Your little one has been sleeping peacefully through the night for months now, and all of a sudden they start fighting bedtime, waking multiple times at night and having meltdowns at the drop of a hat! Enter the 18-month sleep regression!!
What is a sleep regression?
A sleep regression (or what I like to call ‘Progression) is when a baby or toddler who was previously sleeping well (possibly through the night) for a long period of time and then, all of a sudden, without any obvious cause (like illness, common cold, travelling) their sleep suddenly goes all haywire.
Sleep regressions are often connected to your baby’s mental and physical development during that age. Developmental milestones can impact their sleep and cause frequent wakings during the night as a result.
Why does this happen at eighteen months?
Between 15 and 18 months is when your baby is graduating from ‘baby sleep’ to ‘toddler sleep’. Merging naps, molars coming through, separation anxiety at a high and an explosion of cognitive development – the perfect storm for sleep disturbances. Thus the eighteen-month sleep regression occurs.
This age is also when toddlers are figuring out ‘limits and consequences’ and are starting to assert their independence and gain their independence. What happens if I bite? Can I climb on the chair? Jumping is fun! How long can I jump? What happens if I throw a toy? What happens when I sign/ask for a snack? Can I make mummy laugh again? Can I have more books at bedtime?
Your child might be learning to feed themselves, drink from a cup, or other small independent leaps, which can lead to a stronger will. As a way to show their newfound independence, they might try to resist bed or naptime.
Teething can also impact sleep as around the eighteen-month mark, the four canine teeth and first molars will start to come through, causing discomfort and disrupted sleep as a result.
A second bout of separation anxiety can be to blame as well. While separation anxiety is usually experienced at around six – seven months, it’s often at its strongest from ten to eighteen months. As a result, your child might resist naps and bedtime because they don’t want to be away from you, or they may wake up at the night and become upset because you’re not there.
How to handle the eighteen month sleep regression
First and foremost, remember that this 18-month sleep regression will not last forever. This should actually be a temporary challenge.
Your toddler might have a true regression and get better with minimal effort after a rough week or two or they might get stuck in a bad pattern that will only get better with intervention. The key to getting back on track quickly depends on how you interact with your child during what can be a tricky time.
1.) Being Consistent
Having a consistent routine is the best way to handle this sleep regression. Your child might try to push to prolong or negotiate their bedtime routine, and it might be tempting to give in, but it’s important to set reasonable limits. Remind your child in a positive way! Make the bedtime routine sound interesting and fair.
As this is the first sleep regression where your child might be choosing not to sleep, try to let them feel some control over bedtime. Keep the routine set but try asking things about what they’d like to wear to bed, what book they’d like to read, etc. or give them jobs in the routine.
2.) Give Time to Practise New Skills
At around this time, children might have started to walk (or run!) and are beginning to say a few words. These exciting new developments may keep your little one from getting to sleep as they might be more interested in practising these new skills. By giving your child the time they need to walk and talk during the daytime, they will be less likely to stay up and do it while they’re supposed to be asleep!
3.) Limit Screen Time
At this age, your toddler might play around with an iPad or spend time watching the TV. Screen time is known to cause sleep disturbances in children so if you find your child is having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, consider how screen time plays a role in it. Avoid screens within two hours of bedtime and switch to a calm activity that they can do before bed.
4.) Age-Appropriate Sleep Schedule
During this time, bedtime is being moved up earlier to allow the transition from two naps to one. It can be difficult if your child is becoming overtired during this period, as they will have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep due to it. Ideally, once your child has transitioned to one nap, they should be awake for about five to six hours before the nap and then awake no more than five to six hours between nap and bedtime. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules and if your baby seems to handle bigger awake times, then it’s best to go on their individual tired signs and not so much the clock or set hours, especially leading up to bedtime. Some children need a 6.30pm bedtime and others are quite happy to go down closer to 8pm or 9pm.
5.) If You Need Help, Ask For It
If you feel that you need some extra help with getting through this baby sleep regression, hiring a My NewBorn Baby Sleep Consultant and receiving specialist advice can be the difference between night and day. You’re likely to find yourself just as exhausted as your child, and if you’re working at the same time, it might seem impossible to keep it all up. Sometimes, having professional assistance is what not only your little one needs, but what you need as well.
Feel free to reach out to your expert Baby Sleep Consultant in Sydney, Jennifer to help you through the 18 month sleep regression.