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The 12-Month Sleep Regression: What To Expect, and How To Manage

Happy birthday! You’ve made it through the first year with your little one and now  you’re facing the new challenge of the 12-month sleep regression as you become the proud parent of a toddler!

This past year has been a whirlwind of growth, discovery, and navigating the ups and downs of sleep patterns, including the 12-month sleep regression. Take a moment to look back at the extraordinary changes that both you and your little one have navigated in this past year and give yourself a pat on the back—you’ve done an amazing job!

As your little one transitions from a baby to a toddler, the landscape of sleep undergoes significant changes. 12 months is a well-documented time of sleep challenges. This blog is dedicated to helping you understand and navigate these shifts with confidence. The 12-month sleep regression can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and strategies, you can guide your toddler through this period, ensuring a smoother transition for both of you.

Physical Milestones: Cruising, Walking, and Fine Motor Skills

Your 12-month-old is likely showcasing their newfound mobility skills like cruising and maybe even taking some steps! They’re also developing fine motor skills, such as using the pincher grasp, waving, and pointing. These exciting physical developments, while a sign of healthy growth, can often trigger the 12-month sleep regression, affecting your little one’s sleep patterns as they’re eager to practice these skills.

Sleep Challenges:

  • Increased Movement During Sleep: As your baby learns to stand and cruise, they may experience more movement during sleep because their brain is busy integrating these new skills. This increased physical activity can disrupt the usual sleep cycle, leading to shorter and more fragmented sleep periods.
  • Falls and Bumps: With increased mobility comes the risk of falls, both during the day and at night.

Strategies to Help:

  • Encourage Daytime Practice: Allowing ample time for these skills during the day can reduce the need for nighttime practice.
  • Foster Safe Sleep Environment: Ensure the crib is safe, with the mattress at the lowest setting and a sleep sack with foot openings to prevent trips. While it may be tempting to add padding to the crib to help buffer falls, padded bumpers or rail covers are not considered safe by the AAP. If you decide to give your little one a lovey, be sure that it’s small. It’s best not to use pillow, blankets, or large stuffed animals in your toddler’s sleep space.
  • Spatial Awareness: Are you concerned about your little one falling? Stay close to the crib, tapping the rails while discussing their position within the crib. This helps your baby understand their spatial relation and grow their awareness.
  • Guide Transition from Standing to Sitting: Instead of repeatedly laying your baby down, encourage them to transition from standing to sitting. Demonstrate this by patting the mattress and showing them how to bend their knees. As time passes, standing during bedtime and wake-ups will become less frequent, and your little one will increasingly sit and lie down independently.

Language Development: The Emergence of First Words

This is a thrilling time as your toddler may start uttering their first words. Their receptive language skills are rapidly developing, although they might not yet be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. This gap can sometimes lead to frustration and tantrums, which may affect their (and your) sleep.

Sleep Challenges:

  • Long Wake-Ups: In working with thousands of families over the years, we’ve noticed that 12-month-olds can be prone to having long wake-ups in the middle of the night. They may be babbling, repeating a word, or even clapping.
  • Expressing Preferences: At this age, your baby can express their preferences more distinctly. They know what they like and what they want, and are learning how to make that happen.
  • Big Emotions: The limbic system, responsible for emotional regulation, is becoming more developed in toddlers. This development can lead to intense emotions and sometimes challenging behaviors, impacting sleep.

Strategies to Help:

  • Consistent Routine: At this age, it may be time to reevaluate your nightly routine. What you did when your baby was younger may need to be adjusted to fit your baby’s current preferences and needs. Toddlers grow rapidly, becoming heavier and bigger. This physical change means that sleep associations like rocking or bouncing can become more challenging and less practical.
  • Less is More: If your little one is awake, but not upset, there’s no need to intervene.
  • Increased Role of Communication: As your toddler’s language skills develop, communication becomes a crucial tool in managing sleep routines. Clear, consistent communication about bedtime routines and expectations can help reduce resistance and confusion.
  • Importance of Boundary Setting: Toddlers are natural explorers and will test limits. Setting and maintaining consistent boundaries around sleep times and routines is key to establishing healthy sleep habits.

12-Month-Old Mealtime Milestones: Transitioning to More Solid Foods

The transition to solid foods is another key milestone that can coincide with the 12-month sleep regression, impacting night-time routines. As your child turns one, solid foods become the main source of nutrition. This transition can sometimes be challenging, with potential picky eating habits emerging. It’s important to ensure they’re getting enough nutrition during the day to prevent hunger-induced wake-ups at night.

