If your toddler is struggling with sleep, then help is here! Learn how to combat the 18 month sleep regression and get everyone’s sleep back on track.
Not all toddlers will have an 18-month sleep regression, but those parents who experience it will likely remember it as one of the most (if not the most) challenging sleep regressions.
Unlike many earlier regressions, your toddler now has the physical and vocal ability to be much more persistent in their efforts to avoid sleep during this time.
Let me assure you of one thing: if your little one hits a sleep regression at 18 months, they will make it very obvious! No more second-guessing—your toddler is old enough to let you know exactly how they feel about this sleep stumbling block.
And let’s be real: at this age, it’s also easier for them to tug on your heart strings. Cries of “Momma! No!” or “I scare!” can make this regression not only physically exhausting, but emotionally draining as well.
If you notice your 18-month old is very vocal in resisting bedtime or nap time, or inexplicably waking in the middle of the night, just know you’re not alone. Like all the common sleep regressions that came before this, I’m here to help you get through to the other side!
How Long Does the 18 Month Sleep Regression Last?
The particularly brutal part about the 18-month sleep regression is that your family has likely grown accustomed to better sleep, especially compared to the newborn days.
By 18 months old, you can typically expect your toddler to consistently sleep through the night and take regular naps every day.
Once you’ve gotten used to that consistency (and getting enough sleep again as a parent!) the 18-month sleep regression can be quite the shock to the system.
This sleep regression is also more challenging because of your 18-month-old’s abilities. They are probably able to say a lot more than they could six months ago at the 12-month sleep regression. They are also physically capable of doing more: sitting up, walking and moving around the crib, and potentially climbing! See tips to keep your toddler from climbing out of the crib.
The good news is, while sleep regressions can be tricky, this one will pass like all the others.
The 18-month sleep regression will likely last between 2 to 6 weeks. The exact length of time will depend on each toddler’s development.
Why Does the 18 Month Sleep Regression Happen?
Just like the 6 month sleep regression and 9 month sleep regression, the 18-month sleep regression is connected to your child’s cognitive and physical development. Thankfully, your toddler is growing!
There are all sorts of developmental changes at play that could be impacting your toddler’s sleep.
It’s probably no secret to you that your little one has been growing like a weed! But did you know that growth hormones can create a disruption in your toddler’s sleep cycle?
Sometimes knowing that your little one is getting the exact hormones they need to keep growing bigger and stronger can help you power through these temporary sleep disruptions.
A Growing Sense of Independence
I don’t have to tell you—I’m sure you’ve experienced it! By now, your toddler knows exactly what they do and don’t like. And boy, will they let you know.
Your 18-month old is likely mobile and increasingly communicative. Their growing sense of independence, coupled with an understanding of and ability to use the word “no” can be a challenging combination during a sleep regression.
New Physical Skills
During naps or at bedtime, your 18-month old may feel restless due to their newly acquired skills. They might see this downtime in their crib as the perfect time to work out those muscles or get reps in to improve their dexterity. They also aren’t afraid to tell you if there’s a lot more they’d rather be doing than sleeping!
Although you might remember already going through a “stranger danger” phase when your little one was 9-12 months old, you might see a return of some separation anxiety at 18 months.
This hesitation to be away from you can make your toddler not want to go to bed in the first place. They might also call out for you more frequently once they’re already in bed. Separation anxiety can also cause them to have trouble getting back to sleep if they wake in the middle of the night, because they’re acutely aware and processing your absence.
Overstimulation Later in the Day
Your 18-month-old is bound to be living in a more stimulating environment than they were a year ago. As our children grow, we often introduce more and more stimulation into their environments. We might introduce screens, or enroll them in daycare, or be less sensitive to the noisiness and activity around them.
Although most parents would assume that a tiredness will always lead to sleep, an overstimulated toddler will have trouble getting to sleep no matter how tired they are.
In fact, often an overtired baby can have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep!
How Do You Deal with the 18-Month Sleep Regression?
I’m sure you’re wondering how to get your 18-month-old to sleep through the night again. Here are some tips to deal with this regression and get back to that consistent sleep you know your toddler is capable of.
Make sure they have an ideal sleep space and limit distractions
Toys should be out of reach and ideally out of sight. Use blackout curtains to keep the room or dim (maybe with a night-light to help if they show signs of being afraid of the dark). Make sure to use use a white noise machine to help drown out any background noises.
Be sure to get lots of physical activity during the day, and get outside
Natural sunlight helps to balance circadian rhythms, and fresh air and movement will help tire out your toddler’s busy body.
Stick to your schedule and sleep-time routines
Consistency is key! As frustrating as a sleep regression is for both of you, now is not the time to start any unhelpful sleep associations or habits that you don’t want to continue moving forward.
Avoid other big changes during this time
If you have been wanting to start potty training, wait until sleep is reliable and consistent. A sleep regression is not a great time to make big adaptations to your schedule or your toddler’s surroundings. Your 18-month-old’s bedtime and pre-bed routine should remain consistent.
If you’re still struggling with the 18-month sleep regression, you can also choose a sleep training method and stick with it. There are a few methods (such as the chair method) that work great for this age as long as you haven’t yet made the transition to a toddler bed.
Your 18-Month-Old‘s Naps
There is one caveat to keeping a consistent schedule during the 18-month sleep regression. If you’ve had your toddler on a two-nap schedule, this regression may be a sign that your toddler is developmentally ready to transition to one nap, moving to a one year old schedule.
If your toddler is on one nap and waking up early from that nap, try doing crib hour and give your toddler the time and space to fall back asleep at nap time.
Most toddlers move to one nap between 13 to 18 months old. Signs that your toddler is ready to cut down to one nap include:
- Not showing any signs of sleepiness at their normal nap times
- Waking up too early from nap instead of sleeping the normal 1.5-2 hours
- Battling hard against bedtime and nap times, and staying awake and playing in their bed with no signs of tiredness
- Your toddler is waking up too early in the morning on a consistent basis
Example Sleep Schedule for Your 18-Month-Old
By 18 months old, your toddler needs a total of 11 to 14 hours of sleep every day. They should be getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep every night, and then another 1.5 to 2 hours of sleep during nap time.
The recommended wake window at this age is 5 to 5 hours. That means that your toddler will be ready to go down for a nap 4 or 5 hours after they’ve woken up for the day. Your 18-month-old’s bedtime should be no later than 5 hours after the end of their nap.
Here is an example of a typical 18-month-old sleep schedule:
- 7:00 am: Wake up and eat breakfast
- 9:30 am: Snack time
- 12:00 pm: Lunch time
- 12:30-2:00/2:30 pm: Nap
- 2:30 pm: Snack
- 5:30 pm: Dinner
- 7:00 pm: Start baby’s bedtime routine
- 7:30 pm: Bedtime
The beauty of knowing age-appropriate wake windows is that you can adapt your daily schedule to meet your family’s needs. You can also be confident that your toddler is getting the sleep that they need.
Get Better Sleep with The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System
If you want someone to walk you through the process of sleep training, let me help. The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System is for babies 4 months through 2.5 years old. I’ll walk you through how to establish daily routines, sleep schedules, and sleep training techniques to help you break the sleep associations you no longer find beneficial! Check it out here.
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