2 Year Old Sleep Problems (& Solutions!)

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2 year old girl sleep problemsAt 2 years old, your toddler is working on several developmental milestones. She’s perfecting her motor skills, like running and jumping. She’s learning new words everyday, and she’s becoming more independent by the minute. So many big changes!

In a time filled with such advancement, you may find that your 2 year old is also struggling with sleep problems. When children advance in one area, like physical development, they often regress temporarily in another area, like sleep. It’s perfectly normal.  

Also, sleep needs and patterns change around the 2 year mark. We often have to tweak our toddler’s sleep schedule around her second birthday.

Common sleep problems for 2 year olds are resisting bedtime, waking at night, wanting to sleep in their parent’s bed and fighting naps. In this article I guide you through these common sleep struggles, what causes them and how to fix them.

This post may contain affiliate links.

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2 Year Old Sleep Problems (& Solutions!)

Sleep Problem #1: Late bedtime

Sleep problem #2: The 2 year sleep regression

Sleep Problem #3: Separation anxiety

Sleep problem #4: Nightmares and night terrors

Sleep Problem #5: Climbing out of the crib / coming into parents’ bed

Sleep Problem #6: Snoring

Sleep Problem #7: Night wakings

Sleep Problem #8: Waking too early in the morning

 

Sleep Problem #1: Late bedtime

 

One thing that prevents toddlers from sleeping through the night is a late bedtime. Late or inconsistent bedtimes make your toddler sleep worse, not better.

Your 2 year old may be fighting bedtime because his nap was too long or because he’s simply testing his limits (totally normal toddler behavior.)

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Cause #1: Long (or late) nap

A long nap (or late nap) can make your 2 year old fight bedtime. He’s not tired enough to fall asleep! Make sure your toddler’s nap time falls right in the middle of his day. Plus, at 2 years old, I recommend limiting naps.

 

Limit your toddler’s naps to:

2 years →   2 hrs

2.5 years → 1.5 hrs

3 years → 1 hr

*This is the combined total hours of all naps

 

Many moms cringe when I suggest limiting naps. I get it! You treasure your 3 hours of uninterrupted downtime. It’s definitely a trade off. If you want your toddler to keep an early bedtime, limit his naps. You can also choose to keep a long nap and push bedtime later.

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Cause #2: “Normal” 2 year old resistance

As your 2 year old becomes more independent, she’ll want to test her boundaries. She’s figuring out how much she can get away with! It’s normal toddler behavior to push the limits and “question” why she always has to go to bed at the same time each evening.

A great way to combat this is to have a firm ending to your bedtime routine. Pick a “point” like a certain song or a specific book that will signify the end of your bedtime routine. For example, you could sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ at the end of your bedtime routine each night. You sing it twice each night, and after that, the lights go out and your little one goes to sleep. You never deviate from this by giving in to demands to read another book or sing another song.

A bedtime routine checklist can help your toddler visualize and better understand her routine. (see some popular bedtime charts below). Hang one on your toddler’s bedroom wall and go through the same steps every evening. Point to each activity as you do it and say, “Look, we’re putting on pajamas and next we’ll read a book.” This builds consistency into your routine and helps your toddler accept it more easily. Once you reach the final step, your little one will know that it’s time to fall asleep.

 

Popular bedtime charts

Click to order on

Good Night, Sleep Tight Reward Chart

Cadily Day & Night Chart for Kids

Health Plan Magnetic Chore Chart for Kids

 

Sleep problem #2: The 2 year sleep regression

 

There’s good news with this regression. It’s the last one and it’s often shorter and less intense than the others! It’s possible to get past it quickly and go back to sleeping well (find out more on sleep regressions here).

 

Signs of the 2 year sleep regression

→ Fights bedtime and/or naps out of the blue

→ Wakes more at night without any apparent cause

→ Nightmares

→ Clinginess, fussiness during day or night

 

What you can do:

If your 2 year old was sleeping like a champ before this regression hit, then do your best to stay consistent. Keep up with your familiar sleep routines and timing. Your little one may need extra comfort or support, but try not to deviate from your typical sleep routines too much. This will help your toddler go right back to sleeping well once the regression passes.

 

Specifically focus on keeping your child falling asleep on his own at bedtime and during the night. If you start rocking him or bringing him to your bed, he’ll plan on you continuing this after the regression passes.

 

If your 2 year old wasn’t sleeping well before the regression, there’s no better time to begin learning healthy sleep habits. Start by creating a Peaceful Nightly Ritual. My free Exhausted Mom’s Survival Kit walks you step-by-step through getting your little one sleeping well.

