18 Month Sleep Regression Guide [7 Proven Tips + Infographic]
Does this sound familiar?
You've made it through the tiring and demanding newborn months, and just when you feel like your body is getting used to regular sleep again - your bundle of joy becomes a toddler.
Late-night Google searches reveal something called "18 month sleep regression", and it's beginning to all make sense.
But rest easy because, in this guide, we'll explain what's happening to your baby and the practical steps any parent can take to resolve sleep disruptions.
What is sleep regression?
Sleep regression in an infant or toddler is when established sleeping patterns are temporarily interrupted by a period of night waking or refusing to go to sleep. While not all toddlers experience sleep regression, this is a common and normal part of your child's development.
The telltale signs of 18 month sleep regression
Parents should be on the lookout for these signs of sleep regression.
- Increased resistance to going to bed at night and for nap time
- More demand for attention before bedtime - think cuddles and clinginess
- More attitude and drama around the entire sleep experience
- Increased night waking
- A more challenging time getting your child back to sleep once awake
- Shifting sleep patterns, such as waking up earlier
- Increased separation anxiety
How long should a toddler sleep?
According to a scientific study from the National Sleep Association, it is recommended that toddlers sleep around 11-14 hours a day - typically a nap plus a longer nighttime sleep.
But, as we always try and reinforce, every child is different. Once again, rigorous studies reveal that there is a lot of variability in childhood sleeping patterns.
As a parent, embrace the fact that what seems abnormal is often completely normal.
How long does 18 month sleep regression last?
If you scrolled to this question with panic - you can rest a little easier knowing that if your toddler does suffer from sleep regressions at 18 months, they typically only last 2-6 weeks.
How you deal with the experience will play a big role in how long the sleep regression lasts.
Through a lack of understanding or desperation, some parents make the problem worse by creating new dependencies. Through understanding, parents can instead use tried and trusted strategies to ease their little one back into a positive sleep routine.
What causes 18 month sleep regression?
It is widely understood that sleep regression in toddlers is a natural result of physical and mental development. Some of the most common causes include:
- Teething - teeth (particularly molars) developing and breaking through the gum line can be very painful and uncomfortable for your little one.
- Testing boundaries - your child's personality grows with their body, and independence is a big part of this development. As they can do more for themselves, their willpower grows, and you may feel the brunt of it at sleep time.
- Separation anxiety - your child loves and needs you - this is what every parent wants except when separation anxiety strikes, like when they wake up and you aren't there.
- Shifting sleep cycles - parents will notice that their toddler's nap times change over time. A toddler gets tired after around 5 hours - if they stay awake longer or wake from naps earlier, this can have a knock-on effect on the bedtime routine.
- Hunger pangs - some toddlers start to get hungry later in the day or even at night. A bedtime snack or a bigger dinner-time meal may help.
Your toddler's sleep disturbance may also be a combination of the above.
For example, your toddler discovering the power of "no" at bedtime can lead to tantrums and less sleep. The next day, because of the lack of sleep, they're in an even worse mood and even more adorably defiant.
You, as the parent, can also be a factor. As you struggle to sleep, your exhaustion may make you cranky too!
We don't want cranky children or parents, so let's take a look at some practical tips to end 18 month sleep regression as quickly as possible.
7 proven 18 month sleep regression tips
We know how hard toddler sleep regressions can be on parents, but you can get your child sleeping peacefully again in just a few weeks by following the right tips.
Here are seven tried and trusted tips to get your family's sleep patterns back to normal.
#1 - Prioritize napping
At 15-18 months, most toddlers transition from two naps a day to one - life is becoming a lot more fun, and they don't want to miss out on anything!
As with everything at that age, the change will be haphazard and anything but consistent: one day, they may have two naps, and the next, they'll drop a nap.
We know, we know - you had a plan, a schedule, a rhythm! But don't worry - you can and will adapt.
Keeping your child active in the morning is a great way to induce restful naps. If they do skip a nap, try and encourage a mini nap to reduce over-tiredness. Just make sure that this "power" nap doesn't happen too close to bedtime.
#2 - Keep a consistent bedtime routine
Consistency is key to a child's bedtime routine. You are the curator of their experience, and routine helps them to feel secure.
So try not to let the disruption from the 18 month sleep regression change how you approach bedtime. Every concession you make, every deviation from the norm tells your child that the boundaries are up for negotiation.
Your routine is their North Star - they may be temporarily disruptive but stick to your routine, and they will find their way back to healthy sleep patterns.
#3 - Make bedtime routines soothing
To make falling asleep as easy as possible, your bedtime routine should be comfortable and relaxing for your toddler. Granted, there may be nights where they clearly didn't get the memo - but don’t let tantrums deflect from the winding down of the day.
