Frustrated with your 2 year old not going to sleep until 11pm? Learn why kids sleep late and how to transition to an earlier bedtime.
“He’s going to bed too late,” your relatives have told you about your sleep schedule.
You actually agree, but putting your 2 year old to bed any earlier than 11pm has been a struggle. She’s wired the whole evening until late in the night. An early bedtime leads to a second wind, and she’s turning the lights back on and getting out of bed.
You’re not sure what to do, as your little night owl wakes up refreshed and energized, not sleepy or grouchy as you might expect from someone who would need sleep.
Still… 11pm seems like a really late bedtime. You’d like to get those hours of mommy time to relax alone again instead of the sleep deprivation and regression that have become the norm.
Why is your 2 year old not going to sleep until 11pm?
The reasons kids stay up late varies with each family, but below are a few common reasons:
- Hectic schedules. Work, long commutes, and extracurricular activities can threaten early bedtimes. With such little time to get home and tend to daily tasks—much less spend a good amount of time with kids—parents push bedtime back to accommodate a hectic schedule.
- Kids “win” bedtime battles. Parents are too exhausted by the end of the day to enforce bedtime rules when kids fuss. With no energy to argue, they figure a later bedtime is worth avoiding yet another battle. And since most kids would rather stay up with us than turn in for the night, they usually end up sleeping later than earlier. (Get more tips about how to end the battles and make bedtime easier.)
- Kids need a parent to fall asleep. Whether it’s the infant who needs to co-sleep or the toddler who needs mom to sit by her bed, some kids need a parent to fall asleep. Parents find themselves with two choices: They either turn in for the night as early as their kids, or their kids stay up later with them. With so many things to do and few parents willing to sleep by 7pm, kids end up sleeping later.
- Kids are too wired. Evenings might be too stimulating, from television to activities, that make bedtime harder. They can also be overtired from lack of sleep during the day, that they’re too exhausted to actually fall asleep.
Free resource: Do you struggle with getting your child to take a nap? Join my newsletter and grab The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally get the nap schedule you need:
The downsides of a late bedtime
According to sleep experts Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack:
“Most children do well with a bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 PM; 8:30 is the very latest bedtime we recommend all the way up to age 10.”
Sleep experts tend to prefer earlier bedtimes over later ones for a few reasons:
- Late bedtimes don’t always translate to late wake ups. Rare is the morning when kids will actually sleep in because they’d slept too late the previous night. Sleeping two hours past their bedtime, for instance, doesn’t mean you’re able to enjoy an extra two hours of sleep the next morning. You’re likely getting less sleep with a late bedtime than an earlier one.
- Late bedtimes lead to inconsistent sleeping patterns. Kids with a set early bedtime not only clock in more hours, they also tend to have consistent and predictable sleep. They’re more likely to sleep and wake up at the same times every morning and night.
- Parents don’t always have the energy to deal with kids late at nighttime. A late bedtime can have more to do with us than the kids. The later the day, the less patience and stamina we have to be our best. We all can benefit from the “after bedtime” hours to recharge.
- Cranky kids. Having a consistent routine keeps toddler tantrums at bedtime and fussy behavior at bay. They thrive with consistency and appreciate that they know what to expect and when.
- Less time for yourself. Early bedtimes give you time for yourself, whether to tend to tasks, spend time with your partner, or simply relax uninterrupted. The early bedtime (plus the full night’s sleep) gives you back some of the sanity lost during the first newborn months.
Learn how to deal with 2 year old bedtime tantrums.
How to tell if your 2 year old is getting enough sleep
How can you tell if your child is getting enough sleep, both during the day and at night? The first step is to check in with your pediatrician, as she can guide you on exactly how much sleep your toddler needs. Then, a few cues that she likely needs more sleep is that she:
- Falls asleep doing random activities like eating or playing
- Falls asleep every time you drive in the car (and not because it’s near nap time)
- Irritable and cranky
- Rubs her eyes
- Needs constant reminders to get going in the morning
Learn how to establish a solid 2 year old bedtime.
