The Two-Year-Old Sleep Regression: What Causes It and How To Fix It

by | Sep 16, 2020

Just when you think a peaceful slumber is in your near future, your two-year-old has decided to disrupt those dreamy plans! True story: the two-year-old sleep regression is real and it can be classified as a nightmare if it’s not handled properly and with urgency!

Don’t let this very common age and stage disrupt your sleep, their sleep, or other family members’ sleep in the household. If you suspect your little one who is two (or about to be) is having this pesky regression, read on to learn what’s causing it and how to fix it.

This should help you to understand the solutions on how to make it pass quickly so you can get back to those sweet dreams much sooner than later!

The two year old sleep regression can cause many sleep issues. FInd out solutions to these problems here and ways to fix it for better sleep.

WHAT IS THE TWO-YEAR-OLD SLEEP REGRESSION?

The two year old sleep regression can be informally diagnosed by checking off two or more of the boxes below:

  • Wakes up at least 2 times throughout the night, suddenly, for several days in a row.
  • Teething is just about over but is still not sleeping through the night.
  • Takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep when put down for bed.
  • Nap avoidance during daytime.
  • Extremely irritable and fussy throughout the day.
  • Clingy during daytime hours.
  • Fearful during evening hours.
  • Changes in your child’s eating habits.
  • Growth spurt signs (hunger, weight gain, irritability, outgrowing clothes).
  • Sudden change of lifestyle or home routine of the family or child.

If you feel as though your little darling may be victim to the two-year-old sleep regression, it’s important to understand what it truly is. 

In a nutshell, once upon a time, your baby was in a perfect sleep routine that ran like a well-oiled machine. They napped during the day like clockwork and they went along with the evening routine you’ve established. Be it bath, book, bed; your child was more than ready to hit the sheets and go down (and stay down for the evening). 

A regression occurs when this steady routine suddenly stops (sometimes for no reason at all) and your baby’s behavior moves backward rather than forward. Your child begins to wake up multiple times during the night and isn’t able or willing to go back to bed with ease (or for some poor parents, at all). It may even occur at bedtime with your child not being able to go to sleep on their own as previously done.

A sleep regression isn’t a cause for concern though, just a normal phase of child development. However, you want to understand how to handle it and move forward from it as soon as possible. 

HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?

The two-year-old sleep regression can last as short as two to four weeks and last indefinitely until it’s addressed. Some parents think they can ignore it. These parents wait it out and go on for weeks waking up in the middle of the night until their baby works out their evening issues.

Sometimes it works. However, when it comes to parenting, most of us aren’t gamblers when it comes to our own sleep or our child’s. The majority prefers to address it head-on and work on establishing a new sleep routine to accommodate their growing and changing toddler!

CAN I LET MY CHILD CRY IT OUT?

Many parents are stricken with guilt when they learn from medical professionals, other parents, or highly rated and reviewed literature that the Cry it Out Method is a tried and true way to get past this regression. 

Also known as the Ferber Method, letting your baby cry it out overnight can have its benefits. Founding father, Richard Ferber learned that this graduated extinction method can yield immediate and long-lasting results in regard to sleep regression and sleep training. 

How Does Cry-It-Out Work?

First, it teaches your baby that you are still there, just not in their room and not at their every whim. Next, it teaches them that they are ok and if feeling scared or insecure, they need to self-soothe. Finally, toddlers learn that they aren’t the center of the universe and while they may demand attention; as long as they are dry, fed, and safe; they aren’t necessarily going to get it immediately.

The Ferber Method, or Cry it Out Method consists of timed “cry” intervals. Starting out slowly for the first few days, allow your child to cry when they need to. After 5 minutes, walk-in their room, say nothing, and attempt to position them back comfortably in their toddler bed or crib.

Repeat this process without engaging them until they fall asleep. Eventually, increase their cry time every couple of days, until their coping skills kick in and crying subsides completely. 

