cute toddler in a crib in an article about the 18 month sleep regression
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The 18-Month Sleep Regression: Expert Advice To Get You Through

You all deserve good sleep.

You’ve come along way since the newborn days. But, if you’ve found yourself googling Why is my 18-month-old not sleeping? you may have found yourself in the midst of a milestone you were hoping to skip: The 18 month sleep regression. So what gives? If this is your first sleep regression, we are so sorry and also congrats on making it this long without one! But seriously, what’s really going on with your toddler’s sleep, and what can you do about it? Can you fix their sleep and get everyone resting well again? We spoke to three pediatric sleep experts to find out how exhausted parents can get back on track, fast.

Is there an 18 month sleep regression?

Yes, and no. “The concept of sleep regression hasn't been kind of established within the scientific pediatric sleep community,” says Dr. Elizabeth Super, an associate professor of pediatrics and clinical pediatric sleep physician at Oregon Health & Science University. “That being said, the developmental progression for infant sleep is really diverse.” Sleep regressions can be a hot-button topic in the baby-and-toddler sleep community, adds Alexis Dubief, infant sleep expert and author of Precious Little Sleep.

“So much is happening in the first couple of years in terms of children developing new abilities, and hitting new milestones, it's not surprising that sleep — which is so related to learning and behavior — would fluctuate as well,” says Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician and director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, adding that — while not a scientific term — he thinks that the term ‘sleep regression’ is a fine one for naming the various sleep disruptions that kids experience as they grow.

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Signs of an 18 month sleep regression

So, what does an 18 month sleep regression look like? And how do you know if you’re in one? Classic parental complaints during a sleep regression, according to Super and Canapari, are as follows:

  • Your toddler is more fussy or cranky than usual, perhaps because they’re not sleeping as well as usual
  • Your toddler is waking up earlier in the morning than you’d like them to
  • Your toddler is waking up in the night again, or more than usual
  • Your toddler is fighting bedtime, their normal routine has become longer and now feels like a battle.

What causes an 18 month sleep regression?

While there is no set time that your toddler is expected to experience a sleep disruption, 18 months can be an age marked by sleep need changes as well as developmental milestones, and those can sometimes be accompanied by sleep disruption. Similar to the 12 month regression, or even the 8-10 month sleep regression, here are a few classic causes of a sleep regression at 18 months, according to Super, Canapari and Dubief:

  • A nap drop or a nap duration issue
  • Bedtime is too early
  • A lack of independent sleep, also known as “maladaptive sleep associations,” according to Super.
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How long does the 18 month sleep regression last?

The million dollar question, of course, once you’ve determined you’re dealing with a sleep regression is how long the 18 month sleep regression is going to last. Friends, finally we’ve arrived at the good news. “I think of a regression as being like a hiccup. Like maybe your kids’ got something on their mind and they can't express it to you because often their cognitive ability exceeds their ability to communicate to you,” says Canapari. A sleep regression shouldn’t last longer than a couple of days, he explains. If the sleep regression lasts longer than a week, both Canapari and Super recommend reaching out to your pediatrician. “We don't want parents to suffer alone, and we don’t want them to get bad information,” Super explains.

18 month sleep regression: What to do if your toddler’s sleep goes haywire

By now, you probably have made a decision about sleep training — whether or not it is right for your family, and what method works for you. Whether you chose to do the Ferber method (also known as “graduated extinction”) or cry-it-out, Canapari reminds parents that “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.” In the meantime, if you’ve ruled out illness, or a one-night blip and you’re pretty sure you’ve got a sleep regression on your hands, Dubief tells parents to simply get curious: “Look at their sleep schedule. Is your 18-month-old telling you they need less sleep than they did six months ago? Maybe we need to kind of make some adjustments. At 18 months we could have a couple of things going on.”

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Our experts agree that the answer to fixing an 18 month sleep regression can be found by considering the following:

Naps: Is your toddler dropping a nap?

“Are they on two naps? What time is their nap?” Dubief asks parents of toddlers who are having sleep issues. “As you get older, you need to be awake longer before sleep,” she reminds. So, it may be time to drop down to a single nap, or, if they’re already on one nap, that nap may need to be a bit shorter.

Sleep duration: Is bedtime too early?

“We know that there's a huge amount of variability in how much sleep individual children need, and that this number, whatever it is, is going to reduce over time,” says Canapari. He adds that, at 18 months, sleep duration is often declining a bit. “It can be a night-too-long issue. A lot of times you push bedtime back an hour and the night wakings evaporate,” Dubief explains.

Sneaky or “maladaptive” sleep associations at bedtime

You thought everything was going well. By 18 months, you’ve surely found a way to get a decent night’s rest most nights, whether by sleep training or simply lucking out with a “good sleeper.” Then their sleep goes off the rails. Often at 18 months, Super says parents have gotten into the habit — without really meaning to — of helping their kid fall asleep. Suddenly, “they're really needing a parent to lay with them to fall asleep” Super says, giving an example of what she calls a maladaptive sleep association. “Maybe that goes fine at bedtime. But, we know that all kids and adults wake up about every three hours, and now that 18 month old may need the parent to be present again to return to sleep in the night.” So, Super really encourages the parents she works with who are dealing with a toddler sleep regression to look closely at what’s going on at bedtime. “Ideally you you should be saying goodnight, I love you, and leaving the room,” she explains.

“If you want to accelerate getting back to normal, I think it’s worth revisiting your bedtime routines,” Canapari agrees.

Consider adding a toddler alarm clock to the mix

If you have a Hatch Baby Rest or similar white noise machine for your child, there is often a toddler alarm clock feature you can simply turn on. Or, it might be worth investing in one, especially if early-morning wake-ups are your primary issue. “If a toddler has learned that yelling at mom gets them invited to their parents’ bed, yelling becomes very powerful. A toddler alarm clock is a great visual cue to remove the power of yelling at you,” says Dubief. Having the alarm clock light up at the same time every day to signal ‘morning’ to your toddler can be a helpful form of “limit setting,” which Super says can become important around 18 months of age as your toddler begins to explore boundaries.

Expert advice: Don’t forget self-care

While you wait it out, try to make a little room to take care of yourself, too. Dealing with a toddler can be a lot, even on the best days. When they’re cranky and you’re exhausted? It can be full-on brutal. Our experts say that prioritizing your own well-being during a sleep regression is the most important thing. They suggest:

  • Do what you can keep your cool, and don’t rush to your child in the night unless you feel you really need to. “Any breathing exercise, like ‘box breathing’ or similar, is great,” adds Dubief.
  • Have compassion for everyone, including yourself. “Try not to be too angry with yourself or your spouse or your child,” says Canapari. “Know that your kid’s gonna be fine, and it should pass pretty quickly.”
  • Consider turning off your baby monitor. “I wish I had stopped using my monitor much sooner than I did,” says Dubief.
  • Ask for help. If you have a partner, take turns doing bedtime while the other parent gets a break — walk around the block, or pop in some headphones, anything that gives you a little “me” time, suggests Super.

Hang in there, it’ll pass. And if a toddler sleep regression persists beyond a few days, it’s time to call your family’s health care provider to get some help. You all deserve to rest well again.


Dr. Elizabeth Super, an associate professor of pediatrics and clinical pediatric sleep physician at Oregon Health & Science University

Dr. Craig Canapari, pediatrician and director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center

Alexis Dubief, baby sleep expert and author of Precious Little Sleep