Just when you think your baby's sleep regression days are over, you hit the 18 month mark. Yes, unfortunately an 18 month sleep regression is common.
The 18 month sleep regression is one of the hardest for many parents to deal with. It can result in your child adamantly refusing to nap during the day or sleep at night, and it’s often the result of hitting important developmental milestones, such as teething.
We’re going to use this article to understand how you can deal with the 18-month sleep regression in your little one.
Sleep Regressions and Sleep Patterns
Sleep regression is when an infant who previously slept well suddenly starts to wake up or refuses to settle when it’s time to sleep. This often coincides with other developmental milestones.
The major 18 month sleep regression signs include:
- Fighting sleep
- Waking up repeatedly in the night
- Crying and fussing
- Skipping naps
- Trouble dozing off
- Refusing to go to bed, despite previously settling down willingly
At 18 months, your child should still be sleeping 11-12 hours each night, with an approximate 2 hour nap during the day. Some babies will only sleep 11 hours at night but longer during the day, while some will have a shorter daytime nap, and more rest at night.
What Is the 18-Month Sleep Regression?
Many parents say that the 18-month sleep regression is the worst, and the vast majority of infants go through this. It often coincides with strong separation anxiety, and a desire for independence that can lead to your child refusing to go to bed at night.
Sleep regression in 18 month old toddlers is very common, with many children experiencing at least some form of sleep regression around this time. There are no specific figures on this, but experts say most infants will go through some form of sleep regression at times.
Sleep regression is often short-lived, lasting between 2 and 6 weeks in most cases.
How Does a Child’s Sleep Change Around 18 Months?
At around 18 months, many children start to sleep less. While some will still be napping for around 5 hours a day, others will try to drop naps entirely, and some will fall somewhere in between. Most go down to 1 nap per day, which should be fine.
Some toddlers will wake up repeatedly through the night, and very few will manage a full 12 hour stretch, even if they slept well before.
Not all babies suffer from sleep regression, and having a good routine can reduce the chances of it happening – but there are no clear causes that can be avoided. 18 month sleep regression is a normal part of growing up.
What Causes an 18 Month Sleep Regression?
Many people have already heard of 18 month sleep regression separation anxiety – where your child sleeps badly because they dislike being parted from you.
Some of the other top causes of sleep regression in babies include being overtired, and hitting important milestones. Feeling independent or being hungry may also prevent your child from sleeping well. It’s very normal for this to occur.
By 18 months, many children are keen to assert their independence. You can mitigate this by giving your child a few bedtime choices, such as what story to read or what pajamas they wear.
If your little one is suffering from separation anxiety, they will get anxious when you leave the room. They may fear that you won’t come back, and be clingy as a result.
Separation anxiety is another common cause of sleep regression. Spending lots of time with your little one during the day and having a familiar bedtime routine that they can rely on will help.
Many toddlers drop down to one nap per day around the 15-18 month period. This can lead to your child being overtired, which may result in them fighting sleep.
Make sure your child is still getting a good nap (at least 2 hours) each day, even if they fight it. They still need an average of about 13 hours per day.
What Are the Symptoms of an 18 Month Sleep Regression?
The most common symptoms of 18 month sleep regression include:
- Crying when you step away from the bed, indicating that your child doesn’t want you to leave. Your child will be old enough to recognize that you are about to step out of the room, and will cry in an attempt to stop you
- Repeatedly waking up during the night and calling for you, often as a result of separation anxiety. They may also try to sleep in your bed, and might struggle to settle by themselves
- Increased agitation upon waking up: your child may need help getting back to sleep, even if you are working on sleep training with them. Tears, tantrums, and anxiety after waking up are common, especially if your child is overtired
- Resistance to going to bed: to increase their sense of independence, many toddlers try to refuse bedtime. You may see an increase in tantrums, especially if your child is afraid of going to bed
- Inability to fall asleep, even when lying still: your baby might struggle to doze off, even in a comfortable, safe, and soothing space. Soothing music and plenty of wind-down time can help, but may not entirely solve the problem
How Long Do Symptoms of an 18-Month Sleep Regression Last?
This varies from child to child, but the above symptoms will usually last between 2 and 6 weeks. Some may have a shorter duration, while others may last throughout the regression. Most sleep regressions aren’t longer than 6 weeks. Remember, it will pass!
How to Minimize the Effects of a Toddler Sleep Regression
Sleep regression can be an exhausting phase, and you need to offer your child lots of support. This will help keep them happy, and make life easier for both of you. Let’s look at how to survive an 18 month sleep regression.
Offer an Age-Appropriate Bedtime
Most 18-month-old children should go to bed between 6 and 8 pm. They need 11-12 hours of sleep. If they are fighting bedtime, consider bringing their bedtime forward a little.
Putting your child to bed early, before they are overtired, can reduce the fighting and make sleep regression easier to handle.
Your 18 month sleep schedule probably won’t be perfect, but keeping a set bedtime that will allow your child at least 11 hours of sleep at night will help.
This is really key; do not drop the nap, even if your child fights it. They still need it. Ideally, the nap should occur about 5 hours after they wake up, often just after lunch.
Being consistent increases the chances of your child feeling tired and falling asleep. As soon as they have finished eating, put your child down in a quiet, dark room, with soft music if necessary.
An after-lunch nap means they have plenty of time to get tired again by bedtime. They should nap for between 1 and 3 hours.
Offer Extra Comfort As Needed
Feeling safe and comfortable is conducive to sleep. You can offer extra comfort by being present as much as possible during the day, but you can also find ways to make your baby’s sleep environment more comfortable. For example, try:
- Cotton crib sheets to make the bed smooth and inviting
- A merino wool sleeping bag to help them feel safe and warm throughout the night
- A snug sleeper to keep them cozy and comfortable
Consider Sleep Training
Sleep training means teaching your child to fall asleep independently. It usually begins when the baby is around 4 to 6 months old, and you should continue it even when your child is experiencing sleep regression.
Some parents opt for quicker but tougher methods like cry-it-out, while others go for the gentler chair method. You can read more about sleep training methods here.
You’ve Experienced Sleep Regression, Now What?
Sleep regression is a challenging time for every parent, you aren’t alone if you’re struggling with this. Your little one will test your patience – and your ability to stay awake – but bear in mind that it will probably be for a few weeks at the most until your bundle of joy sleeps through the night.
Keep your bedtime routine consistent, shower your little one with comfort and nice bedding, maintain the daily nap, and continue your sleep training method.
Bear in mind that after the 18 month sleep regression, you’ll usually only have one more to get through. There’s a two year sleep regression left to go, and then you’ll probably be able to put sleep regressions behind you entirely. You’re almost there!
How long does the 18 month sleep regression last?
It can vary, but between 2 and 6 weeks is normal.
Does sleep regression happen at 18 months?
Not all infants go through an 18 month sleep regression, but many do.
How can I help my 18 month old sleep regression?
Maintaining a daily nap after lunch and making sure your child gets enough to eat in the evening can help. You can also offer lots of cuddles, and a secure, comfortable sleeping space.
Why is my 18 month old waking up at night?
It’s common for infants to sleep badly when they are hitting important developmental milestones. They may be waking up because they are hungry, feeling insecure, or are too tired to rest properly. This is very normal and most infants go through it.