Some babies pick up on the concept right away, while it may take others two weeks or so to fully grasp what’s going on. 

The Cry It Out Method can be intense at first, but your child will learn that they are ok, they are expected to go to bed, and they will sleep in longer bouts each step of the way. Through this sleep training, they should get back to their original sleep schedule or a new and improved one soon.

The important thing to remember is that your child is not ill, hurt, hungry, or soiled; so there is nothing they need. It may hurt your heart to hear them upset, but you are doing them a favor in the long run! Tough love prevails! 

Read below for my steps of crying it out for toddlers experiencing separation anxiety with their two-year-old sleep regression.

REASONS WHY YOUR CHILD IS WAKING UP AT NIGHT OR HAVING TROUBLE FALLING ASLEEP

Want to dig a little deeper in regard to what’s going on with your bundle of sunshine? Here are some causes as to why they may be waking up or having trouble falling asleep and a helpful solution for it:

two year old sleep regression, tired toddler

1. SEPARATION ANXIETY

With my children, this always tends to be what starts a sleep regression. If your child hasn’t gone through separation anxiety yet, this may be their turn for it. Your child may suddenly feel scared of being away from you. They may not like the darkness of their room. They may long to feel close to you in their wide-open crib or toddler bed.

If they’ve just started back at daycare, got a new baby-sitter, they may know that you’ve been leaving them more and it can add to the separation anxiety. All of these occurrences may cause them to worry and wake more frequently than before. 

Solution

Help ease their worries and fears with some of these ideas:

  • Put an article of clothing, like a soft shirt with your scent on it near their pillow that they can snuggle up with.
  • Introduce them to a new plush animal to keep them company.
  • Plug in a soothing night light so they aren’t in complete darkness
  • Play some calming sleep sounds with the help of a sleep machine.
  • Keep the door wide open with the hallway light on so they know you’re close by.
  • Create a bedtime routine schedule so your child is aware that bedtime is coming and the expectations of them.

When you make their sleeping area more inviting and cozy; they may feel more comfortable and connected to you, even though you aren’t in the room with them. 

If those things don’t work, try the cry-it-out method as mentioned above. If your baby starts crying uncontrollably and won’t stop until you are with them or if you’ve gotten stuck in the habit of rock, shushing, or soothing your toddler to sleep, this should help.

This method works by gradually decreasing the amount of comfort that you give your child.

  1. Start by soothing your child to sleep the same way that you have been doing. If you have to rub your child’s back, lay in bed with them, sing them lullabies, or answer a million questions, you can start by doing this.
  2. Before they fall asleep, stop doing that action, but stand very close to them- until they fall asleep.
  3. Next time, start out the same way, but do it for less time. Then take a few steps away from their bed or crib. They may begin to cry, but just assure them that you are close by- until they fall asleep.
  4. Next time, start the same way, but stand by the door- until they fall asleep
  5. Next, stand outside in the hallway, but still within view
  6. Then, stay in the hallway, but turn your back to your child so they can’t see your face.
  7. Lastly, stay out in the hallway, but not within view. If they start crying, just peak your head in and reassure them that you are right outside.

Each time that they cry because you’re getting further away and not providing them with the comfort that they’re looking for, reassure them that you’re close by, but do not go back to comfort them.

You can do each step in as many days as you feel comfortable with, but try not to hang on to one step for very long. It may take time, but it will get your baby to understand that you can’t always be with them at all times and they need to fall asleep on their own.

2. HUNGER

Your little one may be going through a growth spurt. This means their body is growing at such a fast pace, that their mind and systems have a difficult time catching up at first. Your child will eat like they’ve never eaten before and may be hungrier than you think overnight. If their brain or body is waking them up to eat, of course they won’t be able to sleep through the night!

Solution

Give your child a snack before going to bed. Food that is high in protein will keep them feeling fuller, longer. Consider feeding them some apple slices or whole wheat crackers with some peanut butter, a piece of cheese, or a cup of soy milk; which are all loaded with protein. 

