Sleep regressions are completely normal in growing babies and toddlers. It happens at different stages in a child’s life- while the timing varies, they typically occur around 4,8,12,18, and 24 months. A toddler or baby’s sleep can feel like it completely changes when going through these sleep challenges. 18-month sleep regressions are to be expected, and there are ways to prepare for them and navigate through the phases with a little more ease.
During the first two years of your child’s life, they are constantly learning new skills and developing socially, mentally, and physically. The exponential development paired with growth spurts that come with being a toddler causes sleep regressions. All of the changes can create restlessness and overwhelming emotions for your little one. You may know the feeling already- you’ve worked so hard on a sleep schedule, and all of a sudden it feels like you’re back to square one. A toddler resisting bedtime, having issues falling asleep, or waking through the night can be discouraging after finally getting into an (almost) seamless sleep routine.
Sleep regressions are a challenge for both your little one and you. While they’re struggling with their own sleep, it wreaks havoc on your sleep as well. It’s important to keep in mind that these phases aren’t forever, and while they’re difficult, they are a sign that your toddler is progressing. Sleep regressions may sound negative, but they reflect healthy growth and development and are essential stepping stones in your child’s life. With consistency and patience, you will be able to make it out on the other side without losing all of the sleep progress you’ve made. Today, I’m dedicating this post to discussing the 18-month sleep regression and tips to help make it easier!
18-Month Sleep Regression
This sleep regression can happen around 18 months- 2 years old depending on the child. This regression happens due to your child’s social and emotional growth and development as they navigate toddlerhood. As they grow, they may be introduced to new fears or anxieties that they may not yet understand. It’s common for children to experience night waking between their sleep cycles and have difficulty falling back asleep. It can be a confusing time and it’s important to provide patience, guidance, and support for your little one as they learn more about the world around them. ⠀⠀
During the sleep regression, you may experience more fussiness and protests, or your toddler waking up in the middle of the night hoping for soothing. Sleep regressions in toddlers can feel trickier than others have felt because your toddler has grown and developed so much in such a short span of time. This phase typically lasts from a few to several weeks. I’m sharing practical tips in this blog to help get through this sleep regression. The good news is that the 18-month sleep regression is one of the last ones you can expect- hang in there!
18-Month Sleep Regression Signs
- Resistance to naps or bedtime
- Crying during naps
- Taking a long time to fall asleep
- Trouble falling back asleep
- Increased fussiness and irritation
- Waking up in the middle of the night ⠀
- Separation anxiety
- Expressing fears ⠀⠀⠀
What Causes 18-Month Sleep Regression
Separation anxiety commonly impacts sleep in babies and toddlers. It’s normal for babies to experience separation anxiety, and then for those feelings to return around the 18-month mark. As you work through these feelings with your toddler, they will be able to develop a secure attachment and know that even when they cannot see you, they’re safe.
Teething can be super painful for your little ones, and the discomfort may wake them up in the night. There are many ways to soothe your child while they’re teething. It may feel like a disruption to your sleep progress, but working through these milestones and practicing empathy can go a long way.
Having a sick kid can feel like you’re going backwards in terms of sleep progress. The good news is that you can get back on track- after they’re feeling better. Focus on recovery, and then you can get back to sleep training.
Learning to walk
As your toddler hits big milestones and continues to gain more and more freedom in their skills, bedtime can feel like a downer. It can be hard to relax when they’re thinking about running around and playing with toys! Consistency with boundaries and expectations combined with patience is the way to work through your toddler testing bedtime.
Your toddler may be afraid of being alone in their room or may be experiencing nightmares. Night terrors and nightmares in toddlers can cause a lack of sleep during the night, or may make your toddler dread bedtime. Even if they’re not experiencing nightmares, they could be afraid of the dark or have other fears surrounding bedtime. There are many ways to help your little one combat these fears.
Changes at home
Your toddler is very perceptive to the world around them and can pick up on big life changes at home. A new sibling or a big move could send them into confusing emotions as they adapt to these adjustments. They may be fussier and test boundaries as a result of anxiety or mixed emotions.
How To Handle 18-Month Sleep Regression
There are many different sleep training methods that you can use to get through these tough times with your toddler. Even during a sleep regression, you can continue to create healthy habits that will support them as they learn the skill of sleep. Consistency is KEY. Remember- sleep regressions are a sign that your child is learning, growing, and progressing.
Help them conquer their fears
If your little one is afraid of the dark, or if something else is scaring them, there are different ways you can help them to feel less frightened. You can use fear spray (water and glitter) to spray their room before bedtime. You can also read them a book that addresses their fears as part of your bedtime routine. Giving them the tools to feel more equipped to work through their fears can help avoid a distressed toddler at night. There are also many sleeping products for toddlers to help create an environment that feels safe and calm to them.
Ensure a safe environment
This is especially important if your toddler is trying to escape their crib. With developing motor skills comes a new sense of freedom- they may be tempted to get up and play when you’re not around. Make sure all furniture is secured to walls, electrical outlets are covered, chords are wrapped, and any cabinets or drawers are locked. Making sure their room is toddler-proof will help keep your little one safe if they decide to test the boundaries.
Keep their routine as consistent as possible despite the challenges you may be experiencing. This will keep them from veering too far off the course of normal, and once you’re through the regression you won’t have to re-establish your routines. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that the best way to minimize sleep problems in children is to have consistent bedtime and sleep routines.
Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed
Screen time too close to bed can mess with your child’s sleep pattern. Blue light can delay the onset of melatonin and prevent your little one from getting quality sleep. Shut down screens at least an hour before bed to avoid an overstimulated toddler. Swap out their iPad or tablet with a book to help them wind down before bed. Not only will this cause fewer issues going to bed, but your toddler will also be much more likely to stay in bed too.
Drop a nap
Dropping a nap between 12 and 18 months is pretty normal. If removing a nap is helping them sleep better at night, it’s okay to take it out of their schedule. Managing nap transitions can feel difficult, and every child is different. When you find a routine that meets your toddler’s needs, their overall sleep will become much smoother.
When your toddler is staying awake all night, stay calm. Minimizing the amount of attention and drama that goes into these situations will make a huge difference in the outcome. Keep the talking to a minimum and calmly walk them back to their room. Setting clear boundaries and expectations without overreacting is the best way to shorten the length of a sleep regression. Offer extra positivity when your toddler stays in bed and introduce a reward for good behavior. Let your little one know how proud they made you for following bedtime rules!
I hope that these tips will help! If you and your child are still struggling to sleep after trying these methods, please reach out! I’m here to help you and your child get quality rest. I offer sleep consultations to strategize solutions that are customized to your and your family.