You finally got your cute and chunky little one to sleep through the night, then, just a few weeks later, all of a sudden, your 18-month-old freaks out when you leave the room. Ugh, separation anxiety? Afraid of the dark? Now… you find yourself sitting with your new toddler until they fall asleep and eventually co-sleeping with them overnight because you don’t know what else to do- if you don’t, they lose their mind. Join me today on this episode as I break this sleep regression down and discuss the major shift that happens at this age.
- What is the 18-month sleep regression
- What is an 18-month-old sleep schedule
- What are the 18-month sleep regression signs
- Why is my 18-month-old crying uncontrollably at night
- How do I handle 18-month sleep regression
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Podcast Episode Transcripts:
Disclaimer: Transcripts were generated automatically and may contain inaccuracies and errors.
Welcome to the kids sleep show, where we help tired parents from around the world to get their children to fall asleep independently, sleep through the night and build healthy sleep habits for Life. I’m your host, Courtney Zentz. Now let’s sleep together. Hey, everyone, welcome to this week’s episode. My name is Courtney Zentz, the founder of tiny transition sleep consulting, and I’m excited to chat with you today. We are talking all about the 18 month sleep regression. What is the 18 month sleep regression? How long does it last? can we prevent the 18 month sleep regression? And then how do we get out of it if we’re in the middle of the sleep regression? So first things first. 18 months is such a pivotal age right here at Tiny transitions. We actually look at 18 month olds as toddlers, but they’re in a baby body, right? So you’ve got this child who wants independence, they’re starting to work on their vocabulary and forming several words that they’re stringing together. They’re often you know, able to stand up in their crib and go mama, and yell for you. And you come in and get them and you have so much more engagement in the day interactions in the day. You finally got sleep sorted. You know, they sleep one nap a day. They’re sleeping, two hours stretch.
So they sleep one nap a day, it’s a nice two, two and a half hour stretch, they’re going to bed at seven o’clock falling asleep for bedtime independently, they’re sleeping through the night, they wake up well rested and refreshed. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere. Two o’clock in the morning hits. And all you hear on the monitor.
Right? Oh, you run in there and you wonder what’s going on? And they’re just holding their arms up gone mama, pick up, right? Well, no, dude, it’s two in the morning. Go back to that. No, I want to do that, right. And then they start crying and freaking out. And you as a parent do what every parent probably does, right? That gets you into this pickle. You pick them up, right? And then you cuddle them for a little bit. You sing them a song, maybe you rock them a little bit, and you put them back down to sleep or wait till they are already asleep. And then they fall asleep. Right? So now, the next night happens. Now it’s 330 in the morning data.
Right? As a tired parent, what do you do? You pick them up, you bring them into your room, and all of a sudden you’re co sleeping with a toddler, right? Neither are ideal. And both will continue because they become habits. So why does a sleep regression happen like this when your child has the skill of sleep? Right? So foundationally they have to have the skill of independent sleep. Okay, if they have that, at the same time they turn around 18 months, they’re also looking for independence, but they’re very immature. So they lack the ability to understand the balance between a boundary and what we’re willing to do as parents, right? So if all of a sudden I know that when I yell you come in and pick me up, why would I stop yelling? I like when you come in and pick me up. Right? And as parents, we immediately go to worst case scenario. Oh, must be teething must be a nightmare, right?
We were traveling in Disney World, and I had no choice but to co sleep. And now all they want to do is CO sleep. Right? We get into these situations typically because of an action that we have. Right? So like we do something to sleep. And I don’t care what it is, you know rocked to sleep nurse to sleep bounce to sleep, hold to sleep, co sleep, drive to sleep, like when the word to sleep is in there. That generally becomes a problem, right? So parents start doing something to sleep and sometimes it’s accidental, right? Your kid is sick. And you’re like, Well, man, like, I want to comfort him, I want to cuddle him. Like I want to make sure he’s okay. And then all of a sudden they get better, but they’re still expecting all that comfort, cuddling and coddling right. So when that happens as parents, right, we have to figure out what this boundary looks like because it will cause a sleep regression. And I talked to so many clients at this age where parents are like, we’ve been dealing with this for months. It’s never gone away. It started in the summer. And now we’re totally in this place of dumpster fire, right? Because we just don’t know what to do. So, why this happens is actually not the need for sleep training. Okay? And I’d like to distinguish what I do as a sleep consultant. Okay. And when I work with babies, and toddlers and school aged kids and newborns, what the difference is in what we’re doing, okay? When I work with newborns for sleep coaching, you’re actually sleep shaping. So if you have a newborn, okay, and you help them build good sleep skills from birth, not sleep training, not cry it out with a newborn. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying good sleep hygiene. One nap a day you
Put them down in the in the pack and play or in the crib or in the bassinet independently. That’s a skill they build, right? And then all of a sudden, that skill goes to two naps a day, then you do it at bedtime, and you build a good sleeper from birth, right? Bouncing intake watching awake windows, when you have an infant who and somebody calls me and says my six month old will not sleep through the night. Can you help us coordinate?
