18 Month Sleep Regression Is One of the Hardest

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18 Month Sleep Regression

Your sweet girl, who’s been sleeping peacefully at night for months, is suddenly waking multiple times each night and wailing loudly. Your little man, who’s been taking two nice long naps each day for ages, suddenly begins resisting nap time, refusing to lie down and go to sleep. Sound familiar? You may be experiencing the 18 month sleep regression.

If you’re the parent of a toddler, then a sleep regression is something you’re probably familiar with. After all, you’ve no doubt experienced the following sleep regressions:

4 month sleep regression
8/9/10 month sleep regression
12 month sleep regression (this one is less common, but your baby may have gone through it).

And if that’s not all, there’s a 2-year sleep regression, too!

So what’s a tired mom to do? This article will outline what the 18 month regression looks like, why it happens, why it can be one of the hardest, and steps you can take to survive it.

18 Month Sleep Regression Background: What is a “Sleep Regression”, Anyway?

Most people use sleep regression to mean that a baby or toddler, who’s been sleeping well, suddenly (often without any warning) begins waking frequently at night and/or refusing to nap during the day. These regressions usually last for a period of time (anywhere from 2 – 6 weeks), and then the baby’s sleep returns to its normal patterns.

18 Month Sleep Regression: Why 18 Months?

Every sleep regression can be connected to a baby’s mental and physical development at that particular age. The same is true of the 18 month regression. 18 month olds experience some developmental milestones that can, unfortunately, negatively impact their sleep.

  • Teething could be to blame. Around 18 months, children are cutting the 4 canine teeth as well as well as their first molars. This can cause discomfort that leads to disrupted sleep.
  • Separation anxiety is still an issue for toddlers at 18 months. Most babies begin experiencing separation anxiety around 7 or 8 months, and for most babies, the anxiety is strongest from 10-18 months. This can lead to disrupted sleep as well — your baby may resist naps because he doesn’t want to be away from you, or he may wake at night and become upset that you’re not in the room with him.
  • 18 month olds are gaining lots of independence and are able to do more for themselves. Children at this age are learning to feed themselves with a spoon, drink from a cup, build with blocks, and even take off some articles of clothing. This growing independence can lead to a stronger will, which means a baby may start exerting herself when she doesn’t want to go to sleep or stay in bed.

18 Month Sleep Regression: One Of The Hardest Sleep Regressions Of All

All sleep regressions are difficult and exhausting, but the 18 month sleep regression can be one of the hardest, for one simple reason — there’s a discipline factor involved in this regression that wasn’t present in the earlier ones. The previous regressions didn’t have anything to do with defiant behavior on your baby’s part, but this one does.

Being sleep-deprived always makes parenting harder. Add to this the fact that your 18 month old is likely starting to throw temper tantrums and exhibit plenty of defiant, oppositional behavior, and parenting can seem downright impossible! The stress of dealing with your toddler’s behavior compounds the exhaustion you’re already feeling.

What’s more, these two elements (your toddler’s newfound sleeplessness and your toddler’s oppositional behavior) can end up influencing each other. Your toddler’s willful behavior can lead him to refuse naps or to shriek stubbornly for you each time he wakes at night. And of course, the lack of sleep caused by this regression can make your little one cranky, which leads to more tantrums and temper fits.

18 Month Sleep Regression Tips and Hints

While there is no way to “fix” any sleep regression, including the 18 month sleep regression, there are steps you can take to minimize your baby’s sleeplessness (and your own!)

Again, part of the challenge of the 18 month sleep regression likely has to do with the fact that your toddler is heading into the “Terrible Twos” and is starting to show some downright awful behavior. This is the time to begin setting limits for your toddler and enforcing discipline. Not only will this help minimize sleeplessness, it’ll help you develop a good foundation that will make your baby’s twos and threes a little less “terrible”.

If you’re in the midst of sleep training when the 18 month sleep regression hits, you may wonder if you should just throw in the towel for awhile. We recommend that you don’t. It’s true that sleep training likely won’t produce fantastic results during this phase, but remember that you don’t want to promote bad sleep habits during a stage that is ultimately temporary. As Nicole says, “You don’t want to make or continue long-term habits for a short-term phase.

