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The 18-month-old sleep regression can easily be one of the more difficult setbacks in sleep in your child's life, and unfortunately, this can be a trying time for parents as well.
Dealing with these regressions can feel exhausting, but they're for the best, as they're a reliable indicator that your tot is growing at a healthy rate.
These disruptions in sleep ultimately point to massive bursts in development. Since a lot of energy and nutrients fuel these growth spurts, it can be draining on your little one, leading to tantrums, fussiness, and all-around challenging behavior.
Below we'll detail what these sleep regressions are, what they mean, and how to manage without losing your cool.
Definition of Sleep Regression
Getting a baby to sleep can be a tricky task for parents, and sleep regressions are mostly growth spurts that are noticeable by way of resistance to bedtime or naps in kids. As our tykes grow, they endure a lot of development within a relatively short amount of time, this can be taxing on their minds and bodies and can produce challenging periods regarding behavior.
Average Sleep Needs for an 18-Month-Old Toddler
Most toddlers at this stage need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep for every 24 hours. This is collected by way of sleeping through the night, hopefully about 10 to 12 hours, plus one (or possibly two) naps during the day.
These naps are best taken mid-morning and mid-afternoon, waking up before 4 PM. It's important to have them wake up before this time because you'll need them to be awake for about four hours before bedtime. If that window shrinks, they may not be tired enough to sleep through the night, ultimately causing everyone more grief.
See more info: How Much Sleep Do Kids Need? Recommendations by Age
Signs of Disruption
Signals can be expressed in a variety of ways and because each tyke is unique, they could be exhibited differently. Signs can range from waking more frequently at night to fussiness around bedtime to more energy at night or more frequent crying before being put down.
Main Reasons Why 18-Month-Olds Resist Sleeping
There are a few reasons why these munchkins will resist closing their eyes when it's time to rest.
One of the big reasons is that they simply would rather be doing other things. As they grow so fast, they gain mobility and new skills quickly, and this is exciting for them. They have a new sense of independence and want to test the waters.
Another reason is that they are exhausted due to their growth spurt extracting so much of their energy. While tired and cranky and in need of sleep, they can exhibit their exhaustion in ways of fussiness and tantrums, causing them to become riled up being bedtime, hindering their ability to relax and close their eyes.
Another reason tots may not want to go to bed is separation anxiety. While kids will grow increasingly independent as they grow up, they will also become more mentally aware of what's happening around them, including where you are and when they're not with you.
Suddenly, what was once a smooth bedtime routine of putting your munchkin down could become a much more challenging task. Your tot might become anxious at the thought of you leaving them on their own as their brain develops more fully.
Sharp teeth poking through vulnerable newborn gums isn't fun. However, it can be challenging to understand just how badly teething hurts for toddlers.
Teething can be an enormously challenging period for any family, and supplementing the pain with soft things to gnaw on like a wet washcloth or infant pain medication (as prescribed by a doctor) can help get you through.
Toddlers often display signals of growing independence at the 18-month stage and will want to explore the world using their newfound skills and mobility.
For their whole life up until this point, they've been reliant on caregivers for all their needs. Now, they're feeding themselves, standing up on their own, holding onto objects (even throwing them on the floor), and expressing themselves verbally.
As a result, your toddler may not want to go down for naps or close their eyes at bedtime because they're too curious and excited to explore their world.
Going through a burst in development not only takes a toll on toddlers mentally and physically but it increases their cognitive growth and awareness of the world around them. Due to this, their curiosity may peak significantly and result in their unrest when going down to sleep. They may express fussiness, throw tantrums, or wake multiple times throughout the night and not want to go back to bed.
Additionally, due to this advancement in brain activity, they could grow more clingy as well. This could be attributed to the fact that they're more aware of the lack of your presence when you leave your munchkin to go to bed at night, introducing an onset of separation anxiety. They should grow out of it. However, it may still become more apparent in a regression.
How Long Can This Regression Last
Regressions in sleep can last anywhere from two to six weeks. Which may sound like a lifetime to a tired parent, and, indeed, it may feel like one. Hang in there, and try to keep in mind these setbacks are ultimately positive indicators your child is growing at a healthy pace.
I bet as a parent, you often recognize how fast time flies with a small child. With the development in early years occurring so quickly, their growth is compressed into small periods of time to adapt properly. As a result, this can produce uncomfortable periods as your tot endures these rapid shifts.
18-Month Sleep Regression Tips and Tricks for Parents
We've discussed the various reasons why these regressions in rest occur. However, that doesn't help with mitigating these challenges. Below we'll explore different methods to combat these difficult times to create a more flexible environment for your family.
Keep Up Sleep Training
While some parents may cringe at the thought of sleep training, believing it to be harsh, there is a vast spectrum of ways this can be done. There are multiple methods to enforce sleep training ranging from a very strict and diligent take for a more authoritarian approach to soft and gentle enforcement for families that enjoy a more attached parenting style.
Maintain Nap Schedule
One of the best ways to ease the tension of a sleep regression is the maintenance of a schedule. Small associations between specific activities and timelines can prompt more desirable behavior, and keeping a regular routine will allow your tot more security surrounding everyday expectations and ease anxiety.
