The 18 month sleep regression can be a challenging time for parents. Your once great sleeper suddenly starts waking frequently at night and taking short naps. This can leave you feeling exhausted and frustrated. But there are things you can do to get through this phase smoothly and help your toddler get back to a good sleep routine. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about the 18 month sleep regression, why it happens, and how to handle it.
What is the 18 Month Sleep Regression?
The 18 month sleep regression is a temporary disruption in a toddler’s sleep patterns that typically occurs between 16 and 18 months of age. It involves frequent night wakings, early morning wakings, and shorter naps.
Some key signs of the 18 month sleep regression include:
- Waking up multiple times per night crying or calling out
- Difficulty falling back asleep without comfort from a parent
- Waking very early in the morning, before 6am
- Napping for shorter periods and refusing to nap some days
- Seeming overtired, fussy and cranky
Experts don’t know exactly what causes sleep regressions at this age. Contributing factors likely include:
- Cognitive Development: At this age, toddlers experience substantial cognitive growth. Their little brains are making big developmental leaps. With this comes restlessness at night.
- Separation Anxiety: Around 18 months, separation anxiety and attachment to parents peaks. Your toddler may call for you more often at night.
- Sleep Cycle Changes: Toddlers transition from two sleep cycles to one. Waking between cycles causes disruption.
- Sleep Association: If your toddler relies on feeding, rocking, etc to fall asleep, losing those associations at night causes wakings.
Regressions generally last 4-6 weeks as your toddler’s brain and body adjusts. Have patience, the phase will pass!
When to Expect the 18 Month Sleep Regression
The 18 month sleep regression tends to occur sometime between 16 and 18 months. However, it may start as early as 14 months or after 18 months for some toddlers.
Some signs your little one may be approaching this sleep regression:
- They recently dropped to one nap per day.
- They are walking well and increasingly more mobile.
- Their language skills are rapidly expanding.
- They are displaying signs of separation anxiety.
Babies often begin sleeping through the night around 4-6 months old. Then between 16-18 months, they hit this regression and night wakings reemerge. If your baby never consistently slept through the night, you may not experience a regression. But their sleep at this age will still likely be disrupted.
Regressions can recur at other ages too like 9 months, 12 months, and 24 months. But 18 months seems to be the most universally difficult period for sleep.
Understanding Your Toddler’s Sleep Needs
To set your toddler up for sleep success during and after the regression, it’s key to understand their sleep needs at this age:
- Daytime sleep: Most toddlers need about 1-2 hours of daytime sleep. This is typically one nap that may shorten to 30-90 minutes.
- Nighttime sleep: Toddlers need 10-14 hours of sleep total in a 24 hour period. So aim for 9-12 hours at night.
- Bedtime: Between 6-8 pm is ideal for toddlers. Set an early, consistent bedtime.
- Waking: Expect night wakings but aim to have your toddler fall back asleep independently.
- Routine: Follow the same sequence of steps before naps and bedtime. Consistent routines are calming.
Knowing these guidelines can help you troubleshoot sleep issues during the regression. For example, an early bedtime prevents overtiredness even if naps are short.
Why Does the 18 Month Sleep Regression Happen?
There are several key factors that contribute to the 18 month sleep regression, including:
Around 18 months, toddlers experience a peak in separation anxiety. They become very attached to their primary caregivers. When left alone at night, their anxiety spikes, causing frequent wakings.
Sleep Cycle & Stage Changes
Our sleep cycles between non-REM and REM sleep. Toddlers transition from two sleep cycles to one. Waking between cycles leads to disruption.
Rapid cognitive development happens at this age. Toddlers brains are highly active processing new skills. This mental stimulation disrupts their sleep.
If your toddler relies on you to fall back asleep by feeding, rocking, etc., they will need you when they naturally rouse between sleep cycles.
Once toddlers can walk well and climb, they become curious to explore at night when it’s quiet. This leads to wakings.
While all toddlers go through similar development at this age, the extent of sleep disruption varies. Know it’s temporary!
Signs Your Toddler is Ready to Drop to One Nap
The 18 month sleep regression often coincides with toddlers transitioning from two naps to one. Here are signs your little one may be ready for this milestone change:
- Naps are only 30-45 minutes long.
- Your toddler fights or refuses the second nap, no matter how early it’s scheduled.