If your baby’s extremely resistant to naps during the 18 month sleep regression, you may feel tempted to just drop the nap altogether. Again, we recommend that you don’t. Most toddlers don’t drop their naps until between three and four years old, so don’t quit just yet!

Fall back on old sleep coaching techniques, if necessary. If you have successfully sleep coached before, try implementing old sleep coaching techniques to get you through this phase. Sleep coaching techniques like fading or check-and-console can help you survive the 18 month sleep regression without falling back into old patterns.

Remember that the 18 month sleep regression is a phase, and while it can feel like an eternity when you’re enduring it and may have you feeling even less confident as a parent, it won’t last forever. If your baby normally sleeps well and you feel confident that her recent sleeplessness is due to the 18 month regression, then be as patient as you can and wait it out.

18 Month Sleep Regression Help

That said, be careful about chalking everything up to the 18 month sleep regression (or any other regression phase, for that matter!) If your baby’s never slept well, and if you’ve spent the last 18 months waiting for your baby to outgrow her poor sleep habits, then you can’t blame everyone’s sleeplessness on the sleep regression. Instead, it may be time for you to tackle your baby’s sleep issues head-on. If you need help getting your baby sleeping better, not to worry – we can help! We have helped thousands of families around the world with their babies’ sleep challenges, and we can help you, too! Take a look at our consultation packages, and see which one looks like a good fit for you.

Click here to see all our personalized consultation packages.

Once you purchase, you will immediately receive access to the Helpdesk, and you can set up your account, fill out your Family Sleep History form, submit it to a consultant, and get started on the journey to better sleep!

Want more information about how personalized help works? Check out our FAQ page here, and get answers. You can also take a tour of the Helpdesk.

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A better night’s sleep could be just a few clicks away. So don’t wait – download now, and start your journey to better sleep tonight!
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Need Baby and Toddler Sleep Help? We Have the Resources You Need!

 
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Did your toddler experience the 18 month sleep regression? How did you handle it?

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38 Responses to 18 Month Sleep Regression Is One of the Hardest

  1. Margo says:

    My 18month old boy recently dropped his 2nd day nap and has taken some time adjusting. He has been waking more at night but is also sporting 8 new teeth (canines and molars) and counting which could attribute to the disturbance. It has also been super hot in our house (mid-summer johannesburg, south africa) which I thought could be a cause. It’s always so tricky to know why they wake at night but a regression could explain it. Fortunately it seems we are getting off lightly unless there is worse to come :)
    Thank you again for your enlightening articles and newsletters!

  2. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Margo — you’re right; it can be so difficult to pinpoint the cause of sudden sleeplessness on your son’s part. The three factors you mentioned (new nap schedule, teething, and hot temperatures) could all be working together to make him wake at night. Hope this phase is short-lived for you AND for your little guy!

  3. Liz says:

    A question rather than a comment – can the ’18 month sleep regression’ strike early, in anyone else’s experience? Our 16 month old transitioned to one nap a month or two ago, but the nap is a good one and a half to two and a half hours long (phew!). However, over the last few weeks he’s dropped to sleeping as little as 11.5 to 12 hours total in a day, so that can be less than 10 hours at night and he’s waking loads more again. I’m wondering if the brain being busy on the brink of speech makes it harder for them to switch off? + yet more teeth, of course!… Almost wish they were born with a full set so none of us had to go through the blessed teething…

  4. Clare says:

    Liz, that’s exactly what’s happening to me too! Our little boy is 16months now, he’s been down to one nap for a little while and has suddenly started refusing to go to bed and is waking up for hours during the night. It seems to take ages to wind his battery down at night, and I cannot persuade him to lie still and close his eyes! He used to just sit on my lap and close his eyes after his bedtime story and we’d lie him in his cot as he was dropping off – no problem. Not any more!!! Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!!! I’m just hoping he grows out of this frustrating behaviour soon…

