2 Year Old Sleep Problems – How To Solve Them!

Read this to know what to do when you face 2 year old sleep problems. Know common reasons for poor toddler sleep and how to solve them!

2 year old dressed in yellow and black sitting on the ground looking up

A month after Brayden turned two, he started taking a long time to go to sleep at night. At the time, I attributed it to several factors. One is that a month after he turned two, it is the longest day of the year where we live. The sun goes down quite late. As I have mentioned, Brayden is a sun riser. I figured it was hard for him to go to sleep since the sun was still up.

Another possible factor for his toddler sleep problems was that he had a new baby sister. New babies often bring some disruption to days for little ones.

Another possible factor was that he was in a new room and his bed was right by the window, which looked out onto the road. Brayden had always loved to watch cars go by.

When Brayden went to bed, he didn’t cry or put up any sort of fuss about going to sleep. He didn’t get out of bed. He just sat in his window and talked to himself.

As time went on and I started this blog, I often had moms post questions about their two year old suddenly taking a long time to go to sleep at night. After several of these questions, I started to wonder if there is something about a two year old that makes it hard for them to sleep. I wondered if Brayden’s sleep problems as a two year old were not caused by the sun, the baby, or the new room, but just from being a toddler.

I wondered what would happen with Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn was always has a great sleeper. Kaitlyn loves to sleep. She didn’t ever mind naptime or bedtime.

Despite this, Kaitlyn also started taking a long time to fall asleep after she turned two.

Kaitlyn had several of the same factors at age two that Brayden did at age two. She had a new sister. She had a new bed. It was the longest time of the year again. She was in the same room, however, and didn’t have a window to peer out of from her bed.

But Kaitlyn was not one who needed anything to entertain her; she had a very vivid imagination even as a two year old.

One day I was talking with a friend about McKenna on an unrelated topic. My friend told me her pediatrician says children need to learn to fall asleep about five times in their lives. She couldn’t remember the ages exactly. She knew one was at two months. One was at one year. One was at two years. She thought another was at 6 months and at 18 months. Then she couldn’t remember the other.

These ages all correlate with common sleep regressions. 

As a two year old, like Brayden, Kaitlyn did not cry and did not protest going to bed at all. She was really quiet, but sometimes as I went to get McKenna for her dreamfeed, I could hear Kaitlyn singing in her room!

Two year old sleep problems are common and typical. While it is normal, it doesn’t mean parents are happy about it. After they have gone to all of that trouble to do sleep training, they do not want sleep problems at age two!

So what are the problems people face with two year olds? And of course, the ultimate question is, what do you do about each?

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The Toddler Takes a Long Time to Fall Asleep at Night

There are a few ways to go about it, and your answer is going to depend on your child’s personality. By this point, you know your child well. You know if your child responds well to you re-entering the room or not. Here are some options for this situation:

Leave Her Be

One option is to just wait this period out. It doesn’t last forever. This really is something your two year old will outgrow. As you talk to moms with multiple children, you will find most are content to put their child to bed and not stress about what time the child actually falls asleep.

Go Stop the Playing

She might benefit from you going in and telling her to go to sleep. You want to be careful with this, though. She might start to figure if she stays up, she gets extra visits from Mom. These visits will likely include extra kisses and hugs, perhaps even one more song. So she might start fighting sleep in order to get some more face time with her parents. Also, if this is an issue of learning to fall asleep again, then your visit will disrupt the learning process.

Tweak Bedtime

I think it is possible that many two year olds are going to bed a little too late. Going to bed too late can lead to it taking time for a person to fall asleep. I have seen that even with myself. Be sure bedtime isn’t later than your child needs it to be. Read Tips for Finding Your Child’s Ideal Bedtime for help with this. As a two year old, your toddler might need a slightly different bedtime than she had as a one year old.

Also, be sure you are keeping bedtime consistent. Do not have a 7 PM bedtime one night and an 8 PM bedtime another night. Consistency is so key for bedtime

Combo of all Tips

My guess is that most families would benefit from a combo of these suggestions. Fix bedtime. For the most part leave her be. If she is getting rowdy or getting out of bed, go in and gently tell her to go back to bed, but try to be unemotional about it. Just be firm and matter of fact. Don’t be mad and don’t be extra sweet and lovey. Watch the results of you going in closely. If it seems she is staying up even more, don’t go in.

