The 18 Month Sleep Regression
The 18 month sleep regression can be an incredibly tough phase for little ones, and parents, to travel through.
The intensity and length of this regression will differ depending on your little ones individual differences, however often it can last from 1-4+ weeks in total.
Despite the name, this regression can often occur from as young as 16 months old and may not occur until 22 months of age, so while we can't mark an exact date in our calendars and bunker down, there are things we can do to help ease our little ones through this regression and come out the other end, in one piece.
So, Why Does This Regression Occur?
Unlike the 4 month regression, there isn't one "specific" reason as to why this regression occurs, instead it is due to a combination of developmental leaps, growths and often teething that can compound and lead to a decline in the quality of your little ones sleep.
For some, this decline or regression in sleep may only cause a few sporadic overnight wake ups, however for some, it may lead to a decline in both day and night time sleeps as well as settling and behaviour.
When this regression begins for your little one, you may encounter:
Trouble settling to sleep
Early Morning rising
Catnapping during the day
Seperation anxiety or increased clinginess
Increase in tantrums and meltdowns
Like with other regressions and phases, this regression can be incredibly exhausting and testing, however now that you have a little toddler on your hands, it can take this exhaustion to a new level.
Your little one is striving for independence, their language is developing and they are wanting (and often demanding) to control parts of their routine and day. Your little's ones needs are now more complex and as such, their behaviour can be more testing and complex to manage as well. Throw this in with a lack of sleep and you can have a very tricky, irritable and tired toddler on your hands.
It can be easy to enter this regression and panic, especially when you have worked so hard over the previous months to set your little one up with positive sleep associations and routines. However, please know that this is just a phase and all this hard work won't be for nothing.
So, What Do You Do?
Unfortunately, there isn't any magical suggestion or tool you can implement that will "fix" this regression and it is important to remember that your little one is travelling through a complex and often overwhelming developmental period.
They will need your time, support, guidance and encouragement to progress through this regression and will often just need some extra cuddles to make it through.
However, many parents really struggle to see the light at the end of this regression and when you are sleep deprived and trying to manage a demanding, fussy and overtired toddler, keeping the faith can be tricky.
To help make this regression easier for you, below are four of our top tips to help you through this phase!
1. Foundations Of Sleep
When your little one isn't sleeping well, it can be really easy and tempting to resort to anything and everything that may help.
Some families will feel the need to resort to co-sleeping, rocking, bouncing or feeding to sleep in hopes that this will speed up the regression, or simply help settle their little one back to sleep.
This regression is not only tough on you, but also really tough on your little one so it is absolutely okay (and important) for you to provide extra comfort and cuddles when needed.
However, when there is already so much change occurring for your little one internally, doing your best to keep the foundations of their sleep and routine in place can act as a comfort for your little one throughout this regression and can also help to ensure no extra reliances or habits sneak in.
Many parents don't want to continue long term with habits that were needing to be used in the short term, so just be cautious of this as you move through this regression. For example, co-sleeping may be helpful now as it means you aren't needing to get in and out of bed to attend to your toddler, however is this dynamic sustainable long term ?
If you are finding that you have progressed through the 18 month regression, however now have a child who is really struggling to settle to sleep, nap during the day or is still needing intensive comforts and settling during sleep, you may like to look at purchasing Program 3 of our online sleep programs.
This program will help you to assess your little ones settling, routine and sleep environment and allow you make any needed adjustments and transitions, using kind and gentle methods.
You also receive full and unlimited online support for the duration of your program, so we are here to help you every step of the way!
If your little one is waking early or cat-napping, keeping the routine in place can be tricky, however I would still suggest to keep the breakfast time, nap time and dinner time all consistent. This helps to keep some routine for your little one and also helps to structure your day.
2. Persist With The Nap
Throughout this regression, some little ones may fight their day time nap and many parents can be tempted to give up on napping all together.
At 18 months of age, your little one will still need a day time sleep and without one, it is then normal for your little ones behaviour to further decline during the day, have trouble resettling, become overtired and for overnight wakings to increase. We do suggest to continue to offer this day time nap as most will continue to need a day time sleep until 2.5-3 + years of age.
You may find that your little one needs some further wind-down time in preparation for their sleep that involves quiet play time, such as book reading, and perhaps some extra cuddles. During this regression, I would also suggest to remove screen time as this can lead to over-stimulation and decreased sleep quality.
If your little one is still having trouble settling to sleep, you may also like to slightly adjust the time in which you are attempting the nap. So for example, if your little one is really protesting a 12pm sleep, trial a 12:30pm sleep instead and use this extra 30 minutes as further wind-down time.
3. Focus On The Cause, Not The Symptom
Many little ones will show increased fussiness, defiance and tantrums when progressing through this regression and as a parent, it can be really easy to become frustrated and your already frustrated toddler.
In the Toddler Life Program and Forum we are always talking about looking for the source and not focusing on the symptoms of behaviour.
For example, your little one fighting sleep or waking up overnight is simply a symptom of the developmental leaps they are progressing through.
Your little one throwing a tantrum, biting or hitting is simply a symptom of them being overtired, overwhelmed, frustrated and confused. While it would be easy to react to these behaviours, I encourage parents to look at finding the cause of the behaviour (such as being tired, hungry or overwhelmed) and aim to help improve or reduce this for your little one before then responding to the symptom.
If you feel you may like to have further guidance on navigating through these behaviours, then definitely look at purchasing the Toddler Life Program.
Once you have purchased the Toddler Life Program, you are also then able to join our Toddler Life Forum for 28 days FREE, to access tailored guidance and support.
4. Remember That It Is A Phase
For us and the boys, this regression went on for what felt like an eternity, however in reality it lasted for about 4 weeks.
Even though we knew it was a phase, there were absolutely really tough moments and even thoughts of "When will this end?!".
Just know, that it is a phase and your little one will settle back down into their normal sleeps soon.
Take this time to lean on those around you if necessary, or if you have a willing partner, tag team the overnight wakings and settling periods.
Many parents can panic that all their hard sleep with training work goes out the door when this regression hits and often this can leave you feeling deflated. However, this definitely isn't the case!
While your little one's sleep is disrupted currently, they still have an underlying foundation of sleep and those amazing positive sleep association you have implemented and created. Continue use these throughout this regression and know that they will still be there after your little one has progressed through this phase.
If you are going through this regression currently, hang in here! It will get better.