  5. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Liz and Clare — I’d say that the 18 month regression could hit closer to 16 or 17 months (just like the 4 month regression can begin a little early or might not set on until 5 months.) So yes, you could be experiencing this regression! So frustrating, I know. I’d say that for both of you, if your boys normally sleep just fine at night and during their naps, then this is likely a regression and will pass in a few weeks, as all phases do. Of course, I know that the phrase “just wait it out!” is much easier said than done! Best of luck to both of you ladies :)

  6. Jennifer says:

    Well we are in the midst of this regression too. My daughter turned 16 months right before Christmas and its been downhill ever since. She has cut through all 4 molars and all 4 canine teeth since then along with 2 colds and a sinus infection. It’s been a rough 6 weeks to say the least. To top it all off we also have a 4.5 year old who sleeps in the room next to her sister who is very sensative to having her sleep disrupted by a screaming toddler and I work the evening shift and don’t crawl in bed until12:30am at best. I’m hanging on by a thread!

  7. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Jennifer — Oh, this sounds so hard! 6 weeks can seem eternal when you’re sleep deprived, can’t it. Here’s a suggestion — have you ever considered a white noise machine in your 4.5 year old daughter’s room, to block out the noise of your 16 month old? My boys (4.5 and 3) share a room right next door to my 7 month old daughter. I have them in both bedrooms, so that the kids can’t hear each other if one wakes up in the middle of then night. They’ve proven to be a lifesaver for us! We got ours at Walmart for around $20. Just an idea… Hope this phase passes quickly for you, Jennifer!

  8. Anne says:

    We are going thru the same thing with our darling daughter, 18 mos.. She started about 1-2 weeks ago.. .trying to make me chase her and catch her at nap time ( HAHAHA running from me saying ” NIGHT NIgHT NIGHT laughing) all while I am trying to remain firm and calm.. ( not laughing outloud) and then screaming when I lay her down.. She also has started waking up at midnight and screaming.. This can go on for an hour.. My husband and I take turns checking on her to make sure she is ok and not sick and then quietly ” shhinng her back to sleep”. Last night she woke at 12:10 am and FINALLY went back to sleep at 1:45 am.. She would wake up crying every 20 min. I think its her teeth! I gave her some tylenol to help her pain.
    She also takes FOREVER to wind down.. She used to pass out in my arms at 7:15 pm- 7:30pm ( after bath and book) NOW if I put her in bed at 7:45 or 8pm she sometimes doenst fall asleep until 8:30 or 8:45! We keep the routine and bed times/naptimes the same.. I hate to have her cry ! Any other suggestions from tired moms would be great! thanks. I can’t say enougth how much I love this website..

  9. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Anne — so nice to hear that you love the site! Thanks for the nice feedback. Yes, sounds like you’re experiencing the 18 month regression in all its glory! It also sounds to me like all your daughter’s newfound developmental milestones (her emerging language skills, her growing physical abilities, her desire to explore every.single.thing.in.sight., etc.) might be to blame, along with her teeth. Kids at this age are just little tornadoes of energy, aren’t they? And you’re right — it takes such a long time for them to wind down when they’ve spent the day in constant motion :) Best of luck to you, Anne! Hope this phase passes very, very quickly.

  10. Shannon says:

    My 19 month old has been in a regression for a while which could be due to alot of things but mostly I think it’s because she is already getting 2 year molars…..which by the way, are worse than all of the other teeth combined!!

  11. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Shannon — You’re right about that; the molars are the absolute worst. The only nice thing about them is that they signal the end of teething is near ;)

  12. Melanie says:

    I wasn’t sure what was happening with my almost-16-month-old until I read this article…now I’m wondering if it’s a sleep regression. My daughter has been sleeping on a very nice schedule for months, sleeping around 11 hours at night and one 2-hour nap. She’s slowly been taking a long time to fall asleep, but in the last week or two it’s been horrible! It took her 2 hours to fall asleep for her nap last week, and now tonight, it’s been 1 1/2 hours (fingers crossed…I think she’s finally just fallen asleep as I type this)! I hope this is a regression, so at least it’s only temporary.