For more on this topic, check out our detailed blog.

Sleep Challenges

  • Too Busy To Eat: You may have a toddler who only takes a bite or two, and then wants to get down and practice walking or playing. Not eating enough during the day can cause night waking or early rising due to hunger. It’s important to avoid sliding back into offering nighttime feeds as it can create an unsustainable pattern and perpetuate the problem.

Strategies to Help:

  • Transitioning Away from Night Feeding: As toddlers’ nutritional needs are increasingly met through solid foods, the reliance on night feeding typically decreases. Gradually phasing out night feeds can sometimes help improve sleep continuity.
  • Bedtime Snack: If your baby tends to not eat as much at dinnertime, a snack with proteins and fats before bed can be helpful. It could be avocado toast, peanut butter on bread, yogurt a smoothie, or a cheese stick.
  • Regular Meal Times: Offer your little one 3 meals and 2 snacks each day. This means they have an opportunity to eat every 2 hours. It’s very common for babies at this age to have 1-2 larger meals each day, and the rest are small. Your job is to provide the food, their job is to pick what and how much of it they eat. It’s best not to chase a toddler around offering bites of food.

12-Month Sleep Schedule Adjustments: Gradual Shift Toward A One Nap Schedule

Coinciding with the exciting physical and cognitive milestones that accompany your little one’s first birthday and mark the 12-month sleep regression, is a shift in sleep needs.

Your toddler is slowly moving towards a one-nap schedule, typically happening between 13-18 months. They need to be able to handle a wake window of about 5 hours to be ready for this change. Transitioning to one nap too soon can lead to overtiredness, resulting in increased wake-ups and early rising.

Sleep Challenges:

  • Fighting Sleep: It’s common at this age for the second nap of the day to become tricky. As your little one starts to be able to stay awake for longer periods, they can sometimes resist sleep due to FOMO.
  • Difficulty Settling: It might take longer than 30 minutes for your baby to settle down to sleep at bedtime. This can indicate that their wake windows are either too short or too long.
  • Quick to Sleep but Frequent Wake-ups: If your baby crashes to sleep almost immediately at bedtime but then experiences frequent wake-ups or early rising, it could be a sign of overtiredness.
  • Early Morning Waking: Consistently waking up earlier than usual can be a sign that your baby’s sleep schedule needs tweaking, possibly due to too much or too little daytime sleep.

Strategies to Help:

  • Consistent Morning Start Time: Regulating your baby’s sleep schedule starts with a consistent morning start time. By starting the day at the same time, you have a better sense of when their first nap will occur, which helps set you up for a more consistent nap schedule for the day. Additionally, a consistent morning start time helps set your little one’s circadian rhythm (internal 24-hour clock).
  • Managing Daytime Sleep: If your little one fights the first nap, start to stretch the wake window between when they wake in the morning and their first nap. The first nap will likely be the longest nap of the day, but it’s best to cap it at no longer than 2 hours. The second nap will then be a shorter cat nap so that there’s a long enough wake window ahead of bedtime.

The Importance of Holding Clear Boundaries for Your 12-Month Old Baby

The first year of your little one’s life has been a remarkable journey of physical growth and development. As you step into the second year, the growth focus shifts towards cognitive and emotional development. 

This second year of life is often marked by a ‘language explosion,’ a rapid increase in your little one’s ability to communicate. With this blossoming of language skills comes a surge of big emotions and a growing sense of independence, and these play a part in the 12-month sleep regression. 

Navigating this phase requires a delicate balance: setting clear boundaries while effectively communicating them. This approach is crucial not only in day-to-day parenting but also plays a pivotal role in establishing effective bedtime routines. As your little one’s understanding and self-expression evolve, so too will your strategies in guiding them toward a restful night’s sleep.

Managing 12-Month Sleep Challenges with Batelle

At Batelle, we understand the complexities of sleep during the 12-month sleep regression. Our approach is designed to adapt to these developmental changes, offering strategies that respect your child’s growing independence while ensuring their emotional and physical needs are met.

Manage the 12-Month Sleep Regression With Confidence:

  • Tailored Strategies for Toddlers: We provide guidance that evolves with your child’s developmental stage, focusing on communication, boundary setting, and emotional support.
  • Empowering Parents: Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge and tools to handle the unique challenges of toddler sleep, ensuring a smoother transition through this dynamic phase.
  • Expert Support: Our team offers support and guidance, ensuring our strategies are in harmony with your child’s unique developmental needs.

The 12-month sleep regression is a normal part of your toddler’s development, and with the right support and strategies, you can navigate it successfully.

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists.   

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