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.
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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.
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
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.
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
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