You’ve made it out of babyhood and are onto toddlerhood! Many parents (understandably) hope that this is the end of sleep regressions and your good sleeper is going to stay a good sleeper. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t. If your sweet sleeper who has been peacefully sleeping through the night is all of a sudden waking up and crying and resisting or refusing bedtime and naps, you may be hitting the 18 month sleep regression.
This 18 month sleep regression can last longer than sleep regressions you’ve previously experienced because now that you have a toddler. And toddlers tend to be louder and more persistent in expressing their feelings.
Typically, this regression looks like random wake ups with crying, resisting or crying at bedtime that didn’t used to be there and resistance or refusal of naps. Let’s dive into some of the factors that contribute to the 18 month sleep regression and what to do about them.
What causes the 18 month sleep regression?
Beginning of independence
As babies become toddlers they start to understand and explore their own independent will and desires in a more pronounced way. This may prompt them to think that they don’t want to sleep a certain time and they will loudly and persistently tell you this.
A peak in separation anxiety
As little toddlers are exploring their independence it can cause a peak in separation anxiety because they become more aware of separations. This includes the separations at naptime and bedtime. It can often be met with tearful and loud goodbyes when your toddler was previously calmly laying down and going to sleep.
Toddlers need more activity during the day to help them feel tired for nights and naps. Low levels of activity can lead to more challenges falling asleep and more stamina to protest if falling asleep is not what your toddler wants to do at that moment.
Sleep needs start to decrease
Toddlers at this age often start to need more awake time to build up their sleep pressure enough to get to sleep easily. Additionally, total sleep needs can start to decrease slightly at this age, so expecting a shortening of naps or needing a slightly later bedtime can be appropriate.
What to do about the 18 month sleep regression
You want to ride this regression out with possible schedule adjustments to meet their new toddler needs and, of course, consistency.
Making sure you have timing right for sleep periods so their bodies can easily get to sleep and they feel sleepy when you get them into bed helps them be more willing to lay down to go to sleep. Wake windows tend to start increasing around 18 months old from about 3 to 4.5 hours between sleep periods to 4 to 6 hours between sleep periods. Increasing your toddler’s wake time between sleep can help them have more sleep pressure build up allowing them to fall asleep more quickly.
Undertiredness can be a culprit of some of the challenges parents experience around the 18 month sleep regression. At this age you also want to make sure your toddler has transitioned from 2 naps to 1 nap. Find the balance of your toddler’s appropriate wake times by gradually moving their nap a bit later every few days and see how it impacts sleep.
Typically at this age nap is at about 12:30. If there is still a lot of protest or resistance at this nap time, moving nap out by 15 minutes every few days until you are at a 1:00 or 1:15 PM naptime can help. The same goes for bedtime. Moving it gradually out about 30 minutes later can help. Ideally, try to adjust nap first and then bedtime if needed.
Get your toddler moving
With all the fun new ways of moving toddlers are learning — walking, running, jumping and climbing — there are plenty of ways to get in lots of physical activity during the day!
Get out and play hard for at least 20 minutes in the morning and the afternoon to help your toddler be ready for a rest.
Keep the bedtime ritual the same
Go through the same routine in the same order every night just as you have been. Your toddler finds comfort in routines and knowing what to expect. It is especially important before bedtime, the longest separation of the day, to help your child feel confident and comfortable.
Hugs and kisses and goodnight just like normal
If you have been giving your child hugs and kisses and then saying goodnight and leaving the room, you want to continue doing this. If needed and your child is very upset, intermittently check on them to reassure them you always come back and to remind them that it is time to lay down and sleep.
When you check in on your child, don’t change the rules by doing something you don’t normally do, such as picking them up and rocking them to sleep. Handle it as you would any other rough night that may be caused by overtiredness, overstimulation or something else.
Don’t drop the nap
It can be an exhausting battle to fight when your toddler is protesting their nap every day. My recommendation is continue offering the nap. Once you get through this regression you will likely have a napper for another year plus! (Minus the 2-year sleep regression, but we won’t worry about that now!)
Establish some dedicated one-on-one playtime
You want to fill your toddler up with your love and attention and one of the best ways to do this is through dedicated playtime. During this playtime with your toddler, they get to direct the play and you play along with them. You want to be fully focused and present with them. This helps them get really filled up and then they can more easily separate for bedtime.
Have this extra special playtime happen predictably at around the same time each day. This allows your toddler to anticipate it and can help with the separation anxiety and any boundary pushing coming from not feeling connected to you prior to sleep periods.
What if the 18 month sleep regression isn’t ending?
All said and done this regression can last between about 2 and 4 weeks. If you’ve been going through it longer than this there may be some other pieces of the puzzle that need to be put in place. Sometimes this happens because of inconsistency that occurred during the regression or sometimes the regression just brings to light some things that weren’t apparent before but need to be addressed.
If your previously easy, peaceful sleeper isn’t back within 4 weeks, and you need a bit of troubleshooting help, feel free to schedule a 30-minute Sleep Support call to chat through a game plan to get your toddler back on track or schedule your free evaluation so we can determine the best next steps to help you and your toddler get back to sleeping well.
To healthy and happy sleep,