In the end, don’t stress out about this. Over some time, she will be back to going to sleep soon after her head hits the pillow.

Your Toddler is Having Nightmares or Night Terrors

It might be that your two year old is having sleep difficulties because he is having nightmares or night terrors. This will be obvious if your toddler is waking at night and crying out. For many children who have nightmares, going to sleep seems scary because scary dreams come that the toddler can’t control. So they fight sleep.

The irony is that going to sleep late makes nightmares more likely to happen.

If your little one is having nightmares, be sure to read my post: Nightmares vs. Night Terrors: How to Help Your Child Through Each.

Two year old sleep problems text with a picture of a toddler lying in a cupboard.

Your Toddler is in a New Bed

If your toddler recently moved to a toddler bed or a twin bed out of the crib, he might not sleep as well at first. Sleeping in a different bed takes some time to get used to. Being in a new bed is novel and exciting. There is also a lot of new-found freedom in a bed without sides restricting them.

This can be solved with time as your toddler gets used to being in a bed instead of a crib. If your toddler absolutely cannot handle this freedom, there is no shame in moving your toddler back into the crib until he can handle being in a bed and staying in the bed. 

Read: Transitioning from a Crib to a Bed

Your Toddler Was Recently Potty Trained

If your toddler was recently potty trained, that could be leading to sleep problems. This could be from your toddler being concerned about wetting the bed and getting out of bed to use the potty. It could be that your toddler genuinely needs to use the potty, but this still disrupts sleep. It could also be that since your toddler is allowed to get out of bed to use the potty now, your toddler will want to exercise that freedom as much as possible. 

This can all be true even if diapers are worn at night but not naps. If your toddler’s naps are disrupted from the potty training, that can negatively impact night sleep since your toddler will be overly tired.

Your 2 Year Old is Overly Tired

If your toddler is not napping and/or having too much stimulation in the day, night sleep will suffer. Sleep begets sleep and that is true for all humans no matter their age. 

Read: Overstimulation for Toddlers

A two year old is not ready to drop naps altogether. Your Two year old will take a nap less often; naps won’t happen every day. But hold on to nap time. It is very common for toddlers to refuse to nap, but hold on to it! Read What To Do When Your Toddler Refuses to Take a Nap for more. 

Also, be sure you are timing that one nap of the day correctly for your nap. See my post on Timing Naps for Toddlers for help getting that toddler nap time correct. 

Your Toddler is Processing the Day

Toddlers are very curious people. One of my favorite things about two year olds is how much they take in. They are little scientists who fully appreciate and marvel at every leaf that blows in the wind and every cloud that passes by in the sky. They will often sit in their beds when they have down time and just process that information overload. They take in every detail and need some time to sort that all out. 

For this reason, some Independent Playtime each day can really help your toddler out with night sleep. Having another point in the day to process information is helpful. The same is true for nap time. If bedtime is the first time in the day your toddler is forced to kind of sit still and process, it will be a much longer processing process.

Your Toddler is Teething

Two year old molars are no joke. If your toddler is teething, there might be too much pain or discomfort to be able to slip off into sleep quickly. If this is the case, reach in to your favorite teething remedies and help your toddler out before bedtime. 

Your Toddler is Simply Having the Two Year Sleep Regression

There is a two year old sleep regression. Your toddler might simply be having that. This can cause poor naps, poor night sleep, and night wakings. If you suspect a two year old sleep regression, be sure to see my post Two Year Old Sleep Regression.

Reader Toddler Nap Question

Noblesvillemom asked:

Hi Val,

My DD has been having trouble with naps and bedtime for about a year.

She gave up the second nap at about 13 mths (would just play in her crib for 2 hrs, but not nap), and then by about 16 or 17 mths she started taking a long time (1-2 or more hours) to fall asleep at naptime and at bedtime.