Try and keep your routine short (no more than half an hour for toddlers) and keep the environment dark (or with a dim night light) and quiet. Some toddlers sleep better with a bit of white noise.
From bath time through getting into jammies, and finally putting your little one to bed - speak slowly and reassuringly - set the tone with your voice. A relaxed mom and a relaxing environment are the ideal combination to send your toddler to dreamland.
#4 - Encourage self-soothing
It's your instinct to jump when your child cries out for you. Separation anxiety is a common problem for many toddlers, but by controlling your natural instincts, you can help them learn to self-soothe. Simply wait a few minutes before going to comfort them. They will gradually learn to soothe themselves back to sleep, which provides a real benefit to your child's life (not to mention in the life of a tired parent).
Consider wrapping your bundle of joy in Zen Sleepwear. It is gently weighted to help babies relax, fall asleep faster, and self-soothe through wakeups for longer, healthier sleep. Pediatric hospitals and certified sleep consultants recommend Zen Sleepwear to help your baby sleep soundly.
#5 - Ease teething
If teething is the primary cause of your toddler's sleep regression, ease their discomfort with a teething ring and gently massage their gums with a cool, wet washcloth. If you have concerns, your pediatrician can provide medical advice.
#6 - Consider sleep training
A child's sleep problems improve dramatically once they learn to fall asleep independently. This is an essential step in your child's growth.
There are many sleep training strategies to help you achieve this goal, it’s all about finding the right one - not just for your toddler, for you as well.
For example, the pick-up-put-down method is a good approach for parents who want to have an active role in sleep training whereas the cry-it-out method is on the other end of the spectrum - encouraging your little one to self soothe and develop independence.
There are other sleep training methods in between and you can find out all about them in our sleep training guide.
#7 - Provide a comforting environment
A relaxing environment can help when your little one has trouble falling asleep. Here are three easy wins to mitigate sleep regressions.
Add a nightlight - fears of the dark often start around 18 months. A reassuring (but soft) nightlight can keep the fear away and help your little one sleep easily.
Introduce a comfort item - if your toddler doesn't have a comfort item to cuddle yet, now may be the time to introduce a soft, snuggle friend like a stuffed animal.
Try white noise - while you want to create a dark, quiet environment - some babies sleep better with a white noise machine.
How to get your baby to sleep - even during an 18 month sleep regression [infographic]
To help you remember How to Get Your Baby to Sleep we created an infographic. Download to share with any parents who may need help.
Mom hack for sleep regressions
"[The Zen Sack] helped us get through a sleep regression, transitioning to the crib, and establishing nap time! Now it's always part of our bedtime routine."
- Kristen B
Bonus 18- Month sleep regression questions and answers
Why does my 18 month old keep waking up at night?
Many toddlers go through sleep regressions at various stages of their development. If your 18 month-old suddenly has problems falling asleep, resists nap time, or frequently wakes up during the night; they may be having a sleep regression. Some of the most common causes of sleep regression are boundary testing, hunger pangs, changing sleep cycles, teething discomfort, and separation anxiety.
When does the 18 month sleep regression start?
If your toddler has an 18 month sleep regression (and many won't), it usually occurs anywhere from 15 to 24 months, with 18 months being the most common age for the disruption to begin.
What time is bedtime for an 18 month-old?
Consistent sleep times go a long way to consistent, restful sleep. Toddlers experience their deepest sleep between 8 PM and midnight, so anywhere between 6.30 PM and 7.30 PM is the ideal bedtime for most 18-month-olds.
How long is too long for an 18 month-old's nap?
One factor that plays a big role in sleep regression is that toddlers will start to prefer one nap a day. To prevent the nap disrupting the nighttime sleep schedule, we recommend keeping naps to no more than 3 hours long.
How long should I leave an 18-month-old to cry?
There is no hard-and-fast rule as to how long you should leave crying after nighttime awakenings, but there is a solid consensus that running to your child every time they cry (oftentimes, they're not even awake when crying) is not a good idea. Experts recommend waiting 2-10 minutes before intervening, but new studies suggest that letting your baby cry out and learn how to soothe itself to sleep can be the most beneficial. However, this goes against the common wisdom that crying is stressful for the child - and doesn't consider the stress it causes on parents.
What's the best online course for parents to learn more about toddler sleep regression?
We recommend The ABCs of Sleep by Taking Cara Babies. You'll get a 90-minute online video course and a 60-page reference booklet. At the same time, you also receive two calls from Cara's sleep consultants. In-depth sleep consultations could make all the difference to your little one's sleep problems.
I've tried everything - the sleep regression isn't getting better. What should I do?
If you are struggling and your child is not responding to the tips in this guide, it may be time to seek professional medical advice or to speak to a certified sleep consultant. There is nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it.