 

RELATED: This Video Has All Expert Tips on How to Sleep Train your 2 Year Old

 

Sleep Problem #3: Separation anxiety

 

Separation anxiety peaks around 18 months, but it can resurface around the 2 year mark. If your little one is going through big changes like switching daycares, welcoming a new sibling or potty training, separation anxiety can increase. In times of change, your toddler’s sleep may suffer and she’ll look to you for comfort and stability.

 

What you can do:

Separation anxiety makes your 2 year old unsettled when you’re not around. It’s a normal phase of development, and not necessarily a sign that something is wrong. The intensity varies from child to child. The best way to handle it, is to spend as much time as possible with your little one.

 

Be present

Find moments to spend quality time together, especially before bedtime. Do a lot of cuddling, kissing, story telling, and chatting about your day. Show her that you’re there for her. Tell your child how much you love her, which helps her feel safe. Try to not be distracted by your phone or the multitude of chores waiting for you.

When it’s time to sleep, explain to her that you’re always nearby. It’s important for her to hear this, because she’s growing up and becoming independent, which typically comes with a bit of fear. If your toddler gets very upset with the idea of sleeping alone, sit in a chair in her bedroom while she falls asleep. You may need to do the same if she wakes during the night. This is a great way to keep your familiar sleep routine of her sleeping in her bedroom, but adding in some extra comfort.

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Offer a lovey

A lovey can be any item that offers comfort to a child. Typically it’s a blanket, a piece of soft cloth or a stuffed animal.

It’s a “buddy” that helps your 2 year old through tough times, as she transitions from dependence to independence over the first few years of life. Encourage your toddler to cuddle and sleep with her buddy to “keep her company” in the night.

 

Popular loveys

Click to order on Amazon

Bearington Baby Lamby Snuggler

Jellycat Security Blanket

Angel Dear Blankie

 

Sleep problem #4: Nightmares and night terrors

 

Nightmares, or bad dreams, make your toddler wake in the night crying and scared. It’s normal for 2 year olds to have bad dreams, but there are also things you can do to reduce their frequency.

Nightmares are caused by overtiredness, a growing imagination, certain books and videos, or recalling a scary event from the day like an encounter with a big dog.

It’s possible to wake your child from a nightmare, give him comfort and explain that it’s not real and he’s safe.

Night terrors are different. During night terrors, it’s impossible to wake your little one. You just have to sit next to him and wait it out. Most children don’t remember them, though. Night terrors are caused by chronic overtiredness, stress and anxiety, sickness or jet lag.

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What you can do:

Always make sure your toddler feels safe in his bedroom. Remove any objects that he might be scared of, like older brother’s toys, posters on the wall or stuffed animals. Offering a lovey also helps him feel safe and comforted.

Do an inventory of your 2 year old’s books, videos and stories being told to him by an older sibling or cousin. Maybe there’s a character or a situation that makes him feel afraid or insecure. For many toddlers, it’s too early to cope with “bad” characters or sad situations. Encourage books and cartoons that are simple and happy. (Peppa Pig is a favorite of mine!)

Have a discussion to find out if something is scaring your little one or making him feel uncomfortable. Talk it through so you can better understand. And always remind your toddler that he’s safe and mommy is always nearby.

 

Sleep Problem #5: Climbing out of the crib / coming into parents’ bed

 

Some 2 year olds climb out of the crib, wander around the house, play with their toys or crawl into bed with you. It’s a lot easier for toddlers to leave beds that don’t have boundaries, so I recommend you keep your toddler in the crib until 3-4 years old, if possible. Only transition to a toddler bed if your little one repeatedly climbs out of the crib every night (this becomes a safety risk.)

If your 2 year old ditched the crib a while ago, don’t lose hope! It’s 100% possible to keep your little one in his toddler bed all night. This article explains what to do.

 

Sleep Problem #6: Snoring

 

If your 2 year old snores occasionally, especially when she’s sick, this can be normal. But if snoring is a regular occurrence and your toddler seems tired during the day it could be sleep a sign of a bigger problem and I recommend you tell your child’s pediatrician.

 

Sleep Problem #7: Night wakings

 

Constant night wakings are exhausting! While night wakings can be expected for babies who need to feed during the night, your 2 year old can be expected to sleep 11-12 hours straight at night.

If your toddler is a good sleeper who’s recently started waking in the night, it’s probably due to one (or more) of the above sleep problems. Following my advice should get his sleep back on track.

But if your little one has never been a good sleeper, it’s time to do something about it. You can teach your little one to settle himself to sleep and sleep through the night in his own sleep space. It’s never too late!