Of course, I feel like I’ve tried a million things and at times, it’s gotten better, only to get worse, and so on.

Now, she will rarely fall asleep on her own at naptime and if she does, she usually takes 2-3 hrs to fall asleep at bedtime (meaning 9:30-10:30 asleep). For a while, she was taking about 3 or four naps a week (falling asleep on her own), but about 2 weeks ago she went 6 days straight no nap.

By the end of it she was waking in the middle of the night and up for 3 hours before falling back asleep. Waking in the MOTN has been yapping for months, but I don’t know how often cuz I am not always awake.

After that was happening, I was desperate, so the next day I rocked her to sleep at naptime and she was asleep in 10 min and slept for 2 hours.

I have done that about 5 other times in the last week and those days she went to sleep, but the others, not. It’s not that she isn’t tired, but she’ll lay quietly for about 5 min and then start singing, pretending, etc until there is no way she’ll go to sleep.

I’ve thought about the sleep rules but didn’t know if she’s old enough. Any ideas of how to help her self-settle (she’s done it for her whole life, but seems to not work now)? Or any other suggestions?

Her schedule: if nap
7:30-8: wake
1-3: nap
7:30-8: bed
9:30-10:30: she actually falls asleep

Schedule:no nap
7:30-8: wake
1: lay for nap, but no sleep. Leave in bed til 3ish
6: in bed and asleep in 5 min

I have tried going in and telling her to . . Lay down, close eyes, be quiet and go to sleep and have tried punishments too. It seems to help a little, but not consistently.

Even though she has not been rocked to sleep in the past, that is what I have been doing recently and she’ll be asleep in 5 min of rocking/singing (only for naptime).

It’s like she is tired, but won’t let herself settle down unless u force her (hold and rock her). At least she has been happier and less grumpy since she’s been napping more the past few weeks And she has been waking up less at night.

So, any advice would be great.
Thx. Laura

Ellyn said:

Laura, I haven’t been having problems with my son’s nap (he’s 17 mo.) so I can’t give you tried and true tips but my gut reaction was to ask if your daughter is getting enough fresh air and exercise. My son naps crazy long naps if we do a lot of physical activity, especially if we go hiking (he hikes a very long way). The other thing I wondered about is sugary foods for lunch. Could that be effecting sleep? Did your daughter used to sleep well as a baby? Do you do a nice long wind down time before nap? Books? Another thought, my sister in law’s daughter stopped sleeping at night and so she moved her to a toddler bed and she started sleeping again instantly.

The Normans said:

How old is she? My son is 25 months, and for at least three months we’ve had sleep rules, that we go over before sleep, and during play times (when he’s pretending his cars are sleeping). The rules are that when his clock is blue (we have a My Tot Clock – LOVE IT) he is to close his eyes, be quiet, and go to sleep. No talking. It took a couple weeks of enforcing those rules (and I would go in to his room and repeat the rules if he was talking). But for a couple months now we don’t hear a peep out of him at nap time or during the night. Is he always sleeping? No. But I think now that he’s not talking, his ability to sleep is MUCH better. I agree with PP, as well – get lots of AM exercise, and no rough play or running around after lunch. Quiet play, puzzles, coloring. And then a good 15 to 20 minute wind-down before nap time with books.Good luck!

Amelia said:

My DD went through a phase similar to your naptime troubles at around 18 mos or so. At one point, I wondered if she had simply outgrown naps, but her crankiness proved otherwise. For us, it was just a phase. Soon enough, she grew out of it. I hate the “it’s a phase” answer because it seems simplistic – often there are other contributing factors. But for us, if there were other factors, we never discovered them and she “got over it.” 🙂 Sorry you’re dealing with sleep troubles! That is the worst! And btw, since good sleep begets good sleep, I bet once the naptime is “fixed” her night time sleep with fix itself.

Mrs. Haid said:

My kid is 19 months and has much less extreme issues with naps. Something that helped calm him – especially at night – was putting back in the crib soother fish aquarium from when he was a baby. Sure, he plays with it some, but he watches the fish too and falls asleep without parent interaction. I also put a water sip cup in his bed because he’d had a cough and would yell for a drink otherwise. I also let him have more than one binky in there as a method of self soothing. Maybe if you try earlier naps and earlier bedtime? It’s much easier for us to get our son to nap longer closer to noon than closer to 1:30 for some reason. We also get much better go to bed routines if it’s closer to 7 than 7:30. HTH.Would love an update!

