18 Month Sleep Regression Masterclass: Causes, Signs & Tips!

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 11/16/21 •  11 min read

Oh no.

The 18 month sleep regression.

You’ve been warned about this dreaded time by everyone…

And now it’s here… In all its glory.

Your little one won’t sleep…

Which means neither do you.

They scream, cry and have a meltdown whenever sleep is offered…

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

Sleep regressions are temporary! 

Well, let’s dive right in before we all crash out from sleep deprivation!

What Is An 18 Month Sleep Regression?

If your baby is around 18 month old and has been going to bed like a dream and sleeping beautifully…

But suddenly starts to resist sleep and wakes frequently…

Then I am afraid they are experiencing what is known as the 18 month sleep regression!

Unfortunately, while all sleep regressions are challenging, the 18 month sleep regression is probably the most difficult to handle.

However, with that said…

There are many things that you can do to help your toddler through this tricky phase and get their sleep patterns back on track (quicker than you think!)

How Long Does An 18 Month Sleep Regression Last?

If your child experiences it, the 18 month sleep regression can last anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks.

Top 5 Causes Of The 18 Month Sleep Regression

There are a variety of triggers for the 18 month sleep regression.

But if I had to narrow them down, these are the top 5 I believe every parent should be aware of!

Causes Of The 18 Month Sleep Regression

1. Newfound Independence

For some toddlers, their newfound independence makes them want to push boundaries and resist established routines.

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 and makes falling asleep quite tricky.

2. Separation Anxiety

It is also quite normal for babies of this age to experience increased separation anxiety.

As they become more aware, 18 month olds can become more anxious about you leaving them, especially at nighttime.

This can easily trigger an 18 month sleep regression.

3. Changes In Your Toddler’s Sleep Rhythms

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

This means that some days your 18 month old may need to go to bed a little later and wake later in the morning.

Or they’ll need to go to bed sooner and wake up earlier!

They may even start transitioning from 2 short naps to 1 long one too!

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 succumb to the 18 month sleep regression.

4. Teething

Teething can disrupt sleep for your toddler and the effects can last longer than the teething itself.

If teething disrupts your toddler’s sleep for a short while, bad habits can form and it can take time to get back into a healthy, consistent sleeping routine again!

5. Illness

Similar to teething, illness can also upset your baby’s established sleep patterns and allow them to fall into bad habits that can prove tricky to fix.

When your baby is ill you will naturally spend more time holding them and rocking them to sleep.

However, once the illness has passed, your little one will want to go back to normal just yet.

Therefore, you will have to wean them off the extra support you have been giving them and teach them appropriate sleep routines once again.

So now you know the causes of an 18 month sleep regression are…

What are the signs that baby is going through an 18 month sleep regression?

And how can we get through this tricky time?!

6 Signs Your Baby Is Going Through The 18 Month Sleep Regression

If you suspect your little one is experiencing an 18 month sleep regression, here are some of the main signs that will confirm your suspicions:

  1. There is an increase in the number of nighttime wakings,
  2. Your little one struggles to fall asleep after they wake at night,
  3. They are resisting the established bedtime routine,
  4. More often than not, your toddler needs more daytime sleep,
  5. Your baby struggles to fall asleep when put to bed,
  6. And finally, your toddler gets out of bed more often.

If you are nodding your head in agreement whilst reading this list…

Then your little one is DEFINITELY experiencing an 18 month sleep regression.

So, here are 8 of my top tips to help you get through this tough time as quickly as possible!

What Can YOU Do About A 18 Month Sleep Regression? My Top 8 Tips!

The 18 month sleep regression is TOUGH, there is no question about that.

However, there are things you can do to help you and your toddler get through this phase and come out the other side with your sleep routines intact.

8 Tips to survive 18 month sleep regression

1. Set Limits And Stay Consistent

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 little one!

Make sure you have consistent routines and boundaries in place during the day to help your toddler learn how to respond to established routines for naps and bedtimes.

2. Take A Look At Mealtimes

As your toddler becomes more active, they may have an increase in appetite.

This could mean that you need to make sure they have enough to eat before bedtime to avoid them waking at night due to hunger (another hidden cause of the 18 month sleep regression!)

Try offering a healthy pre-bedtime snack such as apple slices and peanut butter or some yoghurt before bed to help them sleep through the night.

