Big milestones can turn your nights (and maybe even your days) upside-down when they disrupt your child's sleep. One of the biggest milestones? Learning to walk, which happens right around age 1. There are some things to know about sleep regression in 1-year-olds that can help you understand why it is happening, and how to get your cranky baby back to sleep.
"Certain milestones (like learning to walk, or toilet training) may be associated with temporary sleep disruption," explains Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician and author of It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Train to Romper over email. "The former does tend to occur around one year of age."
That is, what are often termed "sleep regressions" are not developmentally as hard-coded as you might think. Although, says Canapari, "Telling this to a tired parent whose baby had previously slept well is not particularly helpful."
Even though it can be a nightmare to deal with a baby who is waking in the night, the good news is that sleep regressions are totally normal, and usually short-lived. "Just when you have a handle on a certain behavior (feeding, sleeping, toilet training), your child will change their routine and you will be scratching your head," says Canapari. By the same token, they will leave behind a difficult phase and return to being the sound sleepers you remember.
If you are in the middle of a sleep regression, or if your baby is approaching their first birthday, here is some helpful information you will want to know.
1. 1-Year-Olds Need Enough Nap Time
Sleep begets sleep. A 2003 observational sleep study published in Pediatrics noted a small increase in nighttime sleep among 1-year-olds, and consequently a drop in daytime naps, with 96% of 18-month-olds regularly napping, and just 35% of 4-year-olds. So toddlers sleep less during the day, but the overall amount of sleep is what matters: a 2013 Journal of Sleep Research study looking at the emotional processing of older toddlers impacted by nap deprivation found inhibited reactions to positive pictures, greater anxiety, and heightened responses to negative pictures.
2. Restrict Exposure To Screens Before Bed
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends between 11 and 14 hours of daily sleep for 1- to 2-year-old children. This is inclusive of naps, so, as above, you will adapt nap times as overnight sleep consolidates — you'll want to make it count. To prime your toddler to sleep, the AAP also recommends restricting screen use for 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
3. You Can Offer An Earlier Bedtime
Especially if your toddler doesn't fall asleep for a second nap, you should consider an earlier bedtime, which has been associated with a lower incidence of obesity by the authors of a 2007 Child Development paper, and later bedtimes correlating with less overall sleep by a 2014 Sleep Medicine observational study.
4. You Should Avoid Major Changes
Especially if your toddler is going through a major developmental milestone, you will want to keep everything else constant. "Consistency is key," says Canapari. "Don’t give up or freak out if your child has a few bad nights. Stick with your proven bedtime routines and things should get back to normal quickly." Now is probably not the best time to wean from the bottle or pacifier either.
5. Encourage Activity Between Sleep
A 2018 Infant Development & Behavior paper found a link between babies who engage in low-intensity physical activity and less overall sleep — even if they napped more during the day than more active counterparts. This study also found a correlation between less sleep and greater weight scores. More good reasons to get your tot moving during the day.
6. Be Consistent With Your Bedtime Routine
Your child's world might be topsy turvy — especially if they are now ambulating from the kitchen to the living room under power of their own legs — but the one thing you can do is stay consistent in your bedtime routine, as found by the authors of the research paper, "Toddlers Need Both Positive Parenting and Consistent Consequences from Mothers," presented at the 2015 annual convention of the American Psychological Association found in testing different discipline techniques.
7. Know That This, Too, Shall Pass
"Parenting sometimes feels like an exercise in putting out fires," says Canapari. "Just when you have a handle on a certain behavior (feeding, sleeping, toilet training), your child will change their routine and you will be scratching your head." While sleep disruptions may seem profound, keep in mind that you are not in thrall to some greater phenomenon. "We want to impose a narrative on what may be random events," he explains. Sometimes there are just some bumps in the road.
8. Use This As An Opportunity To Sleep Train
"Teaching your child to fall asleep and stay asleep independently pays great dividends for parents and children," says Canapari. "If you have previously established good sleep patterns in your child, restoring them tends to be easier." And if you haven't, now is a good time to help establish self-soothing capabilities via some good, old-fashioned behavioral interventions.
9. When In Doubt, Ask Your Pediatrician
It's normal for your toddler to change their sleeping schedule as they age, but, says Canapari, a sudden worsening of your child's sleep is worth a visit to the pediatrician to rule out any medical causes. Otherwise, stay the course!
Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician and author of It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Train
Iglowstein, I., Jenni, O., Molinari, L., Largo, R. (2003) Sleep duration from infancy to adolescence: reference values and generational trends. Pediatrics, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12563055
Berger, R., Miller, A., Seifer, R., Cares, S., LeBourgeois, M. (2013) Acute Sleep Restriction Effects on Emotion Responses in 30- to 36-Month-Old Children. Journal of Sleep Research, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3258474/
Snell, E, Adam, E., Duncan, G. (2007) Sleep and the Body Mass Index and Overweight Status of Children and Adolescents. Child Development, https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.00999.x
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Haucka, J., Zott, G., Felzer-Kima, I., Adkinsa, C. (2018) A comparison of low-intensity physical activity, growth, and sleep behavior in 6-month old infants. Infant Behavior and Development, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0163638318300432
Larzelere, R., Knowles, S. (2015) Toddlers Need Both Positive Parenting and Consistent Consequences from Mothers. Oklahoma State University Presentation at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/08/toddlers-parenting.pdf
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