You are here because sleep for your 2 year old was going great, or let's say good, and now it's not. Nothing has seemed to change on your end, but a lot has changed with your toddler.
Don't stress, your 'good' sleeper can return. I will walk you through some scenarios and questions to ask yourself. By the time you are done reading, you will have a better idea if it is in fact the 2 year sleep regression and the best path forward to sleep-filled nights.
Let's start out with what your 2 year old's sleep schedule should look like:
2 year olds need about 12-12.5 hours of sleep TOTAL in 24-hours.
Yep. They aren't an infant anymore and their sleep needs continue to drop every few months. The majority of 2 year olds still need a daily afternoon nap to adequately fill their sleep needs. The sweet spot for their nap to start is 1PM. It will ensure they get a proper lunch before going down, and that they have enough sleep pressure to take a longer nap. If you find that your 2-year old wants to wake for the day at 5AM, I strongly suggest not to reinforce the early morning by offering a nap that's too early in the day. It will be hard at first to get this shifted; take baby steps (15-30 minutes every few days) until you meet the target of 1PM.
Ideal 2 year old sleep schedule
6:30-7am > morning wake
1:00-2:30-3pm > nap
7:30 > bedtime
Fostering some crib 'autonomy' can be crucial for happy bedtimes and nap times. Let your little one hang out in their crib for 5-10 minutes after they wake up. This time is still viewed as restful, and maybe you weren't done with completing a task around the house. You can start this early with your babies, even. Use an excited, happy voice to greet them and lots of hugs to show them waiting is a good thing! Delay any instant gratification straight out of the crib. Wait at least 10 minutes before offering a feeding or milk and move to a bright lit area of your home to signal that sleep time is over.
Reasons the regression happens.
1. Schedule isn't right. See above! If you are are subject to a daycare schedule, don't worry. Just be sure to move nap time to 1pm on the weekends. Also, it never hurts to have a conversation with your child's caregiver to ask if they can be the last one put down for their nap. Many times this regression can just be us asking too much sleep time of our kids. Shortening their crib time with more intentional wake time can work wonders.
2. Bedtime routine has become limitless. What I mean by that is there is too much gray area for your child. They are allowed to ask for countless books and seem to stall going to bed at every corner. The steps of the routine have become blurred and too lengthy. I recommend a short, 30 minute bedtime routine to take place in their room.
30-35 minutes before lights out, head upstairs to their room
Grab their clothes and diaper and proceed to take a bath
Get dressed and brush teeth + comb hair
With lights on, sit on the floor or chair to read for 5 minutes (setting a timer can be super helpful). Setting a time period will help your child understand the limit and boundary and they will feel less likely to exert any unwanted feelings of 'control'.
Place in bed and turn lights out. Monitor any crying with comfort checks at your discretion. The important thing is your child falls asleep in their bed without your assistance.
Bedtime is a big deal for them at 2 years old, and part of the regression can involve separation anxiety. Keeping the routine familiar will help with this.
3. Separation anxiety. Depending on your child's personality, they will go through spurts of feeling anxious at bedtime and other times throughout the day when you are away from them. This is perfectly normal and part of childhood. There are ways to help your child feel more secure when you aren't around. Continue to follow the previous tips above as part of it. The other part is to be consistent. What does being consistent mean? It means, going back to the basics of sleep training.
Will there be some crying? It's likely. Think of sleep as a non-negotiable, just like a daycare drop off, for example. Your child will be upset and cry, but communicate that you will see them in the morning and you love them, same with daycare drop off. The first couple days might be hard, but quickly, your child will be confident again to fall asleep independently. Starting new unsustainable habits are very confusing to your child. They will not understand why sometimes they get rocked to sleep or come to your bed and other nights they are expected not to get those things. If sleep training worked for your family a year or more ago, it can work again now. Dong a sleep reminder or reset is what's needed!
Remember, moving your toddler to a bed is not the answer. Impulse control just doesn't exist yet and you will have a wandering child in your house which can be unsafe and stressful. The crib is a tangible boundary that they still need :)
A few things you can do now that you couldn't do before.
Introduce a toddler pillow. My favorite one is linked here.
Purchase a Hatch sound machine and use a sleep approved color to let your child know when it's time to sleep and when it's time to get up.
Following these tips here will get your back on track with a toddler who loves their bedtime routine and sleeps all night! If you need one on one assistance, I work directly with families as a coach and guide to better sleep.
Lindsay Loring is the author of this article. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant who is a sleep expert for babies, toddlers and twins of all ages. She lives in the metro St. Louis, MO area with her family. Tweetdreamzz.com