Hello 2 year sleep regression. The crossroad where some parents with good sleepers suddenly experience nightmare bedtimes and other parents find themselves sleeping in the bed with their toddler.
The 2 year sleep regression is often the sleep regression parents are not expecting. Your toddler has been sleeping well during the night and taking a solid 2-3 hour nap during the day, and than around 24-30 months, commonly around 2 years AND 2.5 years old, bedtime suddenly becomes a nightmare with crying, restlessness, and new demands.
The culprit for this regression: separation anxiety, especially at bedtime. Little ones develop the powerful awareness of all sorts of things suddenly: It's dark. Dark means bedtime. Mommy is going to leave my room. I'm alone. The running wild of their newly developed imagination with thoughts of monsters and scary things.
What does all this equal = Fighting bedtime with all their might.
So how do we handle this? It’s a fine line to walk — you don’t want to establish undesirable habits but you also need to acknowledge that your toddler is not doing this on purpose or to be “difficult.” They are really genuinely afraid, and while WHAT they're afraid of isn’t real, the FEAR of those things is very, very real.
1. Remain consistent.
A familiar routine is worth its weight in gold because your little one is able to predict what is going to occur, taking the fear of the unknown away. Now is NOT the time to make changes to the routine they have been using successfully. *We do not recommend introducing a nightlight at this stage as this can result in your little one staying up for longer periods of time looking around the room*
We have many families coming to us that are suddenly having to sleep in the bed with their toddler at this stage. Discussing your toddler's newly developing emotions are important, but also remaining consistent with your response after ensuring they are safe is also vital to maintaining an independent sleeper. Tears are not the enemy here, even though we know they are heard to navigate! These tears are often tears of frustration or protest, but they let you know that your little one is growing and developing into a more mature toddler. We want to be there to help them navigate these new challenges with consistent responses, but that doesn't mean we have to "fix it" by changing everything that we were once doing that worked! Want to chat more about helping your toddler navigate these new emotions? Schedule a 30 minute call
Reviewing the bedtime routine with your toddler is also a good idea. "What happens after we read books at night? We go to bed!"For many parents, introducing a bedtime routine chart is also helpful so your toddler can see the actions of the night as you approach bedtime.
Toddlers are tiny little people with big emotions and big expectations for themselves. They are beginning to learn independence and when we shut that down = enter tantrum. Bedtime is where we commonly see tantrums because it's a transition that toddlers don't like to make. So how do we fix this? Get them involved in the bedtime routine! Let your toddler make small choices, for example the books you read, within a consistent bedtime routine in order to decrease the power struggle but also fulfill your toddler's desire to be more independent.
2. Increase the cuddles and provide increased verbal comfort prior to bedtime.
Spending extra time in the evening with your toddler will help ease their fear of separation and help prepare them for bedtime. Your toddler is building their foundation for autonomy but with consistency and reassurance your 2 year old will soon be back to their previous sleep habits. Remember, 2 year old toddlers are still learning language so keep it simple with short phrases "I love you. Mommy is going to be in her room. You are safe." Providing a security item, be a t-shirt of yours or maybe a new lovey is a great tool to helping your toddler sleep independently again, as it gives your little one something to hold onto in the night when they are needing a bit of reassurance.
3. Re-evaluate their schedule.
You've guessed it, sleep needs have changed again! Toddlers have a very specific number of sleep hours they need over a 24-hour period and in order to aim for an 11-12 hour sleep period overnight we want to cap daytime sleep otherwise they will sleep less at night because they've already had enough sleep within that 24-hour window. We focus on having solid, uninterrupted night sleep because this is when your child does most of their growing and developing. Toddlers this age typically require 1.5-2 hours of daytime sleep so please don't drop their nap too quickly!
Sleep regression can seem overwhelming and daunting, but remember children are looking for parents to help guide and support them through the transition and changes. Regressions are temporary if it is truly a regression; however, if your child has always struggled with sleep, now is the time to invest in helping your family get the rest they deserve and need!
Research results suggest sleep serves an important role in the way toddlers respond to challenging events in their daily lives. After losing daytime sleep, toddlers were less able to effectively engage in a difficult task and reverted to less mature self-regulation strategies, than when they were well-rested. Over time, chronically missed sleep may impair young children’s self-regulation abilities, resulting in risk for social-emotional, behavioral, and school problems.