Expert Advice For Managing A 12 Month Sleep Regression
How to get everyone sleeping through the night again.
The idea that a 12 month sleep regression may come for you and the precious nights of uninterrupted sleep that you’ve worked so hard for is just, well, it’s a lot for a parent to deal with. You’ve been in the game for a full year now, and you know a thing or two about how to handle a bad night of sleep here and there, though. Still, you’re only human. The idea that there’s such a thing as another sleep regression may still strike fear into your tired, tired heart. But, for real, is there a 12-month old sleep regression? Does every kid have one? And what causes baby sleep to backtrack around 1 year, and — most of all — is there anything you can do to correct it (if you’re in one) or stop it from happening all together? We spoke to three pediatric sleep experts to get the answers to your pressing sleep regression questions.
What is the 12 month sleep regression
A sleep regression is, to some extent, a controversial term in the pediatric sleep community. Because it hasn’t been scientifically proven that babies experience sleep disruptions with any kind of predictability, many infant sleep experts are quick to remind parents that the popular idea that there are set times at which your child will experience a sleep disruption is a myth. “The concept of sleep regression hasn't been established within the scientific pediatric sleep community,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Super, a clinical pediatric sleep physician at Oregon Health & Science University. “That being said, the developmental progression for infant sleep is really diverse. There's not one trajectory, and that's because sleep itself is so multifactorial. Socioeconomic status, temperament of the infant, temperament of the parents, and parenting style can all play a part in the progression and development of infant sleep habits.”
Still, pediatric sleep experts agree that there are times in a baby and toddlers life when they’re a bit fussier than usual or not sleeping as well as usual. “My kid was sleeping great. Now they’re not. What do we call that? I think ‘sleep regression’ is a useful term,” explains Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician and director the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center. Therefore, the 12 month sleep regression is just a period of time when your baby isn’t sleeping as well as they had been that that happens around 1 year of age.
How long does the 12-month sleep regression last?
Now, the good news. Any sleep regression should resolve on its own within a few days, unless it’s caused by an illness or other medical complication. In fact, if your child’s sleep has taken a nose-dive and it goes on for more than a week, both Canapari and Super says parents should contact their family’s health care provider. “If something's going on for more than a week, I would have them talk to their pediatrician,” Super says. “It could be that they are sick, it could be something that parents are doing at bedtime or nap time that they can hash out with their pediatrician. As pediatricians, we want to hear about it, especially if it’s disrupting the family sleep.” Your pediatrician can help you rule out treatable causes — like an ear infection — as well as think through an age-appropriate sleep schedule to try and get everyone’s sleep back on track.
Why is my 12-month old suddenly not sleeping?
What causes a 12 month sleep regression? Like all infant and toddler sleep regressions, the trickiest thing — other than just survival itself — is figuring out what is causing your baby’s sleep to nose dive. If you’ve ruled out a painful ear infection or similar medical issue or illness, Super and Canapri say that 12-month-olds have a few things going on that can disrupt sleep:
- Declining sleep needs. When a sleep regression or sleep disruption happens, Alexis Dubief, baby sleep expert and author of Precious Little Sleep, explain that it’s often because “your schedule is no longer in alignment with your child’s current sleep needs.” This means that you’re expecting them to sleep more than is reasonable for their age. Average sleep need for a toddler between 1 and 2 years of age is 11-14 total hours daily. For example, if your 12-month-old is taking two, 1-hour naps every day, and only needs 11 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, “sleeping through the night” for them may only amount to a 9-hour night sleep. The solution may be a nap drop, or moving bedtime a bit later.
- Separation anxiety. It reared its head during the 9 month sleep regression, and perhaps it has lingered or flared up again.
- Teething. Teething takes forever. It starts when babies are around 4 months old and lasts until their about 2. Each new eruption is associated with about 8 days of adjustment time, and there has been some correlation found between the eruption of a new tooth and increased wakefulness. However, once the tooth busts through, the wakefulness should pass.
