16 Month Sleep Regression: Is It The 18 Month In Disguise?

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 08/10/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Regressions

Is your child suddenly fighting sleep? Being fussy? Struggling to settle? The 16 month sleep regression has arrived. Here’s what that means, and what exhausted parents need to know to get through it with healthy sleep habits intact.

What Is The 16 Month Sleep Regression?

How Long Does The 16 Month Sleep Regression Last?

If your child experiences it, the 16 month sleep regression, commonly lasts between 2 and 6 weeks depending on the trigger.

16 Month Sleep Regression Signs

If you suspect your little one is experiencing a 16 month sleep regression, here are some of the signs that will confirm your suspicions:

So, if you are nodding your head in agreement whilst reading this list… Then your little one is almost certainly experiencing a sleep regression.

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly through a healthy nighttime routine? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

Causes Of The 16 Month Sleep Regression

There are a variety of causes of the 16 month sleep regression. But if I had to narrow them down, these are the top causes of sleep regressions that every parent should be aware of.

Causes Of The 16 Month Sleep Regression

1. Newfound Independence

For some toddlers, their newfound desire for independence around the 16-18 month mark makes them want to push boundaries and resist established routines.

Sadly for us… this includes resisting naps and bedtimes.

In addition, toddlers are loving their growing ability to interact with the world around them.

This can mean that they find it hard to wind down at the end of the day, making falling asleep quite tricky.

2. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is also very common at this age and will make it difficult for your little one to fall asleep or to become distressed when they wake up at night and discover you’re not with them.

3. Developmental Leaps

A lot is going on physically at this age with your little one perfecting the art of walking, climbing and talking. There is a lot going on cognitively as well as they become increasingly aware of the world around them and their place in it.

All that extra brain and body activity can easily disrupt their sleep.

4. Their Sleep Needs Are Changing

During toddlerhood, your little one’s sleep patterns will fluctuate with their development.

This means that on some days your toddler may need to go to bed a little later and wake up later. Or they’ll need to go to bed sooner and wake up earlier.

They may even start nap transitioning from 2 short naps to 1 long nap time.

This is a natural part of growing up and you will have to make these sleep adjustments as your toddler grows.

However, if not managed properly, your toddler can easily fall into the 16 month old sleep regression.

5. Their Routine And Environment Has Changed

Moving house, going on holiday or visiting family overnight can all trigger a sleep regression.

And any major changes in routine could also upset an established day sleep schedule such as starting daycare, parents returning to work or the primary caregiver changing.

6. They’re Teething Or Sick

Your toddler’s first molars may start to erupt at this age. If your little one is experiencing pain due to teething their sleep is very likely to be disrupted for a short while and although this is not a true sleep regression in itself, it may trigger one.

Investing in a natural teething toy can help soothe your baby resulting in helping them sleep better!

Like teething, illness may cause a sleep disruption for a short period of time and although this is not a true sleep regression, sickness can trigger a brief one as your little one may have been used to you responding to every cry or unsettled sleep while they were unwell.

7. Hunger

With all the increased physical activity that your 16 month old is now capable of they may need more calories to keep them going.

This can result in them waking more often due to hunger so you need to keep an eye on their calorie intake during the day (especially at the end of the day).

How Much Sleep Do 16 Month Olds Need?

Your 16 month old should be having between 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period with the bulk of this being taken at night and the remainder over 1 or 2 naps.

Tips To Get Through The 16 Month Sleep Regression

Sleep regressions are tough, there is no question about that. However, there are things you can do to help you and your child get through this phase and come out the other side with your healthy sleep habits intact.

16 Month Sleep Regression Tips

1. Set Limits And Stay Consistent With Routines

As your toddler becomes more independent, they will need you to set some consistent boundaries in order to help them feel better able to cope.

Realising they are capable of doing so many new things can be very overwhelming for a child.

So, make sure you have a consistent sleep schedule in place during the day to help your toddler learn how to respond to established routines for naps and bedtimes.

If you have to cancel a few plans over the coming weeks to ensure you’re at home for naps and bedtime, it will be worth it in the long run.

2. Have Lots Of Cuddles

Sleep regressions can sometimes make your little one feel less secure. Offering extra cuddles and snuggle time can help reassure them as they navigate this tricky phase.

3. Watch For Hunger Being A Nighttime Waking Trigger

It is very tempting to feed your baby in order to get them back to sleep… however, this is not a habit you want to continue.

Offering mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks can help as well as a milky drink before bed (a bottle or cup of formula or breastmilk, depending on your preference and weaning stage).

