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Strategies to End the Bedtime Battle
Having trouble getting your toddler to sleep? Wondering about the ideal 2-year-old sleep schedule?
It’s no surprise that, as they grow and become more interested in toys and games, toddlers become less interested in sleep.
At two years old, your toddler is still growing and changing just as much as in their first year.
They’re going through mental leaps, growth spurts, sleep regressions, and yes, even teething!
How do we get their constantly moving bodies and minds to rest without a power struggle every day? There are a few things you can begin to implement right away to help them settle down without a fight.
It all sounds so simple, but can certainly require a little bit (or a lot) of patience and consistency on your part.
I am not a medical professional, and the following is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
2 Year Old Sleep Habits
First of all, at this stage, they are beginning to need less sleep.
Those interests we were talking about earlier? Your child is starting to figure out what they love…and what they don’t love.
They’re finding hobbies they enjoy and discovering places they love to go. They’re exploring the world for the first time, and it’s exciting!
As they begin this transition, it’s normal that their sleep schedule will change, and they’ll be less interested in bedtime.
Let’s start with the basics, and then we can explore ways to make bedtime a little easier.
How Much Sleep Does a Toddler Need?
Two-year-olds on average need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep every day, with 1-2 of those hours being naptime (source).
Does your toddler still take two naps? Then they might be sleeping too much during the day, making it difficult for them to settle down for bedtime because they simply are not tired.
Try to push that morning nap 15 minutes later every day, and shorten the second nap by 30 minutes, until you get down to one afternoon nap.
Any sleep past 3:30 pm will affect their bedtime, so you want to shoot for naptime around 1 pm.
Toddler Sleep Tips
Add a Quiet Time
If they are already down to one nap, it might be possible they are starting to grow out of their naps (sorry mama!).
This is a great time to start introducing a quiet hour.
They can choose how to rest their bodies (with a little guidance on your part) — here are a few ideas:
- watching a movie
- playing in their room quietly with their toys
- reading books
- doing puzzles
They don’t need to be completely still, but if the lights are dimmed and they have the opportunity to relax, they get the opportunity to learn to listen to their bodies.
If they can recognize that their body is feeling tired, they might just lay down and nap on their own.
If they don’t nap, that’s okay! They are growing out of their nap and that probably just means an earlier bedtime.
Start a Bedtime Routine
Next, if you haven’t already, it’s crucial to add in some “sleepytime cues” and begin a bedtime/naptime routine. This routine will help signal to your child that it’s time to rest before you even have to say it.
A few things to consider….
- Dimmed Lighting
About an hour or two before bedtime, you can start to dim the lights in the house, close the curtains and blinds, and give them a nice warm meal to fill up their belly.
- Reduced Screen Time
It’s important to note that reducing screen time closer to bedtime will make it easier for them to relax.
- Bath Time
The warm water will help their muscles to relax, and comfy pajamas are another signal that it’s bedtime.
- Snack Time
After the bath, they may need a small snack or even a water bottle. They can keep the water next to their bed, and that way you can avoid the “I’m thirsty!” objection once it’s time to sleep.
After a snack, it’s time to get into bed.
- Quiet Time
You can read or listen to audiobooks, sing songs, or do any quiet activity that will keep them in bed and help them transition. At this point, it’s important to set some very clear boundaries and stay consistent.
You can say something like, “I will read you two books, so choose carefully!” Once you have read those two books, stick to your word and be loving, but firm.
Mindfulness or Prayer
After you’re done with your activity, you can have your child say their prayers, or ask them a question that will get them thinking:
- “What are you going to dream about tonight?”
- “What was your favorite thing about today?”
Something they can quietly focus their minds on will keep them from getting bored or distracted and hopping out of bed over and over.
Plan Out Bedtime
If we are shooting for a 2-hour nap between 1 and 3, that means you have about 9-12 hours of bedtime.
To know when to start your bedtime routine, you have to decide what time you would like them to be asleep. It’s typically easiest to first figure out a wake up time in order to figure out what time you want them to be asleep.
Let’s say you are the lucky mama that gets 12 hours of bedtime at night.
If you want to be waking up around 9 every day, you’re going to want them to be sleeping by 9 pm. That means you should start their bedtime routine by 7:30.
If your child needs less sleep at night, closer to 9 hours, you might not get to sleep in until 9 every day.
Let’s say you want to wake up around 6 am. Count back 9 hours from 7 and that will give you the time they should be sleeping: 9 pm. This means you should start their bedtime routine no later than 7:30 pm.
The bigger difference here ends up being wake times in the morning, not bedtime at night. That’s why I find it more helpful to start at wake time instead of sleep time.
Plan Out Naptime
If you find your child needs less sleep, and sleeping from 9 pm to 6 am isn’t enough for you, you may be ready to start shortening that afternoon nap.
You can shorten their nap by 30 minutes every 4-5 days until you get to an hour-long nap instead. That will help you add an hour of sleep to the beginning or end of their bedtime, or split that into 30 minutes at the beginning and 30 minutes at the end.
Oftentimes, toddlers still need some sort of nap or quiet time in the middle of the day, although some have lower sleep needs.
If you find that as you decrease nap time your child doesn’t seem to bounce back and is more likely to fuss and whine, you may want to add the nap back in.
Yes, removing the nap or decreasing its length will be an adjustment for them no matter what. However, if they are still struggling with it after a week of shorter nap times, you may need to wait a few more months and then try again.
Every child is different and there is no set age to reduce or remove nap times. It’s all about trial and error…and loads of patience on your part!
Lastly, if you have implemented all of these exercises and still struggle to get your child to sleep, they may not be exerting enough energy during the day to be tired by bedtime.
It’s important to make sure they are playing with toys, reading books, doing fun activities, exercising, and getting outside every day!
If all they do is watch tv, then of course they won’t be sleepy when they should be. They’re constantly growing, and changing minds and bodies require outdoor exposure every day!
Even if you stay at home, making sure you play in the yard, take a walk around the block, or color on the sidewalk with chalk, along with other outdoor activities makes a huge difference!
If it’s raining outside, doing some learning activities, planning a scavenger hunt, or just simply being intentional about the indoor play can be the difference between a bedtime fight and a bedtime win.
Additional Sleep Strategies
Still struggling with your toddler’s sleep? Massage, aromatherapy, and white noise are a few additional strategies to try.
Find more helpful tips in this post on how to help your toddler fall asleep faster.
2 Year Old Sleep Schedule: Final Thoughts
If you’re struggling to figure out a 2-year-old sleep schedule that works, just know that you’re not alone. There are so many changes and transitions in those first few years, and it’s not always easy to know when or how to make the change.
Reducing nap time, adding in a bedtime routine, and planning a set sleep schedule are great ways to start.
These steps are all simple ways to reduce a power struggle around bedtime and help your child relax. They may take some patience and will require consistency, but I know you can do it.
You’ve got this, mama! If you made it through the newborn sleep stage, you can make it through anything.