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18-24 Month Sleep Regression

Congratulations, you officially have a toddler on your hands! Toddler sleep is a different beast than infant sleep! It starts to become more about behavior than schedule. This can be more difficult to navigate, especially if you have a strong-willed child! I hope that amidst these changes, your little one is still sleeping soundly, but it is very common for sleep to regress around this time. The timing of when this regression hits can vary, depending on your child’s development.

What causes the 18-24 month regression?

Your baby is experiencing many physical, emotional and cognitive advancements around 18-24 months! They are starting to realize that they have a say in what they do, and they can recognize cause and reaction! For example: “If I scream, Mom comes in and picks me up!” Now that they know they have some control, they may choose not to sleep when you say it’s time… They may choose to do gymnastics in the crib instead!

You may also notice that your child's mobility is increasing as they learn to walk or run. Cognitively, they may be starting to follow one-step commands, mimic simple tasks, and are picking up new words to add to their ever-growing vocabulary! These changes can be noticeable any time around 18-24 months, and typically results in a sleep regression that can last 1-2 weeks.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety tends to be higher around this time. Not only are they adapting to their new skills, they also experience a change in their perspective. They see themselves as their own person now, not just an extension of you! They have a growing desire for independence, but also want to know that you are close by to watch them and keep them safe. You might notice a bigger emotional reaction when you leave the room or create distance between you. 

Sleep is getting harder, now what?!

First of all, we want to rule out any other possible causes! If your child is waking up more in the night suddenly, there could be a few things happening:

  1. Are they teething or possibly getting sick? We always evaluate this first, before we make any changes. If they are sick or teething, they may be struggling with sleep because of their discomfort. In this case, we want to help them get better and not make changes to their sleep schedule or routine. If they are sick, we don’t want to change their schedule.

  2. It’s possible that their sleep schedule is no longer serving them. If your 18 month old is still taking two naps a day, it is time to drop the second nap! Alternatively, if they are taking one nap but it is too short or too long, then we may not be giving them the right sleep pressure for bedtime. At this age, we want to aim for 4.5-6 hours of awake time, when taking one nap a day. 

  3. They are feeling well and their sleep schedule is perfect, then you can feel confident that they have hit the regression! 

How can we help them through the regression? 

Don’t let this regression take over your life! I know it can be really tough, but it is a phase and you should have your happy sleeping baby back in no time! 

Here are some tips to get you through it:

  1. Focus on their daytime schedule. Wake windows are important and not something we can ignore! Overall, your child's sleep requirements are 11-14 hours total. 

  2. Since separation anxiety is higher, we want to ensure that your child feels extra loved and secure right now. Try setting aside 20-30 minutes of bonding time with your child, BEFORE starting the bedtime routine. This will help them feel like their “cup is full” before they have to say goodbye for the night. 

  3. Let’s focus on giving lots of play time and sunshine during the day! Try to fill their wake windows with activities to get their body moving! If they are just starting to walk or run, let’s give them the opportunity to practice during the day.

  4. Allow them opportunity for independence. They have a new desire to make choices, so let’s give them some! If they can make some decisions for themselves during the day, they will be less likely to fight you. This can be as simple as giving them a couple options of pajamas and books to choose from during their bedtime routine. Remember that they have their own opinion now, and they want to express it!

  5. Stay consistent. It’s important that we don’t bring in any new potential habits during this time that they may cling to! It might be tempting to just bring them to bed so everyone can sleep, but it will be difficult to move away from that once your child knows that is an option! So stay consistent with what you're willing to continue doing moving forward.

  6. Around this age is when we can consider using a reward chart to motivate the best behaviours/habits. You can download my free reward chart here!

WORD OF WARNING! It's not uncommon to see regressions at 18 AND 24 months 😬 But these tips will help you get through all of it! If you've been struggling for more than 2 weeks, then you may have developed some new habits while you were in survival mode! You are not alone and help is here! Book a free call with one of our Certified Sleep Coaches and let us write an action plan for you to get your child back on track! 

Sleep tight!

-Jane Anderson

Founder and Certified Sleep Coach

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