The 18 month sleep regression kicked our butts for a few weeks until we created a plan of action. I can’t really complain though since we seemed to have skipped all other sleep regressions with our son. He was a tough newborn who barely slept (I’m talking 1-3 hours per night for 2 straight months). However, around 3 months of age things started looking up and I could finally sleep longer than .5 seconds at night. In fact, from around 12 weeks on, he started consistently sleeping through the night.
I attribute this to the advice I used from Taking Cara Babies and Moms On Call. I was taught how to help my son fall asleep independently. Additionally, I created a sleep schedule based on my son’s age that helped him to rest when developmentally appropriate. This was game changing. However, we recently hit a pretty large bump in the road with the 18 month sleep regression.
Why does the 18 month sleep regression happen?
Out of the blue, when my son was just around 17 months, he started struggling with sleep. He would take an hour to fall asleep for nap and nighttime, and wake up in the night when that hadn’t been a previous issue. I was exhausted and confused, until I read about the 18 month sleep regression. An article I read explained why babies go through this regression, and my son checked all the boxes.
- seperation anxiety
- more awareness of his world and growing independence
- exercising his ability to make his own decisions
All of these things contributed to my son’s inability to fall asleep within a 5-15 minutes of being put into his crib like he once was able to do. Now it was a straight up battle to get him to even lie down in his crib, let alone sleep. And most nights he wouldn’t fall asleep until 10 or 11pm, giving me absolutely no time to let my mind relax and rejuvenate before falling asleep just to start all over again the next day. It was a hamster wheel of exhaustion and frustration. I desperately wanted off.
So, as I tend to do, I started researching. After reading dozens of articles with conflicting advice that really didn’t sound all that helpful, I was even more confused and quite over it. I decided I’d use my “mother intuition”, in addition to what I’d learned in the past from Taking Cara Babies and Moms On Call, and come up with my own plan of action.
The Plan We’re Using to Move Past the 18 Month Sleep Regression Quickly
- Stick to a consistent routine + schedule
- Don’t confuse your child by changing “boundaries” and “expectations”
- Lengthen the wake windows by 15-30 minutes
Here’s why I chose these 3 plans of action:
Action #1: Stick to a consistent routine + schedule
This sleep regression is a result of your child’s development and growth. They are becoming more independent. And with that newfound independence comes a natural desire to test boundaries. As the parent, it’s important to set in place a predictable routine that allows your child to know sleep time is coming.
For us, it’s a simple diaper change, 2-3 short books in the rocking chair, a few short songs, and put down in crib in sleep sack. It takes no longer than 5-10 minutes, but it tells our son that sleep time is coming. That’s the expectation. Then, we leave him in his room and don’t come back until it’s time to get him up. That’s the boundary.
Even if he doesn’t choose to sleep, it’s “rest” time. I can’t control if he chooses to sleep or not (him exercising his independence) but I can give him the environment to sleep if he chooses. If he doesn’t fall asleep, I let him rest for 1.5 hours and then get him out of his crib. If he does choose to sleep, I make sure the nap doesn’t go past 2.5-3 hours to preserve nighttime sleep (3 hours from when I laid him in his crib, not from when he fell asleep).
The only exception is if he pooped (I can smell it outside the door or by cracking the door quickly to take a whiff… lol. If he has pooped, I quickly change his diaper with dim lights and minimal interaction and put him right back down. This sends the message that it is still sleep time, but I’m more than happy to help him change out of his dirty diaper.
Action #2: Don’t confuse your child by changing “boundaries” and “expectations”
Setting these boundaries of having a designated “rest” time in the afternoon and a bedtime at night help my child to know that even if he throws a fit or tries to prevent bedtime, it’s going to happen consistently every afternoon and every night. This sends the message that protesting doesn’t get him out of bedtime. He can choose to not fall asleep right away, but at least he’s in a quiet, dark, safe space that promotes rest and sleep.
Action #3: Lengthen the wake windows by 15-30 minutes
Lengthening wake windows by 15-30 minutes helps my child use that extra bit of time to burn off energy sufficiently so he’s ready to rest once the time comes. However, we don’t want to make naptime/bedtime so late that our son becomes overtired. We make an effort every day to get outside and exercise. If it’s pouring rain all day, we either wear rain gear or play chase inside/set up an obstacle course/whatever we can do to get the energy out. Also, this extra time helps him to work out a BM, as sometimes he has one the second he’s in his crib for nap or bedtime. We give him about 5 to 5.5 hours of awake time before each sleep time. These are age appropriate wake windows for his age, although every child is different and some may need slightly less or slightly more time. He usually naps about 2.5 hours and sleeps about 11 hours at night.
His schedule looks like this:
Our 18 Month Old’s Schedule
8am – wake
8:30 – breakfast
9-11: errands, play outside, play date, etc
11:30 lunch (I give him time after lunch and before nap to work out a BM)
1-3:30 nap (sometimes he doesn’t fall asleep for awhile, but I still get him up by 3:30 no matter what)
4:30-6 play time
6:30/7: dinner play time
8 bath/bedtime routine (lotion, jammies, books, songs, put in crib)
8:30/9 Lights out
This gives him 2.5 hours of rest/daytime sleep and 11/11.5 hours of nighttime sleep, totaling 13.5-14 total hours of rest/sleep. Remember, he doesn’t always sleep the whole nap time or fall asleep right away for bedtime. In fact, many nights he still happily rolls around in his crib for an hour. But I’m giving him the chance to get adequate rest by using age-appropriate wake windows and he chooses when he falls asleep. If this is a developmental bump in the road like I think it is, he will at some point move past the regression and fall asleep easily again. And I want to make sure he’s going to sleep at age appropriate times so when that time does come, he still has a proper nap time and bedtime.
If your child rises earlier in the day, you can shift this entire schedule and start it at 6am or 7am. The entire schedule can be shifted according to your child’s average wake time. This will just mean bedtime will be 6:30/7pm or 7:30/8pm and nap will start 5 to 5.5 hours after they wake in the morning.
How Things Are Going with this New Plan of Action
Things are great! Even though my son still has days where he stirs in the night and cries a bit before falling back asleep, or takes 30-60 minutes to fall asleep for his nap/bedtime, I’m not stressed anymore. He just turned 18 months today as I write this so I do believe we’re still working through the regression/developmental changes. But it doesn’t scare me because I have a plan in place and a schedule that we stick to. It gives me the confidence I need to know I’m doing everything I can to help my son get the rest he needs. Anything else is beyond my control.
I encourage you to adopt this plan for your family and see how it works for you. I’m assuming you most likely have a 17-19 month old if you’re reading this article. And if not, then you can prepare for the future for when you do. I hope this plan is helpful for your family and the peace of mind that you crave is within reach once you apply these tips. For more helpful motherhood content, check out these blog posts.
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