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Two-Year-Old Sleep Regression: 7 Causes and Solutions

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Parenting. Right when you think you’ve got it figured out, BAM! You’re hit with a 2-year-old sleep regression and you question everything you’ve ever known.

It might sound like an exaggeration, but if you’re going through this (which you likely are, otherwise why would you be reading this post?) you know how absolutely, dreadfully awful it is when your toddler won’t sleep.

Newborn babies? Sure, night waking is to be expected.

But night wakings with a toddler? That’s not expected, even though it is entirely normal!

Today, we will talk about how to help your toddler stop waking in the middle of the night.

The good news is that you do not need to purchase an expensive course from a sleep consultant to help figure out your toddler’s sleep patterns and help them start sleeping through the night again.

I’ve read nearly every book out there regarding babies/toddlers and sleep, and I have four children of my own!

I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way… the most important thing being there is no one size fits all for parenting!

Children have different sleep needs and what works for one child’s sleep well might not work for your other children.

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Figure Out the Cause of Your Toddler’s Sleep Regression

Before we can address what to do, we need to figure out why it’s happening.

Here’s a little story about our toddler and his sleep regression. Beckham has always been a good sleeper. Even when he’s sick and teething, he’s gone to bed with no problem and slept through the night.

Fast forward to when he was 2 years and 8 months old and we potty trained him. Ah, yes. Good old potty training ruined our toddler’s sleep.

It started out with him calling for us because he had to go potty. Shortly after that, he came down with a cold and wasn’t feeling well, and he would call for us in the middle of the night.

Out of sheer desperation, my husband slept on his floor one night. Another night, we took him into our bed with us. We have neeevveeerrr done these things with any of our other kids (we have 4 total!). I’m not saying that these are bad things to do, just things that we have never done.

These things are not good sleep habits. But what are you supposed to do in the middle of the night when your child is inconsolable? You do whatever you can do to comfort them.

If you’ve started some not-so-healthy sleep habits when your little one is sick, teething, or whatever, and now their sleep time is suffering, you’re going to have to break those habits.

Rule Out Any Health Concerns

The absolute first thing to do is to rule out any health concerns. It’s possible your little one has an ear infection or is getting teeth in!

It’s even possible that they have a UTI or are constipated/have gas pains. If your 2 year old has been sleeping through the night with no problem and is suddenly having difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night, it is worth taking them to the doctor to see what is going on.

After a few weeks of Beckham having trouble sleeping, I took him to the pediatrician.

He had just gotten over a cold and I wanted to be sure there wasn’t a lingering ear infection.

Also, since we had just potty trained, I wanted to rule out any constipation or a UTI from holding his pee. Yes, I even took a urine sample to the doctor’s office!

I wanted to be sure that there were no health factors causing his sleep disruptions.

While part of me hoped that an ear infection was the culprit (I mean I didn’t really want him to be sick but it would have been nice if antibiotics cleared up our sleep issues!), there were no problems.

Be Aware of Any Changes or Transitions

Have there been any major changes or developmental milestones in your toddlers day to day life?

Have they recently started a new daycare?

Have you moved or added a new baby to the family?

Has their bedroom changed?

Do they have a new toddler bed or a big kid bed?

Have they learned new skills such as potty training?

Did they recently drop their daytime nap?

Are they going through a growth spurt?

Were you recently traveling?

Were there any recent sicknesses?

Are they scared of something?

A new milestone could cause a sleep regression in your toddler, whether their circadian rhythm is just a bit off, or the change has caused them to have separation anxiety.

With Beckham, I think the problem was twofold.

Potty training. Obviously, potty training was part of the problem!

Related –> The Easiest Way to Potty Train

Sickness: The other part of the problem is that he recently got over being sick! We developed habits of sleeping on his floor and bringing him into bed with us. Obviously, we aren’t going to withhold comfort from our sick child.

And, I know that some people have no problems with cosleeping. But for us, NONE OF US SLEPT. Beckham just tried to talk to us all night long, played with my hair, and kicked my husband in the head. It was a nightmare.

Except that a nightmare probably would have been better because at least we would have been asleep!!!

If all else fails, ask them. Beckham was telling us that his belly hurt, but it only hurt at bedtime. I finally sat in his room with him at bedtime and talked him through what he was feeling. That’s when I realized that he was actually scared of the shadows on his wall.

Toddler Sleep Regressions: How to Fix Them

Once you have figured out what the problem is, you can work on fixing it. A good sleep routine is crucial for happy kids.

I’ll work through specific fixes below. However, the best thing to do is make sure you have a solid daytime routine and a consistent bedtime routine.