How to transition to an earlier bedtime
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If you’d like to adjust your 2 year old’s bedtime—or maybe even need to because she’s getting ready for preschool or daycare—keep the following tips in mind:
- Create a conducive sleep environment. Install darkening curtains, turn on a white noise machine, use a weighted blanket, and sing lullabies. And avoid stimulants like television, roughhousing, or bright lights.
- Transition gradually. Adjust both bedtime and wake ups 15 minutes at a time, every few days. If your 2 year old typically sleeps at 10pm, make bedtime 9:45pm for the next few nights. If you need her awake by 7am every morning instead of 8:30am, start by rousing her by 8:15am. Continue this pattern until you reach your desired bedtime and wake up time.
- Keep bedtime calm. Late evenings can feel make early bedtimes practically impossible. Avoid television, roughhousing, and stimulating activities that make it harder to fall asleep. Store toys in lidded boxes or remove them from her room. Then, maintain quiet time and keep the house dark and calm. Rub her back, read books, and relax in her room.
- Be consistent. Sleep habits form from repetition. Picture your ideal situation and commit to sticking to it for the long haul. Yes, it’s easier to keep her up if she throws a fit otherwise, but that choice only reinforces that it’s okay to sleep late. Instead, remind yourself of the ideal bedtime and stay consistent.
Here’s how to keep your toddler in her room at night.
Sleeping too late has become common for many families because of hectic schedules and overtired parents. That’s why I’m a fan of early bedtimes for consistent sleep, more time for parents and a happier mood the next day.
To help your 2 year old sleep earlier, do so gradually and by creating a conducive sleep environment. Keep bedtime calm to promote a relaxing transition into sleep. And finally, be consistent with your rules and expectations—this will set the tone for her new bedtime moving forward.
In due time, she’ll begin to sleep much earlier than 11pm—and give you those few hours alone once again.
p.s. Check out Just Go to Bed by Mercer Mayer to help her take to an early bedtime routine:
Get more tips:
- Help Your Kid Stay in Bed All Night
- 9 Children’s Books about Bedtime
- Your Child Won’t Nap? Read This.
- 6 Tips on Helping Your Child Sleep in Their Own Bed
- 10 Things You Should Do when You Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier below:
Molly Spradley says
I feel exactly like you do! My son is 2 and 1/2 and he goes to bed like clockwork every night. Bedtime routine starts with bath at 7:30, then at least 4 books, then we rock for a little bit. He’s usually drifting off around 8:45 and in his bed at 9. If I try to make it earlier or later he makes me nutty and no matter how tired will not wind down and close his eyes. Heaven help me if somebody messes up the routine! Good bedtime routine and we’re golden. however, when on vacation or when his Grammy visits i get the grandparent evil eye about how early the whole process starts or how long it is to get him in bed, etc, etc. But I pretty much ignore everybody because it works for us. He sleeps through the night give or take 1 wake-up. I also absolutely HAVE to keep his room cool. too hot and he won’t sleep at all which both sets of granparents think is crazy but since I can’t sleep when i’m hot it makes sense to me. I learned the hard way to guard those sleep times for both nap and bedtime mostly because as Mommy I’m the 1 that “pays” for it with grummpy kiddo and/or frustrated mommy. I used to constantly question if he was getting enough sleep, if I was doing the right thing, if I should do CIO (which went against every parenting instinct I’ve ever had) and now I’ve learned to listen to my heart and my kiddo and not worry what anybody else says or does.
