Baby Blues: 18-Month Sleep Regression

Key Points

  • The 18-month sleep regression is a short period of time when children resist sleep or begin waking up at night.

  • Common causes include growth spurts, teething, and changes to the child's daily routine.

  • To pump the brakes on sleep regression, keep your child's routine as stable as possible.

A fascinating age for children is 18 months. They're not really babies but are not yet toddlers. They start to walk and talk and become real little people with real things to say. And, best of all, you're mostly past the treacherous months of waking up multiple times in the middle of the night for feedings or other bouts of crying.

However, throughout this seemingly blissful time, your child may suddenly begin to resist bedtime or have trouble sleeping. If that sounds familiar, you've encountered a phenomenon known as the 18-month sleep regression.

18-Month Sleep Regression 101

The 18-month sleep regression is one of the more difficult sleep phases seen in young children. It's a time when children may resist going to sleep, refuse to nap, and may begin waking up in the night again. Note that not all 18-month-olds go through a sleep regression, but it's also not out of the norm. While it's very frustrating, rest assured that in most cases, it only lasts for two to six weeks and is a typical "rough patch" for developing toddlers.

You may be cursing at the skies, asking why your child's sleep habits have suddenly gone down the drain, but the 18-month sleep regression is actually a sign that the child is developing normally. So, in a few weeks, when your toddler is sleeping through the night again, breathe a sigh of relief and rest assured that the child's going through a fairly typical growth stage.

Girl rubbing eyes in bed

What Causes Sleep Regression?

There is no one culprit of the 18-month sleep regression. However, quite a few suspects are standard players in sleep regression at this age.


A key component in this equation is hormonal changes. The child's hormones are changing and adjusting, especially the growth hormone (which does exactly what its name suggests). Growing pains or growth spurts may be a cause of restlessness at bedtime. Plus, growing and changing takes a lot of energy (for both you and your child)! Because so many things are happening in their bodies, 18-month-olds may be more overtired and irritable during this time.


Children are also growing new teeth around this time, which causes a great deal of discomfort. Teething is often part of why 18-month-olds become restless at bedtime. It interferes with a child's daily routine, which in turn causes issues at nighttime. For example, teething makes it difficult for little ones to enjoy their favorite crunchy snack or much-needed afternoon nap.

Dr. Sarah Mitchell explains, "Your baby surfaces from a sleep cycle and is distracted by the discomfort in her gums, and can't relax to drift back off into sleep. It's the same way she would be unlikely to fall back asleep if she had a soiled diaper. … The most common sleep disruption at this stage happens at bedtime and early wakeups."

Separation Anxiety

This one might seem obvious, but your toddler might be more upset when you leave the room. Separation anxiety becomes more real around this age as the child becomes more aware of what's going on around them. It's nerve-racking for children as they learn that being apart from their parents is not permanent, and the fear of parents or caregivers leaving them alone disrupts bedtime.

Infant sleeping in crib

The peak of separation anxiety for children happens between 10-18 months, so the 18-month sleep regression happens at the tail end of that timeframe. As a result, children may be sensitive at bedtime when caregivers leave the room.

Is Your Child Going Through the 18-Month Sleep Regression?

A range of signs may indicate that your toddler is entering the 18-month sleep regression. Toddlers may experience as few as one of these signs or as many as all of them.

Some common signs that your child may be entering the 18-month sleep regression are:

  • fussiness at bedtime,

  • inability to relax once in bed,

  • crying when parents or caregivers move away from the bed,

  • more frequent daytime naps,

  • more frequent nighttime awakenings,

  • and more agitation after waking up.

If you and your child are experiencing any of these signs, fret not. There are ways to combat and overcome the 18-month sleep regression.

Fixing the Funk: Solutions for Sleep Regression

While the 18-month sleep regression can be very taxing, there are steps to fix the issue. It's essential to remain as patient and calm as possible — even if you're five seconds away from collapsing in exhaustion — because children can sense when something feels off with their caregivers and may respond negatively.

Crying toddler climbing out of crib

Keep It Routine

A potential cause of sleep regression is a change in the toddler's daily routine. That may be a new school, a new babysitter, or even a new sibling coming into the house. Anything that disturbs the familiar system the child is used to may lead to sleep regression.

Try to keep the bedtime routine (and nap time routine) as stable as possible to combat this disorientation. This means singing the same lullabies, reading the same bedtime stories, and keeping everything as close to the exact times as possible. For example, try keeping bathtime at the same time every night, even if bedtime has little shifts.

Adjust Sleep Habits

If your child fusses at nap time or bedtime, it may be time to tweak sleeping times and habits. One suggestion is to drop a nap. If the toddler still naps two or three times a day, phasing out one of those naps may help a lot at bedtime.