  13. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Melanie — it very well could be the 18 month regression coming on a little early. It sounds like your daughter was on a nice sleeping schedule, which is fantastic! So I think you’re probably safe assuming that this is a regression and that it’ll pass in a few weeks. Best of luck to you! Hope you’re all sleeping better soon.

  14. Yolandi says:

    I am so happy that I found this site! Our little boy is 19 months now and used to be the best sleeper. He went down easily, had no trouble moving from two naps to one, slept straight through the night (from 6 to 6) and had a two hour nap each day. And literally, the next day, we couldn’t get him down till 8pm, he kept waking up at night and crying. I thought it might be the transition from a cot to a bed, but now I think it might be a combination of the move to a big bed and sleep regression. It has been 4 weeks now and he is only now slowly starting to wake less at night, but it still takes an eternity to get him to settle at bedtime. Best to wait it out it seems.

  15. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Yolandi — we’re glad you found the site, too! Welcome :) I think it’s safe for you to assume that your little guy is experiencing the 18 month regression, especially since his normal sleeping habits are so great. Good for you for being patient and waiting it out (even though I’m sure the past 4 weeks have felt much, much longer!)

  16. Lainie says:

    Once again, thanks for knowing what I’m going through when you write your articles, Nicole. :)

    Does this apply for a 22-month-old? My daughter has been waking at the same time most nights, standing and crying in her crib. Because this is so unusual for her, I’ve been going in there to comfort her.

    She’s stubborn and now wants me to hold her until she falls back asleep (which is short). Since I never do this kind of thing, I’m happy to.

    BUT, I think it’s causing more problems. Last night, for example, she went back to sleep when I laid her down. Then she woke up (or maybe she never fell back asleep – not sure) and was up talking, playing and singing for 3 hours! She does this quite often lately (and she did it sometimes as a baby, too).

    She is getting a molar. That doesn’t help. But I have a feeling it’s less to do with the tooth and more a sleep regression/habit.

    I don’t mind giving her snuggles, but I hate that she’s wide awake later. What should I do? And what makes her be wide awake at that point??

    Thanks!

  17. Wendi says:

    Ok, so my question is how do you handle a sleep regression without forming bad habits? My son has slept great for months, 11 hours at night and one 2.5 hour nap. The past few weeks he started waking up several times a night crying, i go check on him and reassure him (without picking him up), and then I leave the room. He’s back to sleep within 10 mins usually. The night wakings have started to get better. But naps are a disaster lately. He goes down ok, but then wakes up usually about 45 or so later screaming. I go pick him up and he goes back to sleep instantly. But will wake up as soon as I try to put him down. So I have resorted to letting him sleep on me. I’m really concerned I’m forming a bad habit, any suggestions?

  18. Liz says:

    Loving (and hating) this article! But this seems like my 17 1/2 month old to a T. He has recently started fussing when he’s put down for a nap or bed and he never gave much of a problem before. He wouldn’t always fall right asleep but he’d talk or play in his crib and then eventually nod off. Now most times when he’s put in his crib he wails, sometimes he falls asleep, sometimes he doesn’t! I thought maybe he was getting too much sleep so I tried dropping his morning nap but that didn’t seem to help things in fact it may make them worse sometimes. I’m thinking it’s a combination of teething and the fact that he’s more aware now that things are still going on while he’s in bed and he’d rather be with everyone else and involved.

    My main concern is nighttime waking… He will cry and scream and carry on for extended periods of time. And last night, for example, he started screaming at 1am or just before, my husband went in to check on him and 15 min later just brought him out of bed and downstairs. The little bugger was WIDE awake and was very content playing. I brought him back to his room around 2:15am, gave him a little milk and put him back to bed. He screamed for a minute or two then must have fallen asleep. I don’t want to let him up to play everytime he does this, but I also don’t want to have to listen to him scream for an hour! Not really sure what’s the best thing to do!!

  19. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Lainie — Glad you find the site and the articles helpful! Hard to know exactly what advice to give, when we don’t know more about your specific situation. If you think that snuggling your daughter in the middle of the night is actually making things worse (because it causes her to wake up even more), then maybe gradually extend the time between when you hear her start to cry and when you actually go in to comfort her? That might be a gentle way to wean her off of needing you to come in and snuggle.