The better a child rests during the night, the more happy and adaptable he is during the day. Same goes for us parents too, right? How terrible is your next day, after you’ve had a bad night’s sleep? Solid sleep helps us all feel better.

If you’re ready for your 2 year old to sleep better, join my free Exhausted Mom’s Survival Kitand let me walk you, step-by-step, through transforming your child into a great sleeper!

 

Sleep Problem #8: Waking too early in the morning

 

A common sleep issue for 2 year olds is waking at 5 am, EVERY morning. No amount of coffee can make waking at 5 am acceptable. I know, I’ve been there!

There are several reasons why your 2 year old is waking up early in the morning. These reasons can include:

  • Naps are too long (see section 1 above for nap recommendations)
  • Bedtime is too late (6:30-8 pm is the ideal bedtime range for toddlers.)
  • Your toddler needs your help to fall asleep (The BEST way to get your 2 year old sleeping later in the morning is to have him fall asleep on his own at bedtime. Hands down.)

No matter the cause of your 2 year old waking too early, there’s always a solution. This article explains how you can break the early waking cycle and get your toddler sleeping past sunrise everyday.

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So there you have it. The seven main sleep problems that 2 year olds struggle with. Remember, there’s always hope to get your little one sleeping well. It’s never too late! Whether your toddler is going through a sleep regression, separation anxiety, learning to test limits or needs a tweak in his sleep routine- this article walks you through what to do. Good luck!

Got a question about your 2 year old’s sleep? Ask Jilly in the comments below.

Let’s stay connected!

12 Comments

  1. Bernadette

    Hi. Our 2 year 2 month old has been a really good sleeper qnd has settled on his own at bedtime and during the night. However he has recently started wanting either me or my husband in his room to go to sleep or to stay in his room with him when he wakes at night. He has just started talking lots more and started daycare. Im sure it will pass but i am concerned we are creating a new habit staying in his room during the night if he wakes or at bedtime. However if i let him scream and cry, no one in the house will get any sleep. Is staying with him through this phase ok do you think?

    Reply
    • panagiota

      Hi there Bernadette. As you said this is probably a developmental thing. And you don’t have to let him cry. But what you can do is talk to your son during the day, and let him know that you love him, you’re always there, to the next room, and that you’ll put him to sleep and leave. Reassure him that his safe and you and his dad are always there.

      This guide has tips that will help you keep your LO in his crib –> https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/toddler-getting-out-of-bed-repeatedly-2

      Try implementing these tips for a few days and then let us know how things work out. Good luck. Panagiota, BSMS Support Team

      Reply
  2. Emily

    My son is 2 years and 9 months old and just learned how to crawl out of his crib. We transitioned him to a toddler bed and he will NOT stay in bed. We have tried walking him back to his bed every night saying our rehearsed line (“It’s time to go to sleep”). This goes on for 2-3 hours each night before we finally give up. We’ve stayed in his room next to him as he falls asleep…only he doesn’t fall asleep. We’ve tried mounting a gate on his door; he climbed it. We’re ordering a taller one but it won’t be here for another week and we’re desperate. Beyond all this, he refuses to nap. We do a nap routine and leave him in his room for one hour—sleeping or not—and he falls asleep about once every 3 weeks. He has got to be overtired but won’t pass out until almost midnight each night, usually in our bed becasue we’ve tried for hours to get him to go to sleep and nothing works. What do we need to do differently? Help!!

    Reply
    • Alyssa Taft

      Hi Emily,

      Thanks so much for your message! We really recommend trying to keep your LO in the crib until at least 3-4 years of age (unless climbing out for safety reasons). Little ones can better handle toddler beds when they are older. You can try these tips to see if it helps keep your LO in the crib longer:

      1) If your crib has uneven sides, put the shorter side against the wall and push it up against a corner, so there are less sides to climb out.
      2) Make sure there are no bumpers, pillows, or blankets that are in the crib that your LO can use for height to climb out. Try a sleep sack.
      3) Have the mattress at the lowest setting
      4) Try this for a few days and nights with a firm “No” when your LO tries to climb out. See if this helps after a few days.