*Ensure that they have a good nap time. If they no longer nap, having a rest time in the middle of the day is still beneficial. We always did quiet time when they transitioned out of naps, with some books and quiet toys in their bed. You want them to be getting enough sleep, but not too much.

*Don’t put them to bed too late. It might seem that if you keep them awake for long enough, they will be tired enough to fall asleep. But I promise you, that will fail. Sleep begets sleep. If they don’t get enough sleep, they become overtired and it becomes even harder to get them to have a good night of sleep.

*Try to stimulate them throughout the day and get outside if the weather permits. Eliminate any screentime too close to bedtime and limit liquid intake.

It can be hard to get these things done every single day, I get that! With 4 kids, sometimes screentime after dinner happens for the toddler so that I can help the big kids with their homework.

I will never give the message that you have to be a perfect parent and have to do all of the things. I’m not doing everything, and neither is anybody else I know. We’re all just doing our best. So, do your best to do these things with your toddlers, and read on for how to work through these tricky toddler sleep regressions.

Are Your Toddlers Acting Wild? Read this post to get some peace back!

Keep in mind: when working on sleep problems, there is a tricky balance between offering comfort and maintaining boundaries.

Of course, you want to offer comfort and love when your child is struggling. However, bedtime has to happen. Your child needs to sleep, and it is a fair ask to have them sleep in their own bed.

Two-Year-Old Sleep Regression Cause: Any Transition or Change

If your little one is having a hard time sleeping and there have been any recent transitions or life changes (this includes a new sibling, new bed, or bedroom, return from travel, etc., or even getting over being sick!), it can often cause sleep problems.

I’m going to offer two words of advice here: comfort and consistency.

Now, to expand upon that. Imagine you move to a new house. You might have trouble falling asleep at night. Everything is different. The smells, the sounds, the appearance, and the shadows in the room.

If it’s hard for an adult to fall asleep, it’s also going to be hard for a toddler to fall asleep! And we all know that an overtired child is going to be harder to get to sleep.

So, first, offer comfort. Give some extra snuggles. Offer to sit in their room for a few minutes. Sing an extra song. But then, you have to be gentle but firm about leaving.

It is OK if they cry a little bit. It is also OK to go back in and gently remind them that it’s bedtime and that it’s time to sleep. You can tell them that you’re also going to sleep.

At this point, it is up to you to determine how much you are willing to let them cry. I don’t know your child, so I can’t tell you how upset they are.

I will say this though: children are not manipulative. Your toddler isn’t crying to manipulate you to come back to their room. They are crying because they need something.

Unfortunately, what they need is to relearn how to fall asleep on their own.

Comfort + consistency.

It might take a week or two, but if you remain consistent, you will get results.

Tip: if your toddler is looking for extra comfort, a weighted blanket might do the trick. There are different weights depending on the weight of the person using it, so check how much your toddler weighs before ordering one.

Related –> Toddlers Quit Napping? Try These Tips!

Toddler Sleep Regression Cause: Nighttime Fears

New fears can sometimes pop up with toddlers, especially around the age of two. They’ve been fine sleeping in the dark and then suddenly they’re suffering from poor sleep because they now have a fear of the dark.

Help Them Overcome Their Fear

The best way to conquer a toddler’s sleep regression due to fear is to try to help them overcome their fears. Since Beckham was scared of the shadows on his wall, I tried to show him that shadows aren’t scary. We played with shadows, made them dance, and touched them. None of that worked. As soon as I shut his light off and he saw the shadows, he was still scared.

Books: as far as books go, I haven’t found a book that I like that doesn’t actually introduce more things to be afraid of.

I like to focus on the fact that we are safe and cozy. Do not say “there’s nothing to be afraid of” because you don’t want to minimize their feelings.

Eliminate the Fear

If you can’t help them overcome their fears, you can try to eliminate the things causing the fears. If your child is afraid of the dark and it’s causing sleep disturbances, find them a nightlight, or turn their closet light on.

Since Beckham was afraid of the shadows, caused by his nightlight, I eliminating the shadows by eliminating his nightlight. However, since he’s also scared of the dark, THAT DIDN’T WORK!

Non Shadow Casting Nightlight

I found a nightlight that is a blue light an has a soft glow that doesn’t cast many shadows, and it has been a lifesaver! I also moved Beckham’s crib into the middle of his room so that the/ shadows from his crib railings don’t cast onto the walls.

Closet Light on With Doors Closed

We also turned his closest light on, with the doors closed, and that added to the soft light in his room. With the two things combined, it was light enough in his room to not cause shadows, but still dark enough that he could sleep.

This is the night light that I purchased that has been a game changer! It also works as a toddler clock that changes colors when it’s time to wake up.

