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Today’s Hint: 7 Tips for Surviving the 18-Month Sleep Regression & GIVEAWAY

Just when my husband and I thought sleepless nights were a thing of the past, my daughter recently started putting up a fight at bedtime and waking up in the middle of the night crying, behaviors I thought she grew out of a year ago. As she just turned 18 months, I fear she’s right in the midst of the 18-month sleep regression. So, for help on how to handle, and make it through, this regression, I’ve turned to Emily DeJeu, who blogs over at The Baby Sleep Site

For today’s hint, Emily shares seven tips for surviving this regression. My hope is that the tips will help many parents also struggling through this dreaded phase. In addition to the tips below, The Baby Sleep Site is offering a three-month membership to one reader as part of Hint Mama’s latest giveaway – details below.

64987_10151350890848960_1614098376_aAs Jennifer and I talked through the details of today’s post, my heart went out to her.

Why? Because while all baby and toddler sleep regressions are challenging, the 18-month sleep regression is a real doozie. Sure, the sleep regressions that happen at 4 months and at 8/9/10 months are challenging, but they involve babies – not walking, talking, stubborn, tantrum-throwing toddlers. 

Unfortunately, there’s really no way to “fix” (or even shorten) a sleep regression. See, sleep regressions are directly related to developmental milestones that your baby or toddler is experiencing – milestones like learning to roll over, to walk, and to talk. Milestones like these keep our little ones’ brains busy and active – so busy and active, in fact, that sleep tends to go right out the window.

So the goal with a sleep regression isn’t to fix it – the goal is to survive it as best you can, without introducing any long-term, negative sleep habits into the mix. In other words, you want to take steps to comfort your baby or toddler as best you can, but you don’t want to create a new sleep association (like rocking your baby to sleep every night) that you will then have to undo once the regression is over. As The Baby Sleep Site founder Nicole tells the families we work with, “You don’t want to create long-term habits in dealing with a short-term problem.”

Now that we’ve established there is no fixing a sleep regression, let’s talk survival, shall we? In honor of Hint Mama herself, here are seven tips straight from the expert sleep consultants at The Baby Sleep Site that should help you get through the 18-month sleep regression in one piece.

1. Offer a high-protein, low-sugar snack. Sometimes, the 18-month sleep regression can overlap with a legitimate growth spurt, and in those cases, plain old hunger may be the cause of your toddler’s middle-of-the-night waking. So to make sure hunger isn’t the culprit, try offering a bedtime snack that’s high in protein but low in sugar, like yogurt, string cheese, or peanut butter on whole wheat toast. Just be sure to brush your little one’s teeth after the snack.

2. Introduce a comfort object, if you haven’t already. If your toddler doesn’t have a “lovey” yet, now may be the time to try one. Offer a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Or, if separation anxiety is part of your toddler’s regression, offer something of yours, like an old t-shirt that smells like you. Explain to your toddler that if she feels upset or scared at night, she can cuddle her lovey to help her feel better. (And if you introduce a lovey, you may also want to try Hint Mama’s lovey rotation tip to save yourself from some lost lovey disasters down the road).

3. Be careful about over-dressing at bedtime. Most 18-month-old toddlers are still sleeping in cribs, but they are also quite mobile – too mobile to stay under a blanket all night long. In fact, many may not yet be using a blanket at night. Sometimes, parents compensate by over-bundling their little ones at bedtime in multiple fleece layers in an effort to keep them warm. But did you know that toddlers who are too warm at night will actually sleep worse than toddlers who are dressed in light, breathable layers? It’s true. What’s more, the ideal temperature for sleep is actually a bit on the cool side, around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Institute a strong end-of-routine ritual. Hopefully, you already have a bedtime routine in place. (If you don’t, start one now – bedtime routines are great for helping babies and toddlers go down for bed without a fuss.) However, if the 18-month sleep regression is proving tough, create an even stronger ritual that signals the end of the routine, and the start of sleep. This could be singing the same song each night, or saying the same phrase, right before tuck-in. Doing this repeatedly will help your toddler better understand when it’s time to lie down and sleep.

5. Try a night-light and/or a music player. We’ve seen this work with lots of our clients. Sometimes, a little extra light in the room, or some soft music, provides enough reassurance to keep the toddler calm during nighttime wakings. You can also try a combination toy, like the Fisher-Price Ocean Wonders Soothe & Glow Seahorse. Toys like this emit a little bit of light, and play soothing lullabies for a few minutes. Toddlers can easily turn such toys on and off themselves, a great feature that provides your little one with something else to do during night wakings besides screaming loudly for you.