3. CHANGE IN ENVIRONMENT OR ROUTINE

Have you moved into a new home? Have you gone back to work? Maybe there has been a divorce or loss of a loved one. Is there a new sibling in the home? Your baby is very alert and aware of their environment, even at the tender age of two! These changes, big or small, can totally impact their sleep pattern.

Solution

The best thing you can do for these changes is to spend as much quality time as you can with your child. Help them feel loved and prioritized. If work gets in the way, consider adding some cuddle time before bed. Go completely unplugged and don’t overstimulate your baby with lights, sounds, or electronics.

Rub some soothing lavender sleep lotion on them, slip them in some soft pajamas, and even update your child’s bedding. You may even wish to consider placing them in a sleep sack to help them feel more secure. These sacks come in a wide range of sizes, fabrics, and fits, so there is one for every child. 

Because your regular routine has changed, maybe you need to do a subtle update on your child’s sleep routine to accommodate those changes. 

4. TEETHING SURPRISE

Just when you thought your child was done teething, think again. Their two-year-old molars may be coming in right about now, leading to some pain and discomfort at night. Aching gums will certainly disrupt their sleep schedule. Children tend to feel more pain during the nighttime hours because they are less distracted and are more sustainable to pain in the still of the night.

Solution

Rub some teething gel on your child’s teeth with a special toothbrush before bed. You can give them a small dose of pain relief medicine and give them a silicone teether with that various textures and nubs to gnaw on. Once they learn that they have the tools to ease their pain in their crib, they can cry it out, alleviate their pain, and go back to sleep. 

crying toddler, two year old sleep regression

5. WET

Many two-year-olds aren’t able to hold their bladder overnight, whether they are potty trained by day, or not. The feeling of wetness may really bother them and they may cry out because of this discomfort and have difficulty going back to bed when feeling this way.

Solution

Consider putting your toddler in a highly absorbent, overnight diaper, or pull up. These special pants are made to hold much more liquid than a classic diaper, it discourages leaks, and keeps little ones much more comfortable until they are trained to use the potty overnight on their own. 

You may also wish to wake your child to use the potty before you yourself head to bed. This can train your child to wake overnight to relieve themselves and may completely stop the sleep regression all together. 

6. ILLNESS

Everyone knows how terrible they feel when they are sick. Your child may experience a minor sleep regression if they are on the verge of an illness such as an Upper Respiratory Infection or Ear Infection. Your child’s waking overnight could even signal something more serious, like asthma, constipation, chronic gas, acid reflux, or food or seasonal allergies. 

Solution

If you have ruled out everything else mentioned above as a possible sleep regression sign and you think your child is getting sick or may have a more serious condition, make an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss your concerns and gain some professional advice to help your child feel better, and sleep better!

HOW MUCH SLEEP DOES A TWO-YEAR-OLD NEED?

All children are different, but on average, two year olds need about 11-14 hours of sleep each day. If your child is waking more overnight than usual, consider removing their nap during the daytime. Chances are they are fighting you anyway! 

If you remove your child’s daytime nap, they may be more tired in the evening and may be inclined to sleep (and stay asleep) for a longer stretch of time. 

Like anything else, it may take a week or so to adjust to this new schedule, so be patient!

In conclusion, if you believe your child is heading toward their two-year-old sleep regression, or completely in the midst of one; consider some of the tips above to help ease your worries and support your little one through this tough transition. Before you know it, they will be back on track and sleeping through the night once more!

The two year old sleep regression can cause many sleep issues. FInd out solutions to these problems here and ways to fix it for better sleep.

Hi I’m Marissa!

A mom of two little ones, here to provide some relatable experiences, tips, and tricks to the joys and challenges of pregnancy and childbirth through raising babies and toddlers.  Read more about me here.