Written by Fiona
Alan (my 22 month-old boy) finally fell asleep and I closed the door of his bedroom. It was 8:45 P.M. This was the third day in a row that he fell asleep within 30 minutes. I really wanted to celebrate with a glass of wine! You may wonder: why? What to be happy about? Shouldn’t a kid of his age fall asleep quickly? Weren’t the kids of his age already done with the sleep training? I would have asked the exact same questions three weeks ago and would not have understood the struggle some parents deal with in a “two-year sleep regression”.
Alan was not as well sleep-trained as Julian, his brother who is now four years old. But after he turned one, he could sleep the whole night. And his sleep was even better when his brother joined him in his room when Alan was 18 months old. I was so relieved when seeing two boys sleep tight after reading to them. I told myself: finally, I no longer need to deal with sleep issues. Is this too good to be true?
Then three weeks ago, Alan started falling asleep after his brother did. The time between lights off and when he finally began to doze stretched longer and longer. At the beginning, it was not too bad. He sang to himself and fell asleep 30 minutes after the light was off. Then he began engaging in long conversations in his toddler language and he resisted lying down. I started being impatient and constantly put him down. Then, this battle lasted over one hour. Eventually, it became the nightmare: Alan crawled off the crib, Mom lost control and yelled! What happened? Was I too impatient with his sleep? Or was he ready for cutting off his nap as his Dad suggested?
I vaguely remembered the term: “sleep regression”, which we referred to a lot when Alan (even Julian) was still infant. So I checked online and found the explanation. It is not uncommon for a toddler to go through a 2 year-old sleep regression. Symptoms include:
Resistance to bedtime
Interruption of naptime to talk/laugh/sing or even scream
Waking up more often during nights, or waking in the middle of the night to play
Waking early and showing signs of shorter sleep time
When you experience these above symptoms, resist the urge to be hard on your kid (you are not raising a monster!!!) or even yourself (it was not because of your sleep training). There are explanations for this sleep pattern. First, your toddler now explores more during the day and he or she needs time to absorb the experience. The development of their experiences may create more concrete dreams and nightmares at this age. Second, 2-years old is an exciting age, one marked by the development of new emotions. We often associate this age with the start of tantrums and the desire for independence. So why are we astonished about their willingness to control the bed routine? Separation anxiety also often plays a role in sleep regression. Third, they now learn new skills. Alan loves singing. So he often stands up and calls, “Mama!” and starts singing. Last but not least, sleep regression can be attributed to environmental changes such as a new bed, a new sibling, or even new curtains.
So the most important thing is: what do we do about a 2-year old’s sleep regression? I asked experienced parents and read different sources. I also learned from my last 3 weeks of experience: 1) Cutting off naptime is not a solution. Usually at this age, toddlers still need one nap in a day. Acknowledge and understand that it is just a two to six week sleep regression and it shall pass. 2) Start the sleep routine (e.g. bath, massage, reading) earlier. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it really works. We began with moving Alan’s nap earlier, and sleeping accordingly. It still took about the same amount of time before he dozed off. 3) Keep limits and boundaries firm and give explanations to your toddler. It is important to acknowledge their feelings first. We tell them about our understanding of their excitement, anxiety, or frustration. But they need to lie on their back, close their eyes and sleep in their bed. It is amazing to see how well they react to logic.
Good luck to you in the battle with the two year sleep regression!
Fiona has two energetic and sweet boys: Julian, four years; and Alan, two years. In her spare time--usually after the kids are asleep--she enjoys reading and watching movies of the mystery genre. She also loves yoga and Barre exercise.