12 Month Sleep Regression The Complete Survival Guide

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 19 February 2021

Are you currently going through the dreaded 12 month sleep regression with a baby who simply REFUSES to sleep?

Are you a parent who has heard about the 12 month sleep regression and is trying to prepare themselves for it or trying to do all they can to avoid it?

Are you absolutely exhausted and just looking for some advice and reassurance that this 12 month sleep regression phase will end and your baby will be the angel sleeper they once were again soon?

How to Survive the 12 Month Sleep Regression!

If you answered YES to at least 1 of those questions above, then you’re DEFINITELY in the right place!

In today’s article I want to explain exactly what a 12 month sleep regression is, why it happens, what you can do about it and most importantly, give you the advice and support to get through this challenging time!

So let’s get right on into it before we all fall asleep on the sofa from sheer exhaustion!

What is a 12 month sleep regression?

At any age, a sleep regression is when your baby’s established sleep schedule is disrupted.

Most sleep regressions coincide with milestone developmental changes and at 12 months old there is HUGE amount going on, therefore a 12 month sleep regression can occur!

Your baby's cognitive and emotional development will also be coming on in leaps and bounds as they start to say their first words, start transitioning from 2 day time naps to 1 and some maybe experience separation anxiety too.

One-year-olds show greater emotional engagement, increased communication, heightened cognitive skills, and expanded physical abilities including spending more time standing and cruising (walking while holding onto furniture)

Naturally, if you have finally managed to get your little one into a healthy sleep routine and you are all getting a good night's sleep, a 12 month sleep regression can be very frustrating and alarming.

So, is your baby REALLY going through a 12 month sleep regression?

Is my baby really going through a sleep regression?

Identifying whether you're going through a 12 month sleep regression or not can be quite tricky. 

A regression would suggest that this is something temporary and your baby should settle back into a normal sleep schedule after 3 - 4 weeks.

If however, it lasts for longer than this... then you are more likely to be seeing a phase that needs some sleep training approach to get your little one back on track.

So what signs do you need to look out for if you think your baby is going through a 12 month sleep regression?

Top Tip

If your baby starts to have trouble sleeping at around their 1st birthday, remember what is going on in their development on all levels.

Signs your baby is going through the 12 month sleep regression

If your little one has generally been settling and sleeping well until now, the signs that your baby is experiencing a sleep regression are:

  • Resisting bedtime 
  • Restlessness and more frequent night waking
  • Struggling to get back to sleep after night time waking
  • Sleeping for longer in the day

Remember, a 12 month sleep regression is temporary and should only last no more than 3-4 weeks before you get back into a good consistent routine. 

Top Tip

Noticing and acting on sleep cues can help hugely with a 12 month sleep regression.

Causes of the 12 month sleep regression

Determining why your baby is going through a 12 month sleep regression can seem daunting as there may be several causes some of which are more obvious than others.

Causes of the 12 Month Sleep Regression

Separation anxiety

Many babies experience separation anxiety as they become more emotionally developed. This can happen at any point from about 8 months up and is perfectly normal.

Separation anxiety will result in your baby being less able to settle at nap time and bedtime and if they should wake, they will find it difficult to go back to sleep without you with them.

I will be going more into how to control separation anxiety later in the post so keep reading to find out more!

Developmental milestone leaps

12 months of age can be a very busy time developmentally.

As their physical, cognitive and emotional development is advancing, their little brains are very busy learning new words and figuring out how to walk. This can result in them finding it difficult to settle to sleep due to overtiredness.

I will also be going into more detail about sleep vs developmental milestones later in the post too, so keep your eyes out for that as well!

Changes in day time naps and sleep needs

Some 12-month-olds will start to fight sleep during the day and will drop from 2 naps to 1 during the day.

Others will become more tired as they get used to being more physically active and need MORE sleep during the day so they won’t drop the second nap until they are 14 months old or older. 

Both of these factors can disrupt your baby’s sleep and getting the balance right during this transition can be tricky as your baby may become overtired and this can lead to difficulty in falling asleep and subsequently to more night-time waking.

REMEMBER: Sleep breeds sleep!

Change in routine like going on holiday or moving house

Just like many of us adults, having a major change in routine or location may disrupt your little one’s established sleeping habits.

My own son was affected by this when we travelled from South Africa to the UK when he was a 12 month old. He had always been a great sleeper then suddenly became more difficult to settle, fighting sleep and started waking more at night! NOT FUN.

Thankfully, this was short-lived and once we were back home he settled back into his normal sleep routine.

Illness

Sleep regression can also be triggered by illness. If your baby has been unwell and you have had to attend to them more at night, once better they may wish the nighttime contact to continue.

REMEMBER

Once your little one is feeling well again, it is REALLY important to get back into your usual routine as soon as possible.

When dealing with sleep regressions there are a couple of things that can cause sleep problems but should NOT be confused with a true 12 month sleep regression.

They are:

Growth spurts

When a baby experiences a growth spurt, it may temporarily upset their sleep patterns due to the fact they become more hungry during this time.

