Your little one has developed from an adorable, squishy baby into an adorable, active toddler. They are full of personality and keep each day entertaining.
Suddenly, though, your child is 18 months old and it seems like those days are never-ending because your sweet angel simply will not go to sleep. (A feeling hard to relate to, since you would give anything to curl up in a nice warm bed…)
Short of investing in coffee and under-eye creams, what can a parent do? And why did your previously snoozing toddler begin this sleep boycott out of nowhere? The answers to these questions as well as ones you’re currently too tired to think of await you below.
Considered by some to be the toughest of the typical baby and toddler sleep regressions, the 18-month sleep regression is a time when your toddler might go from sleeping pretty well both day and night to protesting sleep or waking frequently.
Your child may sometimes refuse to nap or sleep at all. This can come on quickly and for seemingly no reason.
As you see this begin to happen, it may jog memories of sleepless nights and bedtime battles back when they were around 4 and 8 months old. This sleep regression brings an added challenge because now your toddler has more to say and they’ve come a long way in learning to express their wishes!
While you likely did not have to think about explaining the importance of sleep to your 8-month-old or worry that your 4-month-old would figure out how to crawl out of their crib, your 18-month-old’s broader skill set can make this sleep regression more challenging.
With their heightened sense of independence and more advanced motor skills, the 18-month sleep regression generally requires a little more diplomacy and creativity than was necessary in the past. It’s nothing a sense of humor and a strong cup of coffee can’t get you through though!
It can differ greatly depending on the child, but typically the 18-month sleep regression lasts anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks.
Before getting too scared by the thought of 6 weeks of restless sleep, keep in mind that some children may never experience it or experience it only for a short time.
Like all sleep regressions, the 18-month sleep regression is very personal in how long it sticks around. Following some of the tips below may help keep it on the shorter side!
Although it’s called a sleep regression, take heart that this temporary change in sleep patterns is actually a sign of your child’s growth and development!
Sleep regressions are frequently associated with brain development and physical milestones, and the 18-month sleep regression is no different.
You may have noticed your child sprouting up like a weed or sporting a grin with a few more teeth. Growth hormones released in the body to help your child get bigger can actually disrupt your child’s sleep cycles. And teething is notoriously uncomfortable. So you can partially blame that new height and those sharp new teeth for a few less restful nights.
As part of their social-emotional growth around 18 months, your child may be experiencing a return of some separation anxiety. This can lead them to become concerned when parents and trusted caregivers leave them alone to sleep.
Your child may also seem a little more willful as they have a stronger desire for independence and a greater sense of self, which can lead to some protests if sleep is being chosen for them over something else they would like to do!
First and foremost, remember that this 18-month sleep regression will not last forever. This should actually be a temporary challenge.
Bad habits created during this time can last much longer than the sleep regression itself though, so it’s important to try to avoid falling into routines you won’t want to continue.
Support your child in getting the sleep they need during this sleep regression without throwing out the schedule and any sense of consistency.
If you’ve used a sleep training method like cry it out or the pick-up, put-down method in the past, you may wish to revisit that process now. If your child has a bedtime routine that you use regularly, it’s important to continue to use it.
If you’ve never established a bedtime routine, now would be a great time to do so. This routine will give your child a predictable pattern to help prepare them for sleep, and it doesn’t have to be elaborate.
A simple routine of bathing, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a book, and singing a song will do the trick.
Although it can be tempting to shift around the nap or bedtime schedule to prevent a fuss, it’s important to be consistent. By remaining consistent even during a sleep regression, you’ll show your toddler what behaviors are expected and give them a sense of structure.
Sticking to schedules can make it easier to return to normal after the sleep regression.
To support your child in feeling a sense of independence within this structure it can be helpful to allow them to make age-appropriate choices during their sleep routine.
Some simple choices they can make include choosing between pairs of pajamas (“Would you like the red pajamas or the green ones?”) and bedtime books (“Would you like this book or that one?”)
If your toddler would rather fuss than make a decision, calmly model for them choosing one of the options. (“Red is my favorite color, so I choose that one. Here we go — let’s put our arm in here.”) Staying calm in the face of tantrums and modeling appropriate behaviors helps your child learn.
At 18 months of age, your child should be getting around 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours. That might take the form of 1 1/2 to 2 hours of napping in the afternoon and 10 to 12 hours of sleep through the night.
While every child can have different personal sleep style and needs, it’s important to aim for a healthy amount of sleep each day, even during a sleep regression. Insufficient sleep can lead to extra tantrums and make it even harder to fall asleep, which isn’t fun for anyone!
- Take a deep breath! The calmer and more relaxed you are, the calmer and more likely to sleep your toddler will be.
- Limit screen time. If you allow your toddler to watch television, YouTube videos, etc., consider not allowing this during the last hour or two of their day and before nap(s). And definitely avoid showing anything on a screen once they’re in their crib or toddler bed.
- Stick to the basics for their bedtime routine. No need to get too fancy. The goal isn’t to create more distractions from sleep. And once a routine is established, make sure to use it consistently.
- Avoid big changes. Now is probably not the time to start potty training or testing out a new big kid bed. Keep it simple until sleep cycles are reestablished.
Just as you made it through your child’s 4- and 8-month sleep regressions, have confidence you’ll make it through this. Remain consistent with sleep times and routines and you’ll get back on track with sleep without creating bad habits you’ll have to break.
If nothing else, remember this short window of time offers a great excuse to invest in that fancy coffeemaker you’ve had on your wish list!