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Is the 2.5 year old sleep regression a real thing?

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

Yes, the 2.5 year sleep regression is a real thing!  It usually looks like a strong nap boycott and leads parents to think “is my little one done napping?”  As child sleep consultants, we get asked this question a lot.  The short answer is no.  Most children nap until in between 3 and 5 years old.

The little cuties (a.k.a. twinadoes) in the picture tried their hardest to convince me they were don’t napping at 2.5. I didn’t buy in and persevered!  They napped until they were exactly 4 years old and they were ready for no nap.

Let’s explore what’s going at this age that plays into the 2.5 year sleep regression…

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.

Sleep regressions typically occur around 4 months8 months18 months, 2 years and for good measure another nap strike around 2.5 years.  Kiddos like to keep us on our toes!

Regression 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.

WHAT FACTORS PLAY INTO THE 2.5 YEAR SLEEP REGRESSION?

 MENTAL / EMOTION

  • 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 which means that even if they aren’t scary to us, they can still be scary to them.  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.

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 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 which is a decrease from when they were 1 and needed a solid 2 hours.  Even for 2 year olds that needed 2+ hours of sleep, at 2 1/2 years old, their sleep needs may decrease further.  If they continue sleeping too long during the day, bedtime begins pushing too late.  This will cause them to become overtired and fall short on their nighttime sleep needs.

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 years of age or when they can ask for a big kid bed. If they are 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 OF THESE FACTORS HAVE IN COMMON?

Your 2.5 year old may become VERY overtired and quickly when going through the 2 ½ year sleep regression.  When children are overtired, it fuels a downward spiral, which includes:

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

So, what should you do?

2.5 YEAR SLEEP REGRESSION GAME PLAN

  • 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.
    • To help provide some comfort, consider adding a sleep safe nightlight and / or an ok to wake clock if your little one expresses fear of the dark.
    • Talk with your toddler about their fears during awake times.  Provide reassurance that monsters aren’t real.  Save your money on monster spray and don’t go on monster hunts.  These activities validate that monsters are real.  I reassure my kids “monsters aren’t real.  Monsters are Elmo and Cookie Monster on Sesame Street and remember they aren’t real.”
    • Do shadow animals to show your child what shadows are so they can begin understanding that they aren’t scary.
  • Avoid creating new habits – if you don’t want to continue doing something in the long term, don’t 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.
  • 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! Our team helps families get back on track after sleep regressions and can help you!  If you want to get an idea of what it is like to work with us, book a 20-minute free intro call and check out our reviews on Facebook!

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