Your baby may require more solid food during the day to sustain them through the night.

I would advise NOT feeding them more at night if they wake more than they would normally do, but rather feed them more during the day.

You don’t want your baby getting used to more nighttime feeds again!

Teething

If your little one is teething, then this will also disrupt their sleep patterns for a few days and it is NOT technically a sleep regression. 

Offering some pain relief and comfort until the offending tooth has emerged is really all you can do. Click here to check out my Natural Teething Toys article to find the perfect solution to soothe your baby's pain away!

How long does a 12 month sleep regression last?

A true 12 month sleep regression will normally last no more than 2-3 weeks if addressed correctly. The cause of sleep regression may be due to several factors or only one. 

Regression due to illness or teething is usually short-lived but separation anxiety can be more tricky to deal with and may take longer to get back on track. 

Top Tip

Not all sleep disturbances at 12 months are technically a sleep regression. Teething and a growth spurt can also disturb your baby's sleep patterns and are short lived.

How to control separation anxiety to help sleep regression

As promised, here’s how to control separation anxiety to help the 12 month sleep regression...

From 8 months up, babies and toddlers develop emotionally and, as a result, they become far more aware of being left alone

12-month-olds are very prone to going through a phase when they become more clingy and don’t like to be left alone, but here are things that you can do to help them through this stage. 

Not falling into bad habits when you are experiencing sleep problems with your baby can be very difficult and understandably so for new parents. So try the following:

  1. Help your baby to practice being separated from you for short periods of time during the day. Putting them in a playpen or crib to play alone for a little while is a great way to safely do this. Also, leaving them with another trusted adult will help your child get used to being away from you.
  2. Keep nighttime interaction to a minimum. Try not to pick your baby up when they cry, rather pat them and resettle them in the crib. 
  3. Stick to consistent sleep routines when you are putting them down for a nap so that they know what to expect using familiar words and doing things in the same order each time.
  4. Try a night light, musical toy or white noise machine for comfort. This will also become a ‘sleep trigger’ which your baby will identify with nighttime sleep only. If you’re looking for top recommended baby sleep products, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox Sleep Page for more ideas!
  5. Give them a favourite soft toy to keep them company.
  6. Keep to a regular bedtime routine.

As with all sleep regressions, you need to be consistent. Just maintain as much structure as you can to your nighttime routines and implement the above suggestions and be patient. Things will settle back down soon!

How developmental milestones might be causing a 12 month sleep regression

As we briefly mentioned earlier, one of the most common causes of a 12 month sleep regression is the fact that your baby is reaching a wide range of developmental milestones right now!

At this age, there is a lot going on developmentally both physically, cognitively and emotionally, as they learn a range of new skills.

A combination of being physically more active, cruising around the furniture and maybe even taking their first tentative steps can be very tiring for a baby. This can easily lead to them showing signs of over tiredness, which may result in your baby finding it hard to fall asleep or sleep through the night.

Watching out for sleep cues and ensuring your baby is getting enough nap time can help when dealing with this developmentally busy phase.

In addition, at around one year of age, your baby will be learning new words, becoming more aware of the world around them and how they function within it. 

All in all this can, in some cases, temporarily disrupt your baby’s established sleeping patterns, which can be very disheartening for parents especially if you have finally been getting some well earned good night's of sleep.

So what exactly can you do about a 12 month sleep regression then?

What can YOU do about a 12 month sleep regression? My Top 12 Tips!

Thankfully, sleep regressions are transitory and not all 12 month old babies will experience disruption to their bedtime routines.

If however, your little one does start to experience sleep troubles around their first birthday, then you could be dealing with a 12 month sleep regression. 

BUT, there are some things you can do to help both your and your baby get through a sleep regression at this age!

1. Stick to established sleep routines 

If your baby is experiencing a 12 month sleep regression, it is very important that you continue to follow your established bedtime routines and nap time sleep schedule.

Don’t be tempted to pick your baby up more or go back to rocking them to sleep if you have not been doing this before. Otherwise, you run the risk of establishing bad habits that will be hard to undo.

2. Know how much sleep your 12-month-old needs

In order to help your baby through a 12 month sleep regression, it is helpful to know how much sleep they should be having.

The average 12-month-old needs 13-15 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period with 2-3 hours of that taken in day time naps depending on how long they sleep at night.

3. Make sure your baby has age-appropriate naps

Most babies of this age usually still need a morning nap and an afternoon nap, but some will be showing signs of transitioning from two naps down to one nap and this can be quite tricky to judge.

The transitioning period itself may be the cause of the 12 month sleep regression, so getting daytime naps right is a bit of a balancing act to avoid your little one from becoming overtired especially at a time when they are becoming more active and developing rapidly.

4. Watch for sleep cues

When it comes to dealing with nap transition, spotting your babies sleep cues is KEY to helping get through a 12 month sleep regression.

Put your baby down for a nap when they appear to be getting tired and if they are missing their morning nap, make sure they have a longer afternoon nap.

