What to do when your toddler won’t go to sleep? Discover the top 6 solutions to resolve your 2 year old’s sleep problems and regression.
Rest assured, you’re not the only one caught off guard by your 2 year old’s unexplained middle-of-the-night wake ups.
You know, the ones where he wakes up six times, running to your room for you to put him back to sleep. When he wakes up crying hysterically, leaving him tired and grumpy the next day. He might even stay wide awake, refusing to fall asleep for several hours.
Recently, he’s been difficult to put down for naps or bedtime, despite being obviously tired. He extends story time and asks to be rocked to sleep, or sobs for you to stay in his room, afraid to be left alone.
He might scream when you walk out of the room, only quieting down when you go in. Maybe he refuses to go to bed, as if scared to lie down, unable to fall asleep unless you’re right next to him. Or he insists on sleeping in your bed, even if he’s restless and takes over an hour to fall asleep.
How to fix your 2 year old’s sleep problems
Whether your toddler has been a great sleeper until now, or this has always been his pattern, it’s never easy dealing with sleep problems.
This is the stage when kids realize there’s a world going on outside their immediate environment. They’re much more aware that things are happening outside their bedroom walls, so they want to stay up to join the fun. They’re also developing complex emotions like fear and separation anxiety.
Let’s not forget that this is when they’re most likely to test limits. They’re learning concepts like object permanence and hitting milestones like an expanded vocabulary. And perhaps it’s a result of inconsistent routines or changes in the home.
No matter the reason, one’s thing for sure: 2 year old sleep problems leave everyone exhausted come the next morning. Don’t worry—rather than waiting for this stage to pass, you can do plenty to help your toddler sleep better. Here’s how:
1. Have a consistent bedtime schedule
The most common culprit when it comes to sleep problems is the lack of schedules and daily routines. Bedtime happens whenever your toddler happens to feel tired, or fluctuates with that day’s activities.
As accommodating as a flexible schedule may be, it can wreak havoc on his sleep. Kids thrive with predictability, as it allows them to know what to expect and helps calm any nerves or resistance they might feel about sleep.
A bedtime schedule also makes flexibility more possible. When every other day is the same, staying up late for a family party of Fourth of July fireworks will go much smoother.
Instead of adjusting his bedtime around daily activities, adjust his activities around bedtime. This might mean moving dinner earlier or cutting out activities, but it’ll all be worth it once he starts sleeping well.
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2. Adjust nap or bedtime
Does your toddler take forever to finally fall asleep or resist turning off the lights and heading to bed? If so, she might not be tired enough come bedtime.
This is especially common if she takes a long midday nap, or if her nap is too close to bedtime. With ample rest and not enough wake times to feel sleepy, it’s no wonder she’d rather stay up than head to bed.
Instead, experiment with naps and bedtime. Cut her nap short and move bedtime earlier to accommodate a longer stretch of wake time. Move it earlier in the day, so she has more time to stay awake. Or you wake her up earlier in the mornings and set a new schedule.
Experiment with different times of the day to have her sleep—and wake up—from naps and bedtime.
3. Talk about your toddler’s day
I’d sometimes press my ear to my kids’ room and hear one of them whispering and mumbling under his breath. Turns out, he’s “reviewing” his day, going through things he saw or even singing songs he learned at school.
With so much going on during the day, bedtime is often the only time toddlers have to “debrief” all that had happened. As you can imagine, this can make for a long night, especially since it may take them as long as an hour to run through this routine.
What to do? Talk about your toddler’s day during the day. Ask her to describe what happened at preschool or daycare, or what her favorite part of the day was. At dinner or by her bed, review what happened, from the funny game she made up to wearing a new jacket.
These simple conversations can help “release” the thoughts trying to make sense in her mind. The more you verbalize and give meaning to them, the more she’ll be able to understand and finally let them go.
4. Ease your child’s separation anxiety
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If your 2 year old’s sleep problems stem from separation anxiety, easing his separation anxiety can be all he needs to fall asleep.
For instance, you might install a nightlight like this in his room to banish his fear of the dark. Leave the door open a crack and the hallway light on so he doesn’t feel so isolated. Let him sleep with one of your pillows, or give him a new stuffed animal to keep him company.
And most importantly, watch your reaction. Your anxiety or frustration only confirms to him that this sleeping arrangement isn’t so good after all. But if you’re calm and confident, he has no reason to believe he shouldn’t be in bed.
5. Check in strategically
Do you go inside your toddler’s room at his every whimper and cry? You might be setting unrealistic expectations you can’t sustain. Yes, check in on him when he cries for you at night, but remind him that he seems fine, and that you see no reason to keep coming back in his room.
Then, rather than checking in every time he cries (or staying in his room until he stops), check in at set times, such as every 10 or 15 minutes. You’re able to check and see that nothing is wrong, and he feels reassured that you’re still here (even if you’re not going in every minute).
If he falls asleep but wakes up crying a few hours later, check in on him at that time. Remind him once again that it’s time to sleep, not be awake, and repeat your timed check-ins once more. He’s also more likely to actually fall asleep on his own during these intervals than if you were to stay in his room all night.
And remember, stay consistent with your strategy: check in at the designated intervals you decide, not each time he happens to call for you. Being inconsistent will only send him mixed messages and prolong these sleep problems.
6. Get a toddler bed
Several parents report that their 2 year old’s sleep problems actually went away once they transitioned to a toddler bed. Some kids don’t take to sleeping in a crib and feel more motivated to sleep once they have a new bed to be excited about.
Help your toddler feel excited about a new bed by decking it out with sheets and bedding. Remind her that sleeping in a toddler bed means being responsible. And baby-proof the room so she stays safe should she decide to roam.
Dealing with your 2 year old’s sleep problems can leave the entire family exhausted. Hopefully these tips have given you actionable solutions to try and resolve these issues.
Have a consistent bedtime schedule, especially with the time he goes to bed. Adjust naps and bedtime so he’s actually sleepy enough come bedtime. Talk about his day when you’re together so he doesn’t feel compelled to review what he learned before bed.
Then, ease his separation anxiety at bedtime so he knows you’re not far away. Check in strategically—both as a way to reassure him as well as to reinforce that he should be sleeping. And finally, see if a toddler bed will help him feel excited about sleep and convince him to stay in bed.
Either way, know that this is likely a stage he’ll pass, but now you have the tips to ease it along smoother. Or at the least, help him stop waking up six times a night, insisting that he stay in your bed.
Get more tips:
- 8 Mistakes You’re Making When Your 2 Year Old Refuses to Sleep
- 20 Examples of a 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule to Try
- How to Get Through the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
- What to Do When Your 2 Year Old Wakes Up at Night for Hours
- 5 Tips to Help Your Overtired Toddler Finally Go to Sleep
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get 5 Tips to Raising a Strong-Willed Child to discover 5 ways to nurture and work with—not against—your child’s inner spirit and strong personality: