It has been months since baby woke you up crying in the middle of the night and this has given both of you a chance to get some well-deserved rest. All of a sudden, the baby starts waking up numerous times in a night and crying loudly. Your little angel then starts fighting you when it comes to bedtime, falling asleep, and naptime when they have peacefully been taking two long naps in a day. If this sounds like you, if you are asking yourself “What is 18 month sleep regression? Could it be happening to my child?” then you may have stepped into the 18-month sleep regression period. At 18-24 months of age, most children go through another phase of sleep regression while some kids just cruise right through without any problems.
An 18-month old child should get roughly 13-14 hours of sleep in a day translating into eleven uninterrupted hours of sleep during the night and roughly two or two and a half hours equating to naptime. At this age, most children will start taking only one nap in the afternoon.
Sleep regression manifests in different ways and you could find that an easy baby who has never given you any trouble when it comes to the sleeping routine, becomes more demanding when this phase begins. Some of the signs to look out for in 18-month sleep regression include:
Anything you do when trying to comfort your child at this point might prove futile leaving you worried and anxious. My son is almost getting to 18 months of age so I did all the research I could on 18-month sleep regression to prepare accordingly. He is currently a great sleeper but the upcoming 18-month sleep regression may be an intense one compared to what I have experienced so far.
Any alteration in your baby’s sleep patterns at this age can be caused by various reasons considering 18 months is an important developmental stage for your baby. He or she will need to adjust to several psychological and physical milestones that can bring about regression. So what are some things that signify what is 18 month sleep regression?
At 18 months, your baby is starting to gain a lot of independence and can do more by him or herself. At this age, your child is learning to feed by himself using a spoon, drinking from a cup, taking off some clothing articles, and even building with blocks. The child will also start developing relationships with other people aside from the parents making them less compliant to what the parent wants and more willful. The child could start exerting itself when he or she does not feel like staying in bed or going to sleep.
Even though children become more independent as they become older, they still need to preserve strong emotional ties with parents. Separation anxiety can actually become more intense between 10-18 months in children and then it can become harder for them when parents are not present or near them all the time. This insecure feeling can also manifest as difficulty sleeping because the child may want to stay with you instead of going to sleep.
At this stage, children are still experiencing teething with canines and molars sprouting from their gums causing constant pain if not mild irritation. This can result in your child becoming restless and fidgety. Teething is one of the primary causes of 18-month sleep regression specifically when oral soothing methods fail to alleviate their discomfort.
If the child is yet to transition from 2 naps a day to just one or is in the process of doing so, then this can be a cause of sleep disruption.
At around 18-months, toddlers go through a spike in their development. Transitioning to one nap usually has happened by that time and trying to get through the day on a single nap can be hard for the child. According to recent studies, the biological bedtime provided by your baby’s circadian rhythm shifts to later by as much as one hour during toddlerhood. This means the bedtime routine you have been using for months becomes ineffective. The circadian rhythm shift is quite challenging for parents because your child strongest urge to be awake often occurs right before their biological bedtime. The result of this is a toddler who is tired and cranky from having only one nap but is unable to sleep come bedtime. Worse still, you have a biologically tired child who is unable to sleep and now has extra time to kill. The child begins experimenting with its newfound skills and limits in addition to the separation anxiety. Natural wakings tend to happen all through the night at the completion of every sleep cycle and these problems could repeat themselves in the middle of the night for hours. It can be even harder for children who are yet to develop strong language skills (which is most children at this age), because you will not be able to interpret the cries as those of anxiety or hunger. Some children can have both these problems making it hard to determine how to respond to them properly.
Ensure you ask the child to sleep when he/she is ready to do so. Keep in mind the biological bedtime can shift by as much as one hour later when your child becomes a toddler. If the child is not ready to go to bed then any efforts you try will be useless no matter what you do. Do not put the child to sleep until you can clearly see he/she is able to sleep. The ideal way to find out your child’s bedtime is to take the average ‘fall asleep time’ from the previous week and put him or her down at this time. It can be a crazy figure like 10 p.m. but if this is the time he/she usually falls asleep, then you are better off starting from there. After the baby starts falling asleep quickly after your own routine, then you can slowly move bedtime earlier by roughly 20 minutes daily. When you reach a time that works for everyone, stick to it, and avoid varying bedtime every night by more than 30 minutes.
Life changes may be unavoidable such as the arrival of another sibling or moving to a new house. However, if your child has problems with sleeping or you want to make changes to his/her sleep experience, you are better off making them before 18 months of age or waiting until the period ends.
During this transition, toddlers usually want to have an active role in all their experiences. Even though you should keep a consistent bedtime routine, ensure you put in some opportunities for your child to participate in the process actively. You can give your baby 2 options of pajamas and ask him or her to choose one. You can also ask the baby to get his or her toothbrush from the cabinet, move the stool to the sink, or have the child find and move his lovey or comfort object into his crib. This gives the child some form of the control he/she is looking for while enabling you to preserve limits and predictability. Limits are reassuring to the child because they let him or her know that you are capable of handling any situation, bedtime included.
If your personal bedtime routine is changing every day or does not have a specific end then it will be hard to convince your little one that there is a reason to stop engaging with you or doing what they are doing. Giving in occasionally can actually be quite reinforcing so negotiating with the child could end up backfiring eventually i.e. reading them one more book with the promise that they will go to bed afterwards. It can be beneficial to have a bedtime checklist complete with pictures; glue the pictures in the steps on some cards that the child can place in an envelope after completing each step. Once the routine comes to an end, you are not allowed to give in with any more activities, snacks, or books. You can be in the room with your child during the routine but you should establish that he or she follows the sleep rules afterwards.
When worse comes to worst, you may have to re-sleep train because of something as small as a short cold which can throw off the child’s sleeping patterns. Big sleep regressions like the one occurring at 18 months can do some damage but you can get back on the bandwagon. Give it a few weeks to work itself out and if the toddler is still having a hard time with sleep, try sleep training to get things back to normal. Chances are it will be easier this time around because you have done it all before.
I hope you found the answers you were looking for in “What is 18 month Sleep Regression.” Please comment below on your experiences!