Inside this Post: 8 Survival Tips for the 18 Month Sleep Regression. What is Happening at 18 Months & How to Help Your Toddler Through the 18 Month Sleep Regression.
Your child has been a great sleeper from the start. She’s easy to put down for naps and bedtime. She sleeps beautifully and most importantly, sleeps through the night.
You admit you might even humblebrag about how great a sleeper she is and give yourself a pat on the back that you’ve got sleep – one of the hardest baby milestones to master – under control.
And then, something changes.
Your little girl hits the 18-month-mark and turns into a toddler, who isn’t such a great little sleeper any longer. not for bedtime, not for nap time, and often wakes up multiple times, something you haven’t had to deal with up to this point.
Welcome to the 18 month sleep regression.
I know what you’re going through.
My sweet Juliette was an optimal sleeper who began to sleep through the night at 3 months old and never gave me a fit about any nap or bedtime, all the way until 18 months when everything related to sleep went haywire!
Wipe your tears Mama, because while the 18 month sleep regression is a doozy, it will get better.
What is a Sleep Regression
Many babies and toddlers go through sleep regressions at different points during their growth and development. Some babies won’t hit any or only a few sleep regression stages. (Those lucky parents!)
- 6 week sleep regression
- 4 month sleep regression
- 8-10 month sleep regression
- 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
The best way to deal with any type of sleep regression is to resist the urge to make big changes to the number of naps, your daily routine or bedtime routine, or the time you put your little one down for sleep.
Time is the best remedy in this case.
Sleep regression are temporary and most resolve themselves in a few weeks.
So, brew some more coffee and take sleep when you can get it, but know this sleep regression stage won’t last forever and more sleep is coming your way.
But first… here’s what you need to know about the 18 month sleep regression.
What does the 18 Month Old Toddler Sleep Regression Look Like?
Just when you thought you were in the clear to sleep through the night and have peaceful bedtimes, you get hit with shorter and erratic naps or refusal to nap at all, bedtime drama, sporadic night waking without any reason and even waking up early at times you haven’t seen since the early newborn days.
You might see some of these common sleep regression signs:
- Clinginess, and an increased need for more cuddle time and to be held from Mom or Dad
- Fussiness and cranky behavior
- Asking for more food or refusing to eat (changes in appetite can swing either way)
- Frequent nighttime waking
- Waking up earlier than normal (it could be hours earlier!)
- Resisting naps and/or shortening naps
- Bedtime drama
- Trouble falling asleep
- Acting out at sleep times (think defiant behavior or saying ‘no’ when it’s bedtime)
18 Month Sleep Regression: What’s Happening with Your Toddler at 18 Months
Sleep regressions are the perfect storm of events.
Remember the 8-10 month sleep regression? It was the perfect culmination of growth and developmental milestones at the same time.
Sleep regression unfortunately, true to it’s name, affect the thing little ones need the most… sleep.
Think about what’s going on at 18 months; your baby who is now entering life as a toddler, is learning new physical and language skills and reaching milestones almost daily. They’re also teething (the big, painful teeth like molars and canines are coming in around this time), and they’re begin practicing asserting themselves by saying ‘no’ or being defiant.
Around this age, toddlers want to try to feed themselves with spoons and forks, slide on their shoes by themselves, tug on clothes without a parent’s help, make choices about what they want to play with or don’t want to play with, and that includes when they don’t want to go to bed (even if all signs point to one overtired toddler who needs sleep.)
This means the 18 month sleep regression is a culmination – or “perfect storm of sorts” – of growth and their independent streak that when combined, lead to more bedtime battles and nap time struggles.
Why The 18 Month Sleep Regression is one of the Hardest
The 18 month sleep regression is one of the trickiest and hardest because while toddlers still need a lot of sleep, they’re also stubborn, crave independence and act defiant, which only gets worse because of their sleeplessness. It’s a vicious cycle of behavior and sleep problems at one time!
Here’s some more factors that contribute to the 18 month sleep regression that can make things worse:
Around the 18-month mark is when toddlers start to cut their first molars and four canine teeth. These are some of the biggest and most painful teeth to come in, and the discomfort can lead to problems going to sleep, and staying asleep. If you notice your little one chewing, putting things in their mouth or asking for more food, this could be because of teething related pain.
- Separation Anxiety
You thought separation anxiety was only for babies? Sure, while babies around the 6-8 month mark are known to experience separation anxiety, it’s actually the strangers from 10 – 18 months and can contribute to this hard sleep regression stage. Your baby could be resisting nap and nighttime sleep because they don’t want to be away from you, or are upset when you’re not nearby. The clinginess and needing to cuddle more regularly are part of needing you to comfort them and ease feelings or separation anxiety.
- Growth Spurt
Every child is different so the timing of growth spurts can vary from child to child, but many healthcare experts say the commonality of them appear around these ages:
- 7-10 days
- 2 weeks
- 4 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 8 weeks
- 12 weeks
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 8 months
- 10 months
- 12 months
- 14 months
- 18 months
- 2 years
Growth spurts can last as little as a few days or as long as a week. Commonly, parents say the biggest indication of a growth spurt is crankiness, and seeming extra hungry.
