Why The 18 Month Sleep Regression Is One of The Hardest and How to Handle It
Your precious little, who’s been sleeping peacefully at night for months, is suddenly waking multiple times each night and wailing loudly. A child who previously would take two long naps each day, suddenly resists nap time, refusing to lie down and go to sleep. Maybe you’re seeing shorter naps, more bedtime drama, increased night waking, and/or really early morning wake-ups. All these are 18 month sleep regression signs and if any of these scenarios sound familiar, then you may be experiencing the 18 month sleep regression.
If you’re a parent of a toddler, then a sleep regression is something you’re probably familiar with, because you’ve most likely experienced common sleep regressions at 4, 8, 9, 10, and 12 months! I’m so sorry to have to break the news, but you’re still not done. So, what’s a tired mom to do? Since the 18 month sleep regression Is one of the hardest, we wanted to outline for you what it is and why it happens, and then discuss the steps you can take to survive it.
What is the 18 month baby sleep regression?
Babies are still adjusting to a regular sleep pattern as newborns, which means they generally sleep about 16-17 hours a day and wake up frequently for feedings. Sometimes your baby may sleep all day, causing them to stay up all night long (which is unfortunate for you as the parent). You may want to try limiting daytime naps to 3 hours, and keeping the lights or blinds closed. You should also make daytime feeds lively and interesting, and night-time feeds quiet and boring. This will allow your baby to learn the difference between day and night, and also associate the dark environment with sleeping.
Why at 18 months?
Teething – Around 18 months, children are cutting the 4 canine teeth as well as their first molars. This can cause discomfort that leads to disrupted sleep. Keep in mind that teething doesn’t last weeks and weeks on end and although it can play into sleep challenges, it won’t usually be the sole contributing factor to sleep challenges.
Separation anxiety – Most babies begin experiencing separation anxiety around 7 or 8 months, and for most babies, the anxiety is strongest from 10-18 months. This can lead to disrupted sleep as well — your baby may resist naps because he doesn’t want to be away from you, or he may wake at night and become upset that you’re not in the room with him.
Independence – Children at this age are learning to feed themselves with a spoon, drink from a cup, build with blocks, and even take off some articles of clothing. They may have a language explosion and likely begin to have A LOT to say! Their “NO” game is probably getting stronger at this point! Toddlers begin testing boundaries and start trying to wear the Mommy and Daddy pants. They are really just testing their limits and seeing what they can and cannot do. This growing independence can lead to a stronger will, which means a baby may start exerting herself when she doesn’t want to go to sleep or stay in bed.
Nap transition – Around 18 months is normally when most toddlers are transitioning from two naps down to one nap. This isn’t an easy transition for a toddler to go all day with one nap. If you transition too quickly, it can cause overtiredness. Overtiredness can lead to difficulty settling in at bedtime, frequent night wakings, early morning wake ups and difficulty settling into naps!
Why is it the hardest?
The 18-month sleep regression can be one of the hardest, for one simple reason — there’s a discipline factor involved that wasn’t present in the earlier ones. This regression has a lot to do with defiant behavior on your baby’s part. The addition of temper tantrums and oppositional behavior to the 18 month old screaming fits at night can make parenting seem downright impossible! The stress of dealing with your toddler’s behavior adds to the exhaustion you already feel. The lack of sleep this regression causes can make your little one cranky, which leads to more tantrums.
What are some survival tips?
There is no way to “fix” any sleep regression, but there are steps you can take to try to minimize sleeplessness. The good news is, you don’t have to simply wait for the phase to pass. Here are some helpful survival tips to keep your gray hairs from popping up. . .
Stay consistent – The best thing you can do through your toddler's sleep regression is to stay consistent with your bedtime routine and nighttime behavior. Remember that this probably a confusing and overwhelming time for your toddler too. Maintain your typical bedtime routine, such as a bath and story time or a special blanket or stuffed animal cuddle time, to cue your little one that it's time to get ready for sleep. The key is to create and keep a simple, predictable bedtime routine that does not change.
