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Taming The 18-Month Sleep Regression: Expert Tips for Restful Nights

As your toddler reaches the 18-month mark, you’re likely witnessing a whirlwind of physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. With these exciting milestones comes the 18-month sleep regression—a phase that can disrupt your little one’s sleep patterns. But fear not, in this blog, we’ll navigate through the challenges caused by physical milestones, cognitive leaps, feeding changes, and schedule adjustments during this regression. We’ll also provide practical strategies to ensure everyone gets the sleep they need.

Is My Toddler Experiencing the 18-Month Regession?

Growth and development don’t happen on a fixed timeline. Recurrent sleep issues can happen throughout your little one’s early years depending on what they’re learning and practicing. If your little one’s ease and quality of sleep have suddenly declined, they might be experiencing the 18-month sleep regression.

The degree to which sleep disruptions due to developmental growth impact your family can depend on your little one’s temperament, and also on your routines and responses. Generally, signs of regression include fighting sleep at naps and bedtime, increased night waking, early rising, and nap troubles. However, keep in mind that even during these times, your child has not regressed in their ability to sleep, they are just going through a period of intense growth or learning that is impacting their (and your) sleep. Let’s take a closer look at some of the developmental factors that can influence sleep patterns between 14-18 months of age.

Physical Milestones: Climbing

By 18 months, your toddler has likely mastered walking and is now exploring running and climbing.

Sleep Challenges:

  • Climbing: Your child’s newfound ability to stand and move may lead to them attempting to climb out of their crib, presenting a safety concern as they lack the impulse control to stay put.
  • Lack of Impulse Control: Toddlers have underdeveloped impulse control, driven by the maturation of the prefrontal cortex, a process ongoing until around age 3. This means they may act on impulses without considering consequences, which can affect their sleep, like throwing objects, climbing, hitting, biting, or throwing their body during a tantrum.

Strategies to Help:

  • Foster Safe Sleep Environment: Keep the crib free of pillows and large stuffed animals that could be used for climbing. If your child can climb out of the crib, consider turning it backward if it has one higher side or using a sleep sack with foot holes. For safety reasons, never place the crib mattress directly on the floor or modify the crib frame.

Cognitive Development: Exploring the World

Your 18-month-old is busy exploring their world, testing boundaries, and seeking more autonomy. They may venture away from you during the day but seek reassurance at night after being apart.

Additionally, they might start stringing words together into 3-word sentences, marking another language milestone. While exciting, this new ability may lead to frustration and tantrums as they struggle to express themselves verbally.

Sleep Challenges:

  • Separation Anxiety: Increased autonomy can trigger a resurgence of separation anxiety. This is a normal part of development, often associated with sleep regressions.
  • Nap and Bedtime Resistance: Budding independence can contribute to bedtime resistance as they become more likely to experiment with refusing to lay down and sleep, or deciding to just keep playing instead of taking a nap.
  • Night Waking: Similar to the 12-month sleep regression, the 18-month sleep regression can bring night waking, as your child’s mind is absorbed in learning and practicing their newfound language skills.

Strategies to Help:

  • Use a Visual Timer: Facilitate transitions using a visual timer. Set it a few minutes before sleep time to signal the start of the sleep routine, helping your child prepare mentally.
  • Consistent Sleep Time Routines: A predictable sleep time routine comforts toddlers and clarifies sleep expectations, promoting security and smoother transitions to sleep.
  • Avoid Sneaking Away: During times of separation anxiety, announce when you’re leaving the room instead of sneaking away. Reassure your child that you will return and emphasize that separations are temporary.
  • Importance of Boundary Setting and Communication: As your little one begins to explore the limits of their world, it’s even more important for you to set and maintain clear boundaries. Understanding the boundaries around sleep times and routines helps them feel secure and understand expectations.

Picky Eating and Teething: The Quest for Independence and Molars

In addition to the physical, cognitive, and emotional milestones that are common in the 14-18 month range, your little one may also be getting their first molars. Teething and newfound independence can lead to variations in eating habits. Picky eating is a normal phase during toddlerhood, where your role is to offer a variety of healthy foods while allowing your child to make choices.

Sleep Challenges

  • Night waking or early rising due to hunger: Inadequate daytime eating can lead to night waking or early rising due to hunger. Avoid resorting to nighttime feeds as it can establish an unsustainable pattern.
  • Restlessness: Molars can cause discomfort as they move through the surface of the gums. This can cause restlessness or wake-ups.

Strategies to Help:

  • Bedtime Snack: Offer a nutritious bedtime snack if your child eats less at dinner. Options like avocado toast, peanut butter on bread, yogurt, a smoothie, or a cheese stick can satisfy hunger and promote better sleep.
  • Extra Comfort for Teething: If teething causes discomfort, extend your pre-sleep routine to include extra cuddles and comfort to help your child sleep soundly.

Changing Sleep Needs: Embracing A One Nap Schedule

As the 18-month sleep regression unfolds, your child may still be transitioning from 2 naps to 1 nap. Most toddlers have successfully made this transition by 18 months, and continuing with 2 naps can lead to late bedtimes and restlessness.

Sleep Challenges:

  • Quick to Sleep but Frequent Wake-ups: As your toddler moves to a one-nap schedule, they may fall asleep quickly at bedtime due to increased tiredness, but it may also cause more frequent wake-ups at night as their body adjusts to the longer wake windows.
  • Early Morning Waking: Adjusting to a one-nap schedule can sometimes result in early morning waking. This generally subsides as your toddler’s body adjusts to the new schedule.

Strategies to Help:

  • Understanding Wake Windows and Nap Duration: For a one-nap schedule, wake windows are typically around 5-5.75 hours at this age, gradually extending as your toddler approaches 2 years old. The single nap usually lasts about 2-3 hours.
  • Consistent Morning Start Time: A consistent morning start time sets the stage for a predictable sleep schedule, helping your toddler’s internal clock align with their nap routine.

Duration of the 18-Month Sleep Regression

Most sleep regressions last 2-6 weeks, however, the duration can be affected by your little one’s temperament, and also by your routines and responses to their sleep challenges. While managing sleep challenges during this time, remember that sleep associations can impact your child’s sleep patterns and turn a temporary phase into a long-term problem.

Navigating Your Toddler's Sleep with Batelle

At Batelle, we understand that parenthood is a journey filled with remarkable growth and discovery, not just for your child, but for you as a parent.

Transforming Bedtime Struggles into Dreams Come True

  • Tailored Strategies for Toddlers: We specialize in providing personalized strategies that evolve with your child’s developmental stage. From communication techniques to boundary setting and emotional support, our guidance is designed to make bedtime a breeze.
  • Expert Support and Education: Our app offers a wealth of knowledge and expert guidance right at your fingertips. We’re here to empower you with the tools and information you need to transform bedtime struggles into sweet dreams.

With Batelle, you’re not just addressing parenting challenges; you’re building a foundation for your child’s emotional well-being and resilience. Our tailored strategies for toddlers, combined with our comprehensive support and education through our app, can help you take bedtime from a struggle to a dream.

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

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