At 18 months, another sleep regression may not have been something you thought you'd have to go through again. Just when you thought your toddler had nailed sleeping peacefully through the night suddenly they're waking again and stealing your sleep.
By the time your toddler reaches 18 months old, it's likely that you have experienced your fair share of sleep regressions, so you know that it is perfectly normal and they do pass.
Although sleep regressions can feel frustrating, they are connected to a baby's mental and physical development. Your toddler is taking in the world around them and learning more than ever, so it's only natural that all the new skills they are developing are leaving them a little restless.
The good news is that these sleep regressions are just a temporary phase, and before you know it your 18-month-old will be enjoying their nighttime sleep again.
Here at Babogue, our aim is to help families establish healthy sleep habits, so that both babies and parents stay well-rested (and sane!), resulting in a healthier and happier lifestyle. In this article, we give you all the tricks and tips to surviving the 18-month sleep regression so that your family can get their bedtime routines back!
What is the 18 month sleep regression?
The 18-month sleep regression is a setback to your toddler's normal sleep pattern and is considered by some parents to be the toughest of the typical baby and toddler sleep regressions - but don't let that scare you! Although it is known as the 18-month sleep regression, these sleep disruptions can take place any time between 17-20 months.
Your child may sometimes refuse to nap or sleep at all and night waking may become a frequent occurrence. This can come out of the blue, and often for no reason.
As these disruptions to your child's sleep begin to happen, they will likely remind you of previous sleep regressions. The only issue is that this set of toddler sleep problems comes with its own set of unique challenges because you now have a little human who likes to talk back!
With their newfound independence and more advanced motor skills, the 18-month sleep regression requires a little more work and creativity than other sleep regressions.
If you feel you are dealing with the 18 month sleep regression with your child we have the solution for you. Check out our Toddler Sleep Series course for the key information and support to help you navigate this time with your child and bring them to consolidated sleep.
What causes the 18-month sleep regression?
Although many parents will be tearing their hair out at the thought of another sleep regression, take note that it's just a temporary change and, like the other sleep regressions, it will pass! It may not feel like it at the time, but sleep regressions are good for children as they are a sign of your child's growth and brain development!
There are a variety of factors that may contribute to your child's sleep regression at 18 months, including:
Separation anxiety usually peaks around 18 months, but it can crop up at any age. You may notice that your toddler becomes clingier and may have a meltdown when left with anyone other than yourself, and this can affect your toddler's ability to fall asleep meaning that they often fight off naps and become overtired which has a knock-on effect at bedtime.
Changes to your toddler's natural sleep cycles
Some sleep consultants believe that your toddler's sleep cycle changes around 18-months meaning that your little one may go to bed later and wake later. Some toddler's nap schedules also change from multiple naps per day to just one nap. These factors can all cause sleep issues in children.
Many toddlers are learning lots of new things at 18 months old. including their sense of self. This can lead to protests at bedtime if you are prioritising sleep over something else.
You may have noticed your child drooling lots and getting all their shiny new teeth, but all these first teeth can actually be causing your child to struggle with sleep. Teething is incredibly uncomfortable for children, so you can blame this for a few restless nights.
Physiological health problems
Sometimes, what you think might be a sleep regression could actually turn out to be something else. When your child is in pain, or if sleep regression lasts longer than 4 weeks then you should consider speaking to a healthcare professional to check that there is no underlying condition that is causing your baby to sleep.
How long is the 18-month sleep regression?
Each child is different, but most babies will be out of the 18-month sleep regression within a few weeks.
The disruption to your toddler's routine will usually wear off once the novelty of all their new tricks has worn off.
If your child cries regularly over the course of a few weeks and wakes often, then it's likely this is a sleep regression. If however the signs of regression are not fading and you feel something else might be contributing it is worth seeking the guidance of a medical professional to advise.
What are the symptoms of the 18-month sleep regression?
Some signs and symptoms of the 18-month sleep regression include:
- taking longer to fall asleep
- waking more frequently at night
- crying at night
- night wakings
- failing to fall asleep independently
The 18-month sleep regression does not always occur at exactly 18 months. It may happen at any time during a child’s second year.
How do I know if it's a sleep regression?
You know your little one better than anyone, so only you can work out whether this is a sleep regression or not.
If you've tried every trick in the book to get your child to fall asleep and nothing is working, then you can bet that your child is experiencing the 18-month sleep regression.