4. Keep Nighttime Interactions Low-Key

If your little one wakes at night then it’s super important to keep your interactions low-key. Have the lights down low and do not chat to them. A night light is a great investment as it stops you from having to turn on a light when visiting them at night.

My Top Pick
Toddler Night Light Lamp By LICKLIP

Finding the right night light for your child can be quite a task. You want something safe, comforting, and practical. The Cozy Starry Night Light ticks these boxes, with eye-friendly warm lighting and an easy-to-use dimmer.

Its gentle glow makes it the best night light for feeding baby, diaper changes, or comforting your little one back to sleep.

As your baby grows the Cozy Starry Night Light's starry sky projection can provide comfort and gentle quiet time stimulation. Its soft lighting ensures a dreamy, peaceful environment, supporting your baby’s natural sleep cycle.

It really is a fantastic nightlight (at a very reasonable price!)

  • Eye-friendly warm lighting with adjustable brightness.
  • Includes a timer function for convenience.
  • Projects a starry sky that is soothing for little ones.
  • Rechargeable battery, so it's very portable.
  • A USB adapter is not included for charging.
  • The star projector is static without motion (however, this is ideal for very young babies and toddlers).
  • Battery life varies based on the brightness settings.
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5. Teach Your Little One To Self-Settle

If you have not done so already, try and teach your little one to self-settle. Encourage your baby to spend short periods of time alone in a playpen or their crib during awake timesBut 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. It will also help your little one to learn independent sleep skills and as a result, they will go to sleep alone at night much easier as they understand that you will be back in the morning.

I personally prefer the Graco Play Yard for independent toddler play:

My Top Pick
Graco Pack 'n Play Portable Playard

This playpen takes very little time to set up and putting it away is a breeze thanks to its clever design. Small but perfectly suited for indoor and outdoor use, this play pen will keep baby safe no matter where you are!

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6. Try Not To Pick Them Up Every Time They Wake

It is very easy to fall into bad habits during a sleep regression so if your little one is waking more at night try leaving them to fuss for a short time when they wake, as they may just fall back to sleep without you having to go to them.

If however, they start to become distressed, you should go to them.

7. Learn Your Little Ones Sleep Cues And Act On Them

During a sleep regression, your little one may need more sleep during the day to make up for broken nights.

Increased physical activity and abilities can make your little one more tired than usual for a while. As they adjust to their new skills you will need to act upon sleep cues to avoid them becoming overtired.

Common sleep cues include: yawning, rubbing eyes, clenched hands, glazed eyes, being distracted, pulling ears, being withdrawm and becoming less social.

8. Make Up For Poor Nighttime Sleep With Extra Naps During The Day

Let your little one sleep whenever they need to during the day to avoid them becoming overtired. Knowing how much sleep your baby needs in a 24-hour period and then calculating how much daytime sleep they need will help enormously too.

Never try and keep your little one awake during the day in the hope they will sleep better at night. An overtired toddler is not going to go to bed peacefully or quietly.

Their bodies will be stressed and full of cortisol and adrenaline… And this is not ideal when getting ready for bed because your little one will be hyper instead.

9. Make Their Sleep Space More Conducive To Sleep

Now your little one getting older they will be more easily woken by sleep distractions and noise. So, darken the bedroom using blackout blinds and use a nightlight.

During a 16 month sleep regression your little one needs to be sleeping in a calm, dimly lit room. Using a white noise machine can eliminate background noise from disturbing their sleep too.

They will help to ensure that sudden changes in noise will have less of an impact on your sleeping baby.

My Top Pick
Dreamegg White Noise Machine - 21 Soothing Sounds

White noise machines are a game-changer for your little one's sleep and having one that plays all night is a must. With a long-lasting battery, this compact and stylish white noise machine contains 21 non-stop relaxing noises, which will lull your little one to sleep night after night, no matter where you are!

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10. Get Outside Everyday

Getting outside every day is also incredibly important for your toddler’s circadian rhythm and will definitely help them sleep better and reduce the impact of the 16 month old sleep regression.

Fresh air and natural light during awake times are crucial for healthy sleep and it has been proven that spending time outdoors each day benefits toddler sleep.

11. Help Your Little One Practice New Skills

It is important that you give your toddler plenty of opportunity to practice any new skills during wake times so that they are not desperate to do so when they should be sleeping.

Provide them with toys to help them walk, opportunities to learn to climb safely, play with construction toys such as building blocks and try simple puzzles too.

Read lots of books to encourage speech and cognitive development.

Paula's Pick
Lovevery Building Block Set

Possibly the most comprehensive wooden block set ever created!

