It is not uncommon for 18-month-olds to go through a sleep regression period. During this time, they wake up at night, refuse naps, act irritable, and resist bedtime.
This sleep problem affects many different aspects of toddlers’ lives. These include their moods, eating habits, and behavior.
The 18-month sleep regressions can be also caused by changes in the environment. This includes developmental changes occurring during that same period.
Your toddler may create a worrying pattern that may lead to increased stress for you as parents and him/her alike.
The best way to deal with toddlers’ sleep regression is to prepare ahead of time. You may consider setting up routines that help your child feel less stressed during the day. You’ll find that your bedtime goes more smoothly.
Let’s talk more in detail below.
What is toddler sleep regression?
At 18 months, toddlers start experiencing sleep problems.
It is also common for them to wake up multiple times throughout the night. They will also fall back asleep on their own without any parental assistance.
This behavior starts around this period because of environmental changes and emotional development.
Their sleep habits get disrupted as they become more aware of the world around them, causing a new wave of separation anxiety at night.
Toddlers also start to develop their personalities during this time frame which can influence how well they will sleep.
Some other potential causes might be teething or an increase in developmental milestones. Such include crawling, walking, talking, etc.
All these can contribute to a lack of necessary rest from nighttime slumber.
All toddlers go through these types of difficulties with sleeping eventually. However, some parents notice issues beginning earlier than others do.
Causes of toddler sleep regression
Several different factors may cause the 18-month sleep regression. Some potential causes include:
a. Separation anxiety
Becoming more aware of surroundings can lead to an increase in separation anxiety at night. This is especially common for children who turn 18 months old or are still getting adjusted to a new school/daycare setting.
b. Developmental milestones
Around this age, children are on a path of learning how their bodies work. They’re also getting to know what behaviors are acceptable or not in public settings.
Toddlers might be less likely to go back to sleep if they have just accomplished something new. It may include something as cute as standing up on their own or crawling across a room without help.
They may want others around them to acknowledge that achievement instead of taking naps/going into their cribs. Otherwise, it pretty much feels like “giving up” to them.
Parents can help by praising these new tasks instead of trying to force the children back into their beds.
A child’s first teeth typically come in around this time frame as well. Teething can bother them during naps and nighttime sleep times.
It causes discomfort that makes it difficult for toddlers to rest properly at night.
Parents should look out for signs like drooling or chewing on toys before bedtime unusually. If so, they may need something soothing (like a teether) before getting ready for bed each evening.
Kids’ immune systems are still adjusting to the world around them at this point in life.
That means their bodies may have a harder time fighting off colds or fever when sick. As a result, that can also affect sleep patterns.
Parents should pay attention to these red flags. It’s important not to ignore potential illnesses that might arise during this time.
e. Fear of the dark and/or monsters under the bed
Some children might believe early in the existence of Santa Claus or monsters under their beds.
This is often referred to as magical thinking and typically occurs between the ages of two and five years old.
Toddlers who’re afraid at night may need a little extra protection against these perceived dangers. You as a parent may use something like a nightlight, stuffed animal friend, etc.
f. Hunger pangs or thirst
Toddler’s food intake is more sporadic around this age. Their eating schedules are typically less predictable than they were before.
This change may cause them to get hungry throughout the night as well.
This can interfere with their ability to sleep for long periods or at all if left unfed overnight. Parents should make sure children have healthy snacks on hand in case these feelings arise during bedtime routines.
Getting introduced to new things, staying up past usual bedtimes, and general excitement with life can cause over-excitement at nighttime too.
This makes it harder for toddlers’ minds and bodies to settle down enough for restful slumber. They will first have to expend that extra energy (which may take hours).
Signs and symptoms of toddler sleep regression
There are several different signs and symptoms you should look out for if you suspect you’re facing this issue.
These may include:
- Disrupted sleeping patterns
- Increased crying at night
- Difficulty in self-soothing, and decreased interest in new activities and surroundings
- Increased tantrums, and mood swings
- Extra fussiness when bedtime nears
- Staying awake or showing anxiety once put in bed
- Inability to go back to sleep once awakened at night
- Increased and longer naps during the daytime
How to cope with toddler sleep regressions
Here are a few tips on how to cope with the issue:
a. Make sure you consult your pediatrician
They can help identify if there’s an actual health problem causing these issues.
