18 Month Sleep Regression: The Ultimate Survival Guide

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 03/28/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Regressions

Little one suddenly fighting sleep? Being fussy? Struggling to settle? The 18 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 18 Month Sleep Regression?

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 from 17 and 19 months.

18 Month Sleep Regression Signs

If you suspect your little one is experiencing an 18 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 definitely experiencing a sleep regression.

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Causes Of The 18 Month Sleep Regression

There are a variety of causes of the 18 month sleep regression. But if I had to narrow them down, these are the top 5 causes of sleep regressions that every parent should be aware of.

Causes Of The 18 Month Sleep Regression

1. Newfound Independence

For some toddlers, their newfound independence around the 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

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 night time and 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 on some days your 18 month old 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 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 fall into the 18 month old sleep regression.

NOTE: Motor skills are developing at a rapid rate at this age and can easily trigger restless settling and nighttime awakenings as your toddler becomes overtired or is simply keen to practise their new skills.

4. Teething

Teething can easily cause a sleep disturbance for your toddler and these disrupting effects can last far 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 these sleepless nights often result in children using sleep crutches that can prove tricky to fix once the illness is over.

When your baby is ill (like an ear infection) you will naturally spend more time holding them and rocking them to sleep.

However, once the illness has passed…

Your little one will not want to go back to normal just yet.

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

How Can You Survive A 18 Month Sleep Regression?

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 child get through this phase and come out the other side with your healthy sleep habits 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 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.

NOTE: At 18 months of age, your child should be having around 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.

2. Take A Look At Mealtimes

As your toddler becomes more active around 18 months of age, 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.

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

PS: 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 say 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…

And this is not ideal when getting ready for bed because your little one 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.

REMEMBER: Your child should not be in bed any later than 8pm to ensure your toddler gets enough sleep to support healthy brain development and growth as well as physical development.

4. Stick To Your Consistent Bedtime Routine

I know that I am always going on about the bedtime routine, but having one at 18 months old is vitally important to help you all survive a sleep regression.

Having a calm and consistent evening 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.

5. Get Outside Every Day

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 18 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.

6. Offer Comfort For Separation Anxiety

As I mentioned earlier, separation anxiety is a big trigger for the 18 month sleep regression. So to survive a sleep regression linked to separation anxiety, you will need to offer comfort and coping techniques such as:

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

The Gradual Retreat is one of my preferred sleep training strategies because it addresses your toddler’s 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 and comfort with cuddly toys too and follow advice from your doctor. The priority right now is making sure baby is healthy and safe.

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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 18 month old sleep regression remember to:

Above all, remember: 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.

Frequently Asked Questions About The 18 Month Sleep Regression

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

Do All Children Go Through An 18 Month Sleep Regression?

No, not every child will experience an 18 month sleep regression.

As with all sleep issues, some children will experience them and some won’t. And although we put labels on certain ages as being more prone to a regression than others, they can occur at any time for any number of reasons.

Will Sleep Regressions Ruin Your Sleep Training Plans?

Yes and no… All toddler sleep regressions put sleep training under pressure.

However, sticking to a structured sleep plan will definitely help you get through the regression quickly with bedtime routines and self-settling intact.

When To Seek Help From A Doctor About The 18 Month Sleep Regression

If your toddler is still struggling with sleep issues after a couple of months despite your best efforts to get things back on track, you should talk to a sleep consultant or doctor to rule out any underlying health issues.

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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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