How to handle the 2-year sleep regression

By Jolandi Becker – MD of Good Night

There is a reason why they call it the terrible two’s and the behavior issues you might be having with your toddler is the classic chicken-egg situation with sleep. Your child’s’ development could be affecting their sleep BUT lack of sleep could make them seriously cranky during the day.

What is a sleep regression?

A sleep regression is a period where your toddler sleeps worse than normal. The worse sleep might entail struggling to fall asleep or waking up more than usual at night. It might also mean being awake for extended periods of time at bedtime or throughout the night. How long it lasts depends on the age of your child.

Why do sleep regressions happen?
Sleep regressions are caused by development. Mental, physical or emotional development are factors that depend on the age of a toddler. Thus when your toddler is growing (which is most of the time) this consequent development can disrupt their sleep for various reasons.

With your 2-year-old, the main culprit is emotional development, and your toddler is starting to see the world in a very new and complex way. These complex and new feelings can make your toddler feel afraid and uncertain, causing them to be scared of the dark or just not liking to be alone.

This is also usually the time when new siblings arrive and these changes could also trigger separation anxiety.

Since their movement and language are improving by the day, it can give them an arrogant independence and a strong desire to do things on their own, which could have a major impact on bedtime.

They also always seem to have a lot better things to do than sleep. Implementing clever stalling tactics to delay sleep are common problems parents of toddlers face.

All these things can add to the fun of being the parent of a toddler, but these can also cause big frustration pointed at this regression.

How long does 2-year sleep regression last?

This can last between 1 and 3 weeks. Unfortunately, it can also come and go over several weeks.

When does it happen?

Like any development milestone, the regression does NOT happen exactly on the day your toddler turns two but could happen anywhere between 18 and 30 months.

How long does it last?

This can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
               
How to survive the 2-year sleep regression?

  1. The most important thing during this regression is to remain consistent. During this time of stormy emotions and changes in development, it is important to stick to what your toddler knows as this will give them a sense of security. Keep in mind that this is only a phase and NOW is not the time to start new habits such as lying with your toddler, or feeding them at night again. You know they can do it! Give them a chance to move through the phase.
  2. Giving in to their every whim or emotion could just give them the leverage they need to do exactly that, what THEY want. They are only toddlers and unfortunately don’t yet know what is good for them. So discipline does come into play. You need to be clear about the boundaries and verbalize what sleep entails: ‘Close your eyes, stay in your bed, keep quiet until the sun comes up.’ 
  3. Give them options and help build their independence. ‘We are only going to read two stories, but you can pick which ones’. ‘Mommy is not going to stay until you sleep but I will lie here for 2 songs, you can choose which ones’.
  4. Your toddler still requires 11 to 12 hours of nighttime sleep. So don’t be tempted to move your bedtime later. Overtiredness is the main reason for stalling tactics, so keep aiming for bedtime between 18h00 and 19h00.
  5. It might be time to shorten your toddler’s nap. Once again don’t be tempted to completely remove the nap too quickly but rather start by shortening it and not letting them sleep longer than 60 to 90 minutes.
  6. Some extra comfort, undistracted one-on-one time as part of bedtime (especially if there is a new baby in the house) can be helpful. You are allowed to lie with your child, massage them but try not to do it until they are asleep. You need to keep the balance of filling up the emotional cup but also showing them that you know that they can fall asleep on their own. 
  7. If your toddler verbalizes fears it might be helpful to implement a night light. 
  8. Phone your nearest consultant. Our consultants help you custom make a plan for your family, responsibly by incorporating all the building blocks. We also support you for 2 weeks to help you implement the plan.

Even though sleep regressions can cause sleep disruptions, the important thing to remember is that if you remain consistent it should only be a phase. If your little one slept well before regression, they should get back into it after the phase, and the regression should not be a reason to start negative associations. 

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