- Maladaptive sleep associations, as Super calls them, meaning anything you’re doing at bedtime that your child now needs you to do in order to go to sleep. It may be nursing to sleep, laying next to them until they’re asleep, and so on. What exactly these “sneaky sleep associations” are will vary a bit family to family. However, “when the pattern emerges of waking up every hour and a half, all night long, and the only thing that fixes it is whatever you were doing at bedtime, we are now in a classic sleep onset association issue,” says Dubief. For families with regression caused by a maladaptive sleep associations, sleep training may be the best option.
12-month sleep regression signs
Things have been going fine, you’ve found your groove — heck, you’ve been at this parenting gig for a whole year already! — and then, boom. Your 1 year old won’t sleep all of a sudden. What gives? Here are a few classic signs you’re in a sleep regression:
- Your baby is fighting naps, or skipping naps entirely
- Bedtime is taking ages and requires a lot of soothing on your part
- Your 12-month-old is more fussy or cranky than usual
Is it time to sleep train? How to encourage your child to sleep through the night
Thought it may not feel like it, a sleep regression can be a great time to address your baby’s sleep habits, particularly ones that may need a little refresh. Getting back to basics, and making sure you’re sticking to healthy baby sleep practices can really get your baby’s sleep schedule back on track. Super recommends:
- Have a consistent bedtime routine. “Hopefully, this is a really nice part of the day for you. You change your infant into pajamas. You give them a short bath, a little massage, sing a song, and then put them in the crib,” Super explains.
- Consistent and healthy baby bedtime. This means that your baby’s bedtime is “earlier than we would expect, because we know that if infants are overtired, they're actually going to get less sleep,” Super adds.
- Offer a stuffed animal or favorite lovey at bedtime for comfort. TK super quote about attachment objects. By 12 month of age, Super says, it’s totally safe “from a suffocation perspective, to have a small object in the crib, and it can really help with some of that separation anxiety.”
- Put your baby in the crib while they’re still awake. Not drowsy, not asleep — fully awake, but ready for bed. “This leads to them trying to develop self-soothing skills,” Super explains, which is very important for night wakings in particular. Once your baby masters the skill of self-soothing “all of those night wakings disappear. Like poof,” adds Dubief.
- Consider your baby’s sleep environment. White noise and black out curtains can be helpful.
- Make sure your 1-year-old gets their wiggles out during the day. Toddlers like to move, particularly if you suspect their 12 month sleep regression is related to learning to walk, giving them lots of time during the day to practice their new skill can help them move through the regression more quickly.
- Consider sleep training. Whether you chose the Ferber method or classic “cry-it-out,” giving your baby space to learn to soothe themselves to sleep may help resolve the issue of night wakings, Super and Dubief say.
Sleep regression survival tip: Self care matters
Even if a sleep regression only lasts a few days, it can feel like ages. As you weather the sleepless nights, tanked naps and cranky days, both Super and Canapari urge parents to focus on self-compassion and basic self-care. “Make sure you're safe driving to work the next day. Try not to be too angry with yourself or your spouse or your child,” Canapari suggests. “Your kid’s gonna be fine. Just take care of yourself.” Tap in a spouse or partner, or even a friend, so that you can take a break if you need one, Super suggests. Particularly if you’ve decided to deal with the 12 month sleep regression by sleep training, “have one parent do bedtime, and the other parent take a walk around the block, listen to a podcast — anything that doesn't involve putting your child to sleep.”
Whatever’s going on — teething, walking, a nap drop or sleep training — trust that it will pass. And if it doesn’t, don’t hesitate to ask your family’s health care provider for help. “The practices that got you here are gonna carry you. If your child slept through the night before, they will sleep through the night again, and probably sooner than you think,” Canapari promises.
Macknin, M.; Piedmonte, M; (2000) Symptoms Associated With Infant Teething: A Prospective Study. Pediatrics, https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/105/4/747/65718/Symptoms-Associated-With-Infant-Teething-A?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician and director the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center
Dr. Elizabeth Super, a clinical pediatric sleep physician at Oregon Health & Science University
Alexis Dubief, baby sleep expert and author of Precious Little Sleep.