Strengthen your bedtime routine – Good bedtime routines are fairly short and VERY consistent. They also have a definite end – you might end with the same short song, or the same good night phrase. This is a strong signal to your toddler that it’s time for sleep. Getting your baby dressed routinely in the same sleepwear, such as a Woolino wearable blanket, can be a great way to set the stage for bed.
Use a sticker chart – To increase bedtime and nap time cooperation. Stickers hold great weight with most toddlers, so try using them as an incentive to help your toddler cooperate at bedtime and at nap time.
Try a lovey – If you haven’t given your toddler a comfort object (or a “lovey” as they are sometimes called), this is a great time to start. If your 18 month old has something to keep in bed that feels cozy and comforting, it can minimize how often he calls for you at night or at nap time. Woolino merino wool sleep bags can often times become a lovey for babies who have grown accustomed to settling into their sack for bedtime routine.
Offer extra naps – Part of the 18 month sleep regression involves fighting sleep (because what self-respecting toddler wants to sleep when she can play?), so in an effort to avoid over tiredness, be ready to help your toddler compensate for missed sleep through extra naps, or an earlier bedtime. Just be sure that all naps are over by 6 p.m., otherwise your little one will be wide awake and unable to sleep during the night.
Offer a bedtime snack – Sometimes, a legitimate growth spurt can overlap with the 18 month sleep regression, so offering a high-protein bedtime snack can help to ward off middle-of-the-night hunger. Just make sure to brush teeth after snack time and before bed!
Limit screen time – Screen time has been associated with sleep disturbances in children, so if your toddler is having difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, consider what role screen time might be playing in that. Avoid screens within two hours of bedtime, and don't keep a TV in your child's bedroom.
Offer a nightlight – By 18 months, your toddler may start having nighttime fears, so a very soft nightlight can provide a little reassurance.
Offer simple explanations – Your toddler obviously isn’t at the age yet where you can hold real conversations, but it can be helpful to give your toddler reasons for WHY he needs to go to bed and get enough sleep. Keep your explanations simple, of course, and avoid over-explaining yourself (remember, your toddler is the king/queen of “but why?”) – but some simple explanations can help defuse sleep time drama.
Don’t undo all your hard work – If you’ve worked on sleep training, don’t go back to the old sleep associations! Instead, comfort your toddler by doing mini-versions of whatever they find comforting. For instance, maybe hold your toddler when he wakes fussing, but hold him for a few minutes, instead of holding him all the way to sleep. Or lie down with him in his room, but be sure to leave before he falls asleep. This will provide comforting without creating new, bad sleep habits.
Check your reactions – When your child protests, you want to check your reactions. If you overreact to your child’s sleep protest, it can reinforce the behavior and prolong the regression. Stay calm, confident and reassuring, yet firm in the way you respond to the protests. In an age appropriate manner, explain to your child why sleep is so important. Use this message consistently to combat the bedtime battle. Now is the time that you really want to set the tone for sleeping and how important it is for your family.
Create firm boundaries – ‘Will’ and ‘will not’ boundaries should be reinforced for your toddler. For example, if your toddler isn’t allowed to sleep in your bed, then be sure to reinforce that even in the midst of the 18-month sleep regression. If you’ve decided for yourself that when your toddler cries for you at night, you’re going to wait 5 minutes before going into her room, then stay consistent with that.
Be prepared to re-train – Even small things, like a short cold, can throw off your child’s normally-great sleeping patterns. So, it’s no wonder that a big sleep regression can do big damage! Don’t worry though – you can get back on track. Give the regression a few weeks to sort itself out; at that point, if your toddler is still struggling with sleep, do some sleep training to get things back on track (trust me, it will most likely be a lot easier this time than it was the first time around!).
When does it end?
Remember that the 18-month sleep regression is a phase, and while it can feel like an eternity when you’re enduring it and may have you feeling even less confident as a parent, it won’t last forever. If your baby normally sleeps well and you feel confident that her recent sleeplessness is due to the 18-month regression, then be as patient as you can and wait it out. Although every child is different, generally sleep regressions only lasts a few weeks. So, hang in there!