What to do when your toddler won’t go to sleep? Discover the top 6 solutions to resolve your 2 year old 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 wakings.
You know, the ones where he wakes up six times, running to your room for you to put him back to sleep. Or perhaps it’s when he wakes up crying hysterically, leaving him tired and grumpy during the day. He might even stay wide awake, refusing to fall asleep for several hours.
Other parents say that their toddlers have recently been difficult to put down for naps or bedtime, despite being obviously tired. They extend story time and ask to be rocked to sleep, or sob for their parents to stay in their rooms, 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 maybe 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 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 2 year old sleep problems.
This is the stage when they 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 also learning new concepts like object permanence and hitting new milestones like an expanded vocabulary. And perhaps it’s simply 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 simply 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 2 year old sleep problems is the lack of schedules and routines. When bedtime is 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 your toddler’s sleep. Kids thrive with predictability, as it allows them to know what to expect and helps calm any nerves or resistance he 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 to accommodate daily activities, adjust his activities to accommodate bedtime. This might mean moving dinner earlier or cutting out activities, but it’ll all be worth it once he starts sleeping well.
2. Adjust nap or bedtime
Does your toddler take forever to finally fall asleep? Does he resist turning off the lights and heading to bed? If so, he might not be tired enough come bedtime.
This is especially common if he takes a long midday nap, or if his nap is too close to bedtime. With ample rest and not enough wake times to warrant sleep, it’s no wonder he’d rather stay up than head to bed.
Instead, experiment with naps and bedtime. Maybe you cut his nap short and move bedtime earlier to accommodate a longer stretch of wake time. Perhaps you move it earlier in the day, so he has more time to stay awake. Or maybe you wake him up earlier in the mornings and set a new schedule.
Experiment with different times of the day to have your toddler sleep—and wake up—from naps and bedtime.
3. Talk about your toddler’s day
I’ll 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 him to describe what happened at preschool or daycare, or what his favorite part of the day was. At dinner or by his bed, review what happened, from the funny game he made up to wearing a new jacket.
These simple conversations can help “release” the thoughts trying to make sense in his mind. And the more you verbalize and give meaning to them, the more he’ll be able to understand and finally let them go.
4. Help ease his separation anxiety
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If your 2 year old 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 in his room to banish his fear of the dark. Perhaps you leave the door open a crack and the hallway light on so he doesn’t feel so isolated. Maybe you let him sleep with one of your pillows, or give him a new stuffed animal to keep him company.
And most important, 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 simply 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 each 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 really 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. But then, 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 2 year old sleep problems.
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6. Get a toddler bed
Several parents report that their 2 year old sleep problems actually went away once they transitioned to a toddler bed. Some kids simply 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 2 year old 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 your toddler 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, help ease his separation anxiety so he knows you’re not far away. Once you close the door, 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
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