Molly, One thing I learned is that sometimes we can’t win with our “critics” 🙂 If parents put their kids down early, then family and friends wonder why they can’t stay longer at gatherings. If they’re up late, then why aren’t they in bed already. Considering my toddler’s needs, I just opted for routine and set bedtimes. We did sleep train when he was about 6 months, and again we had one camp that wondered what the heck we were doing and the other camp saying, Yeah, we did the same thing. I like what you said about listening to yourself and what works for you and your family. And yes, primarily because WE have to deal with cranky pants if he doesn’t get enough sleep hehe!
i have difficulty putting my kids to sleep early and always end up arguing with my wife. my 2 year old son sleeps at 12am-1am. i am the breadwinner and my wife is a full time housewife. she told me that there’s nothing can be done and the sleeping time of kids will eventually be adjusted automatically as they grow up. i have been looking for such proof to support her statement but none. after reading so many websites, i understand that parents are the main key to adjust their sleep.
Nina Garcia says
Hi Alan, I would further discuss with her the reason for a later bedtime. If it’s a matter of believing that’s when he naturally sleeps, I believe you can actually adjust that much earlier. I would start in 15-minute increments, so if he currently sleeps at 12am, put him to bed the next night at 11:45pm and stick with that for a few days until it seems he has adjusted. Then try again for 11:30pm, and so forth until you can get him to sleep earlier.
Every family is different, but what’s most important is that children get enough sleep throughout the day. I’d make sure he’s still getting that 10-12 hours of solid sleep overnight, in addition to daytime naps he takes. If he’s waking up at 8am the next morning, then you should adjust his bedtime much earlier.
I read all the comments here.
I do have a question.
My two year old son for the last 3 months has a interesting bedtime schedule.
He used to be asleep by 9pm at the latest.
Sticking to a regular bedtime routine.
In the bedroom by 8:00 several books alittle crying and asleep by 9pm.
Lately its not working.
He started falling asleep around 11pm. Even though nothing changed. Same routine same house same daycare .
No life chances.
He is woken up everyday at 7:30am for daycare. Naps 1.5 hours a day never more.Given Said.
The nights he falls asleep at 11pm the next day he is grumpy tired not pleasant at his daycare and asleep by 8:30 pm then the next night he falls asleep again at 11pm.
Almost as if he had too much sleep not tired before 11pm but since he doesnt sleep in and always wakes up at 7:30 the next day he is tired. And this continues on and on.
So basically one day early the next day late.
How do i break this cycle and get my toddler to sleep at a normal time everyday?
Nina Garcia says
Hi there! Maybe try to put him down much earlier so that he can catch up on lost sleep. He might struggle with falling asleep because he’s overtired by the time his regular bedtime comes around. But you can try to put him down much earlier to catch him before he starts getting overtired. I hope that helps!
Your son is probably in transition to drop a day nap. I was always letting my son get natural rhythm for sleep. His sleeping was always going through phases of regular sleep and complete irregular sleep every time he was transitions to next stage like dropping one nap. Wonder weeks also can make kids have trouble sleeping. Routines are great and work most days but sometimes they don’t work no matter what you do.
I been puting my kids to sleep around 9:30pm and it works best for me.they wake up around 9am.sometimwa even 10am..im not a morning person and i work only weekends so waking up early is not my cup of tea.my kids are 3 yrs old and 22 months.i know many parents put kids earlier to sleep but for me i dont see why.i still get time during the day to cook and do chores and go out.also once kids fall asleep around 945pm i can relax ans watch tv.have my own time.so basically im happy and kids happy.they get 12hrs of sleep and i get to sleep on. 😉
Also just to add some more info.my kids also nap around 2pm for about 2-3hours.so they are geting plenty of sleep i think..9:30pm-9am and 2 hrs nap..anyone would still recommend puting kids at 8pm??o just cant imagine ever doing that??it must be hard im guessing and i cant imagine them waking up at 7-8am.. i seriously HATE waking up early..i just cant do it since i was in high school ;(
Omg yes girl! I understand completely. My daughter is 13 months and her bedtime has been 9:30pm since she was 3 months and it has been awesome! Plus she gets two 1.5 hours naps a day too. I’m so not a morning person either so having her wake up between 8:30 and 9 works so well for me. Plus she seems more well rested and ready to start the day versus going to bed any earlier. I feel like there is a standard for everything these days and I’m like: Who cares…it works for us and our baby isn’t sleep deprived. =D
Nina Garcia says
You’re doing what works for you, mama! And that’s what’s most important. What’s so interesting about parenting and raising kids is that there are so many ways to do it. And isn’t it funny how we’ll think, “I don’t know how they do it, I could never do that!” for any side of the equation?