Once this phase has passed, they will probably be settling into one afternoon nap anyway. But in the meantime, you are going to have to be prepared to do a bit of a juggling act and may find they have 2 naps on most days of the week with the odd day when they only have 1.

5. Have a consistent bedtime routine

Toddlers of this age should be going to bed between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. By now you hopefully have a consistent, well established and healthy bedtime routine such as Bath, Book and Bed which allows them to take cues from the bedtime routine and wind down in preparation for sleep.

Having a well established bedtime routine before a 12 month sleep regression hits, does make it easier to deal with.

6. Create a healthy sleep environment

Ensuring your baby's bedroom is conducive to sleep is also VITAL.

Make sure there is not too much light, that the room is at the right temperature and it might help to use a white noise machine to keep a consistent gentle background noise.

Some babies may like some light in their room, in which case I would definitely use a soft nightlight.

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7. Let your baby sleep with a favourite toy

Putting a favourite soft toy in bed with your baby may help with separation problems as it may smell of you and be very comforting to them. 

8. Keep day times active

This is a time in your baby’s life when they become increasingly active. Make sure they get plenty of opportunities to use all that energy by cruising around furniture and maybe even walking.

Making your home toddler-proof or at least one room where they can explore safely will make your life a lot easier. Finally, try and get outdoors in the fresh air every day.

9. Make sure your little one is getting enough to eat during the day

At twelve months of age, your baby is capable of going all night without needing a feed so do not be tempted to feed your baby when they wake at night in order to resettle them.

Rather, make sure they are having enough calories during the day to fuel any growth spurt and extra activities they might be doing. Ideally, they will need between 800 and 1000 calories per day from a mixture of milk and food (if you've started weaning).

10. Help your baby get used to spending short periods of time on their own or apart from you

As mentioned I mentioned earlier, encourage your baby to spend short periods of time alone in a playpen or their crib whilst they are awake.

Keep popping back to check on them so that they know that you will return.

This will teach them that they’re safe and ok to be alone and that you will return in time! This will make going to sleep alone at night much easier for your baby to understand and be comfortable with.

11. Don’t try to wean your baby off the breast or bottle 

As your baby is dealing with a lot of changes developmentally, I would not recommend trying to wean them off the breast or bottle if they are going through a 12 month sleep regression.

Instead, wait for the regression to pass before beginning weaning. If your baby is not going through a regression, then by all means, go right ahead!

12. Give your Baby lots of love, affection and one-on-one time during the day

Finally, give your baby lots of love and affection and one-on-one time during the day. This is a wonderful age when so much is going on in your little one’s life. Explore with them and spend lots of time cuddling and playing together.

How can You care for Yourself during a sleep regression phase?

Sleep regressions are tough for your baby and EQUALLY as tough on you as the parent.

A 12 month sleep regression can be very disheartening for parents who have worked hard to establish healthy sleep habits in their little one... but keep in mind that this is just a transitory phase so don’t be too hard on yourself if you are finding it tough to be consistent with sleep routines and nap times.

Just remember to try and take a break if you can, by letting a close family member or friend look after your baby occasionally and if you are feeling very tired, then put your toddler somewhere safe such as a playpen or crib and make yourself a cup of tea.

Also, as hard as it may feel to do, try to get out for a walk with your baby in a stroller every day.

It can give you a break and will entertain your little one while giving them the fresh air that may help them sleep better. Trust me, even a short 5 minute walk to the end of the road and back will help you feel better and more human.

Top Tip

When things get tough, just remind yourself sleep regressions are a passing phase. Stay loving and consistent and this too shall pass.

FAQs

Will sleep regressions ruin your sleep training plans?

The answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY NOT.

This is where having a well-established bedtime routine will help when dealing with a 12 month sleep regression. Stick to your bedtime routines and do not fall into bad habits when dealing with night time waking. 

When to seek help from a doctor

There are some occasions when you may feel the need to seek medical advice in connection with your toddler experiencing a change in their normal sleep patterns; especially if the sleep disruption is associated with any of the following:

  • Lack of growth
  • Difficulty breathing or snoring when sleeping
  • Any major change in eating habits
  • Change is bowel movements or frequency of urination.

Do all children have a 12 month sleep regression?

The 12 month sleep regression is actually one of the rarest regressions to occur and is usually due to day time nap transitions and or multiple developmental milestones being reached at once.

Is my 12 month experiencing a sleep regression or teething pains?

As I mentioned in the causes of the 12 month sleep regression, sleep disruption can be a result of teething. However, it will only last a few nights and the signs and symptoms of teething would be evident. You can find out more about teething signs and symptoms and the impact they will have on your baby’s sleep in my Teething article! 

This would not be a true sleep regression, but rather a sleep problem that is short lived.

NOTE

A true 12 month sleep regression will (unfortunately) last around 2-3 weeks.

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As I mentioned in this post, if you're looking for products for your little one and you're not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox.

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Thank you for your continued support!

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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