6. Offer explanations, but avoid rationalizing. This is one of the upsides of having a toddler – you can’t explain anything to a baby, but you can (to some extent) to a toddler. Explain, in very simple terms, why your toddler needs to settle down and go to sleep. If she’s afraid of you leaving, explain that you won’t be far away. However, avoid rationalizing too much with your toddler – after all, toddlers aren’t exactly rational creatures, Instead, develop a few phrases (like “You need to take a nap now so you have energy to play later” or “Time for sleep now, but I will see you in the morning”) and then repeat them often.

7. Remain firm and consistent. Toddlers thrive when they have strong, clearly-defined boundaries – and that includes bedtime boundaries. During a sleep regression, decide how you will respond to any nighttime wakings or early nap wakings, and then follow through on your plan. It’s completely fine to offer comfort when your toddler is upset, but remember that what you do once, your toddler will expect you to do again.

A final word: Remember that even if you do everything “right,” the 18-month sleep regression may still prove tough for you and your toddler. Take heart, though – these regression phases are usually short-lived (most last no more than a few weeks), and most toddlers return to their normal sleeping habits once the regression is over.

What are your tips for surviving – and questions about — sleep regressions? Share them, and enter to win a three-month membership to our site, below.

bss_email_featprod_memberspic-2Enter to win a three-month membership to The Baby Sleep Site.

Members of The Baby Sleep Site can enjoy unlimited access to all Baby Sleep Site e-Books, access weekly chats with one of the site’s sleep consultants, listen to tele-seminars on timely topics, chat with other parents in the site’s members-only chat room and receive a 20% discount on any sleep consultation services. The three-month membership, regularly $29.95, is a new offering The Baby Sleep Site rolled out at the beginning of the year.

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Emily DeJeu is the staff writer for The Baby Sleep Site, a site specializing in baby and toddler sleep advice. DeJeu lives in rural Pennsylvania with her husband and their three children. 

Follow Hint Mama on Facebook and Twitter, and read more about her and her disclosures.

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Comments

  1. Sarah E says

    I don’t have any tips yet…I’m here to get them! I’m expecting my first and need all the help I can get. ; )

  2. says

    My BFF could really use some help with her one year old. I’ve always waited until The Kids are tired to go to bed. Thankfully, they’ve always been tired at a reasonable time. Note that I’m a SAHM so I don’t have to be on a tight schedule.

    Is this giveaway open to Canadians?

    Thanks for posting this giveaway to my weekly Facebook Wall (http://goo.gl/rP5nW9).

    Besos, Sarah
    Blogger at Journeys of The Zoo

  3. Kelly A says

    My hint is to try not to provide too many crutches during the regression or you will still have night waking when the regression is over.

  4. Christina says

    My tip- follow all the tips above, before the regression starts if you can! All of these tips are excellent for getting a good sleep routine established. They have all helped with my 15 month old daughter and I feel much more confident and relaxed now; I feel ready to face the regressions!

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. says

    Well my son turned 18 months yesterday and no sleep regression rearing its ugly head (yet – knock on wood). We hit a bit of a rough patch that only lasted a couple of days about 2 months ago and I’m wondering if that was our 18 month sleep regression – he is very advanced verbally, speaking in short sentences now so I think the cognitive part of this regression came sooner. We definitely hit all the other biggies with his sleep and I’m thankful we had the Baby Sleep Site resources so we didn’t instill any long- term habits that would have been tough to break later (after the 4 month one, that was a doozy and I wasn’t yet educated on baby sleep!). Excited to start getting weekly hints now too – I will take all the resources I can get!

  6. Karen says

    My daughter is 16 months old and doesn’t regularly sleep though the night. Since we set up an earlier bed time (7:30 to 8:00), a routine involving books before bed and sleeping with her stuffed bunny she has done a lot better. We also finally stopped giving her her bottle at night and so she knows that bedtime is for sleeping not for eating and hanging out with mom and dad. We go in her room when she is upset, but we don’t have to pick her up anymore for her to calm down so I think all of that makes waking up before morning less appealing. We are still learning for sure.

  7. Alisha Erickson says

    I gotta tell you babies are adorably tricky little creatures! They are all so different. I’m on baby #2 and this one is completely different then baby #1. I think for me I try to remember to not be afraid to sleep train (whatever method you use). It may not be a fun process but I truly believe its better for everyone in the end. You just have to deal with the horrible process and then you’ll be grateful for the changes.

