2-Year-old Suddenly Having Bedtime Problems

Updated on October 21, 2009
J.I. asks from Somerville, MA
10 answers

Dear all,

My son who turned 2 in November has always been a good sleeper. He has slept through the night since 10 months (when I stopped the night nursing), usually from 8 pm to 8 am. We have always been able to put him to his bed and leave him there and he would fall asleep by himself. At some point he started to climb out of his crib, but this was more of a problem at nap time than in the evenings. Finally after he turned 2 we got him a toddler bed. He loves the bed and started sleeping in it nicely and without any problems. This lasted a few weeks. Now, all of a sudden, he will not stay in his bed at bedtime and will not go to sleep in the evening.

Since he started to fight his nap (2-3 hours every day) he has been mostly napping in his stroller. He goes there willingly and I walk him to sleep in two minutes. He may also fall asleep in his car seat etc. Some days he will not nap at all if we are busy and active, and on those days he is dead tired by 8 pm and falls asleep immediately. However, if he does nap, he usually gets a good 2-hour nap, and then he apparently is not tired at 8 pm. This drives me crazy because I love having the evenings "free" after 8 pm and also I hate prolonged "putting to sleep" rituals especially since we have not been required to do that before. He wants someone to stay with him and he asks for all kinds of things: singing to him, patting him, sleeping next to him etc. If I leave the room he cries.

I would leave him crying in the room for a little while, but the problem is that he can now walk out of the room since he is not in a crib anymore and he can open the door. So then I will have to stay outside of his room and keep bringing him back to his bed. This is driving everyone crazy!

I don't know what to do. I could cut the nap completely, but some days he really needs it and I need it too! (Am 6 months pregnant with my second).I have tried to keep his nap on the early side if it does happen, but even if he is up by 2 pm he has trouble at night. Any suggestions? I guess I could try have him take a short nap and wake him up? He has been falling asleep by 10 pm on the difficult nights, and we have tried to move his bedtime up on nap days a little bit from 8 pm, however, 10 pm is way too late for me. And he wakes up at the same time every morning regardless of the time he fell asleep (at around 7 am recently) so he is getting less sleep nowadays. If he slept later in the mornings I could tolerate the late sleep time too, maybe, but that is not happening.

Also, lately he is waking up in the middle of the night crying, sometimes calling for us from his bed and sometimes walking up to our room. We then have to go and tuck him back in. He usually falls asleep again pretty fast but this can happen three times a night. I have no idea why this is happening now?? He has all his teeth and is healthy as far as I know, and has been sleeping well for the past year or so. Please let me know if you are experiencing anything similar? Is this some developmental stage or what?

Thanks so much in advance. All tips are welcome.

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So What Happened?

Dear all,
Thanks so much for all of your responses. It is comforting to know that many of us are struggling with the same thing, so this must be part of the process...I think the solution for us is to cut the nap, or on days he will fall asleep not to let him nap too long. I really like him going to sleep by 8 pm at night and this week he has (without a nap) and he has slept 11-12 hours. Yesterday he fell asleep right after 7 pm so we will put him to bed earlier if he seems to need it. He still wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes but it is not too much trouble because he falls back asleep fast. Hopefully this will stop with time as well. I am sure we have a lot ahead of us with the new baby arriving etc but it was still nice to hear your tips and suggestions and to know that this is something that we all go through at some point.

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answers from Providence on

Hi J. ! I am a mom of a girl and boy twins . One year old tomorrow !! Well ok, have you tried a stuffy ? Like buying him a new teddy bear have him pick it out himself and tell him, he will help him sleep at night .
I work in childcare and recently a little girl, also a 2 yr. old likes her tiger from home and now she can self sooth herself to sleep .
I hope this helps and try some warm milk right before bedtime or some soft lullabye music or you can hum or sing to him . Warm bath, a massage can help too .
Good Luck !!


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answers from Boston on

Hi J.,
The best I can say is that it is probably just a phase - my son is 2 1/2 and his sleeping habots changed in the last few months to include a much harder "put down to bed at night process" - he too loves his big boy bed, buty has discovered that he can get out and then play or worse stand on the landing (at the gate) and holler or play.
We go between putting him back every 15 minute to just ignoring him - and sometimes find him asleep on the landing.
He still naps most days - on days he chooses not to, he stays in his room until i get him (4pm or so) - his bedtime is still 7:45pm.
Anyway - for our house I just say - he will have to stick by the guidelines we set - same bedtime and quiet time/nap time every day (we just had our 2nd baby in december and it is essential for all of us that we maintain these routines).

hope this helps a little bit at least in knowing you are not alone and that the kids will continue to keep us on our toes as they change their routines/tactics/etc.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

All 3 of mine gave up naps by age 2. It does sound like he is transitioning to not needing the nap. It also might be that he has some anxiety (for lack of a better term) about the coming sibling.

I'd stop encouraging the nap. If you need a break in the afternoon, I always allowed a short time of appropriate tv or video time (half an hour). That gave me time to relax too. If he falls asleep in the car seat in the afternoon while traveling, I'd wake him up gently as soon as you arrive at the destination. It really sounds like he is ready to ditch naptime.

You might need to change his bedtime to 7-7:30pm if he seems extra tired and cranky. I doubt he'll get up any earlier.

