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. Babies experience a regression around 4 months and then another at 8, 9, or 10 months. Some experience a regression around 11 or 12 months. And as if that weren’t enough, most children experience sleep regression again at 18 and 24 months.
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.
What is a “Sleep Regression”?
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.
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.
Why is the 18 Month Regression One of the Hardest?
All sleep regressions are difficult and exhausting, but the 18 month 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.
Tips on Handling the 18 Month Sleep Regression
While there is no way to “fix” any sleep regression, there are steps you can take to minimize your baby’s sleeplessness (and your own!)
Again, part of this 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 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, 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!
Remember that this 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.
That said, be careful about chalking everything up to this 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. Consider purchasing a copy of our e-book The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep. Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.