Also, discuss potential solutions for the 18-month sleep regression for your toddler.
b. Maintain a structured sleep schedule
It’s important to maintain a routine.
This will allow your child to become familiar with the pattern, and eventually get used to it.
Sticking to one schedule for naps and bedtime is pretty helpful since it allows your children to know what’s coming next.
c. Make sure you’re creating an environment that encourages sleep
Avoid exposing kids at night time by maximizing sunlight during daytime hours. Minimizing sound through earplugs or white noise machines.
Avoiding physical activity before sleeping also goes a long way to help both of you cope. It can help in reducing stress levels in general which tends to interfere with toddlers’ ability to fall asleep easily on their own.
d. Get active with the toddler during daytime hours
Try to engage in activities together.
This can be a great way of bonding and releasing stress at the same time for both of you.
Also, parents must get involved with their kids’ everyday lives as much as they can. Doing so will encourage them to feel safe and secure even when alone.
It will help toddlers cope better during nighttime hours if given more attention from adults throughout the day.
e. Be consistent with whatever approach you take
When it comes down to sleeping habits, consistency is key!
Your child needs stability and reassurance so he knows what to expect every single day. It also clears any doubts whatsoever about his safety and security while under your care at home.
f. Make changes gradually, and one at a time
Changes in routines can affect sleep patterns. In light of that, you have to take extra care when adjusting the schedule.
Make small changes, one at a time.
This will prevent your child from feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by sudden alterations in their daily routine. It will also give you enough time for adjustments while still allowing them to get the sleep they need to function properly.
e. Try not to stress too much about it
After all, this is something many parents go through at some point in their child’s early development.
Other tips for dealing with your toddler’s 18-month sleep regression
Here are some other tips that can help you and your toddler have a better experience during the next regression:
- Create consistency with their bedtime routine each day. (e.g., bath, book, then bed). It also helps if parents use expressions like “It’s sleep time” instead of simply saying goodnight which suggests that it is okay not to go right away.
- Parents should make sure that there aren’t any lights on during nighttime hours. This is since it may interfere with melatonin production needed for falling into slumber quickly.
- Parents should also keep toddlers away from caffeinated drinks, especially right before bedtime.
- Parents should monitor for fevers during naptimes and nighttime hours. More so, if toddlers begin acting lethargic all of a sudden after staying active earlier that day/night. These issues could be signs of illness including ear infections too.
How parents can prepare ahead of time for possible toddler regressions
There are also some things you can do to prepare for toddler regressions:
a. Take an inventory of your child’s toys and belongings
This will help ensure that toddlers have enough entertainment during nighttime hours so they won’t feel bored. It also prevents them from feeling lonely when you aren’t around with them.
Children must know where everything is, especially at bedtime time. It helps decrease anxiety which tends to interfere with sleep patterns later on.
b. Prepare a backup plan for emergencies
Try not to let these interrupt the schedule if possible. This is because consistency plays a significant role in establishing good habits from early childhood.
Parents should also try to be as quick and efficient as possible when dealing with emergencies. This is because it can help toddlers become less stressed out by these occurrences.
c. Prepare for the eventuality of teething
Teething usually occurs between six months and two years of age. Some children experience it even earlier than that.
Teething can cause pain and discomfort. It also leaves children feeling fussy due to swollen gums, cuts inside the mouth, or fever.
Parents should make sure that their toddlers drink lots of fluids during teething episodes. It helps them stay hydrated, which in turn reduces their risk of contracting common illnesses like flu, colds, or fevers.
Your toddler will eventually learn to sleep well with your help as long as you’re consistent and patient enough to reach that goal together!
Although this may be at first frustrating for both of you, it doesn’t mean there isn’t hope just yet! Just keep things up by following the tips above and encourage healthy sleeping habits from an early age.
This way, they’ll know how to adapt quickly if ever faced with similar issues again down the road. Make sure not to over-indulge them though because it can backfire on you when they get older and more resistant to change.