :)

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