Toddler Sleep Struggles – 18 Months

The 18 month sleep regression for some is the worst sleep regression to happen to your toddler and you.  This sleep regression can fall anywhere between 15-24 months.  That does not mean it will last that long.  Usually sleep regressions only last a week to a couple of weeks and then things go back to normal.  Sometimes though they can hang on a little too long, up to 6 weeks, causing you to feel like a zombie. 

This is usually one of the hardest sleep regressions because your child has been sleeping through the night like a champ for awhile now, your child is way more emotional so the cries and tantrums can be worse than you have ever seen, as well as your child’s vocabulary has words now, and they may have trouble with separation anxiety.  

Sleep regression doesn’t have to be just at night.  It can be during naps as well.  This can be refusal to nap, switching from two naps a day to one which is a big milestone.  A regression can be straight out refusal to sleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, waking up at night and then refusing to go back to sleep causing you to be awake for hours, screaming and crying when first put down to sleep or throughout the night, and even increased crying when parents leave the room.  Some regressions just have one of these things, while others may suffer from your child doing all of this. 


What causes these crazy sleep regressions? 

Lots of things, and sometimes it is hard to tell just which one is ailing your child. 

  • First off at this point in your child’s life at the 18 month mark they are learning a whole lot more cognitively and emotionally. 
  • Even though it may sound crazy, teething can actually be a cause.  Around the 18 month mark your child will start to get their four canine teeth.  Teething doesn’t stop after they turn one. 
  • Other causes of sleep regression can be separation anxiety, strong will, or hunger.  Hunger can be a cause due to your toddler being way more active during the day. 
  • Schedule changes can play a role.  When transitioning to one nap a day instead of two naps, or even your child just staying up longer because the awake time can stretch longer. 
  • Changing to a toddler bed, overstimulation at night and sometimes though less common nightmares.  


How much sleep does my 18 month old need?

At about 18 months of age children need between 11-14 hours of sleep every 24 hours.  So this may look different from child to child.  Where some children may need one nap for 2 hours then sleep 12 hours at night.  Another child may need to nap for 3 hours and only sleep 10 hours at night.  Figuring out what your child’s best sleep schedule is can help determine if they are overtired at bedtime, or not tired enough and they need to stay up a little later.  


Read More:  How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?


Should I contact my pediatrician?

Sleep regression is usually not something you need to talk with your pediatrician about.  If you do they will say things like it will pass, hang in there, oh this is terrible hopefully they sleep better for you soon.  Though in some cases you will want to speak with your doctor.  If you start to notice that your child has abnormal breathing at night you will want to talk to your doctor.  Other warning signs are stunted growth, limited weight gain, reduced energy, longer daytime naps, or changes in their eating, bowel movements or urination.  All of these could be serious so talk to your pediatrician. 


How are you supposed to survive this awful sleep regression besides drinking the world’s supply of coffee? 

First start with a bedtime routine.  And stick to the bedtime routine.  Keep it simple and easy.  This is not the time to get your child wound up or overly excited.  This is to show them you do the same thing every night leading up to bedtime.  This will help their little bodies get used to doing the same thing causing them to be ready to lay down by the end of the routine.  A sample routine could be brushing your teeth, fresh diaper, rock and reading two books, lay down in bed, sing a song, lights out, kisses, say night night and parents leave the room.  You can even have your night time routine start earlier with a bath, pajamas, before bed snack, then do the whole read and rock part before bed.  It is whatever works best for your child and you. 

Next, set a sleep schedule.  Establishing a bedtime and a nap time can also help your child easily transition into comfortable sleep. 

Make their sleep space comfortable.  This can mean having it dark, quiet, or having a dim nightlight and a sound machine on.  Have few distractions in bed with them, so they don’t think it is time to play. 

Make sure you kick up the activity level during the day.  Being more active will cause your child to be tired, and ready to sleep at night. 

Just like adults, limiting screen time before your child goes to bed can help them fall asleep quicker.  Blue light stimulates the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone your body needs to sleep. 

Establish a special toy or blanket that they get during sleep.  This again helps your child know that when snuggling with their special blanket it is time to relax and sleep.


What do I do about separation anxiety?  

When your child suffers from separation anxiety there are some tips to help with that.  One is to practice separation during the day.  Start small and short leaving your child with another caregiver or family member so they see you leave and know that you will come home.  This can help them see you leave at night when you lay them down, and know that you will come back. 

If your child cries out at night, avoid immediately responding.  Give them a few minutes to try and self soothe before intervening.  Try and avoid bringing your child into your bed.  Sometimes it is what you want to do because you know at least you will be getting some sleep, but getting them to feel comfortable in their own bed will stop them from always wanting to be in yours in years to come.  If you do have to go in and get your child to help soothe, try it with no lights, no screens, and no excessive talking.  This will hopefully help not overstimulate your child so they go back to sleep easier. 


Teething still?

Teething as another culprit of the sleep regression has some simple fixes you can try as well.  You can try massaging your child’s gums.  Find them a soft, cold object they can chew on and keep in their bed with them at night.  If your pediatrician says it is ok, try Tylenol to help ease some of the discomfort.  


This too shall pass….

The 18 month sleep regression, that can happen from 15-24 months, can be the most difficult one your toddler and you experience.  Just keep heart it is short lived and hopefully after a few weeks you are back to normal sleep and getting the much needed rest you need to be able to keep up with your busy toddler.  

A sleep regression can be straight out refusal to sleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, waking up at night and then refusing to go back to sleep causing you to be awake for hours, screaming and crying when first put down to sleep or throughout the night, and even increased crying when parents leave the room.


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