Bedtime rituals do not have to elaborate, but your little boy will appreciate it if you or your husband read him a book while snuggling on his bed.



answers from San Francisco on

Wow. This sounds like I could have written it... I know exactly how you feel. My son is pretty much doing the exact same thing. We have to hold the hallway door closed for 5 minutes until he gets back in bed. I too thought about not putting him down for a nap, but he looks so tired in the afternoon. My guy used to sleep from 8 to 8 too and now I'm lucky to get him to bed by 9:30 and he comes in our room every morning around 7:30. He used to go to bed so good and then he started climbing out of his crib so we switched to a toddler bed last month and just put up a baby gate. Well, the baby gate worked until now. He used to just stand at it and cry for a few minutes and then get right in bed. Then last week he started climbing right over the gate like it was nothing. So we quit using it, and maybe that's why its so difficult now because he knows there's nothing keeping him in his bed. I talked to my pediatrician and he told me he remembers having to hold his sons' door closed too. So at least I don't feel as horrible as I did now that I know my ped. had to do the same thing. But its still frustrating because like you said, from 8 til 11, that was my husbands and my time to relax. The pediatrician said its totally normal and it will pass. I almost wish I would have just skipped the toddler bed and got him a full so at least I could lay with him and get him to sleep. I'd even sleep in there with him when I needed to. But then that would probably end up being an every night thing. Anyway, my son is going thru the exact same thing and I'd LOVE to know how to change this. He naps in the afternoon from 1 til like 2 or 2:30 so maybe I should try keeping him up...? I'm going crazy though because I hate fighting him every night. I really miss the days I could just blow him kisses and walk on out. Please let me know if you find something that works!!
Tonight I told him I'd give him a surprise tomorrow if he stays in bed. He didn't. He ran to the hall door crying but only for like 10 seconds this time. But I can't give him a surprise every day! Or can I? Maybe I'll fill a bag with little cheap toys and if he stays in bed, I'll give him one in the a.m. Hmmm. I'm gonna try it!



answers from Springfield on

If he isn't napping you need to put him to bed earlier you are putting him down for the night too over tired. My 21 month old has napped since sept. and he goes down at 6:30 and sleeps in til 7-8 depending on how much noise his big brother makes in the morning. If he catches a nap he fights bedtime and doesn't go down until 8 but sleeps in the next morning. If he is getting out of bed at bedtime you need to lay down the law if you stay with him and he talks or gets up tell him the next time you will leave and do it. Get the summer extra tall gate and put it up in his doorway no need to close his door but he won't be able to get out its nice and tall and the bars are straight so there's no chance in climbing over.



answers from Boston on

THANK YOU THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE OUT THERE GOING THROUGH THE SAME THING AS ME!!!!!! my daughter has slept wonderfully since basically birth! and now she is 21 months old and wakes up 2 or 3 times a night and I have to lay down with her to put her back to sleep. She is still napping also but sometimes she refuses to take naps. It is soooo stressfull this was going to be my next question to ask on mamasource and I am so glad you did.. the best of luck to you (and myself) I stopped giving my daughter juice before bed and just water and in the middle of the night only water it has started to help a little. Let's just hope this is just another stage :)



answers from Boston on

Hi there!

My daughter just turned 3 and has always had trouble settling herself down at bedtime...she has a developmental disorder, part of which is sensory issues, and I always attributed the restless at nap and bedtime to that...once she fell asleep for her nap she would nap for 2 hours...I think for a long time she needed that long of a nap, but recently she began staying awake longer and not napping until about 3pm..if I let her nap for 2 hours at 3pm she would be up until 10...so what I have discovered is that even though she *could* nap for 2 hours, she really doesn't *need* to..now if she falls asleep around 3pm I wake her up after a half hour...if it is 4 or 5 pm I give her 20 minutes...granted, by 8 pm she is exhausted, but she goes right to sleep without fighting it.

So, from my own experience with this, it sounds like your son really doesn't need that long of a nap anymore because when he does have a long nap he is simply not tired enough to go to sleep at 8 o'clock...I know it's tough to shorten that nap when you yourself are tired, but I think you might find that if you do, he will be tired enough to go sleep at a reasonable hour.

Hope this helps!

~L., mom to 3 year old daughter



answers from Boston on

we have a son just a few months away from his 3rd birthday and he has gone through similar bedtime changes. I believe it is just part of developmental changes where they are exerting independence. However I do think that you can try some new things to see if something clicks. Every night before I turn the lights off I tell him "3 rules - don't get out of bed - don't turn the lights on - don't kick the wall" - they can be whatever you want them to be but it has now become part of our ritual and is a good way to remind them the rules of the game. If he does any of these I go up stairs reiterate it and leave. No conversation.

If he continues I tell him I am going to get the "baby crib" (pack n play) b/c he "can't behave like a big boy." I've only had to do it once. But he stayed in it all night so he knew we weren't joking. Good luck I think it is natural...



answers from Boston on

I don't really know much about this stuff since my only son is just 9 months. But reading, it occurred to me that your son might be getting anxious now that you are getting closer to your due date and showing it through all these sleep problems. The only advice I could think of is what my parents did with me - put up a gate in his bedroom door. Of course then you have to hear him crying - but what else to do? Hope this helps.



answers from Boston on

Typically two year olds need about 12 hours of sleep throughout a 24 hour period. He may be adjusting to needing less sleep. I would try shorter naps or having quiet time during which he can sleep on the days he needs or just play quietly by himself.

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