Managing stress can relieve toddlers of tension and create a more peaceful inner mindset, despite their young age. As a result, this can encourage fewer tantrums or fussiness around bedtime, promoting a more peaceful attitude towards sleep and more sound slumber.
Set Bedtime Routine
As iterated above, keeping a routine is paramount in setting expectations and promoting small associations regarding activities. Doing the same thing every day can create a sense of security and comfort in knowing what to expect.
Repetition, like keeping a regular schedule, can even promote muscle memory in things like brushing your teeth after a bath and then getting into pajamas with less fuss once kids realize it's a non-negotiable.
Define Limits and Practice Them
Boundaries don't have to be mean or limiting for your child; think of them as simple guidelines to follow so everyone knows what to expect. Just like states have laws, houses need rules. While initially resistant, most kids need guidance so they know what is expected from them and can receive praise when following in line.
Setting limits on things like YouTube, iPads, or TV can help curb undesirable behavior and allow them to close their eyes when it's time to go to bed. Create a bedtime routine and stick with it—it doesn't need to be elaborate or a particular length of time. It can be something as simple as getting into pajamas after dinner, brushing teeth, and reading a book.
These simple prompts can make a world of difference for your toddler when the sun goes down.
Let Children Make "Small" Decisions
As your toddler grows up and becomes more independent, they'll begin to show a natural desire to control more of what they can. Allowing your kiddo to participate in some of these choices can empower them and build confidence in decision-making skills.
Surely you're not going to consult them regarding which car insurance plan is best, but asking them if they'd like the red plate or the blue plate for their dinner could instill a sense of autonomy in them. Taking advantage of these small opportunities can provide your little one a larger degree of self-assurance when they're alone in bed at night, allowing them to rest easy.
Don't Make Big Changes
Making large adjustments in routines or expectations can bring on a great sense of anxiety for a child. Toddlers thrive in environments where they know what's expected of them, and when that goes out the window, their security can weaken as a result.
Sticking to a schedule and doing activities at regular intervals allows kids to feel safe, secure, and confident in their attachments and surroundings. Small things like dinner at the same time followed with the same routines, such as daily baths or storytime, can provide an excellent space conducive to growth and assurance. The less stress and more expectation, the better your munchkin should sleep.
Avoid Sleep Crutches
In the midst of a setback in slumber, it can be easy to slip into bad habits with your tyke in order to get some zzz's for yourself. As tempting as it is to rock your kiddo to get them to close their eyes, they can easily become dependent on these habits.
If you can tough it out and stick with it for a few weeks, try to allow them to self-soothe and resist bedtime bottles and other crutches that inhibit their rest independence.
Give Your Child Support While Remaining Consistent
Remaining consistent is a common challenge for parents; however, there is light at the end of the tunnel if you stick with boundaries. Many kids will want you to stay with them while they fall asleep. However, letting your munchkin watch you leave their room upon putting them to bed will teach them that separation is not scary and completely normal.
Consistency will allow your little one to develop trust in letting you leave the room knowing you'll be back in the morning.
Naturally, if they're having a difficult night, you can go back in whenever you see fit. However, your attitude around sleep will rub off on them. Children's brains are like sponges, soaking up everything around them, and if you're anxious about leaving them alone in their crib or bedroom, they could easily pick up on that.
Try and stick with consistent bedtime routines and boundaries. It can be tempting to sneak out of the room as soon as they close their eyes, but letting them see you will teach them it's nothing to be afraid of. If they fuss, a quick check-in over the baby monitor can help to soothe them to avoid going back in.
Is 18-Month Sleep Regression the Toughest?
At a year and a half, your child's brain has developed much more than just six months ago, so this sleep regression may indeed be more difficult than the last, as their curiosity levels will likely have skyrocketed.
Frustrating as it may be to get your munchkin to close their eyes come bedtime, these regressions won't last forever—typically two to six weeks—and are ultimately a solid indicator that your child is developing on schedule.
However, each child is unique and some will have regressions and some won't at all. They may display different symptoms of setbacks, and as a caregiver, you'll be the best equipped to manage their needs.
Should I feed my toddler at night during the 18-month sleep regression?
By 18 months, your child probably doesn’t need to eat in the middle of the night; however, as each kiddo comes with vast differences, it's entirely up to you. There is nothing inherently wrong about feeding your child in the middle of the night. However, this may limit their ability to sleep through the night and learn to self-soothe.
What are the other sleep regression stages?
Four months, 6 months, and 10 to 12 months are common periods in which many toddlers endure setbacks in rest abilities. While this may be true for some kids, others may experience them a month or so later, and some may not find they encounter them at all.
Learn more about them:
It can be frustrating hearing from one parent about how “easy” their child is, but keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily mean they'll be easy forever. Regressions in slumber are entirely common and typical in any munchkin, and their behavior may change drastically from one month to the next.
Hold tight, and remember these setbacks are not forever. Stick to your boundaries and routines, and your little one and your family will be better off in the long run.