2 Year Old Won’t Stay in Bed – Why They Do It & What Can You Do To Help?

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As much as parents would love for their little ones to stay babies and never grow up, there are a few phases none of us would like back. One of them is your two-year-old who won’t stay in bed and sleep through the night. 

Just when I thought my daughter was set and sleeping through the night, an enormous sleep regression hit us right in the nose! Chances are, if you’re a parent of a 2 or 3 year-old right now, you’re going through the same. Being sleep deprived is a fact for young parents. But your toddler waking you up constantly at night, every night, to come into your bed or just have a chat, is exhausting and draining. For the whole family’s sanity, it has to be dealt with! 

I remember well those sleep deprived days. It was just a month before my daughter turned 2 that it all started. At 2 am sharp, every night, she woke up and started chatting for hours on end. It soon became a nightmare and I had to act on it. This state of sleep deprivation just couldn’t go on!

The best thing I learnt to do – besides research – since I became a mommy, is call my other mommy friends and see if they’re dealing or have already dealt with a certain situation. They were all to the rescue and all had the exact same story! I got a lot of tips from them and lots of them worked. Thankfully, my daughter sleeps rather well now, so let me give you some more information about the subject. I was surprised that sometimes the simplest and most obvious reasons and solutions are what work best. 

Why 2-year-old toddlers typically fight sleep in their own bed

It is believed that it is absolutely normal for your toddler to start fighting sleep starting around 18 months . They have so much going on from a  developmental point of view that fighting their baby routine becomes a must. Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep between naps and night time. It is very common for toddlers to wake up at least one time during the night and the reasons are so many! Bad dreams, night terrors, teething, over tired or not enough tired, too much screen time, overexcitement are only part of the explanation. But the good news is, solutions are many! It all starts with a consistent, strict and soothing routine. 

Is there a sleep regression at 2 years old?

Details about toddler sleep regression around 2 years old

Sleep regression is real and it’s every parent’s nightmare! But in the midst of your frustration, just remember it’s all normal and only temporary. 

When your two-year-old whom you thought was sleeping well through the night suddenly keeps on waking up and resisting bedtime, you feel helpless. The key here is to keep your patience and deal calmly with this new state of sleeping. I promise you, this too shall pass. Responding in an appropriate way makes this pass in 1 to 3 weeks. But there are key solutions you should follow step by step instead of getting caught in the sleepless nights’ spiral. The key here is to know why and how to deal with this frustrating situation. 

Why has my 2-year-old stopped going to bed and keeps fighting bedtime?

A lot of parents have found themselves at the end of a long day, dealing with a hyperactive child who seems like they could run on little sleep forever. But 2-year-olds have specific sleep needs that cannot go ignored. Children this age need 11 to 14 hours total of sleep in the span of 24 hours. These hours can be split between naps and nighttime sleep. 

Sleep times should be taken seriously and not messed up with, unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences of messy sleep and delay the end of sleep regression. Not getting the right amount of sleep will result in your toddler struggling with overtiredness when nighttime or nap time come. 

To help you understand why your two-year-old won’t stay in bed, here is a list of possible reasons:

  1. Changes in development. At 2 years old, kids jump to a new level of physical, linguistic and social development. This keeps them excited at bedtime and through the night. 
  2. Separation anxiety. As toddlers realize their parents are separate persons, they tend to become clingy and struggle with separation. They need you to be close during their sleep time. This is completely normal as they are learning to slowly detach. 
  3. Overtiredness. Because they are aware of everything going on and start pushing sleep time further, they become overtired and have difficulty calming down to get to sleep. 
  4. Teething. We all know teething is painful and a struggle. Shooting pains can be a reason your toddler wakes up at night and has a hard time getting back to sleep. 
  5. Fears and anxiety. A 2-year-old view of the world is constantly expanding and they increasingly see how complex it is. They then start developing fears and anxieties and constantly need to be reassured. Fear of monsters and fear of the dark are typical, and talking about it with them helps tremendously. 
  6. Naps. Naps are a big influence in how your toddler sleeps at night and how bedtime goes. Make sure there is a 5-hour gap between the time they wake up from their nap and bedtime. Decreasing nap time can also help improve the quality of nighttime sleep. 