From what I’ve read, the early bedtimes has to do with kids’ circadian rhythms, and honestly I don’t know if 9:30pm would be off by THAT much (versus more extreme bedtimes). I think once they start school, that’s when you also see a benefit of sleeping early since school starts early, but looks like your kids are getting the sleep they need now 🙂
Lauren Rzempoluch says
I agree we’re trying to get my son that’s 18mo on an earlier schedule bc I can’t wake a sleeping baby unless he has an early appointment or something he has to be up for but if he does to bed too late like 9/10 pm & sleeps 12-13hrs & wakes up at 9-10am I feel like it really cuts into our day & we can’t get much done. Storytime at the library is at 10:30am so we don’t want to have to race there & he has to have breakfast first. Like you said it’s a good idea to prepare for preschool so it’s not a hard transition & a well rested child is more likely to learn better then one that never gets enough rest & it could contribute to behavioral issues as well. It has many layers but I believe earlier is better & we’re gradually getting there in 15mim increments. Thank you for this lovely article!!
Moneka Robinson says
All of a sudden my 2 year old who would go to bed at 8pm isn’t falling asleep until 11pm some days. I’m doing everything to keep her on the same schedule. We are up at 630am and she’s miserable but nothing I’m doing is working. I even tried cutting back and eliminating naps…didnt help. I’m so tired.
Nina Garcia says
Oh no, that sounds terrible Moneka! Try to find out what’s causing the difficulty in falling asleep. There could be so many reasons, from a fear of the dark to separation anxiety to changes in the household that could be keeping her up. Depending on what the potential cause could be, you could try addressing the root issue, such as getting a nightlight, easing her anxiety, keeping her routine subdued before bed, or talking about her concerns. It’s definitely hard, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that she’ll overcome this stage sooner than later!
Grace Lam says
Hi Nina, I am in the same situation as Moneka and this has lasted for about 1.5mths. It is driving me nuts when she sleeps past midnight everyday. She said she is afraid of the dark and I bought a nightlight but she refused to turn on just the night lights and sob incontrollably if i do not keep all the lights on in the room. (It was never like that) We still continue our bedtime routine everyday to wind down at 8pm but it is really not working. I can tell by 1030pm she was yawning profusely and tearing from yawning but she will do anything to keep herself awake. Nap times are a struggle too.
Nina Garcia says
Hi Grace! It sounds like she wants all the lights on to fall asleep, but I take it that this is making it difficult for her to sleep at a decent time. If a nightlight isn’t bright enough, see if she’d be fine with a small lamp, or even having the hallway light on outside and her door slightly open. If she still puts up a fight, it’s likely that this is now a power struggle and less about needing a light on (in other words, she’s not willing to meet you halfway).
Maybe let her know that she can keep her lights on only if she can fall asleep by a certain time. If she doesn’t, then having the lights on aren’t effective, so she can have the little lamp.
