The 18 Month Sleep Regression

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  • May 01, 2013

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You were sleeping peacefully…and then you hear your toddler. He’s not just rustling around resettling. He’s screaming mad. Literally. As you drag yourself out of bed, you wonder to yourself what’s wrong? What could be causing your toddler sleep problems? Could this be two-year molars? An ear infection? Is he gassy from eating too much broccoli at dinner? Is his newfound walking (or running!) causing this?

The answer: It could truly be any of the above. But it could also be yet another sleep regression. If you’ve survived this long without experiencing the four month or pre-toddler sleep regression, you’re lucky. If you have dealt with a sleep regression before (and believe me, you are in the majority here), maybe you remember the signs:


• Resistance to Sleep

• Waking at night

• Reduced naps (or “disaster naps”)

• Changes in appetite

• Changes in behavior


Sound familiar? Maybe you didn’t notice the signs this time, or you breezed through that last growth spurt. But this? This is something different altogether.


Why Another Sleep Regression?


If you recall, a sleep regression is a period when your baby, who was sleeping through the night (for an eighteen month old, this means 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night), and suddenly they stop. It is a temporary change, normally lasting anywhere from two to six weeks. Most of the time, your baby will begin to sleep through the night again once the cause of the sleep regression has stabilized.


What Causes a Sleep Regression at 18 Months


Your toddler is learning all kinds of new skills. Whether it’s drinking from a cup, using a spoon, helping choose activities, her world is expanding at a rapid rate. This can lead to increased anxiety and a need to be close to mom or dad. Additionally, your baby may be ready to drop to one nap, and is probably teething (some children will be getting both molars and canines…those pointy ones…at the same time. Ouch!). All of this is enough to disrupt even the best sleep habits.

When you look at all of the possibilities, on top of increased independence, you are no longer dealing with a simple sleep regression, you’re dealing with a little person who can choose to refuse to sleep. That’s right. Some children will consciously refuse sleep. It’s a control issue. Thankfully, this is temporary.


5 Tips to Help You Deal with an 18 Month Sleep Regression


1. Understand this is temporary.toddler tantrum

That thought alone may save your sanity when your child is crying and refusing to nap.

2. Do what you can.

If you have a very independent little one, they’re going to test, and that’s okay. Just do what you can to encourage them to sleep. Make sure you have good nap routines and bedtime routines in place, and stick to them. Try to adhere to your flexible schedule as much as possible. Understand that there are going to be some long days and long nights.

3. Make sure that your toddler gets their naps.

You may have to rely on the car, stroller, or literally run them ragged, but do your best to ensure that your baby is getting her naps. You’ll have less struggles at bedtime.

4. Fall back to the Shuffle.

When all else fails, remember The Shuffle. You don’t want to create a new sleep crutch that you’ll have to fix later. This sleep regression is temporary, and you want the sleep issues you’re experiencing to stay that way.

5. Communicate with your Toddler.

Remember, part of this is that your toddler is learning to assert himself. Be sure that you give simple instructions, and set boundaries with him to help him feel safe. Babies and toddlers need consistency.

Above all, remember that this change is temporary. Also, if your baby isn’t back to himself in a few weeks, please consider contacting his pediatrician to see if there could be an underlying medical issue.

Gentle Sleep Solutions

photo credit: thejbird via photopin cc

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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