The wonderful Edwena at My Little Eater has some great Toddler Bedtime Snacks to try, so be sure to check her out too!

3. Adjust Nap Times And Bedtimes

This can be a tricky phase when it comes to naps and you might be tempted to drop naps in the hope that your toddler will be more tired for bed and sleep better at night.

However, as I over and over, less daytime sleep does NOT mean better nighttime sleep! 

In fact, the complete opposite happens.

An overtired toddler is not going to go to bed peacefully or quietly.

Their bodies will be stressed and full of adrenaline…

This is not ideal when getting ready for bed because they will be hyper instead!

If your toddler is transitioning from 2 naps to 1, you need to make sure that their nap is taken at a consistent time each day (preferably after lunch) and that they have had an adequately active morning to be ready for sleep.

4. Stick To The Bedtime Routine

I know that I am always going on about the bedtime routine, but having one at 18 months is vitally important to help with any 18 month sleep regression issues!

Having a calm and consistent bedtime routine for your toddler will not necessarily stop a sleep regression… 

But it will prepare your toddler for sleep and give them clear cues that bedtime is coming up and that it is a non-negotiable.

For more tips on establishing a healthy bedtime routine take a look at my post on Hacking the Bedtime Routine!

5. Get Outside Every Day

Getting outside every day is important to your toddler’s circadian rhythm and will definitely help them sleep better and reduce the impact of the 18 month sleep regression.

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

Here is a list of 41 Outdoor Activities for Toddlers to get them out and about and exploring our world!

6. Offer Comfort For Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a big trigger for the 18 month sleep regression.

It is very normal for your toddler to become anxious and upset at being left…

So you will need to handle this carefully and help them through this phase by offering comfort and coping techniques:

  1. Offer them a favourite stuffed toy to sleep with.
  2. Try an audiobook or music to lull them to sleep.
  3. Use a night light.
  4. Don’t immediately go to your toddler when they wake at night, but rather give them the opportunity to self-settle.
  5. Practice separation during the day by encouraging independent play or spending time with another family member without you.
  6. Avoid picking your toddler up when they wake. Instead, offer comfort and reassurance while they are lying down by using your voice.
  7. Keep the bedtime routine calm and comforting with plenty of cuddle time before leaving them to sleep.

7. Try The ‘Gradual Retreat’ Method Of Sleep Training

My favoured method of sleep training for toddlers is to practise gradually leaving the room.

It addresses your toddler’s increased separation anxiety and allows you to make sure they stay in bed.

You can start by sitting next to their bed but not touching them.

Then, each night after, move further and further away until you are outside the bedroom using only your voice as comfort; keeping communication to a minimum.

8. Dealing With Teething And Illness

If your toddler is teething or unwell and having trouble staying asleep at night… there are things you can do to offer comfort and pain relief.

For teething pain:

For illness, give lots of cuddles too and follow advice from your doctor. The priority right now is making sure baby is healthy and safe.

How Can You Care For Yourself During A Sleep Regression Phase?

Looking after yourself during a sleep regression is also important!

Lack of sleep will undoubtedly make you 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 18 month sleep regression remember to:

Above all, remember that you are human.

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.

FAQs About The 18 Month Sleep Regression Phase

Here are a few frequently asked questions that always pop up when talking about the 18 month sleep regression.

If you have any further questions, feel free to email me at [email protected] and I’ll reply as soon as I can!

Do All Children Go Through An 18 Month Sleep Regression?

Nope.

Not every child will experience an 18 month sleep regression.

As with all sleep issues, not all children will experience them and although we put labels on certain ages being more prone to sleep regressions, they can occur at any time for any number of reasons.

Will Sleep Regressions Ruin Your Sleep Training Plans?

All sleep regressions put sleep training under pressure.

If you already have an established bedtime routine, you should definitely stick with it no matter what objections your toddler might have.

If you have already started a sleep training method that has been working for you then there is no reason to stop when the 18 month sleep regression occurs.

In fact, sticking to a structured sleep plan should help you get through the regression quickly with bedtime routines and self-settling intact.

When To Seek Help From A Doctor

If your toddler is still struggling with sleep issues after a couple of months despite your best efforts to get things back on track, then you should seek some medical advice to rule out any underlying health issues.

It’s a good idea to keep a journal of baby’s sleep patterns just in case.

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care 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.