    @ Wendi — it can be so hard not to start bad habits during these regression phases! Your nap situation sounds difficult; no wonder you’re frustrated! Maybe you could go and comfort your son in his room, but make sure that you put him back in bed while he’s still awake, instead of letting him fall asleep on you. Let us know what ends up working for you!

    @ Liz — I love your “little bugger” comment; I’ve thought the same thing about my two little boys many times! In terms of dealing with your son’s night waking, I think you’re wise to be wary about getting him up to play when he wakes at night. Maybe you could go into his room and comfort him there, so that he’s still getting the message that it’s bedtime and not playtime. Hope this passes quickly and you’re back to no night wakings very soon!

  20. Jaimee says:

    My 18 month old daughter has always either co slept with us or in the middle of the night come to sleep with us, which we are totally ok with. Recently, probably a good 3 weeks ago, she would wake up come in our room and not go back to sleep. First it was wanting a drink, which I felt like was my outlet to fully night wean her, so a drink she got a she would eventually fall asleep. Now it’s a million times worse. Last night, she woke up at 2 came in our room and thru a fit, layed down between me and my hubs but didn’t fall asleep until around 4. Then woke up at 7 wanting to watch baby Einstein. So I let her bc I was so completely exhausted. She fell back asleep until about 9am. So many things I hate about this, but more then anything I hate the sleeping in, which I am to blame for bc I don’t want to get myself out of bed like I should. Ahh..breath breath breath. At least she isn’t alone in acting this way.

  21. Jaimee says:

    Oh also, she is her normal sweet as can be self during the day and goes down for her nap easily. She naps 12-2, give or take. Night time briings out her alter ego haha.

  22. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Jaimee — you must be worn out! I always thought that nighttime sleep battles were worse than daytime ones; at least when my kids cried and carried on during their naps, I wasn’t trying to sleep in the next room. Not so at night! Hope your daughter gets through this phase quickly and that her “alter ego” disappears ;)

  23. Kristine says:

    I’m wondering if this is what we are going through with our son as well. He’s only 15 months old though but he went from sleeping through the night to waking up multiple times screaming. Last night he woke up 3 times between 7:30 and 11 pm and then he woke up at 5am and screamed for an hour. I’m sure teething is a large part of it (he’s getting 3 molars and 4 canines) but I don’t know what to do. If I don’t go in and settle him he just keeps screaming and screaming and I get no sleep – but I also don’t want to develop any bad habits (rocking him back to sleep) during the regression. Sigh.

  24. Leigh says:

    We just recently moved into a new house and with the move my 18 month old son was put into a room with his 4 year old sister and in a big bed. Before the move he refused to sleep in his crib and slept with me (while daddy slept on the couch) so naturally I was completely excited when we bought this house and he was going to be in a big bed in a different room and sleep all night. Boy was I wrong. He now wakes up 2 to 3 times a night and runs screaming through the house. I am not sure why he wont sleep all night. My husband and I have tried numerous things like: giving him a bottle of milk, changing his diaper and putting him back in his bed, turning on a movie, putting him in bed with us. NOTHING WORKS!!! HELP!!!!

  25. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Kristine — you’re right; it could be the 18 month regression coming on a bit early. No fun! But if he’s normally a good sleeper, then you can probably just try to “wait it out” as best you can (easier said than done, of course :) )

    @ Leigh — I had to laugh at the image of your little guy running “screaming through the house” in the middle of the night! Probably not as funny for you and your family, though, right? Getting a toddler to sleep in a big kid bed can be so, so difficult. We have an article on toddler night waking on the site that may help you: http://www.babysleepsite.com/toddlers/toddler-night-waking/
    Not sure if it’ll fix your specific issues, but it’s worth a shot! Best of luck to you.