That’s a habit you’ve created. There’s something in there where you’re doing something to sleep, okay. And that’s typically sleep training, because they don’t know how to sleep in their mind without that thing. Okay, around 18 months, you have this big developmental leap, where again, kids want that independence, but they’re still infants. But they know how to sleep, they have the skill, right? They’ve built that skill I was just talking about that many young infants don’t have. But now, they have a preference. They can sleep. But they’re choosing to do it only in your bed. Or only if you come in and sit or only if you rock them to sleep. Or only if you lay in their bedroom for three hours every night at bedtime. And then every time they wake overnight, you’re laying back in their bed. Why? Because it’s cozy. If I asked my husband every night to bring me a doughnut at 3am and he did, and then one day he stopped I’d still make it 3am And go yo, where’s my doughnut? Right and perfect example. I’m a 41 year old grown woman and we go to bed at night at night at nine o’clock. Okay? And if my husband is in bed and he is flipped onto his like other side, like looking away from me, I know all bets are off. I’m not getting my head wrapped. Okay? But if you still reading, and I’m trying to fall asleep, and I’m pretty narcoleptic, like I pass out and sleep till five o’clock straight without pretty much a tornado couldn’t wake me up. And I’m lucky for that. But, you know, sometimes head rub is nice. And when we were dating, he used to always rub my head to fall asleep and it was beautiful. So every once in awhile, if he hasn’t yet turned over, I’ll be like, Hey, honey, can you rub my head? Sometimes he says yes. Right? Sometimes he says no, I’ve already flipped over. Okay, but better shot if he hasn’t flipped. If I lay in bed, and for about six seconds, go, Oh, come on, please roll my head. I will not stop asking you to rub my head. You know what he does?
You’re just like your clients, kids, right? Because I’m whining. But you know what that wind gets me in about six seconds ahead rub. Even if he’s already turned over to the point of no return. Now, I know if he responds and says no, goodnight. I’m already sleeping. Right? Like, if he responds with like, a very short, like, no, too bad. I know, all bets are off for that night. So I can tell based on his tone, whether that wine is going to be effective. Okay, and I’m 41. Okay, so I get the head rub. That’s the result and the reward I was looking for. So why would I not ask if I want to end rub? I’ll just wind for six seconds and get one right? Wait for the year. So you have to think about the same way with your toddlers right? And 18 months. They’re no longer a baby. But they’re also No, not yet a fully developed toddler. But many times its behavior, you’re doing something and I’m sure you’re listening to this podcast right now going? I am. They’re twirling my hair to sleep. I’m laying with them at bedtime. They’re coming into my bed every night at 3am. And they won’t go back to sleep unless they do. They’re demanding that I do this thing, right? Well, when you have a child that does that, it just becomes the expectation. Okay, so you know, you as parents have to sit and look at boundaries. Okay? Does it mean that you can’t cuddle your kids at bedtime? And read them a book and lay in bed rub their back? Well, of course you can I do it with my kids. I love it. It’s beautiful, their children, right, I like savor those bad times with a snuggles and we do the snuggle sandwich where I give one a hug and then the other one sneaks up on us and jumps on my back. And then we have a snuggle sandwich, and then we tickle each other and then everybody passes out, right? So like, we all do our fun things. And then when the lights are off, it’s time to go to bed. Right? So my kids know the boundary, sometimes kids the boundary gets blurry, right? Especially at 18 months when many kids if not all kids really should be unless they’re jumping out in a crib. Right? So you know, as parents, we’re kind of rubbing their back or maybe we sit next to them on the floor and a chair and they’ve just started to expect this thing or they’ve started to prefer rocking them to sleep and then like let trying to ninja lay them down which is almost impossible into a crib. So you know, at this age, it’s kind of that balance because we have parents you can probably all sit here and go oh, that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing something right. So it’s okay that you enjoy bedtime there’s just has to be this finite line where the cuddles stop and then the new boundary is implemented, right? Which is not doing this thing. Okay. Many parents missed the boundary because they don’t know what to do when their kids demands that they do the thing right? Well, you know what you do you set a boundary and you have to stick to it and how you change a behavior is consequences. Okay? So when you are in the 18 monthly progression and you’re trying
