The 2-Year Sleep Regression: Causes And How To Survive It

2-year sleep regression

The 2-year sleep regression can be an unpleasant surprise. You’re past the days of 3 a.m. feedings, and you’ve been enjoying catching up on rest. But now as your child approaches their second birthday, you suddenly find getting them to sleep is more frustrating than ever.

In this article, we’ll explain how to identify a 2-year sleep regression, some factors that might trigger it, and strategies for getting through it so you can get the rest you’ll need to chase after an increasingly lively and independent toddler.

Sleep Regressions Explained

If your child is almost two years old, then there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the concept of sleep regressions. If you haven’t run into these issues yet, then consider yourself a member of the lucky minority by making it this far.

To bring you up to speed, a sleep regression is a period during which the progress that your child has been making in going to sleep quickly at bedtime or naptime and then staying peacefully asleep until the appropriate time to wake up seems to be reversed.

During these periods, your child may refuse to go down for bed or a nap, cry, act defiantly, or (in the case of older tots) employ stalling tactics like pleading for another story or drink of water. Then they may wake up and demand attention repeatedly after finally going to bed.

These periods are usually associated with growth spurts and significant milestones in your child’s physical and mental development and the way they experience and interact with the world.

The most commonly seen intervals for sleep regressions are:

  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 8-10 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 24 months

Not every child goes through each sleep regression. The timing also might not be exact. That said, it is quite common for children to go through a 2-year sleep regression.

Signs Of The 2-Year Sleep Regression

Signs Of The 2-Year Sleep Regression

One or two restless nights or cranky nap times don’t necessarily mean that your little one is going through a sleep regression.

Signs of a sleep regression include:

  • Waking up more often than usual during the night
  • Taking longer to go to sleep at bedtime or nap time
  • Refusing to take naps at all
  • Coming up with excuses to delay bedtime
  • Waking up earlier (even by early-rising toddler standards!)

A sleep regression typically includes many or all of these behaviors over a period of a couple of weeks, although in some cases it can last longer.

Causes Of The 2-Year Sleep Regression

We mentioned previously that sleep regressions usually coincide with important stages in your child’s growth and development. So let’s talk about some of the specific causes for a sleep regression right around birthday number two.

Changing Sleep Needs

As they approach age two, your child is well past the age where sleeping was almost the default like it was when they were a small baby. However, two year olds still need a solid 12-14 hours of sleep per day.

That includes nap time during the day, although at this stage there’s a good chance that they are transitioning from two daily naps to just one.

Changes in your little one’s sleep needs can throw off their sense of when it’s time to sleep and how long they need to sleep. The two-naps-to-one-nap transition, especially, can result in them getting overtired, which can actually make it harder to get them to sleep.

Growing Independence

kid riding a bike

At age two, your child is rapidly mastering new skills and expanding their awareness of the world and their capacity to interact with it.

They can get around on their own. They can express what they want (or don’t want) verbally. They have new skills to practice. They have new toys to play with (or new ways to make their own fun while ignoring the shiny toys you buy them).

All of this might add up to your child deciding that they would much rather keep doing this exciting stuff than sleep.

Or they might even be refusing to go to sleep simply as a way of asserting their increasing independence, although they probably couldn’t put that motivation into words.


Unfortunately, new discoveries sometimes mean new fears.

By now your child is constantly trying to digest new things they’re learning about the vastness and complexity of the world around them. They’re growing in their comprehension of language, and exposure to entertainment like books and videos is sparking their imagination.

Instead of dreaming of simple concepts, they can now experience much more “realistic,” vivid, and, sometimes, frightening nightmares.

Life Changes

life changes that cause 2-year sleep regression

At the same time your two year old is going through important developmental changes, they might also be experiencing major life changes. Examples include starting preschool, being introduced to a new nanny or babysitter, or even meeting a new sibling.

These life transitions can cause anxiety in your child, which might manifest as a refusal to sleep or an inability to sleep soundly.

A Note On Teething And The 2-Year Sleep Regression

Although teething isn’t usually considered a direct cause of a sleep regression, your child is at the age where their two-year molars may be starting to come in.

Discomfort from this can make it harder for them to get to sleep, exacerbating the impacts of a regression.

2-Year Sleep Regression Tips

Now that you’ve considered some possible triggers for your toddler’s 2-year sleep regression, what can you do to get through it?

There is no “one size fits all” solution for dealing with a 2-year sleep regression. Even so, we can recommend some pretty universally applicable strategies you can use to help mitigate the effects of the 2-year sleep regression (and maintain your own sanity).

Maintain Your Sleep Time Routine

Keeping to a bedtime ritual that helps your little one realize it’s time to wind down and relax from the day’s activities is just as important now as when you were sleep training an infant, if not more so.

The consistent routine will provide your child with a sense of security that they crave, especially as their world and they themselves are changing.

Consider Adjusting Bedtime

Even when trying to maintain consistency, think about shifting the timing of your bedtime routine or adjust the timing of your toddler’s daily nap as they transition from two naps to one.

Shifting nightly bedtime back a half-hour or so can help them not wake up so painfully early in the morning. Shifting afternoon nap time back can keep them from reaching that dreaded “too tired to sleep” state in the evening.

Keep Them In The Crib

Avoid the temptation to switch your toddler out of the crib too early. This can make the sleep regression worse. Just make sure your crib mattress is at the proper height so that they can’t climb out.

Also consider your little one’s mattress. The two-stage design of the Newton Baby Crib Mattress, for example, gives it longevity through the toddler years, and you can get even more use out of it by upcycling it as part of our play couch.

When it is time to transition to a “big boy/girl bed,” check out our kids’ twin mattress. It’s completely washable including the core, and ideal for potty training, asthma, and allergy sufferers.

Separate Their Play Space

young boy playing with blocks

If you have the room to do it, it can be helpful to create a playroom for your toddler that’s separate from the area where their crib is located.

Keeping toys out of sight will help prevent your child from being distracted as they’re supposed to be drifting off to sleep. And separating the play environment from the sleep environment will help reinforce the concept that once you put them to bed, it’s time for rest.

Stay Calm

When your newborn wouldn’t sleep, it was frustrating, but at least you knew that they weren’t trying to frustrate you. At age two, however, your child is capable of using tactics to avoid sleep that might seem intentionally defiant or even manipulative.

It’s natural to be annoyed, but it’s important to stay cool and in control. If your child isn’t actually trying to “play games,” your stress will only feed their stress. On the other hand, if they are testing your limits, getting upset will only teach them that they can push your buttons.

Looking Ahead To Life With A 2 Year Old

Looking Ahead To Life With A 2 Year Old

Sleep regressions often accompany new stages in your child’s development, and turning two is certainly a major milestone! How you handle the 2-year sleep regression can help you set the tone for the next stage of your child’s growth.

Understanding your child’s anxieties, making smart adjustments to their environment, reassuring them with consistency, and staying calm as they test their boundaries will help you turn the “terrible twos” into the “terrific twos.”

The 2-year sleep regression is the last in the series of common sleep regressions recognized by experts. Now you can look forward to the challenge of potty training!

Whatever stage of development your baby or toddler is in, Newton will be here with advice and products that promote safe, healthy sleep and play.

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