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18 Month Sleep Regression

Your baby has officially grown into a toddler and with that transition comes a lot of fun but also a lot of challenges!  One of those challenges being sleep. Typically, when a child turns around 18 months sleep troubles can start to occur, even in children that were amazing sleepers as babies. These sleep concerns may include a lot of protesting at nap time or bedtime, multiple night wake ups, or even early morning wake ups.

Why is This Happening?

Although this sleep regression is by far the most challenging, rest assure it is completely normal and temporary.  At this age, your child is going through many developmental changes and milestones.  He is walking, talking (well, babbling at least), sprouting like a week, likely protesting more and even throwing a tantrum or two. This regression has a lot to do with your toddler’s new-found independence. He is learning that he has opinions about things, and when things don’t turn out the way he wants them to he will want to express his dissatisfaction intensely.

Separation anxiety also comes into play here; your toddler may genuinely be distressed when you leave at nap time, or when you walk out of the room at bedtime. This is why it is so important to give extra love and attention to him during the day while he is going through this change.

Finally, teething can play a factor at 18 months – toddlers are often also cutting molars around this time. Try to treat his teething pain before nap time or in the middle of the night if it is waking him up.

How Long Will it Last? 

This is without a doubt the most common question asked about this regression. Parents want to know when they will get their perfect sleeper back again. Well, each regression length greatly differs from child to child, however this regression typically lasts anywhere from 2-6 weeks. I know 6 weeks of sleep troubles can seem pretty daunting, but keep reminding yourself that it is normal and temporary and there are things you can do to help your child get through it while keeping your sanity at the same time.

What Can I Do During the Regression?

Although the regression itself is temporary, any bad habits that are created during the regression can last much longer. It is important to continue a consistent sleep routine, and steer away from creating sleep habits you won’t want to continue in the future.

CONSISTENCY is going to be the key to getting through this regression. Although it can be tempting to shift around the nap or bedtime schedules to prevent a tantrum, it’s important to be consistent. By remaining consistent with the schedule and your response during a sleep regression, you are setting boundaries and letting your toddler know what behaviors are expected and giving them a sense of structure.

To support your child’s new sense of independence while at the same time setting boundaries and expectations, it can be helpful to allow them to make a few age-appropriate choices during their sleep routine. Allowing them to have these small choices encourages them to take ownership of their sleep process.

A few simple choices they can make may include choosing between pairs of pajamas or which book to read. I recommend giving them two options to choose from, for example, “Would you like the red pajamas or the blue ones tonight?” or  “Would you like this book or that one?”.

A Few More Tips

  • Create a bedtime routine chart with pictures on it to hang in his room. Go over the chart with him once a night before starting the bedtime routine. Toddlers are very visual learners at this age, and images for each step of the routine will help cue their minds and bodies that sleep is coming.
  • Limit screen time at least 60 mins before bedtime and 30 mins before nap time.
  • Watch the milk intake. Sometimes I have found that too much milk can create sleep problems for toddlers.
  • Avoid big changes like potty training or transitioning out of the crib during this time.
  • Sometimes bedtime needs to be pushed 30 minutes later at this age.
  • Give him lots of love and attention during the day and in the evening before bed.

Remember not every child will go through this regression, but I hope these tips help if you find yourself in a situation where your 18-month-old is started to struggle with his sleep. If it has been over a couple of months since seeing these changes and you are still struggling, reach out to us and we would love to help! 

About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

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Working with Shannon, I went from 2-3 wake ups every night to 1 or 0. She aligned the plan with my preferred sleep cycle. She was always coaching, never judging. Shannon was great, I have referred MANY people to her! That's the best testament to her work that I can give.

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