Believe it or not, there is such a thing as the 18 month sleep regression.
If you have an 18 month old who is suddenly rejecting naps, struggling with bedtime, waking up throughout the night, or is convinced that 4:00-6:00 AM is a great time to start their morning, then you’ve come to the right place.
Rest assured that it’s completely normal and common to go through an 18 month sleep regression.
Even though your child isn’t a baby anymore, they can still experience regressions.
In this video and podcast, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about the 18 month sleep regression, including a simple, yet SHOCKING piece of advice that will likely lead to a big, positive shift in your toddler’s sleeping journey.
The 18 Month Sleep Regression Explained
When it comes to toddler sleep regressions, it’s important to know how to handle them and how to avoid them in the future.
The 18 month regression can manifest itself in the following ways:
- Early morning wakings (4-6AM)
- Protesting or Rejecting the nap
- Night wakings
- Difficulty falling asleep
Your toddler could be struggling with one or all of these signs above.
If you haven’t noticed already, your 18 months old has much more independence and personality than they did as a baby.
Because of this, it’s important to know that you will approach this toddler regression differently than you would a baby regression.
It’s easy to start thinking that your toddler isn’t sleeping well because they have a crazy amount of energy or that they maybe don’t need that much sleep anymore.
The reality is that at 18 months old, your toddler still needs a LOT of sleep both during the day and during the night.
In fact, your 18 month old still needs 11 to 12 hours of sleep all night long with one, 2-2.5 hour midday nap.
If this is your first time visiting our youtube channel and you don’t know who I am or much about our philosophy here at Little Z’s, it’s important to know that I am a strong advocate for independent sleep.
This means that your 18 month old has the full capability to sleep on their own for both naps and nights without help from you or sleep props.
After you say “Goodnight” to your toddler, give them a kiss, walk out of their room, and shut their door, they should be able to fall asleep within 10 to 15 minutes all on their own with no intervention needed.
They go to sleep, wake up, and are ready to go for the rest of the day.
If you are watching this video and your toddler has a history of sleeping independently, then it’s very likely this video will help!
However, if you are rubbing your 18 month old’s back, giving them a pacifier, holding their hand to sleep, or giving them bottles throughout the night, then I want to point you to my Toddler Sleep Training Course HERE.
This course will help your toddler take charge of their own sleep and learn to sleep independently.
Inside of my course you receive a step-by-step plan that will help your toddler to take charge of their sleep, making sleep a thing for you and your family.
How to Handle the 18 Month Sleep Regression
If your young toddler is typically an independent sleeper but they’re riding the struggle bus when it comes to sleep, then let’s talk about what you can do to help them through the 18 month regression.
1. Get the Energy Out
In the baby world, you simply follow your child’s wake windows or set schedule.
You don’t have to worry about what you are doing with your baby during each wake window, as long as they are awake!
Unlike babies, toddlers have an immense need to get all of their physical energy out before they are ready to go to sleep again!
Yes, your toddler still has wake windows, but now it’s important to engage your toddler in active, energy-exerting ways DURING their wake windows!
If you’re confused with toddler wake windows, check out my complete schedule guide HERE.
If your toddler has a full wake window (4.5-5.5 hours) but has been sedentary during it, it’s likely they will not feel ready for their nap.
So, the first step to solving the 18 month sleep regression is to analyze how much energy your toddler is burning and exerting during their wake windows before nap and before bedtime.
It’s important to ensure that your toddler is getting all of their energy out before it’s time to sleep again!
I highly suggest dedicating a solid hour of outside play (weather permitting) in the morning before nap and in the afternoon before bedtime.
Let your toddler run, play, and explore the outdoors so that they can get all of their energy out leading to quality rest and sleep.
Engaging your toddler in outdoor play and exploration is necessary for two reasons:
- It allows them to expel all the necessary energy they need to in order to sleep soundly.
- It triggers their body to produce melatonin, the “sleepy” hormone that cues their body to fall asleep and stay asleep.
2. Have fun together before and during bedtime routine
Along with giving your toddler plenty of time to burn some energy outside, it’s also extremely important to have fun with your toddler at bedtime!
Your toddler’s bedtime routine should not include dimmed lights and sleepy music with diffused lavender.
Instead, your toddler’s bedtime should contain elements of enjoyment and connection!
<<< Looking for a bedtime routine you and your toddler can enjoy and rely on? Check out my Ideal Toddler Bedtime Routine HERE and my FREE Toddler Bedtime Cards HERE <<<
Your toddler CRAVES connection during their bedtime routine.
Because of that, it’s in your best interest to include 5-10 minutes of play in their bedtime routine.
Simply put, your 18 month old might be struggling to fall asleep because they haven’t burned enough energy or had enough connection time with you.
3. No Bottle or “Sippy” Cup of Milk Before Bed
Now, let’s take a look at an 18 month old who’s having early morning wakings.
My number one question for a parent who is experiencing early morning wakings with their toddler is, “Are you giving your child milk in a bottle or sippy cup before bed?”
