Parents of 18-month-olds have experienced many ups and downs in their baby's sleep journey: the restless nights of newborn's sleep “pattern,” the excitement of the first long sleep, the thrill of enjoying longer days together.
Now you may be wondering “Is there an 18-month sleep regression.” The answer is, yes, babies often experience an 18-month sleep regression.
We understand this may be frustrating to hear – who wants another sleep regression, right? – but rest assured that there are ways to manage and survive an 18-month sleep regression. This article will explain how and answer common questions, including, “How long is a sleep regression?” and “How can I manage the 18-month sleep regression?”
While you're navigating the 18-month sleep regression consider taking this FREE Sleep Assessment to get a personalized sleep plan that will combat your baby's sleep challenges.
What is a Sleep Regression?
Sleep regressions are when your baby is sleeping well for long periods of time and then suddenly, one night, wakes up randomly. And again the next night. And the next. That unexpected disruption of their sleep pattern – is basically known as a sleep regression.
What is the 18-Month Sleep Regression?
Sleep regressions coincide with your baby's developmental milestones. For that reason, sleep regressions can often be referred to as sleep progressions. And because they are so closely related to your baby's development they tend to come in waves – there's one at 4 months, another sleep regression around 8 or 9 months, 12 months, and, yes, around 18-months.
What Causes The 18-Month Sleep Regression?
Coinciding with big milestones, sleep regressions are caused by the many changes happening in your baby's body and mind. This is sometimes teething or a growth spurt, which can be uncomfortable, or the sleep regression is caused by your baby's excitement to learn new things.
The 18-month sleep regression is the same: your baby's motor skills are improving, they're learning how the world works, and, most impactfully for this regression, their personalities are growing, too. They're more individual than ever - and they know it! Essentially this regression is all about exercising their self-agency, testing boundaries and figuring out what the rules are!
Here are some 18-month developmental milestones to watch for:
- Point to objects
- Help you dress or wash them by putting their hands or feet out
- Flips through a book with you
- Trying to say new words
- Follows directions, such as "Give me the toy."
- Mimics what you do, like chores
- Understands how simple toys work
- Walks without support
- Holds a crayon or marker to scribble
- Drinks from a cup - with a few spills here and there.
- Feeds themselves with their fingers
All of these changes are exciting for your baby - far more exciting than sleep.
Individualism = Vocal Protest
Unlike some earlier sleep regressions, your baby is now familiar with the word, “No.” They're also understanding their individualism and may want to test boundaries, such as bedtime.
While these can be frustrating moments, remember that it's temporary and will pass. We also recommend taking some time to yourself. (The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app subscription includes some incredible mini meditations that will keep you centered, positive, and confident in any challenging time – including the 18-month sleep regression).
Signs of an 18-Month Sleep Regression
Your baby may be going through the 18-month regression if your baby is:
- Waking up at night
- Resisting bedtime or naps
- Sleeping longer during naptime
- Being cranky at bedtime.
But the 18 months sleep regression often comes with another sign:
This can be startling but it's normal for a baby to sometimes bang their head on the crib matress or cribside. That is how overtired and frustrated and just overwhelmed a sleep regression can be for them.
Remember, your baby is still learning language and how to react to challenges - this is simply their limited way of expressing themselves.
If your baby is a head-banger, the best way to handle it is to hold them close to you, facing your chest, and offer soft, soothing shushes as they calm down.
How Long Do Sleep Regressions Last?
Typically sleep regressions can be as brief as 2 weeks or go on for up 6 weeks. Luckily there are ways to handle and survive 18-month sleep regressions.
Does Separation Anxiety Cause the 18-Month Sleep Regression?
Yes, the 18-month sleep regression can be triggered by separation anxiety. Since your baby developed object permanence at around 8/9-months (This means they understand things and people still exist even when they're out of sight) - they may wake at night, not see you, and cry out because they miss you. What's important is not to reinforce it, but following your prefered sleep training approach (see how to survive below).
How to Survive an 18-Month Sleep Regression
Maintain Your Bedtime Routine: Calm, consistent routines are the cornerstone of healthy baby sleep - that's why they're one of the first parts of sleep coaching.
Whether experiencing a sleep regression or not, keeping the routine in place can work wonders. (And if you're just starting your sleep journey the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ will help you create a sleep routine for your baby.)
Have Your Baby Help: Since your baby understands more now, involve them in their sleep routine by asking them to pick their pajamas or a book. This helps them feel more “grown up” and can distract from potential protests.
If they still protest, make the choice for them. For example, if you're selecting a book, present the choices - “The Very Hungry Caterpillar or I Love You to The Moon and Back.” If your baby says “no,” you can reply, “Well, I love you to the moon, so I think that one is perfect” – and go along with your routine.
Wait It Out: While the 18-month sleep regression can last up to a few weeks, the actual nightly or daily time is brief: your baby wakes up and then ideally self-soothes. If your baby wakes up at night, wait a moment to see if they can put themselves back to sleep.
If your baby has never been able to fall asleep without support, then they may still need to learn that important skill. Sleep training with a tool like the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ will help you boost your baby's self-soothing powers.
Low Voice, Low Light: If you check on your baby, keep the lights low, and your voice, too. Too much light or activity will wake them more.
Review Sleep Training: Revisiting your baby's sleep coaching method and use it to help you manage the 18-month sleep regression.
Limit Screen Time: Screens stimulate babies and adults alike. For that reason, it's best to limit your baby's exposure to a tv or smartphone time before bed. This will help calm them for the rest ahead.
Reassure Them: You can help soothe your baby's separation anxiety by reminding them you're right down the hall.
A fun way to alleviate separation anxiety in your baby is by playing “I'll be right back”.
To do this, place your baby in a safe space, say “I'll be right back” and step out of sight for a minute or two, then return and say, “I'm back!”
This shows your baby that all is well if you leave and that, yes, you will always return. You can increase your baby's “alone endurance” by steadily increasing the amount of time you step away.
“This Too Shall Pass”: Like all regressions, your baby's 18-month regression is temporary. In frustrating times, remind yourself this will be over soon. And remind yourself too how much you've grown already as a parent – this is another chance to grow.
Is It Too Late to Sleep Train?
No. It's never too late to sleep coach. If you want to try, or want a new method that really works, simply download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. Co-developed with pediatric sleep experts, this easy-to-use app will guide you through the 18-month sleep regression and more.
How Much Should an 18-Month-Old Sleep?
Most 18-month-olds should sleep about 12-14 hours over a 24-hour period, with about 11 hours at night and 2-3 during one daytime nap.
What is an 18-Month-Old's Wake Window?
Typically, an 18-month-old stay awake about 5-5.5 hrs. between naps and bedtime. Your baby's unique, though, so be sure to watch for sleepy cues.
Learn more about how to deal with sleep regression
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.