The Hatch is another night light that was recommended to me that has a soft glow and doesn’t cast shadows. The Hatch doubles as a white noise machine and we already have one, so I didn’t find it necessary to spend the extra money on it.

Weighted Blanket

A weighted blanket also offers security and comfort. We added the blanket to our routine, because despite the fact that we elimated the shadows, Beckham was still struggling with bedtime resistance and waking up in the middle of the night.

If they don’t have a special stuffed animal that they sleep with, now is a good time to introduce one! Explain to them that when they’re feeling scared, they can snuggle their special friend.

Then, you’re going to go back to the two c’s that I talked about earlier: comfort and consistency.

For a few nights, I sat in the chair in Beckham’s room for 5 minutes. Our bedtime routine was consistent, and I offered him comfort by sitting in his chair (and, let’s be real, giving him a new nightlight and melatonin helped. More on melatonin below).

Door Ajar

I am not kidding when I tell you, we tried every thing imaginable to get Beckham’s sleep back on track. I’ve never before had a two year old who had a sleep regression that was this intense and lasted this long!

The last thing we did to help Beckham was to keep his door cracked open a little bit.

Two-Year-Old Sleep Regression Cause: They Keep Coming Out of Their Bed or Room

Toddlers learning to climb out of their crib is a common cause of the two-year sleep regression.

You guessed it, comfort and consistency. A little less focus on comfort, and a little more focus on consistency and boundaries.

“It’s bedtime and you need to stay in your bed.”

I am not against a baby gate in front of the door (one that is easy to open in case of emergencies) or a childproof door knob cover that they can’t open. Safety is the number one concern and you don’t want to wake up to an emergency in the middle of the night to find that your toddler has wandered out of their room.

In the same measure, whatever precautions you put in place to keep them in their room, ensure that it is easy and fast for you to get the door open.

We purchased this latch for Beckham’s door. Once we got past his sleep regression (YES, IT DID HAPPEN! THERE IS HOPE!), he would sleep through the night but wake up at like 5:00 in the morning and stroll downstairs.

We were usually still in bed, or sometimes downstairs in the basement exercising. Beckham also started getting up from his nap and coming out of his room when he woke up.

The problem with both of these things, is that he can’t simply wander the house. It is not safe. If we are still sleeping, or downstairs, we won’t hear or see him. The final straw was when Beckham came out of his room at the end of his nap and I was across the street at the bus stop.

My husband was working, and would hear if Beckham started crying because he had to use the potty or got sick, or something. What he couldn’t hear was Beckham quietly going downstairs and outside looking for me.

That’s when we purchased the latch and it has been a GAME CHANGER! Beckham’s clock turns yellow when it’s time for him to get up, and we get him right away. I thought he might stand at his door and yell and scream since he couldn’t get out, but honestly?

He seemed so relieved! He needs the boundary. When I tuck him in now, he says “my fishes (what he calls his sound machine) are on, my closet light is on, and my door is open and locked.” The great thing about the latch is that his door can still be open a crack.

Related –> What To Do If Your Toddlers Climb Out of Their Cribs

Two-Year-Old Sleep Regression Cause: Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety reaches its peak around 16-18 months. It is a big culprit for the 18-month sleep regression, but it can also peak around the second birthday.

If your child is having separation anxiety, the same rule of comfort and consistency applies, but you also want to look at your daily routine!

Ensure that your child is getting a good block of quality time with mom and dad. You can even name the time: “Johnny and Daddy time.” Find a good time that you can do it every day. It doesn’t have to be a long time: ten minutes of playing trains before dinner.

When it’s time for nighttime sleep and your child is crying because they don’t want you to leave, you can remind them that they had special “Johnny and Daddy time” that day and that they can have it again the next day.

DO NOT threaten to take away their special time if they don’t go to sleep. That time needs to be something they know they can count on every day.

What About Children’s Melatonin?

OK. Putting this here and prefacing it with: talk to your child’s pediatrician. I am not a medical expert. Children’s melatonin is for ages 3 years of age and up however, it is dosed by weight. My toddler was 4 months away from turning 3 years old when he was going through his sleep regression, but he was well over the weight requirements to take children’s melatonin.

So, I checked with our pediatrician as a precaution and got the OK to give it to him.

Will I give it to him every night? Absolutely not.

I don’t personally take melatonin myself every night, but I DO take it when I travel or have had trouble sleeping for a few nights in a row.

I gave it to Beckham for 4 nights in a row to give him a little reset and it worked brilliantly.

Remember. Comfort and consistency! You can get through this and you and your toddler will get back to sleeping through the night soon!

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