Children experiencing a growth spurt should eat more than normal so you can offer up higher protein snacks (not processed foods which are loaded with sugar and don’t satisfy them) and try to get the to sleep as much as possible. If you need, offer a filling snack before bedtime (and brushing teeth) to help curb hunger through the night.
Oatmeal, peanut or nut butter, and apple slices usually hit the spot.
I mention illness because it can be easy to mistake a sick child for one that’s going through a sleep regression at the time same. It’s easy to mistake them for one another because they look and act the same, but are completely different.
How To Handle the 18 Month Sleep Regression: 8 Tips for Survival
Don’t Give up Offering Sleep
It’s easy to think it’s time to stop napping or adjust the time your toddler goes to bed, but the best thing you can do right now is to stick with your routine (see #2) and keep offering the same amount of nap times and consistent bedtimes throughout this sleep regression.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children this age get 12 – 14 hours of sleep, spread between nap and bedtimes.
Sleep regressions can resolve themselves in as little as a week, but often last 3-4 weeks. Don’t be too quick to jump up and start making sweeping changes to naps (such as cutting them!) or bedtime right now. Wait until the sleep regression is over before you reassess and make a change.
Stay Consistent With Your Routine
The best thing you can do for your toddler while she goes through the 18 month sleep regression, is to stay consistent with your daytime routine (keep offering naps) and bedtime routine.
Maintaining your typical bedtime routine, such as winding down with a warm bath, cuddle time, book, sound machine and lovey to cuddle with in the crib, alerts your little one that it’s time to get ready for sleep.
If you’re unsure how or where to start with creating (or modifying) your current routine, this is an excellent resource with 40+ sample routines to help you through Kindergarten.
Keep a Solid Bedtime Routine
A predictable bedtime routine shouldn’t change, just because your toddler’s sleep habits have hit a snag. Remember, good bedtimes are consistent and short (30 minutes or less from start to finish.)
Offer an Extra Nap
You might have already found out that part of the 18 month sleep regression involves fighting nap times, (because when they’re so much fun to be had during the day, what toddler wants to sleep through it!)
If your child skips a nap, it’s OK to compensate by offering a small make-up nap so they still get some sleep and avoid over tiredness. Just make sure the nap isn’t too close to bedtime so it doesn’t interrupt going to sleep at night.
Don’t Over Explain or Try to Reason with Your Toddler
A Toddler at 18 months or even 2 years, doesn’t have the pre-frontal cortex development to have real conversations about the bullet points on the importance of sleep.
Simple explanations such as “your body needs time to recharge” or “it’s time for bed and I’ll see you in the morning” are enough at this age, even if you have to repeat yourself 15 times. When your toddler starts asking “why,” a simple explanations can diffuser bedtime drama and doesn’t need to go into the particulars.
Get Outside during the Day
The body’s natural circadian rhythm can easily get off track and disturb sleep cycles with electronics, screen times and bright lights. When you spend at least an hour outside, even if they’re in a stroller but exposed to sunlight and fresh air, it can help keep the natural sleep cycle in place.
Aim to get outside every day and if you can, limit exposure to screens and white lights (try out blue blocking light bulbs in your home once the sun goes down so not affect circadian rhythms.)
Try a Lovey or Comfort Object
If your child doesn’t sleep a lovey or comfort item yet, this could be a good time to try it out. When there’s something soft and comforting in their crib, it can help to minimize their need to call out for you at night when they reach out and snuggle with it for reassurance.
Add a Nightlight to the Bedroom
Around 18 months is the time when nighttime fears can begin. Put a soft nightlight in the bedroom so it’s not completely dark if they wake in the middle of the night, or need a soft reassurance as they fall to sleep. I have blue blocking plug-in night lights in the kid’s rooms so the amber light doesn’t hurt their natural sleep cycles.
When Does Sleep Regression End?
Every child is different and a sleep regression for some may only last one week, while for others, it can take several weeks (3 – 4 on average) for sleep and habits to resolve themselves. The key is consistency and staying calm while you get through this sleep disturbance, and behavior phase.
If several weeks have passed and sleep is still a problem, you may need to go back to your sleep training habits you practiced earlier, to help your child learn how to be a good sleeper again. Don’t worry, sleep training is always quicker and easier the second time around!
Need Extra Help with Routines or Getting Through the 18-Month Sleep Regression?
As a Mom who has been in your shoes, and with twins who hit every single sleep regression (at the same time,) I know how tired and frustrating it can be waiting for sleep to resolve itself.
If you’re looking for more help, I put together a few resources to help others parents through these phases including the Mastering Sleep & Schedules Routine Book (with over 40 sample routines) and the Sleep Regressions Help ebook.
One More Thing about the 18 Month Sleep Regression
Many toddlers will experience the 18 month sleep regression, but know that it won’t last more than a few weeks (typically) and will resolve itself. There are many factors that contribute to this toddler sleep regression including independence and defiant behavior, growth spurt, teething, separation anxiety and even illness.
Use the 8 sleep regression survival tips listed above, and most importantly, stick with a consistent daily routine and bedtime routine, to get things back on track. Don’t make any sudden changes to try to “fix things” and know that while this sleep regression is one of the hardest ones to make it through, you will.