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Why Won’t My Toddler Sleep? | 2 Year Old Sleep Tips for Parents

2 year old wont sleep?

Wondering why your 2 year old’s sleep patterns have suddenly changed? Looking for help to get your toddler sleeping through the night again? Read on to find out about 2 year old sleep regression and what parents can do to help!

It is very common for children around the age of two years old to experience disrupted sleep (or sleep regression) for a number of reasons.

Two Year Molars

Two year molars are the last of your child’s baby teeth and the pain associated with the molar eruption can wreck havoc on your 2 year old child’s normal ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is easy to overlook this final stage of teething, because most parents are flat out with baby #2 at this time and back molars are difficult to see, particularly with a toddler unwilling to open her mouth!  My best trick is to dangle your 2 year old upside down safely (with any luck they’ll laugh out loud like mine did!) and ask your partner to take a good look down the back with an iPhone torch.

How to manage two year molars

  • Pain relief (following GP or Pharmacy consultation) at dinnertime or using any of your typical teething strategies (e.g., crunchy vegetables, frozen wet clothes, massaging the gum, Bonjella, etc.) to alleviate the pain and irritability can help restore sleep
  • Two year molars don’t typically require a trip to the Dentist, unless the molars appear impacted or infected.

Night terrors & 2 year old sleep

Night terrors (as different from nightmares) describe periods of screaming, crying, yelling out, groaning, or thrashing, where your child appears to remain in a sleep-like state but with their eyes open. Night terrors typically start within the first hours of sleep onset, with episodes repeating throughout the night, lasting from a couple of minutes to half an hour.

The cause of night terrors is inconclusive, but some research indicates that overtiredness, insufficient sleep and high body temperatures may increase the frequency.

Contrary to the name, night terrors are more distressing to you than your 2 year old child, although they often cause irritability and overtiredness during the day.  Night terrors occur in approximately 5% of preschool children, can last until late primary years, and represent part of normal development, not the result of psychological disturbance.

To prevent night terrors

  • Try a high carbohydrate dinner (e.g., pasta, rice, potato, bread, etc.) or vegemite toast as supper just prior to bedtime. This slows the body down and encourages sleep (like hibernating bears).
  • Drop the room temperature to very cold – cold, but ensure your 2 year old child is warmly dressed with warm blankets
  • A 2 year old sleep bedtime may need to be brought forward by as much as an hour (e.g., 6pm from 7pm).

To manage night terrors

  • When your child is in the midst of a night terror, provide comfort (use a quiet voice to offer reassuring words and/or cuddle) but don’t wake
  • Offer a cold drink to help reset
  • Put back to bed once calm.

Development of Fear & 2 year old sleep

The cognitive development of imagination, fear and other complex emotional processes are a part of healthy brain maturation in children. Around the age of 2 years this peaks and children can start to fear the dark, boogiemen, monsters, mythical creatures that go bump in the night, etc.  2 year old’s often find distinguishing imaginary from real difficult, also.  This means that they are more likely to take innocuous stimuli (e.g., ideas of Santa coming at night, germ figures on toilet advertisements, tooth fairy stories, movie characters, Halloween, etc.) and find them fearful.  Learning the experience of fear and how to manage this can temporarily cause a reluctance to go to bed, difficult sleep onset and fretful sleep.

To manage fear-related kids sleep issues

  • Encourage the use of your child’s established comforter (blanket, bear, toy, etc.) to elicit comfort during sleep onset
  • Night lights can alleviate fear of the dark
  • Try attachment language; “Mumma will check on you while you sleep”
  • And reassurance; “That does sound scary, but Dad promises you there’s no monsters in the cupboard.”
  • Remember this is a temporary phase, but for a short period ban movies that might be scary and avoid metaphorical explanations (such as “Grandpa (deceased) will always be watching over you”) that can accidentally scare children. There will be plenty of time later to develop spiritual, metaphorical or mystical ideals with children, when their cognitive processes are more mature.

If 2 year old sleep disruption persists or causes significant distress to your child and disruption to your family, please see your GP for referral to sleep specialists.

Why Won’t My Toddler Sleep? | 2 Year Old Sleep Tips for Parents is brought to us by Dr Rachell Kingsbury – Guidance Counsellor (Clin. Psych & Clin. Neuropsych MAPS) and mum of two boys.

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Rachell Kingsbury

Rachell has a Doctor of Psychology degree from the University of Queensland, with specialisms in Clinical Psychology and Clinical Neuropsychology. She is also a member of the Australian Psychological Society, and is registered as a professional practitioner with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). With an impressive list of previous positions under her belt, Dr. Rachell is presently a director at Mind Wise Psychology Services in Milton, QLD.

1 thought on “Why Won’t My Toddler Sleep? | 2 Year Old Sleep Tips for Parents”

  1. I remember that my son suffered from sleep regression when his 2 year molars starting coming in. They are super painful for the kids. However, there are plenty of other things to consider when your 2 year old doesn’t want to sleep. My son always struggled when he was overstimulated, interpreting his nap schedule, not keeping his bedtime consistent, and illnesses.


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