Stephanie said:

Have you tried tweaking her actually naptime? I know my daughter has always had a “magic window of opportunity.” If you missed that window, whether early or late, forget it, she would NOT sleep. But get her laid down in that 10 minute range and she’d be out in 5-10 minutes. And I’ve found that the older she gets I’ve had to readjust that time later and later. As a young toddler it was around 12:30, then moved to 12:45 and so on, until now as a 3.5 year old it’s about 1:30 or 1:45. My only other advice would be, don’t give up! She’s much too young to give up naps completely. Keep analyzing it, researching it, trying out different things until you get it solved. When my son was born, my daughter went for 6 straight WEEKS of no napping. I was at my wit’s end! People kept telling me, “Oh, she’s just ready to give them up.” But I didn’t agree. Finally, I ended up putting her in our bed at naptimes and laying down with her and “forcing” her to lay still, be quiet, close her eyes. And after about 20 minutes or so, she finally zonked out. After a week of doing this with her successfully, I tried letting her go back to her own bed, and voila! Her body had readjusted back to napping and she was good after that. It wasn’t perfect, still isn’t, she sometimes still doesn’t nap 2-3x a week, but if she goes 2 days in a row without, on the 3rd day we nap together. That way she’s for sure getting in a couple of good naps a week. I don’t always have to do this with her, some weeks are better than others. Oh, and for us, physical activity and fresh air didn’t make a bit of difference during that time of no napping. To each their own I guess. 🙂

Erica said:

I notice with my daughter that the more pressure I put on the situation the more she tends to ask for potty breaks, play and make noise, instead of sleep. I finally have started telling her that she doesn’t have to sleep, but she must be quiet and rest. Then I let her have some special books, blankets and stuffed animals that are only for naptime.

Kelly Ford said:

I may get mommy glares through the computer for this, but I think if it were me, I’d continue rocking for a week or so just to get her back in the habit of actually taking a good solid nap in hopes that it would also help with the nighttime. Especially since you’re only having to rock her a very few minutes. Then, after nap is re-established, I’d work on weaning her off of the rocking by sitting with her until she’s drowsy (back to the rules we keep with newborns… lay down sleepy but not asleep) and work back from there. Hopefully, this can help her re-establish the napping pattern. On the upside, be grateful that your LO has such a great imagination. It’s taken months of HORRIBLE implementation of room time for my DD (23 months old) to get to where she’ll have the least bit of imagination. So, apparently, there are pros/cons to both 🙂

Mich said:

I found with my 16 month old, that the ideal nap time to a) fall asleep and b) stay asleep longer i.e. 2 to 3 hrs, was 11:30 or noon at the latest. I was originally trying at 1 pm but it wasn’t working for us. I know it seems early, but we give lunch or large snack at 11 am then a snack when he wakes up at about 2 or 2:30. I don’t let him sleep more than 3 hours. He’s now 2.5 and still on this schedule. He wakes b/w 6:30 and 7:00 in the morning and bed at 8pm. I never rocked to sleep.

Casey said:

Hi, Don’t give up… what has usually worked with my 2 daughters is adjusting the times a bit. I have a 3.5 year old and a 13 mo. old. if your little one is down to one nap I would try putting them down around noon or 12:30 and as time goes on you can move it later. Sometimes the naps may be off d/t teething.it seems too that there may be a window of opportunity that we sometimes miss as said above. try putting your little one down earlier this may do the trick. :)best of luck.