  26. Erica says:

    My 19th month old has always slept very well at night, going down awake and sleeping through. The last couple weeks he is doing well at nap time (recently transitioned to one afternoon nap that is 2 1/2 to 3 hours) but will not go to bed at night. We are doing our normal bedtime routine but now he is standing in his bed, jumping and screaming. Tonight it took 1 1/2 hours before he finally exhausted himself and fell asleep. He is waking once in the early morning (around 3am) and we start the screaming over again. I have been doing the standard sleep training over again (let him cry 15 minutes or so, go in an comfort but don’t pick him up) and he stops crying and lays down the second I come in the room but is back up and screaming as I walk away. I don’t think he is teething as there are no other signs. You have told many other mothers to wait it out and the phase will end in a few weeks but what do you mean by “wait it out”? If pick him up and rock him back to sleep will I undo his good sleep habits and have to start over? I am not loosing too much sleep but it is killing me to listen to him cry especially since he has always been such a good sleeper. It doesn’t appear that anything is really wrong but the drastic change is making me second guess myself and feel bad for letting him cry. I really don’t want to introduce bad habits at this point :)

  27. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Erica — you must be so frustrated! I understand. In your case, it sounds like your son’s sleeplessness might be more of a boundary-setting issue than a teething/illness/etc. kind of issue. When you say that he stops crying the moment you come in the room and begins again the moment you leave, it’s sounds to me like he’s just doing his best to demand that you appear when he wants, where he wants. He’s not alone in this, of course; many, many 18 and 19 month olds exhibit this same kind of behavior! ;)
    I think you’re on the right track with what you’re doing — going into the room to comfort him for a few minutes, then leaving. Of course, doing that makes for a long night for you. But that’s a good approach, I think, if you don’t want to “undo” any good habits he already has. I think that if you were to rock him to sleep each night, or bring him into your bed, or something like that, you’d just end up prolonging this regression period, and he might end up forming some bad sleep habits and associations along the way. And what you’re doing is a nice middle ground between ignoring his cries completely and giving into them (by rocking him or sleeping with him).
    Of course, I know all of this is easier said than done! Hang in there; I hope this is over soon for you (and your son!) :)

  28. Betsy says:

    Really appreciated this article. Came and found it after another long night of little sleep, which has been the case with our 18 month old for a week now. He has always been a good sleeper, with little to no problem going down and staying down at night. Now, he fights going to sleep at night (unless we turn on the hall light) and wakes up at around 12:30 a.m. and screams, throws himself all over the crib, etc. When I go in, he literally clings to me to pick him up and refuses to lay back down. It is a long process of calming him down, getting him to lay down (without force), and having him stay there. We have begun rocking him to calm him down, laying him back in his crib, rubbing his back and then laying by his crib until he finally goes to sleep. The problem comes when he wakes back up again and so goes the cycle. I, too, am one who is a proponent of not starting bad sleeping habits, but here I am wondering what in the world to do while we wait this phase out. Seems to me from reading your article that we are facing the regression stage. Oddly enough, we never hit this with our other three sons! Any suggestions on what to do specifically at night when they wake and are “unconsolable”? I usually would let him cry for long periods and check periodically, but am afraid with his fits that he will hurt himself.

  29. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Betsy — glad you found the article helpful! From what you’re saying, it definitely sounds like you’re experiencing the 18 month regression, especially since your son is normally a good sleeper. I’d say that everything you’re doing here is good — soothing him so he calms down, but laying him in his crib and waiting for him to fall asleep on his own. Of course, after a week of that, you’ve got to be exhausted! Take heart, though; most regression phases don’t last terribly long. Here’s hoping your son’s past this soon, and that you’re all getting better sleep!

  30. Emma Loveridge says:

    Hi,
    So relieved to find this information. My Daughter is 17 months and has always been a good sleeper – happy to go to bed at night, no crying, slept through (7-6.30am) and also had a daytime nap of approx 2 hours. Recently this has changed and she doesnt go to bed well at night, can wake during the night and has been waking at 5am most mornings. If my husband goes in to settle her in the night she just cries, but when I go in she stops, then starts when I turn to leave the room, She has had some big teeth coming through and is chewing her hand through the day which indicates more teeth but the night waking and early mornings are hard. How long does this sleep regression phase last? and if it is teeth how can we help her settle? and could any of this be related to seperation anxiety and how would we know this? Please help! Thanks

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