It's important to ensure your child s healthy and that nothing else is causing them to wake at night. If you notice any of the following, consider discussing them with a medical professional:
- High or low temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Not going the toilet (could suggest dehydration)
- Constant crying that won't stop
- Rapid breathing
- Blotchy skin
Managing the 18-month sleep regression
Watching your toddler struggle with sleep is hard. But, just like the other sleep regressions you have experienced keep reminding yourself that this is just a phase and it will pass.
When it comes to solving this sleep regression, there are some clear steps you can take to help your toddler sleep peacefully again.
Staying calm is key to tackling the sleep regression at 18 months. When handled correctly, frequent nighttime awakenings will sort themselves out quickly. Wherever possible stick to your child's regular bedtime routine as this consistency will ensure that your child's sleep problems resolve quickly.
Maintain a consistent bedtime routine
When your child is fighting both daytime and nighttime sleep, it can be extremely challenging to stick to their regular routine. As challenging as it may be getting an independent toddler to go to bed, it will make it much easier for you both in the long run once the regression ends.
If you end up disrupting their routine and falling into additional habits while trying to get your baby back to sleep, this may cause changes in their routine and sleep expectations around sleep that may take time to resolve.
Limit screen time
If you allow your child to watch TV or play on a tablet, we strongly recommend not allowing it in the one to two hours prior to bedtime as it can upset their circadian rhythm, disrupting their sleep.
Sticking to your regular sleep times is incredibly important as they will be more rested if they stick to their usual patterns. Unlike adults, an overtired child will struggle to fall asleep more than a child that is well-rested so try to stick to their usual pattern as much as possible, even if they are being stubborn and fighting regular sleep.
An 18-month old usually needs around 15 hours of sleep a day including one nap of up to 2 hours in duration.
If your child is fighting naps, or they're being extra fussy at night because they haven't napped much, consider pulling their bedtime forward slightly or adjusting the time of their daytime nap.
Look at your child's sleep patterns
Your little one's sleep regression might just be down to their bedtime routine, and it could be a possibility that they aren't ready for the same early or late bedtime anymore.
Adjusting your child's bedtime by just 10-15 minutes, either way can have a significant impact, so consider this if settling them down to sleep is becoming a struggle.
Curb separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can make it hard for you to leave your child with someone else. You might feel parent guilt when they cry when you leave them at nursery or with grandparents, but try not to worry.
It's perfectly normal for your child to feel unsettled when you're not there. In fact, your child feeling this way is a sign of how well you've bonded with them.
Instead of feeling guilty, you should help your toddler validate their feelings so that they feel as though you understand them. Before you know it they will understand that when you leave them, you are coming back and it's only for a short while.
If your baby has been sleeping in their own room up to this point and is struggling with you leaving when you put them down, keep reassuring them that it's OK. Try giving them a comforter to help them focus less on the fact that you're not in the room when they drift off to sleep.
Ensure nothing else is causing them to stay awake
It may seem obvious, but you should ensure that there is nothing else causing your child to stay awake. After ensuring that your little one is healthy and free from pain, you should look to solve any environmental issues that are causing problems to your child's sleep.
If your little one is continually trying to climb out of their toddler bed, ensure the mattress is at its lowest setting.
If your child is struggling with falling asleep due to a fear of the dark, consider investing in warm night light (stay away from any blue or white-light omitting lights as these can be sleep disruptive) to help them feel more comfortable.
Consider sleep settling
If you haven't yet established self-settling, now is the time to do so. Incorporating structure into your child's evening will ensure that your child has a predictable pattern so that they know it's time for sleep.
Peer-reviewed studies have shown that when children learn to fall asleep independently, they have fewer problems with sleep, which is why self-settling is important
A routine doesn't have to be complicated, something as simple as a nice warm bath, getting into sleepwear, brushing teeth and a bedtime story or lullaby is enough for you and your little one.
If you are looking to establish self-settling and resolve sleep challenges with your little one our Sleep Series programs are there to help.
Once your child has started sleeping regularly again, there's no guarantee that future sleep regressions won't happen. In fact, regressions are a normal part of your little one's development, so you should ensure that you're prepared for future episodes.
By sticking with a routine, you and your baby can develop healthy sleep habits making it less likely that they will have future sleep problems.
The key thing to remember is that regressions don't last forever, and you'll be through it before you know it.
Being a parent can be tough, but make sure that you are kind to yourself during these times. If you are struggling, consider asking friends or family to help so that you can have a much-needed nap yourself.
To help you navigate the 18-month sleep regression we have created the Toddler Sleep Series program to empower you with everything you need to help your child sleep sound from 18 months to 3 years. If you want to handle the 18-month regression and lay foundations for settled sleep long into the future, this program is for you.