This beautiful and brilliantly designed wood block set promotes spatial, language, and problem-solving skills through bright and solid wood building blocks, planks, shapes, people, magnetic wheels and dowels with a toggle string. All are safely kept in a wooden storage box and a cotton drawstring bag for storage at the end of a busy day!

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Our Top Pick
Le Toy Van - Petilou Wooden Walker Toy for Toddlers and Babies

Another toy staple is the baby walker and there are a lot out there to choose from. I really like this one from Le Toy Van. It is eco friendly, safe and sturdy and will be a firm favourite with your toddler before, during and after they learn to walk independently!

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Looking After Yourself During A Sleep Regression

As parents, we often forget to look after ourselves. Our children are our priority, and everything else falls into second place.

However, insufficient sleep will undoubtedly make us short-tempered and cranky… And at the best of times, looking after a toddler requires lots of energy and patience.

So to help yourself through the 16 month old sleep regression remember to:

Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you are struggling or feeling irritated. Sleep disruption and parenting go hand in hand…

But you can navigate these sleep regressions if you stick to established routines, understand what is going on in your toddler’s development and hold on to the fact that this is just a phase that will pass if handled correctly.

16 Month Sleep Regression Featured

Frequently Asked Questions About The 16 Month Sleep Regression

Looking for more information about the 16 month sleep regression? Check out the most commonly asked questions here.

Is There Really A Sleep Regression At 16 Months?

While there are certain ages at which sleep regressions are more common… the truth is that a sleep regression can happen at any time.

Why Is My 16 Month Old Suddenly Waking At Night?

If your 16 month old has been sleeping beautifully and suddenly starts waking at night this may be due to a number of triggers including teething or achieving a developmental milestone, starting daycare or changing sleep needs.

While you should always rule out any illness that may be affecting your little one, if all is well then you should deal with your little one’s nighttime waking and or nap resistance as a sleep regression and follow the tips listed above.

How Will I Know When The 16 Month Sleep Regression Is Over?

When your toddler settles back into a settled sleep routine consisting of regular daytime naps and bedtime with little to no waking at night, you can safely say that the regression has passed.

Is There A Developmental Leap At 16 Months?

At 16 months of age, your little one is likely to experience the following developmental leaps.

With all this activity going on in your little one’s development they may easily find it hard to wind down and fall asleep or stay asleep thus triggering a sleep regression.

Can Toddler Night Terrors Trigger A Sleep Regression?

Night terrors are usually a result of your little one being overtired or suffering from separation anxiety.

This can in itself trigger a sleep regression. It is, therefore, important that your toddler is getting to bed at an appropriate time and that you are addressing any separation anxiety issues they might be having.

Are the 16 Month Sleep Regression And 18-Month Sleep Regression The Same?

18 months of age is considered to be one of the more common ages at which a sleep regression may occur. However, a sleep regression can happen at any age.

If your toddler experiences a 16 month sleep regression, it does not mean that they will also experience an 18 month sleep regression.

Should I Let My 16-Month-Old Cry It Out?

No. Letting your 16 month old cry it out is not going to cure a sleep regression or make it pass any more quickly.

Sleep regressions are challenging and you will need to be patient and help your little one through this tricky phase by following the guidelines outlined in this post.

Can You Do Sleep Training When Your Child Is Going Through A 16 Month Sleep Regression?

I would NOT recommend doing any sleep training during a 16-month-old sleep regression unless the regression transfers into a permanent change in sleeping habits.

There is too much going on to change more of your baby’s sleep environment, so just follow the tips I have outlined above and you should get through the regression without undoing your hard work of creating healthy sleep habits.

Once you’re back on track you can start to assess sleep time and use sleep training methods to help your toddler get more night sleep with healthy sleep associations.

How To Navigate 16 Month Sleep Regression And Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a common cause of toddler sleep regressions but luckily there are things you can do to help your 16 month old through this phase.

Take a look at this post for other handy tips on how to handle separation anxiety: Why Does My Toddler Follow Me Everywhere?

When Do I Need To Talk To A Doctor About The 16 Month Sleep Regression?

If you are unsure if your little one’s change in sleep patterns is due to a sleep regression, watch for the following signs. If they are present then you should consult a doctor:

If your little one has a persistent fever or a cough which is waking them at night you should also consult a medical practitioner.

If bad sleep issues continue for more than a couple of months, you should also seek medical advice.

Further Reading

To learn more about sleep regressions and to prepare yourself for any future ones, read the following posts:

  1. 18-Month Sleep Regression
  2. 2-Year Sleep Regression
  3. Sleep Regression: What, Why, And How To Survive It!

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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