Getting My Two-year Old to Sleep!

Updated on June 26, 2008
L.C. asks from Altoona, WI
12 answers

I am sooo tired! Recently my two-year old quit sleeping through the night. For the past few days, he has cried for an hour before taking his nap, (even though I know he's exhausted,) an hour before bed, and get this...two and a half hours straight last night! He's a VERY persistent little guy. Interestingly, it's always about 4AM when he wakes up. I'm just not sure what to do. Do you think if I let him "cry it out" for a few days then he'll learn to put himself back to sleep? Let me know what you have done that has worked.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your advice. I got alot of good ideas. Antonio is sleeping better now...going down for his naps and to bed at night with no problem. I actually asked him why he was crying every night, just to see what he would say. I asked him a few times throughout the day, to see if he would say the same thing. Every time I asked him he would point to his closet and also mention something about his blanket. Apparently, he was having a nightmare. He loves being covered when he is sleeping, so I'm willing to bet also that he got scared, stood up and was crying, and then couldn't get the blanket back on him. I also remembered that a week before he stopped sleeping well, that we had stayed in a hotel and he had slept with us in our bed. It's happened before, that once he sleeps with us, he keeps wanting to do it for awhile. Surprisingly, I hadn't thought of that until later. One morning last week, he had a low fever. He may not have been feeling well also. I can't wait for him to talk more, so that he can let me know what he needs. Until then, it's just a big guessing game all the time.

Several of you also said, to move his bedtime earlier, which I did, because it had been a little late for a two year old. I think that helped as well. He'd been getting the right number of hours of sleep, but his internal clock, probably was telling him to hit the hay earlier. He may have been over tired.

So thanks again! Now that I told all of you that he is sleeping better, he'll probably wake up tonight! That's happened before! So knock on wood! :)

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answers from Sioux Falls on

We have a 2 year old daughter that we are just getting to sleep through the night. She's had some health issues so it hasn't seem logical to make her cry it out up until now. On Memorial Day weekend I had had it with her getting up because their didn't seem to be much of a reason for it so I told her that she had to stay in her bed all night because Mommy needed to sleep. I told her we'd get up in the morning & watch her favorite show, Caillou, together and she loves those little chocolate mini donuts so we'd have one of those if she stayed in her bed all night. Worked really well and she's had a few nights of not being able to do it so she doesn't get her little reward and she kicks and gets mad but I remind her of it when she goes to bed that night. We talk about watching Caillou together and getting that wonderful chocolate donut in the morning and it was so sad she didn't get that this morning. I know it's bribery but it is working and I want to get the habit established & then the donuts will disappear. good luck!

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answers from Minneapolis on

He sounds like my youngest (now 13). When she got to this stage I gave her Calms Forte just before napping and bed:

This is a non-habit forming homeopathic that really works like a charm. I told her it was her bedtime treat - she could only have it if she was in bed. They suck on it and before it is even gone they are sleeping soundly and through the night.

Eventually, they sleep without it. Calms Forte actually helps the body to sleep naturally. No worries - buy some today :o) You will both be happier when he is well rested.



answers from Minneapolis on

Hi, L.! It sounds like Antonio is overtired. What time do you start nap time and bed time? Perhaps moving them back an hour or so might help. Also, does he have tv, computer, or electronic toys before his bedtime? All of those things are stimuli, which can keep him awake and make it harder for him to soothe himself. He may also be hungry and going through a growth spurt, needing more food. Is there anything in his bedroom hanging on the wall that could be scary when the lights are off?

Kids go through stages with their sleep, and I think it takes a long time before they are able to soothe themselves to sleep. Sometimes they just need more help calming down before bed, and as parents we can help by creating a bedtime routine that is calming and soothing and quiet and peaceful. I wouldn't let him cry it out, because he's really too young to calm himself down, and letting him cry it out just increases his adrenaline, which will make it harder for him to go to sleep. Maybe he just needs you or your husband to lay down with him a little bit before bedtime. For our own son who is almost 4, when we switched him to his big boy bed a year ago, he started not sleeping well through the night. We eventually got him a Cd player/clock for his bedroom, and started putting in soothing music (the Velveteen Rabbit with George Winston and Meryl Streep), and laying down with him for about 5-10 minutes. We also usually start his winding down bedtime routine about an hour before his bed time.

The book "Sleepless in America: Getting Your Family the Sleep It Deserves," by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, is a WONDERFUL book to help get through sleep problems. My little boy has gone through several different stages where sleep time has been an issue, and her advice and solutions have been invaluable to the way we do bed time.