  8. Kristi says

    The 4 month regression was my biggest struggle of them all. I found the Baby Sleep Site super helpful! My biggest gun was prayer. Each child is so unique and I don’t think we can have a blueprint that fits them all the same =) So, I asked the Lord to give me the strategy for my son and He faithfully led me. I also found white noise helpful and sleep sacs. I’ve used a sleep sac from very early on and my 2 year old is still in it, which I think has prevented him from figuring out how to climb out thus far =) The sleep sac is a simple association that makes him clue in that we are heading to bed =)

  9. Anna says

    We had to REALLY apply hint #7. Our little angel will push and push and PUSH any boundary we set, and elongate the bedtime routine any way she can. One more book. One more drink of water. One more song. Nope, wrong song, so we need to do another song. My favorite recent example was with the bedtime nursing, which is still part of our routine. She had drunk plenty of milk and was clearly settling into cuddling, which we enjoyed for a few minutes. When she decided to switch sides, I announced “last side”, which has been our cue to wrap things up. Then she wanted to switch again, to keep nursing, and she announced “last side again!”, clearly very pleased with her own cleverness. We’ve had a couple of tantrums when we had to draw the line (as gently as possible, but this is one persistent little kid), but having gone down this road before, we realize that this is better than establishing a habit that will hound us for months.

    She has also had issues with early morning wakings (clearly, 3 AM is time to get up), which got very bad recently (again, we blamed the 18 month sleep regression). While I hate relying on technology, in this case, we found that using an “okay to wake” clock was a real boon. This is simply a night light that changes color at a time the parent sets. Often this is easier to use with a slightly older kid, but even with our 18 month-old, we were able to convey the idea that, when the light turns green, Mommy and Daddy will joyfully accept that it is time to get up and cuddle/nurse/etc. (The light turns green at 6:30 in our house, so the “joyfully” bit takes some effort on our parts…) It took a couple of days, but she finally got it, and most of the time, she is able to wait until she gets to play the part of the happy rooster.

  10. Michele says

    This sleep regression makes me nervous! Only two months until my daughter will be 18 months old, and we already have a tough sleeper, so I wonder how much further things will change? She actually naps really well but wakes up 2-3 times a night. Thankful to have some tips to read through to better understand and deal with.

  11. Katie R says

    I just started a new routine with my 4 week old. I’m hoping it will help us get into the beginning of a bedtime schedule. I need my sleep!

  12. Erin says

    We just went through this with my little guy. Two things I noticed that took care of the problem and got him back to taking full naps during the day and sleeping through the night again.
    1. After a year and a half of loving footie pjs, he was “telling” me that his pajamas were too cumbersome by pulling at them constantly. We changed into the long sleeved shirt with pants, no socks combo, and he seems much more comfortable in those. Consider moving to a different style of pj at this age.
    2. I tell him every night who is still home and what we will do after he’s done resting (I don’t call it sleeping, he hates that term and flips out anytime he hears it).
    “I tell him Mama, Dada and Woody (his dog) are still here and we will be here all night.”
    “Everything is ok.”
    “We will do xyz once you have a nice long rest, but you have to rest so that you have more fun!”
    WORKS LIKE A CHARM!!!

    • Hint Mama says

      Great tips. I love #1 – my tot has been pulling at her pj feet a lot lately so I wonder if it’s time to switch her to that combo too….

  13. Karen says

    My 17-month old has always loved to sleep, and has loved to go to bed at night. She usually waves “night-night” to us to kick us out of her room! Unfortunately, she has hit every sleep regression on the nose, and this one is no exception. It’s extra hard because I know she wants to go to sleep, but she’s all wired from the changes in her cognition, so super-short nap…which means frustration and overtired baby at bedtime.

    The routine, and the repeated, loving phrases (“We’ll be here in the morning and we love you”) is the only thing saving us right now! Stick to it – it really helps, even in the dark despair that this can feel like sometimes. :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] When it’s cold out, I put my daughter in a light cotton pair of pajamas, and then I cover both that layer with warm fleece pajamas, like these from Carter’s. Essentially, the fleece pajamas serve as a fitted blanket of sorts. And when it’s hot, I just skip putting her in the bottom light pajama layer, as it’s important not to overdress little ones at night. […]

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