While you probably didn’t expect that your newborn would sleep through the night, by the time your little one is a toddler, you’ve usually settled into a somewhat reliable bedtime and sleep routine.

Whether it’s a bath, a story, or a song that cues your tot to calm down and ready themselves for sleep, you’ve usually mastered the bedtime routine that works for your family by the time your child is 2.

All the hard work that you have put into creating a peaceful routine makes it all the more painful when your child suddenly begins struggling with sleep after months of reliable bedtimes.

If you have a child around 2 years old who is suddenly not sleeping like they have been and who’s fighting bedtime, waking up multiple times at night, or getting up for the day way too early, chances are your little one is experiencing the 2-year-old sleep regression.

Read on to find out more about what it is, how long it will last, what causes it, and what you can do to help it pass as quickly as possible.

Sleep regressions are common at several ages, including 4 months, 8 months, 18 months, and 2 years.

When your little one experiences sleep disturbances, there can be a number of causes, but you can distinguish a regression based on when it happens, how long it lasts, and whether there are any other issues that might be causing the sleep problems.

The 2-year-old sleep regression is a brief period of time when a 2-year-old who was otherwise sleeping well begins to fight sleep at bedtime, wake throughout the night, or rise too early in the morning.

While this sleep regression can feel particularly frustrating for parents, it’s important to remember that it is normal and temporary. A small study from 2005 found that 19 percent of 2-year-olds had a sleep problem, but those issues did diminish over time.

While even one night of poor sleep can leave you feeling exhausted the next day, it’s important to remember that the 2-year-old sleep regression, like all other sleep regressions, won’t last forever.

If you respond consistently to your child’s nighttime antics and keep your patience, this is likely to pass in 1 to 3 weeks.

When a regression hits, it’s normal to want to know what’s causing the sudden disruption to your routine. While every 2-year-old is unique, there are some general reasons why they might be experiencing this sleep regression.

Developmental advances

As your toddler moves through the world they’re learning new things and developing new skills every day. Sometimes, all that learning and growing may make it difficult for them to sleep well at night.

At the age of 2, children are experiencing a leap in their physical abilities, language skills, and social abilities which can lead to tougher bedtimes and more night wakings.

Separation anxiety

While it may not last much longer, separation anxiety can still be a challenge for this age group. Your toddler might be more clingy, have difficulty separating from a parent, or want a parent to be present until they fall asleep.

Being overtired

While most adults tend to collapse into bed gratefully when they’re overtired, kids often do just the opposite.

When your little one starts pushing their bedtime later and later they often wind themselves up due to being overtired. When this happens it can be difficult for them to calm themselves down enough to get to sleep easily.

Newfound independence

Just as toddlers’ physical, language, and social skills are expanding, so is their desire for independence. Whether it’s a strong desire to get themselves into their pajamas independently or crawling out of the crib over and over, your toddler’s quest for independence can cause major issues at bedtime.

Family changes

It’s not uncommon for a toddler to be experiencing a major change to their family dynamics right around their second birthday: the introduction of a sibling into the picture.

While bringing home a new baby is a joyous event it can lead to behavior changes and sleep disturbances for older children in the home — as can any major life event.

Changes to nap schedule

Around 2 years old, some toddlers begin to drop their nap as their social calendar starts to fill up. With all-day family outings and playdates happening, it can be hard to squeeze in a midday nap every day. When changes to a nap schedule happen though, they almost always impact the evening routine.

If your toddler has dropped a nap, started sleeping for shorter periods during the day, or is resisting daytime sleep it can affect nighttime sleep as well.

Teething

Many toddlers are just getting their 2-year molars, which might be uncomfortable or painful. If your little one has pain or discomfort from teething it’s not uncommon for it to impact their ability to sleep peacefully through the night.

Fears

At 2 years old, many little ones are beginning to see the world in new, more complex ways. With this new complexity often comes new fears. When your child is suddenly not sleeping well the cause may be an age-appropriate fear of the dark or of something scary they imagine.

When it comes to solving this regression there are some clear and easy steps you can take to get started.

Ensure health and safety

First, you should ensure that your child has all their basic needs met, and that they are not uncomfortable or in pain due to illness or issues like teething.

After ensuring that your little one is healthy and not in pain, you should look to solve any environmental issues that are causing problems at bedtime.

If your toddler is climbing out of the crib, for example, make sure the crib mattress is at its lowest setting. (Ideally, you’ve already made this move by the time your baby is able to pull to standing.) When the crib railing — at its lowest point — is at or below your child’s nipple line when upright, it’s time to move them to a toddler bed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making the move to a toddler bed when your child is 35 inches (89 centimeters) tall.

If your child is already in a toddler or big bed, ensure that their room is childproof and safe by anchoring all furniture, removing breakable or dangerous items, and following other child-safety best practices. Doing so means your little one can move safely around the room at night.

If your child is experiencing a fear of the dark, you can invest in a night-light or small lamp to make their environment feel safer and more welcoming.

Maintain routines

Next, you should look at their routine to address any daytime or evening issues that might be causing disruption.

Aim to maintain a consistent nap (or “quiet time” if your toddler won’t nap) schedule during the day and make an effort to put your child to bed at roughly the same time, and following the same routine, each evening.

Keep calm and consistent

After addressing your child’s health and safety, environment, and routine, it’s time to look inward for the patience you’ll need to respond consistently to nighttime antics until the sleep regression passes.

If your child is repeatedly leaving their room, experts recommend calmly picking them up or walking them back and putting them back in their bed each time they appear without showing a lot of emotion.

Alternatively, you can try simply sitting outside their door with a book or magazine and reminding them to get back in bed each time they attempt to leave their room.

While it might be tempting to wrestle them into their bed over and over, letting a child play quietly in their room (as long as it’s childproofed and does not have an abundance of over stimulating toys) until they tire themselves out and get into bed is often a simpler and more gentle approach to responding to bedtime issues.

More tips

  • Keep your bedtime routine manageable. Focus on including activities that calm your toddler.
  • Avoid screens of all kinds for at least an hour before bedtime. Exposure to screens is associated with delays in bedtime and reduced sleep.
  • If you are co-parenting with another adult, take turns managing bedtime duties.
  • Remember that this, too, is temporary.

While it might sometimes seem like your little one could run on little to no sleep, the reality is that 2-year-olds still need to be sleeping quite a bit each day. Kids this age need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours, often split between a nap and their nighttime sleep.

If your little one isn’t getting the recommended amount of sleep, it’s likely that you’ll see daytime behavior issues and struggle with nap and bedtimes due to overtiredness.

While the 2-year-old sleep regression is certainly frustrating for parents, it is developmentally normal and common for toddlers to experience.

If your little one is suddenly fighting bedtime, waking up frequently in the night, or getting up far too early, it’s important to address any underlying issues and then remain patient until the regression passes.

Luckily, with consistency and patience, this sleep regression is likely to pass within a few weeks.