I hope you are able to get some sleep soon! God bless!



answers from Minneapolis on

We had the same problem with our oldest son when he was about the same age. Is the paper being delivered at that time, or is there a neighbor who leaves for work at that time? Any outside noise? We never thought of it, but the paper was being delivered around the time our son was waking up. The noise of the car was waking him up during his "light sleep"
period. We put a fan in his room and he started sleeping through it with the help of the white noise. Good luck!



answers from Grand Forks on

Has anything changed in his routine? Is he close to three years old? Sometimes as children get older they don't need as long of naps during the day. What normally calms him? Do you give him down time before bedtime? Same routine every night?Does he like stories read to him, or soothing music. Sometimes a warm bath or light snack might help.Does the location of his crib or bed need to be changed. Has something started to scare h im at night-too dark or too light, etc. As heart wrenching as it is, if all of those things have been tried, you may need to just let him cry it out!



answers from Green Bay on

Hi L., I am the grandmother of a 2 yr. old grandaughter whom I see the same pattern you are experiencing. Obviously I am not there during the night time, but I do babysit during the day. She always went down for her nap real good, but lately she balks a little bit. I am firm with her and take her hand, we say good night to her sisters, to the pictures on the wall, to the doors we pass by and she thinks that is pretty funn. I lay her in her crib and tell her I love her, GoodNight honey, and she waves at me as I leave the room and shut the door. Never a peep after that. Now on the other hand, her Mom who is my daughter takes her in bed with them when she wakes up during the night. I can see a pattern starting with this, but I can't tell her what to do. It is worth it to loose a little sleep and keep them in their own beds. I am just glad my grandaughter knows I will not give in when she is crabby and it is nap time. I hope this helps. Good Luck.



answers from Davenport on

Are you sure there are no other problems such as molars or ear ache or something. If nothing else seems to be the problem, I would try to stick to the routine and let him cry it out. Naps are still important so I don't agree to give that up. If nothing else you need small break in the afternoon.

I stay home with my daughter while doning daycare, but I would occassionally have to adjust her napping routine. Ahe started out napping in her crib upstairs then moved down to the couch cause I think she thought she was going to miss out on something. As she grew, we switched between her bed and down stairs several times. I would even rub her back at nap only ( she had to do it on her own at night), just so she would get to sleep faster and she new I was near this way.

I think if he keeps it up it may get worse just from sheer exhaustion! Good Luck, I hope you find something that works for the both of you!



answers from Madison on

Yes, crying it out might have to be it, but there are so many things that could be affecting him. I know it sounds really crazy, but when our oldest was 2, she did the same thing. One night I told her Mommy was so tired and she really needed to stay in her bed until the sun came up, and unbelievably, we all got a full night of sleep! Otherwise, maybe it's time for a big boy bed.



answers from Minneapolis on

I agree that he might actually be overtired. What I've learned is that basically "sleep begets sleep". So if a child is overtired, they are even more difficult to get to sleep, as odd as that may sound. But, it's a principle that has worked for us. Another great resource I would like to mention is "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Dr. Weissbluth. Best wishes for getting some sleep!



answers from Minneapolis on

Sounds like he is ready to give up the nap. If you want him to sleep through the night, you have to give up the afternoon. Let him take his nap as usual, but wake him up after an hour or less. Reduce the time every day until he is not so crabby and is ready to go to bed at night. It is real common for them to need less sleep at this stage because their growth rate has slowed down.



answers from Duluth on

oh boy.
this one is one that i have strong feelings about.

i wouldnt be so quick to say let him cry it out. there must be something else going on for him to change his habits like that. was there a bad storm? nightmare? something like that? maybe he is suddenly afraid of the dark. do you have a night light? maybe some stars for on the ceiling or something?

you could let him cry... but i fear that will make him feel like his feelings arent important and ... make him scared i guess.

maybe you are missing the time for nap by just a hair. try putting him down around 20 minutes earlier than you have been. see if that helps. sometimes they get so tired they cant fall asleep... something like that. im assuming you have a sleep routine. those are good. my son at 19 months knows brush teeth, book, bed. its really good for him. he runs to the bathroom to get toothbrush >LOL. cute.

hm. maybe if you can have him lay with you or you with him and see if that helps. as our children grow, they take 2 steps forward and one back. maybe this is just his one back and he needs that extra love, attention and time. if you nurture that need, he should pass through it confident. if you dont, he might pass through it, but he might not become so confident. i dont know

sleep is a hard thing cuz if you dont get any, nothing is going to be rosy the next day. do what you can and what you have to do for you and your family.



answers from Omaha on

Hi L.,
My son is 27 months and we went through the same problem he would always wake up around 2:00. Then we went through a phase where he would not sleep in his big boy bed.( He's been in his big boy bed since 20 months. Well anyway he started camping out on the floor at the foot of our bed. That went on for about 6 weeks. We just got to the point of laying him on the floor in our room instead of his own bed. I know bad idea. But he is now sleeping in his room for almost 2 months now. I went out and bought him the cars comforter set and sheet we leave his lights on in his room on dim of course.He sleeps from appr.8:30-9:00p to 6:30-7:00a and he even takes an afternoon nap from 1:00p to 3 sometimes 4:00. So I would not take away his naps. Little kids need there sleep. I would not let him cry it out either maybe try leaving his lights on dim. YOu can purchase dimmer switches. The night light did not work for us not bright enough I guess. Good luck and God Bless!

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