      If this still isn’t working, then toddler bed is the best solution. Check out this article for helpful tips! https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/how-to-transition-toddler-from-crib-to-bed

      Alyssa, BSMS Support Team

      Reply
  3. Amber

    My little boy is 21 mo, he’s an only child and has never been a good sleeper. I feel like we change routines every two weeks bc he’s doing something different. Currently he’s going to bed around 9-930 bc he FIGHTS and fights…and this is after a routine consisting of bath, reading and nursing and finally putting him down asleep (all wrong, I know 😪). He then wakes up screaming between 12-4am to come to bed with me (I’m assuming). He’s always woken up in the night, multiple times. I’m in anesthesia school and am ab to start clinical (EARLY am) where I don’t want him in my bed bc I’ll be leaving early, and Dad just isn’t me so I want him in the crib! I cringe when I hear him cry and scream and I crumble. I tried letting him cry. He threw up all over bc he gagged himself (I think he’s teething so His hands are in his mouth). And lord did I feel like the worst mom. He’s also in a toddler sleep sac to avoid climbing out of the crib. He’s a big boy and can escape. He isn’t ready for a toddler bed and neither am I. So much needs to be changed and idk where to start, or how to gain the courage to let him cry😪😭😓.

    Reply
    • Alyssa Taft

      Hello Amber,

      Thanks so much for your post! We would love to help you and your LO get more sleep! First, I would sign up for our FREE Exhausted Moms Survival Kit. It has a ton of helpful sleep tips to get your LO sleeping better. I would also highly recommend signing up for our program. We can really help you teach your LO to fall asleep independently and sleep in the crib. We’re currently having a Spring Sale. This gives you 30 days of personal support with our sleep training program, 21 Days to Peace & Quiet. Jilly walks you through each step and shows you exactly what to do every night. Plus we answer questions 5 days/week inside a private FB group. So you really get all the direction and support you need. Here’s more info: https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/21-days-to-peace-quiet-program. Please let me know if you have any questions!! Alyssa, BSMS Support Team

      https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/exhausted-moms-survival-kit

      Reply
  4. Guelmy

    My 2 year old wakes up 2-3xs in the middle of the night to pee. She’s a terrible sleeper and only wants to sleep in my bed.

    Reply
    • panagiota

      Hi there mama. What you can do is let her wear a diaper at night. This will not ruin potty training. Many children are potty trained for the day and still wear diapers during night time. Please try this trick and let us know how things work out.

      Apart from that what do you mean she’s a terrible sleeper? How is her bedtime and naps? Have you tried any of the tips in this guide? Happy to help you. Panagiota, BSMS Support Team

      Reply
  5. Alyssa Taft

    The good news is that the 2 year old regression is often much shorter and will pass quickly! Just remain super consistent with routines so it won’t cause any long-term sleep interruptions! Alyssa, BSMS Support Team

    Reply
  6. Jenna Macdonell

    My little guy is 33 months and has always been an amazing sleeper but he’s been through a lot of change. My husband left and I had to go back to work. He took me going to work the hardest. Even though he’s with my mom every day (which is very familiar). He began getting night terrors about a month after I started work and had had them every night since (about 2 months). He previously self soothed, went to bed awake and never slept in my bed. Now he can’t do any of this. I’ve cut screen time, established a good bed time (bath, jammies, story) routine, increase naps, decreased naps, brought back his sound machine, let him cry it out (he never gave in, just lays crying on the floor in his room). How do I get him back sleeping well but offer him the comfort and security he clearly is craving ? Help! I’m out of ideas

    Reply
    • Jilly Blankenship

      Hi Jenna,

      You’re doing everything right in regards to his sleep routines and lifestyle. I suspect it’s the recent life changes that are affecting his sleep. This is really normal.

      I suggest you talk with him during the day about all the recent changes. Explain that you’re always thinking about him when you’re working and how much you miss him. Maybe you can video call during the day just to say hi?

      When you get home, have one-on-one time with him, completely uninterrupted. Put your phone away and spend at least 20-30 minutes chatting, reading, hugging and having quality time together. Tell him how much you missed him.

      During his bedtime routine tell him how proud you are of him, what a big boy he is and that you’re always checking on him during the night. Then gently let him know what you expect of him (he’ll stay in his bed all night.)

      Basically, communicate everyday how much you love him, think about him, miss him and are always there for him. (And remind him how much Grandma loves him too. And Dad, if applicable.)

      You may need to sit quietly in his room for several nights to get him used to staying in his bed and room. Do the same for night wakings. Keep him in his familiar sleep space, you go in to provide reassurance.

      Once the night terrors have stopped, you can wean yourself out of the room. This video has advice for that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jdkqhKfJfo

      I hope this helps,
      Jilly

      Reply
    • Leah

      This sounds identical to the issues we are having with my 33 month old daughter. I recently went back to work, and she is really struggling at night. I’m wondering if you have any advice/things that worked for you?
      Thank you!!

      Reply

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