Laur R says
No don’t cut out naps!! My mother in law & some others have said oh he didn’t nap he’ll be pooped out & sleep tonight but it never works like that. He gets over tired, cranky, & wired. They usually do better at night with naps during the day. Just try to make sure they don’t Nap past 4pm bc they’ll struggle to sleep at night. The earlier the better we did naps right after lunch at the daycare i worked for but depending on how early they rise they might want to earlier. I’m sure you’ve tried everything but lots of free play to wear them out. If my son doesn’t run around enough he won’t settle well. You got this mommy!!! Hugs!! ❤️
How long did it take to get that diagnosis & what other symptoms did he show ? I feel my daughter is lacking melatonin or something because she doesn’t not sleep. EVER, she has fallen asleep ONCE by herself & that was after skipping a nap & having a tantrum… she must have me holding her to fall asleep too & it can take hours, in darkness, for her to fall asleep. Sorry for the long reply lol
Love this!!! Yes! Let’s normalize families like ours and do away with “should he’s”
I wouldn’t mind for her to go to sleep earlier but I don’t want her wake up earlier in morning than she does now as it’s only time I can do some tasks around home and prepare for a day and breakfast! She sleeps 11 hours during night from 11pm till 10 am and 2 hours nap during day, which is a must as well! I don’t see that she would need to sleep more than 13-14 hours per daynight as she’s almost 20 months old and she’s always have been sleeping in if she have staid up later… she even might sleep till 12 o’clock
Nina Garcia says
Hi Sabine! It definitely does sound like she’s getting the hours she needs. While I have read that 8:30pm is a good guideline as far as the latest kids should sleep (I believe because of the circadian rhythms), we also do what works for our families. I’m guessing at some point when she’s in school, this will change, but embrace it if it works for you <3
Denise BT says
Hi Nina! My baby is almost 14 months now. He sleeps around 11 PM until the next day about 10-12 hours in total and gets around 2-3 hours of nap time in a day.
Is it normal for him to wake up in between just to latch on me? He’s a breastfed baby and I haven’t started weaning just yet.
How do I adjust his sleep and make it earlier than 11 PM to 12 MN?
Nina Garcia says
Hi Denise! If he’s used to waking up to breastfeed and hasn’t been weaned, then yes he’s probably used to this habit. Once you’re ready to wean from night feedings, then he can also stop waking up to feed. As far as adjusting for an earlier sleep time, I would do so gradually, maybe in 15-30 minute increments. For instance, have the bedtime at 10:45pm, then 10:30pm the next, and so forth. Adjust his wake times as well so that it’s 11-12 hours from when he fell asleep. I hope that helps!
Elissa B says
My sister is a late night person, much like me. Because of this, she’s always put her baby on a later schedule since he was born. Now, he’s 16 months and she still has a late schedule for him! She feeds him dinner around 9-10pm and puts him to be at around midnight! Of course with a bath inbetween. She is insistent on this and doesn’t think this is a bad thing! I’ve been trying to convince her she is messing with his circadian rhythm and she refuses to change his schedule. Lately, he has now been having a hard time staying asleep at night. We’ll put him down at midnight and he’ll fall asleep and within an hour he’s up again. Crying and screaming. So she’ll get him, soothe him put him back down. Hell fall asleep and then within an hour.. he’s screaming and crying again. She is exhausted and hasn’t gotten sleep herself. Since HER bedtime is usually like 3-4am. I personally believe he’s having these night time fits because she has his schedule all crazy. He doesn’t even eat breakfast until like 11am-12pm and again his dinner is 9’or 10pm. I just need confirmation that my thoughts about his crazy schedule is contributing to his sleeping at night. And that this schedule may be well for her but not for a child! Any articles and advice is much needed!
Megan P says
Wanted to pop in and say that different families have different situations. Later bedtime (asleep between 10p-11p) works perfectly for our 1 year old and has since she was a new baby. She usually won’t wake up until 11a or sometimes later.
I WFH and my husband works in a restaurant so he usually doesn’t get home until 8-9 om so an earlier bedtime would mean that he never sees her and that is not how we want her to grow up. Her sleep schedule works wonderfully for us because I am able to work while she is sleeping in the morning and she gets up right in time for my lunch break!
Our pediatrician said as long as she is getting the # of hours it really doesn’t matter what time of the day she is sleeping.
*I also want to note that she has always been a great sleeper and is very amenable to adjustments – when we visit grandparents she only takes 1-2 nights to adjust to a 8-8 or 9-9 schedule*