Another tactic that often works is trying sleep training or re-training. This is an essential process for teaching a child how to "self-soothe" or fall asleep without parents or caregivers around. In some cases, revisiting methods used in sleep training (like crying it out, the chair method, and others) may help the child through the 18-month sleep regression.

Redo the Room

Some smaller details in your child's bedtime routine may be having a greater effect than you think. Here are some "unimportant" important aspects to take a look at.

Sleeping baby with teddy bear

Comfort Objects

A seemingly small thing to try is to give the child a comfort object. This could be a baby blanket, a stuffed animal, or even a doll. As long as the object is cuddly and soft, it will work. This method aims to provide the toddler with an object to reach for instead of calling out for a parent or caregiver. A nice blanket or stuffed animal gives the child the sense of security they crave at bedtime.


At 18 months, children may start to develop a fear of the dark. This fear is completely natural, but it may lead to sleep regression. Placing a nightlight in your toddler's room assists in alleviating this fear. It also gives the child a sense of security that is so instrumental in a successful bedtime routine, which helps them relax and fall asleep more easily.


A great way to ensure sleep success is by ensuring your toddler's comfort, and picking an excellent toddler pillow is one way to do so. A good toddler pillow should have enough structural support to promote healthy head, neck, and spine alignment, but it should be soft enough to be comfortable and inviting for bedtime.

Memory foam toddler pillows are a popular option, but the important thing is to select a pillow that is neither too firm nor too soft. The pillow, ideally made of something nonallergenic, like cotton, prevents itchiness or any other discomfort. If your toddler knows to look forward to a comfy and blissful bed, they may not be so resistant to sleep.

Fight the Light

Light (both real and artificial) has a significant impact on the body's circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms control the body's natural sleep and wake cycles over a 24-hour period. These cycles are primarily affected by light and darkness. You feel sleepier when it's dark out, and you feel more awake when it's light out. Think about all those times you've felt jetlagged; this temporary sleep disorder actually results from differences in the light!

When working against the 18-month sleep regression, understanding light is essential.

Mom and sleeping baby in bed


Having your toddler play outside and in the sun for even just an hour vastly improves sleeping habits. Getting some sunlight during daylight hours keeps the circadian rhythms more regulated so that bedtime is a little bit easier. As a bonus, keeping the little ones busy and active during the day is a great way to tire them out. That way, when it's bedtime or nap time, your child's so worn out that they'll go right to sleep (and hopefully stay asleep).

Artificial Light

This point is probably overstated in every parenting book out there, but do your best to limit screen time, especially before bed. The light from screens, like the TV or an iPad, disrupts a toddler's sleep schedule and might keep them up for longer than they should be awake. As a general rule, you should put screens away at least 30 minutes before bed to avoid disturbing your child's sleep patterns.

Other bedtime activities to help ease your child into sleep without a screen include reading a story, singing some songs, and putting on soft and relaxing music.

Tips for Handling Sleep Regression

The 18-month-old sleep regression is a common yet challenging phase many children experience. If you find yourself stressing out and wondering what you are doing wrong, the answer is — nothing! Sleep regression happens at a few different stages of infancy and childhood and for a few different reasons. However, the 18-month regression happens to be particularly frustrating because many 18-month-olds have learned the dreaded word "no."

The good news is that this period of sleep regression is only temporary and usually only occurs for a few weeks.

The best tip for handling this sleep regression phase is to stay calm and collected. Getting upset or overreacting only further agitates the toddler and prolongs restlessness at bedtime or nap time.

Other helpful tips include establishing and maintaining a consistent routine, limiting screen time at night, and getting your child outdoors more often.

If your child is starting to show signs of separation anxiety or fear at night, try sitting in a chair near their bed (but don't reach for them or pick them up). Knowing that you are even in the room may be enough to assuage their worries.

Mom comforting crying child

Regressing the Regression for Good

Try a few of the recommended methods to figure out what works best for your toddler. One tactic alone may suffice, or you may need an entire arsenal of tricks to get rid of the bedtime blues. Either way, even minor tweaks make a world of difference when it's lights out.

If you're ever concerned or notice something outside of the realm of normalcy at bedtime, double-check with your child's pediatrician. They're able to assess if your child is just a stubborn little tyke or if something is medically concerning, like unbalanced hormones, for example. If nothing is medically wrong, your pediatrician may offer some sage advice and relief that you and baby are doing just fine.

Above all, enjoy these days of toddlerhood. They go by faster than you think, even if they feel agonizingly slow during the nights of restlessness and wakefulness.

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