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How To Survive The 2.5 Year Sleep Regression

"Is the 2.5 year old sleep regression a real thing?" - little girl walking outside
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

You made it through the 2 year sleep regression and you think “it’s smooth sailing from now on. We put all those pesky toddler sleep regressions behind us!” Then your toddler turns 2.5 and the wheels come off the bus again. This has parents asking me “is there a 2.5 year sleep regression?”

Short answer. Yes! This sleep regression isn’t as commonly know, but it still can create havoc. Read on to learn more about what’s going on and how to survive the 2.5 year sleep regression!

What Does the 2.5 Year Sleep Regression Look Like?

Normally it looks like a strong nap boycott, which has parents questioning, “is my toddler really done napping?” As child sleep consultants, we get asked this question a lot.  The short answer is no.  Most children nap until between 3 and 5 years old. Hold on to hope for that cherished mid-day break!

Let’s explore what’s going and what you can do to help your little one get back on track!

What Is A Sleep Regression?

When a child is sleeping well and then begins to wake frequently at night or begins to fight naps or refuse them, chances are your child may have hit a sleep regression.

Typical Sleep Regression Ages

Baby sleep regressions typically occur around 4 months8 months, and 12 months.

Toddler sleep regressions typically happen around 18 month, 2 years and for good measure another nap strike around 2.5 years.  Kiddos like to keep us on our toes!

What Causes Sleep Regressions?

The first time we hit a sleep regression, I was like “WTF is going on?!?! Sleep was bad, but now it’s even worse!” Let me help answer that question!

Regressions are usually due to our children working on developmental milestones. While kiddos are working on anything major developmentally, there is usually a disruption to sleep.  The bright side? As long as they were sleeping well before the regression, sleep should usually go back to normal within a few days to a few weeks.

How Long Does The 2.5 Year Sleep Regression Last?

The 2.5 year sleep regression normally lasts between 1-2 weeks.

If you aren’t seeing improvements in your child’s sleep by the end of the 2nd week, this becomes less about the regression and likely something else that needs adjusting.

Alternatively, if you have created new habits during the regression. Now your child may expect you to give them this type of “help” moving forward. This keeps your child reliant on you, making it difficult for your child to go back to independent sleep habits. Normally we can help you figure it out during an Ask Me Anything session, if you need help.

Challenges with bedtime? Our bedtime routine chart can help keep your little one on task and make bedtime more peaceful:

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What Factors Play Into The 2.5 Year Sleep Regression?

Mental & Emotions

  • Fears – around 2, the imagination explodes which means that 2, 3, 4 and 5-year-olds can develop fears.  Also, at this age, we may start exposing them to more through screens. Even though characters in some of these shows don’t seem scary to us, they may be to our children. I learned the hard way with Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid. (my fav Disney movie btw) Top fears are usually fear of the dark, shadows and monsters.
  • Separation anxiety – the 2.5 years old sleep regression usually involves separation anxiety, which peaks again at this age. You may notice that your little one is clingier again and doesn’t want you out of sight. Your child may also protest loudly when you leave them at nap time or at night.

Physical

  • 2 year molars – many toddlers will get their two year molars around this time.  These molars are BIG teeth and can make our littles uncomfortable. Teething discomfort alone won’t cause the regression. But it can cause night wakings which will create a snowball effect of becoming overtired
  • Sleep needs change – 2 year olds need between 1-2 hours of daytime sleep. This is a decrease from when they were 1 and needed a solid 2+ hours. 

Transitions

  • Dropping nap too soon – kiddos at this age still need 1-2 hours of daytime sleep
  • Transitioning to a big kid bed too early – toddlers aren’t ready to transition to a toddler bed until much closer to 3+. If transitioned too young, it can be difficult for your toddler to control their impulse to leave their bed.  This means you may have a little visitor continually coming out of their bed / room!
  • Potty training – some 2 year olds are ready to be potty trained and some aren’t ready until much closer to 3 years old. If your child is working on potty training, sleep will usually take a hit while they learn to master such a big skill.  This will happen no matter what age you work on potty training.
  • Arrival of a new sibling – around 2.5, lots of families begin welcoming a new sibling to the family. This is a HUGE change for toddlers! Plus it can be a challenging adjustment for you, learning to juggle two, plus little ones!
  • Starting preschool or daycare – the entry into childcare can be a fun and overwhelming change. It may be your child’s first time away from Mom.  Or their first time trying to nap somewhere other than their crib at home.  In addition, there is a lot of increased stimulation and activity, which can quickly tire out your toddler.

What Do All These Factors Have In Common?

Your 2.5-year-old may become VERY overtired and quickly when going through this toddler sleep regression.  When children are overtired, it fuels a downward spiral, which includes:

  • Difficulty settling into sleep at bedtime and staying asleep
  • Frequent night wakings
  • Early morning wake ups
  • Difficulty with naps

So, what should you do?

2.5 Year Sleep Regression Game Plan

Ready to get your toddler’s healthy sleep habits back? Here’s what you can do…

  • Stick with the nap – even if your little one doesn’t want to take it, still offer them quiet time in their crib every afternoon. They need this down-time even if they aren’t sleeping.  Remember – the nap will come back if you stick with it.
  • Start experimenting with timing the nap – aim for in between 12:00 – 1:00 pm
  • Try shortening the nap if you find that your toddler is having a tough time settling in for bedtime.
  • Empathize with your toddlers’ fears – these fears are real to them and they may need some extra TLC while working through this time.
  • Avoid creating new habits – if you don’t want to continue helping your child fall asleep or resettle to sleep, try not to start any new behaviors during this time. Remember this is a temporary regression.  If you begin having your child sleep in your bed or you lay down in theirs, that can cement longer-term habits. At some point, you’ll need to break these habits and it will likely be WAY after the regression has passed.
  • Keep your child in a crib as long as possible – this sleep regression isn’t their way of telling you that they don’t like their crib anymore. Transitioning to a bed too soon can make the challenges with this regression even more challenging.
  • If your child has had long-term sleep issues and they have only gotten worse as a result of this regression, I recommend that you work on developing healthy sleep habits for your toddler asap!
  • Fall back on sleep coaching – if your child doesn’t adjust back to their normal, healthy sleep habits within a few weeks, it may be time to think about sleep training (again). Let us know if you need help!

Sending you some patience to get through this one!

Are the wheels off the bus and it’s been longer than a couple of weeks? We’d love to help you get back on track! Complete the contact form below and we’ll send you info about working together.

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