- They can stay awake for 6 hours in the morning but get tired after 4 hours in the afternoon.
- Your toddler takes 30 minutes or more to fall asleep for naps.
- They seem wide awake if their second nap ends after 3 p.m.
- Bedtime is a struggle and happens later than ideal.
If you see these signs, try gradually transitioning to one longer nap for 1-2 hours. Schedule it roughly mid-day based on when your toddler shows signs of tiredness. The timing may vary day to day. Consistent bedtime/wake time matter more.
Stick with two naps if your toddler still clearly needs two based on their night sleep and temperament during the day. Every toddler has a unique timeline for dropping a nap.
7 Tips to Handle the 18 Month Sleep Regression
The 18 month sleep regression is temporary. Try these tips to help your toddler (and you!) get as much sleep as possible until it passes:
1. Maintain an age-appropriate schedule.
Ensure your toddler’s schedule aligns with the sleep needs described above. An overtired or undertired toddler will struggle more with the regression.
2. Choose an appropriate, earlier bedtime.
Put your toddler to bed between 6-7:30 pm. This gives them a chance to get sufficient sleep before an early waking.
3. Develop a consistent, calming bedtime routine.
Do the same activities in the same sequence before bed e.g.; bath, pajamas, books, lullaby. Routines signal sleep time.
4. Limit daytime sleep to preserve nighttime sleep.
Cap naps at 1-2 hours max. Waking your toddler after 90 minutes completes one sleep cycle to prevent overtiredness.
5. Set limits around night feeds.
Only provide essential feeds on a set schedule vs. feeding to sleep. Gradually night wean if you’re comfortable.
6. Implement a graduated extinction method.
Allow your toddler 5-10 minutes to try to self-settle before checking briefly. Repeat as needed.
7. Reinforce independent sleep associations.
Use a lovey or sleep sack to help your toddler self-soothe in place of parent associations.
Stay consistent so your toddler learns new sleep skills during the regression that become healthy habits. Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns.
How to Handle Night Wakings During the Regression
Frequent night wakings are hallmark of the 18 month regression. Try these tips for handling middle-of-the-night wakings:
- Go in immediately if your toddler seems distressed, hurt or sick. Otherwise, pause 5 minutes before responding.
- Keep interventions brief and boring. Avoid turning on lights, playing, or lengthy cuddles.
- Remain calm and consistent. Reassure them verbally you’re there but they’re okay.
- Don’t take your toddler out of the crib if possible. This reinforces self-soothing skills.
- Avoid nursing/bottle feeding to sleep. Stay matter of fact.
- Consider going in at progressively longer intervals if wakings continue.
- Stick with the same plan for 5-7 nights before making adjustments. Consistency is key.
While many regressions involve crying when your little one wakes up, know that you’re teaching important sleep skills during this phase. Offer support while still setting limits.
Managing Early Morning Wakings
Early morning waking before 6 am is another frustrating regression symptom. Try these tips for handling early risers:
- Use darkening curtains/blackout shades to dim the room.
- Schedule naps to end by 3 pm so they don’t interfere with night sleep.
- Move bedtime 15 minutes earlier if needed.
- Consider a later, more appropriate wake time based on your toddler’s age.
- Use white noise to drown out early morning noises.
- Keep morning feedings boring and basic. No play or prolonged cuddling.
- Enforce quiet, calm play if your toddler won’t go back to sleep.
Aim to have your toddler sleep until a developmentally appropriate time for wakefulness. For toddlers, a reasonable wake-up time is between 6-8 am.
What to Do When Naps Are Short & Refused During Regression
The 18 month sleep regression often involves nap challenges like:
- Naps only lasting 30-45 minutes.
- Refusing the second nap completely.
- Taking a long time to fall asleep.
Tips to handle tricky naptimes during the regression:
- Move to one nap if your toddler resists the second nap for 5+ days.
- Schedule the one nap based on your toddler’s signs of tiredness.
- Cap daytime sleep at 1-2 hours so it doesn’t interfere with night sleep.
- Use a calm, predictable nap routine to set the stage for sleep.
- Try patting/shushing your toddler to sleep if needed.
- Accept shorter naps as a temporary regression phase.
Prioritize night sleep over perfect naps. Get outside morning and afternoon to burn energy since naps may be light. The duration should improve after the regression passes.
