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You thought you were past all those late sleepless nights and wonky naps. Surprise!
The 2 year old sleep regression has stopped by, and it’s a doozy. Your life was finally hitting a good stride, and then WHAM! No one is sleeping, everyone is cranky, and you’re trying to figure out how to fix this nightmare as quickly as possible.
Here’s what you need to know about the dreaded 2 year old sleep regression…
Is the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression Paying a Visit?
Here’s How to Tell.
First, you may notice that your toddler seems hungry all the time. That’s a good sign! It means his brain is working overtime to jump ahead to the next set of developmental milestones! It also means you need to make sure those meals and snacks are steady throughout the day, he’s going to need more fuel than usual!
Second, it’s common in sleep regressions for there to be nighttime wakeups and for napping to be a struggle, if it happens at all.
Third, you may notice that your child seems a lot more insecure and clingy than normal. Tantrums are more common, partly because of the lack of good sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.
So why do sleep regressions happen? They happen because your child’s brain is either just about to leap off a new developmental cliff, or is hanging there mid-air in the middle of it. There’s a new skill happening (potty training?), and your child’s brain is so excited about this new adventure, it causes everything else to go on the fritz.
Don’t worry, though. I’ve got your Fix-It Felix plan all ready. We can fix it!
The Best Ways to Overcome the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
Sure, you could just try to wait it out…but who knows how long this is going to take? And (even worse) what if your child decides that he enjoys getting pulled into your bed at 2am every night and new habit starts?
No, it’s best to gently address these things as soon as they happen. Why kick this bad-habit can down the road, when you’ll be even MORE exhausted, and have to deal with it then. Nope. The earlier you address the 2 year old sleep regression the better.
Watch Your Child’s Waketime Window
The first thing you need to look at is your child’s daily schedule. For a few days, jot down when she wakes up, when she naps (and for how long) and what time she goes to bed at night, etc.
Science has shown us that kids can only be awake for so long before their brains stop making the sleepy hormone (melatonin) and start producing the stress hormone (cortisol). That stress hormone is like Red Bull. It makes them harder to soothe, harder to fall asleep, and harder to stay sleeping.
The Waketime Window is the maximum amount of time your child’s brain can stay awake before slipping into cortisol land. For a two year old, that is about 4.5 to 5 hours.
Take a look at the sleep log you’ve been tracking for a few days. Is your child missing that Waketime Window? If so, that’s the first place you need to start. Her little brain needs rest. Which brings us to…
Your Child Still Needs a Daily Nap
(Despite What He Says)
Yes, I know that getting your child to settle down for a nap is a whole lot more difficult now that he’s older. The world is WAY to exciting to settle down for a boring nap, mom!
Don’t give in.
Your child needs you, as a parent, to know what’s best and right now that means he needs one nap a day, at relatively the same time every day (usually between 12:30 and 1pm).
It’s not easy, and you may not get a nap every day, but you’ve got to try. Your nighttime sleep depends on it. (An overtired child will wake up MORE at night!)
Have a Good Naptime Routine
If you went to a rock concert, would you be able to immediately lay down and go to sleep? That’s how your toddler feels. Every day is a rock concert, full of exciting and stimulating things.
If you want your child to take a good nap, you’re going to need to help his brain switch from “playtime” to “naptime”.
- Make sure the sleeping room is as dark as you can make it. Pitch black is best, since it will prevent him from looking around the room and finding something (anything!) that’s more exciting than closing his eyes to sleep.
- Do some quiet activities in the sleeping room before laying him in the crib. Reading books, rocking together, singing songs, etc. Now isn’t the time for the Tickle Monster. There’s plenty of time for that when he wakes up!
- Talk softer, move slower. Speaking quietly and moving slowly is a great trigger that everything is slowing down and getting ready to rest.
Even if your child sits in her crib singing songs quietly for 45 minutes, that rest period will be a blessing to her overworked brain. It isn’t ideal, but it’s certainly better than no rest time at all.
Practice Nap Coaching
If he is still struggling to take an afternoon nap (1-2 hours), you may want to consider signing up for my Napping Know-How Webinar. As a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, I’ve got several gentle methods to help you coach your child to take better naps, which is better for everyone.
The webinar runs frequently during the week (including an instant-watch option) and comes with a Workbook and Cheat Sheets to help you apply the techniques I will teach you.
Twenty bucks gives you the professional nap coaching techniques we use with our one-on-one clients. It’s a steal. Click here to learn more about the Napping Know How Webinar.
Bedtime Boundaries Are Your Friend
Bedtime is where you can see your child’s creativity at work. All of a sudden…
- He needs to use the bathroom (again).
- She needs a drink of water (again).
- Mr. Bunny needs a drink of water.
- He wants just one more book, and don’t you want him to love reading?
Make the clock the enemy. Sorry sweetie! The clock says 7:30, and that’s bedtime.
Then walk him through the routine, guiding him to brush his teeth, put on pajamas, and then perhaps tuck one of his favorite stuffed animals (or her Barbie) into bed beside her, saying goodnight around the room. (Yes, Goodnight Moon, or the modern-version Goodnight iPad really is good advice!)
Of course, if you are sensing your child is afraid of the dark, or has some other bedtime anxiety to deal with, I would recommend you quickly skim through my article How to Defeat Your Child’s Nightmare Monsters for Good.
Consistency is Your Best Friend
As you are putting your child to bed, remember this rule: Consistency is your key to success.
When you are consistent, your child knows what to expect and follows your lead. It will be tough at the beginning, sure, you have to go through the fire to get through the fire.
But on the other side is sweet, sweet, sleep. So figure out your sleep coaching plan and then follow it, without deviation, for at least a week.
Here’s What to Do
When Nothing is Working
When your computer breaks down you may spend a few days troubleshooting online on how to fix it by yourself, but what do you do when you’ve tried all you can try and it’s still not working?
You call in an expert.
If you’ve tried all these things to fix your child’s 2 year old sleep regression and he is still…
- waking frequently at night
- sleeping with you (and you wish he didn’t)
- refuses to nap
- not able to go to sleep without being rocked/nursed/patted to sleep
Then it’s time to reach out to an expert—someone who has spent a lot of time and money learning all the tricks and tips that aren’t on the internet. (Just like brain surgeons don’t get their education online, there’s still a lot of information only found offline.)
Sleep Coaching a Toddler is Different
Sleep coaching a toddler is a lot different than sleep coaching a baby. Toddlers have opinions. You have to learn how to get them on board or risk entering into Screamfests of frustration. (From you and from your toddler.)
A Certified Gentle Sleep Coach can help you create a custom sleep plan that gets everyone motivated and on the same page. Click here to learn more about talking with a professional about your specific sleep struggles.
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