If your answer to this question is yes, then it’s time to drop the milk, cold turkey!
After 13 months old, there should definitely be no more bottles.
This is not just something that “Becca Campbell at Little Z’s Sleep Consulting” teaches.
This is something that the American Academy of Pediatrics teaches as well.
This is something that registered dietitians and dentists teach.
Your toddler does not need a bottle anymore. It’s not age appropriate and it’s not developmentally appropriate for them. But more than that, sending a toddler to bed after they’ve had a big bottle or “sippy” cup of milk is not the right way to set them up for a great night of sleep.
If you are a nursing mom, you can definitely still nurse your toddler!
I love that you can do this and I am so glad that you have been able to give that gift of nursing and connections to your toddler.
All I would ask is that you nurse your toddler and then start the bedtime routine.
Toddlers who love milk are also prone to become picky eaters because they know that they can fill up on milk after dinner.
Picky eating and drinking a lot of milk – there’s certainly a connection there.
If you find that your toddler is eating less at dinner time and then indulging in a big cup or bottle of milk before bedtime, then it’s time to begin offering their milk with dinner.
If you’re genuinely worried about the space between dinner and bedtime, and don’t want your toddler to go to bed hungry, then simply offer them an evening snack right before bedtime routine.
You could give them something hearty and simple like a banana, dinner left overs, crackers and cheese, or peanut butter toast.
The important thing is to offer your toddler enough food during dinner and/or their evening snack that will adequately satisfy their hunger throughout the night.
At 18 months of age, milk just can’t satisfy them anymore, and they shouldn’t fill up on it before bedtime or first thing in the morning.
4. Avoid a Gap Between Lunch and Nap
Now let’s take a look at something that specifically affects your toddler’s midday nap.
It’s nap time and you just placed your toddler into their crib.
Instead of soothing themselves to sleep, they are playing around and doing gymnastics in their crib!
Or maybe, they laid there for a while and are now fussing, crying, and protesting their nap.
If your child is doing either of these things, it doesn’t mean that it’s time to drop the nap.
Instead, it could be that they have “caught a second wind” from their lunch which is causing them to have a harder time winding down and falling asleep for their nap.
To remedy this, instead of giving your child 20-30 minutes between lunch and nap while you clean the kitchen up and they play, I want you to immediately clean them up, change their diaper, put them in their pajamas and sleep sack and and then put them in their crib for their nap.
Eliminating the gap between lunch and nap time will help your child fall asleep more easily for their nap because they’re naturally more sleepy after they eat and fill their belly.
5. Acknowledge the Cuddle Moment
Let’s talk about the last and final piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving and handling the 18 month sleep regression.
It’s called the “cuddle moment.”
As a parent, it’s good and normal for you to want to snuggle your toddler!
Snuggling is a priceless gift that every parent should cherish.
Your toddler won’t be a toddler forever and you need to savor it while it lasts!
However, if you are cuddling your toddler while you are standing in the dark and they are laying on your shoulder, feeling cozy and snuggly in their sleep sack, right before you place them into their crib, it could be hindering their sleep!
That’s because if your toddler is leaning their head on your shoulder and closing their eyes as you sing their favorite song in the dark, then they are likely getting drowsy.
I’m not a cuddle monster, I promise you, I LOVE cuddles, but it’s important that your toddler does not get drowsy on you before you put them in their crib.
Drowsiness is the first stage of sleep. Drowsiness outside of their crib is a problem because it is the enemy of sleep.
Your child will look for you to become drowsy again, hindering their ability to sleep on their own.
They will protest going to sleep on their own, or they will wake in the night looking for you.
So, here’s what I want you to do.
Pick up your sweet toddler, place them into their crib, and then lean over and give them a hug and a kiss.
Say a prayer, sing your song, and then go turn their sound machine on, turn the light off, say, “Night night,” and close the door.
Enjoy snuggles throughout the day or in the evening before bedtime routine begins and your toddler begins to feel sleepy!
Remove the “cuddle moment” and experience the magic of enjoying a connecting bedtime routine and a good night’s rest without the drowsy cuddles and protesting!
The 18 Month sleep regression is real and it can manifest itself in the following ways:
- Early morning wakings
- Rejecting the nap
- Night wakings
- Difficulty falling asleep
If your toddler is not sleeping independently, then consider investing in my Toddler Sleep Training Program HERE.
If your toddler is an independent sleeper, then implement the following strategies below to conquer the 18 month sleep regression.
- Get all of your toddler’s energy out by allowing them to engage in active, outdoor play before nap and before bedtime.
- Have fun together and enjoy connecting during bedtime routine by engaging in 10 minutes of toddler-led play
- Remove all bottles and/or sippy cups of milk before bedtime
- Avoid a gap between lunch and nap and put your toddler down for their nap immediately after they finish eating
- Remove the “cuddle moment” from your toddler’s bedtime routine and enjoy snuggling them during the day and evening without the bedtime drowsiness
HELPFUL? PIN IT FOR LATER!
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