Resetting Your Toddler’s Sleep Schedule After the Regression
Once your toddler emerges on the other side of the 18 month sleep regression, it’s a great time to reset sleep habits and get onto an age-appropriate routine. Here’s how:
Schedule one nap based on when your toddler shows signs of tiredness. This is typically mid-day.
Keep naptime to 1-2 hours max. Cap day sleep to prioritize nighttime sleep.
Choose an appropriate bedtime between 6-8 pm. Earlier is better to avoid overtiredness.
Set a consistent wake time between 6-8 am. Use light to signal morning to your toddler.
Implement a calming bedtime routine to cue sleep e.g.; bath, massage, pajamas, song, story.
Help your toddler learn to fall asleep independently by using gradual extinction strategies like timed check ins.
Set limits around night feeds to wean off association of eating with sleeping.
Stick with the schedule, routine and limits for 2-3 weeks to cement new sleep habits after the regression passes.
Why Routines Are Important After the Sleep Regression
Consistent sleep routines become even more important for your toddler after handling the 18 month sleep regression. Routines:
- Provide predictability and comfort after a period of frequent wakings.
- Help reinforce a healthy sleep schedule now that naps have decreased.
- Give toddlers a sense of control over going to sleep when done consistently.
- Set the stage for self-soothing skills to develop when paired with graduated extinction.
- Serve as cues your toddler can eventually associate with sleep as they become familiar nightly activities.
Ideally, your toddler’s bedtime routine will be:
- Relaxing activities: Like bath and massage which lower energy and anxiety.
- Hygiene tasks: Such as brushing teeth which signal getting ready for bed.
- Calming transitions: Like putting on pajamas and reading books which cue sleep is close.
- Soothing setting: Dim lights, white noise, and songs ease the shift to slumber.
Follow the routine in the same order nightly in the 30-60 minutes leading up to lights out. Routines prepare your toddler for restful sleep.
Tips for Managing Toddler Sleep & Behavior After Regression
In the weeks following the 18 month sleep regression, your toddler’s behavior and temperament may still be impacted as they regain their footing. Try these tips:
- Expect more crankiness and emotional outbursts after poor sleep. Respond gently and with empathy.
- Add extra outside time or activities to burn energy since naps are shorter.
- Replenish your own cup by trading off childcare duties with your partner.
- Prepare for night wakings or early mornings but remain consistent in your approach.
- Accept regression-related behavior issues will improve with time as sleep stabilizes.
- Avoid bedtime battles; use distraction and acknowledge feelings.
- Add elements of choice/independence into the routine to encourage cooperation.
- Offer extra cues it’s sleep time like putting pajamas on after dinner.
- Watch for signs of undertiredness too; adjust schedule accordingly.
With your support, your strong-willed toddler will bounce back from lost sleep and be sleeping soundly again soon! Consistency and self-care get everyone through regressions.
FAQs About the 18 Month Sleep Regression
How long does the 18 month sleep regression last?
For most toddlers, the 18 month sleep regression lasts about 4-6 weeks. It may be a little shorter or longer. Try to wait it out a few weeks before making dramatic changes.
How do I stop the 18 month sleep regression?
There’s no instant fix to end the regression. You have to ride it out while implementing good sleep habits and independent sleep training. Be extremely consistent and it will pass sooner.
Should I drop to one nap with the 18 month sleep regression?
If your toddler fights the second nap for 5+ days in a row, it likely means they are ready for one nap. Try dropping it gradually and watch how they do. Stick with two if they still seem to need it.
What week is the 18 month sleep regression the worst?
There’s no set progression for regressions. They come and go in phases. Weeks 2-4 are often most challenging. But every toddler’s experience is unique so hang in there however long the rough patches last!
At what age does the 18 month sleep regression end?
Most toddlers emerge from the 18 month regression sometime between 18 and 20 months of age. The timeline varies though depending on when various developmental milestones like dropping a nap occur.
The 18 month sleep regression can make an already challenging period with a toddler feel even more exhausting. But by understanding the causes, implementing good sleep habits, allowing your toddler to learn to self-settle, and being patient, you’ll both make it through this temporary disruption. Focus on consistency, meet night wakings with empathy but firmness, watch wake windows, and lean on your support system. The regression will run its course and you’ll have your great little sleeper back before you know it!