Jessica said:

I will echo Kelly Ford’s advice to continue rocking. Would Ezzo recommend it? That is questionable, but I am not Gary Ezzo. ;)When you rock, and your daughter naps, does she still have an issue falling asleep at night? If she doesn’t, then I would continue rocking. I rocked my daughter until she wouldn’t let me anymore. There are times now, she is almost 3, that she will ask me to rock her “like a baby.” How old is your daughter? If she has a hard time falling asleep at night whenever she takes a nap, then I would be tempted to either tweak naptime or bedtime. It could be that your daughter is not a 12 hour sleeper when she naps…my daughter is not and has never been. Now, if she does not nap, then she will sleep for 12 hours at night. If your daughter will nap, you need to reduce the nap (1.5 hours or less) and possibly move bedtime back a tad since she is having trouble falling asleep.

After reading Laura’s last post, I would reduce the nap to 1.5 hours. Our daughter did this not too long ago, she would take a regular nap and then cry for an hour before she fell asleep for the night…after she did that a few times I knew what needed to be done…the nap needed to be reduced. Once we fixed that everything fell back into place. Adding exercise is a great idea too. Exercise and reduce the nap…that is what I would do.

Great Googely Moogely said:

this is something that no one has brought up but was relevant to me and my situation. My 2.5yr old has been doing the exact thing your daughter is doing: taking several hours to fall asleep. We tried tweaking the hours he napped and slept. We tried corrections. We took everything off his bed. We tried it with his door open and closed. We sat next to him. We sat in the room with him. We sat outside the door and corrected him every time he sat up in the bed or got out of the bed. We made him run around before bed, we tried doing low stim activities before bed. NOTHING was working and I was about to lose my mind. Anne Marie Ezzo and the other GFI board came to my church and I talked with them about this situation. One lady asked if we were doing “couch time”. I told her not consistently. She asked if any major changes had happened recently? (move to another city, divorce/separation, a death in the family or a new baby??) and we had just had our second son AND my husband was working from home full time. Big changes for a two year old even though the rest of us had transitioned peacefully. She told me to do “couch time” twice a day for two weeks and then once a day after the two week trial. The reason being that children pick up on big changes in our lives. If they don’t feel secure (especially a 1st born) they can lay awake either worrying or thinking that they “won’t miss out on anything” if they don’t fall asleep. My 2 yr old is very perceptive and I think he was anxious about all the new changes and just couldn’t turn his brain off. We make a big deal about mommy and daddy doing couch time while they have blanket time. He sees us being affectionate and loving with one other and he feels secure that his world is not going to turn upside down. This might not be the case for you or for most kids having sleep problems, but it has helped us a lot. Another thing my friend did with her son is have him come to her through out the day and lay next to her with his eyes closed and hands folded. She did this a few times a day only for 5-10 minutes a piece. Her thought was that no matter where they are, she can tell hin to lay down and be still and he should do that. Now he is compliant any time she tells him to lay down no matter if they are in public, at a friends house or their own house. We are working on this as well. I can’t force my son to actually fall asleep BUT I can train him to be still and self controlled….which will probably help lead to sleep. 🙂

Laura said:

Thanks you so much for all the good ideas and the encouragement. It is so great to hear what other people have gone through and that their lids made it through :). To answer a few questions, my DD is 29 months old. I definitely try to get her exercise in the AM and usually the PM too. I am also kinda a health nut, so she is eating healthily (with exceptions now and then, of course!) She had no problems STTN as a baby, but was never a really long napper (always shorter on time than the ideal BW baby). As for an update, I have continued either rocking her to sleep (only at nap time, not at night) or laying her down sleepy and staying in her room and reminding her of the sleep rules. Both have worked, the latter just takes longer and I also have an 11 month old who usually in not napping at that time, so I can only leave him in his crib for IP for so long. I do want to wean away from this soon, but really wanted the naps to be solid first. I think the big thing is finding her ideal waketime “window”. Does anyone have suggestions for how long (thanks for the responses so far)? In the last 2 weeks, I wake her at 7:15 (before time change) and, when rocked, she is asleep at 12:40. She takes a 2-2.5 HR nap and then bedtime is between 7:30-8. Then, even with enforcing sleep rules, she falls asleep at 9:30. I’ve tried later bedtime and she goes to sleep later, I’ve tried earlier and still 9:30. I know everything is related so I’m just trying to figure this all out together. Thanks again for the suggestions and encouragement! Laura

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