What to do about it?

How to help your toddler sleep better

With research and the support of other moms, you can give various solutions a try and find the proper rhythm and habits for your toddler’s bedtime and nighttime to go well again. For your sanity and their wellbeing, actions must be taken. There are a lot of small things you can change and stick to that could make a huge difference.

  1. Switch to a toddler bed and make them feel part of the process. They can choose their sheets, explore it and learn to love it. Make it cozy and comfortable so they hesitate before leaving the warmth of their new sleeping space. 
  2. Stick to very strict nap time and bedtime hours and try not to budge. It is difficult when other family members do not respect the timing but stand your ground. This can go a long way. 
  3. Give your toddler specific expectations when it comes to sleep time. Make it clear with a confident tone that you need them to stay in bed for everyone to sleep well and be full of energy in the morning. After that, stick to your rules and repeat them gently as many times as necessary. 
  4. Avoid sugar before bedtime. Sugar is to toddlers what coffee is to adults. Avoid it at all costs. 
  5. Bend the rules sometimes. When you see your toddler having a difficult time with fears and nightmares, make sure they feel comforted. Nightmares and night terrors are normal at this age and they need to feel reassured to avoid attachment issues.
  6. Incentives. Use rewards for when they stay in bed for one night or a few nights in a row. Sticker charts, staying up a bit later for dinner, or any other small reward will make them feel proud. 

The importance of a consistent bedtime routine

The importance of a consistent bedtime routine

With time and a lot of struggling with bedtime and nighttime, I learned the importance of a consistent bedtime routine. If you come up with a timely, structured and specific bedtime routine, you won’t need to worry about even going anywhere outside your home. Here are important steps  for an ideal bedtime routine:

  • Have some stuffed animals and a night light ready. This can help a lot with nightmares and night terrors. 
  • Choosing a bedtime playlist can be soothing and conditioning at the same time.
  • Sit next to your child while he is in bed, tell him a few stories then be clear it is time to shut their eyes. 
  • Be very boring and respond very shortly to their questions and requests. 
  • Use the “excuse me” technique. Once the routine is settled and you feel your toddler is calm and almost asleep, say “excuse me, I need to go do something”. You’ll come back to find them asleep. 
  • Essential oils can be a big help. This article guides you through them.

What else can you do to ensure a swift bedtime?

  • Make sure nap time is short 
  • Nap time should be early in the afternoon
  • Plan activities that help them release energy during the day
  • Be consistent and have a predictable schedule.

FAQs

Should you let them cry it out?

A lot of parents use the crying it out method where they leave their toddler crying themselves to sleep and never show up in their room when they ask for their parents. I personally disagree with this method as it can cause attachment problems.

The more securely attached your child is to you when he is small, the more independent and secure he will be growing up. If you want to give that method a try, here are some tips .

What is the Ferber Method?

The Ferber method is usually used for infants to sleep train them. But it can also be used for toddlers. With the Ferber method, parents stay in the room until the child falls asleep but with time, give them more space and independence by leaving them alone for time intervals where cries are ignored. 

What is the 100 walks method?

The 100 walks method requires patience and a parent not to show anger or impatience. When your toddler gets out of bed, you patiently walk them back to it while explaining it’s time to sleep. You must do it as many times as required and be sure it will make things happen. Eventually, your toddler will stay in bed. 

Can I give my 2-year-old melatonin?

Of course, this requires the advice of a pediatrician. Many parents I know have given melatonin in small doses to their child for only a few days in a row to get them on a regular sleeping cycle and schedule.

What do I do about a strong-willed toddler?

My daughter is as strong-willed as can be. With time, I learned how to deal with it and saw that firmness, love and consistency were the key. The key is to stick to what you say and be firm about it, set consequences and apply them, and let them know ahead of time what will be these consequences. 

Conclusion

The thing is, there is no right way, and not right answer that works universally. Every parent will eventually learn what is right for their child and apply it. You must always know that criticism and judgement from others will always be there but stick to what you feel is right. No one can tell you what is. 

When a transition from infancy to toddlerhood takes place, your little ones will most likely wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time going to bed. They just need consistency and comfort. This requires a lot of patience and confidence from your side. Keep calm and stick to your routine, it shall be fine.

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