You have survived the newborn stage and your little one is well and truly on the path to being a toddler. All those sleepless nights have paid off, and you can look forward to more sleep… right?
Hold your horses.
If your child is nearing the year and a half mark, you may be in for some disappointment in that arena! At this age, numerous developmental changes occur that might cause a bit of a glitch in any previously-established healthy sleeping patterns.
But don't despair! While the 18-month sleep regression may throw a few challenges your way, it won’t last forever. And the great news is that Serene Sleep is here to help you make sense of it all, throw some tips your way, and support you as you find your way back to a good night’s sleep.
What Is a Sleep Regression?
A sleep regression can seem like it comes out of nowhere. Once moment your little one is sleeping well and then seemingly out of nowhere, they start refusing to sleep, waking up often during the night, or waking up and failing to go back to sleep. If you are experiencing any of these sleep signals then you are probably in the throes of a sleep regression.
These periods of regression commonly occur at four months, around eight to ten months, and eighteen months. At all other times, you might experience the odd night of disrupted rest. Unfortunately a sleep regression can go on for much longer than just one night.
What Causes The 18-Month Sleep Regression?
A lot is happening within your toddler's body and mind at this age. They are going through a big development stage, so any and all of these changes can contribute to sleep issues.
Your Toddler Is More Active
Your child is becoming more active mentally and physically as they learn to walk and talk. All this extra stimulation can make it hard for them to transition from “busy time” to sleep time especially if they've learnt a new physical skill like running or climbing.
Separation Anxiety May Peak
Being worried about being away from mum or dad often starts much earlier. But, it does tend to peak around 18 months.
Your Child Is Becoming Independent
Your little one is learning new skills all the time. Most we are proud of, but some are not so great! As they become more able to communicate and do a few things for themselves, they realise they can say no! This is where you will see them trying to exert control, resulting in the infamous bedtime battles. An example of that is the Cause & Effect scenario where your child realises they can make things happen by exhibiting certain behaviours.
Under Or Overtiredness
Too much sleep during the day can interfere with bedtime. So, it may be time to drop a nap during the day. Conversely, not enough sleep causes extra crankiness and sleep refusal, creating a vicious circle of an overtired, cranky toddler! Find out more about this topic in our recent BLOG.
How To Deal With It
Many parents find this sleep regression the hardest to handle as it can require a disciplinary aspect that the preceding phases did not. How you deal with this phase is important. You need to make a plan that works for your family and aligns with your parenting styles. Keep in mind that it does set boundaries for future behaviour for your increasingly independent toddler! With that in mind, try to...
As much as possible, try to stick to the normal bedtime routines that have worked before. As tempting as it is, try not to enter negotiations or stray away from the routine you have set. If your little one realises they can negotiate with you, they might just keep on doing so! Set reasonable boundaries and keep your pre-sleep routines simple, relaxing and familiar.
To accommodate your child’s increasing independence, try giving them a sense of control over some aspects of their bedtime routine. You can let them be in control of some big decisions! For example, they can choose which PJs they sleep in and which books you should read.
If you suspect separation anxiety is part of the issue, spend extra time snuggling and playing calmly with your child leading up to bedtime. Reassure them that you will be there when they wake up in the morning.
Leading up to bed or nap time, make sure you encourage quiet play and reduce the time spent in front of a screen. Ensure all of their needs are met by putting on a clean nappy, ensuring they aren’t hungry or thirsty, and giving them their favourite soft toy. It is believed that physical activity taken 3 hours before bedtime can help promote deeper more restorative sleep over night. Try getting your toddler out to the park or beach for a run around in the fresh air, it really does work wonders.
If you are really struggling with this stage and none of the usual tactics seem to be working, then get in touch with me here at Serene Sleep. Sometimes just the smallest tweak to sleep time routines can make all the difference, and I am happy to provide the advice that is right for your family.
While the 18-month sleep regression can test your resolve and stamina, take heart in the fact that it should settle down relatively quickly. This stage often only lasts two to six weeks. Take deep breaths, stay calm, understand that your little one is probably as cranky and overwhelmed as you are, and you will get back on track.