To get out of it, and you’re sitting there right now listening to this episode, you’re like, Courtney, I have a kid, he’s in a crib. And every time I go to bed, he stands up and screams and puts his arms up and he won’t go to sleep unless I rock him to sleep. And then I put him back down. Or if I sit there for three hours and hold his hand in the crib while he falls asleep, right? You’re allowing yourself to do that. Right? Why? Because that’s what he’s demanding. And if you’re willing to do it, why would he stop? Right? You have to set the boundary. Okay, so what I want you to do tonight, or this weekend, or whatever you listen to this episode is first figure out what are you willing to do? If it’s a five minute backrub? Awesome. If it’s hold their hand for three minutes, awesome. If it’s in two songs, that’s it no more than two, because they’re gonna always ask for three. If you read one book, don’t read two because they’re gonna then always ask for two you have to set a boundary in your routine, and also prevent the fact that they get overtired. overtired will always cause trouble settling, it will cause multiple night wakings. And it will cause early morning wakings. Okay. So when we have this situation where you’re like, how do I get out of the 18 months sleep regression when I’m in it right now, and my kids making me do all these things, right? First set the boundary, this is what I’m willing to do. Right? And you as parents have to figure out what that is. So it might be that you rock for five minutes, okay, and you sing a song. And then at the end of five minutes, they have the expectation is that they go in the crib, okay, I’m holding a little penguin timer, I know you can’t see it, but you basically turn the timer for five minutes, and you say, I’ll rock and when the timer goes off, it’s night right? timer goes off. And then it’s a definitive night. Okay, so that is a decision that you make, it’s a vocal kind of transition that your kid will hear even at 18 months, and you were to get up, put them in the crib and say goodnight, now they stand up and start going,
Daddy, I’m gonna tissue I gotta pee, I need a thing, I need a thing, right, you got to eliminate all those variables, take a couple of tissues under their pillow in the crib or tuck them into the corner, you know, you have to do
like a water bottle, that’s not something that can leak, right? If they’re scared of the dark, you put a little dollar store flashlight in there that you can click on and off, they can fall asleep with their little bear or, you know, Cuddles, my kids like warm ease. So I put those in the microwave before they go to bed. They’re nice and cuddly and warm. And then that also can become the consequence right? behavior changes, guys, when you have a consequence, and you implement the consequence. So the consequence is, I will take this thing that you’d like to sleep with my son has Boppy D, it was his little lovey that he got when he was born. And Babidi, he is eight and still sleeps with op ed. And somehow we magically still have two copies. I don’t know how we haven’t lost one yet over eight years. But he falls asleep with popping D so for him, that would be the consequence, you can choose max to lay quietly in your crib, or I’m taking op ed and I’m leaving the room. And you don’t leave forever. But you have to set a boundary and then consequence of choice. That’s how behavior changes, right? So it’s, I’m going to take your doll, and I’m gonna get out of here for a minute, and I’m gonna give you a chance to recognize that you made the wrong choice by standing up and throwing stuff at me. Right, you throw your pacifier out of the crib, I take it and walk out. It’s just a boundary. You can’t be this little fetcher for a kid who’s like, alright, I’ll be willing to, you’re never gonna do anything, you’re either gonna just ask for stuff, you’re never gonna get out of there. Right. So you have to set a boundary, whether it’s taking that pacifier and walking out taking their stuffy or lovey and walking out, right, taking their nightlight and walking out, sometimes just the act of losing you is enough, right? And you’ve got to start with some type of a consequence, this is the easiest one, you take something they value, and you leave the room for like a minute, not long, you’re going to hear their pitch change, because they’re going to expect you to come back in in a few seconds. And when you don’t, that pitch is going to change in their voice. And you know what? They’re thinking, Oh,
I made the wrong choice, right?
And then you open that door and you say, Do you want your lobby back? Then you need to lay quietly and you stand there at the door as a quiet parent. Okay? You do not go back in yet. You stand at the door in silence holding their lobby until they lay down. This is the hardest part for parents, right? Nobody likes silence, but you have to be silent. You cannot engage with them. Okay, they are learning that they just broke a rule. At 18 months, they’re fully capable of understanding it because they know that if they do an action, they’re expecting the reward. Right? They’re learning cause and effect.
You’re going to be in there for the rest of your life if you let your three year old or your 18 month old or your seven year old rule the roost. Okay, you’re setting a soft boundary. Now. Sometimes parents can get just, you know, effectively do this. Give them a lovey back and then say it’s now time for bed goodnight and walk out. Sometimes parents are stuck in that room and they’re like, how do I get out of this room? I’ve been in here for three months, right? It takes every bit of a week with whatever way
You’re working yourself out of there by setting boundaries. And then by escalating the consequences right now we dive into this in much more levels of, you know, detail and specifics and unique personalities and unique child’s rewards and consequences and behaviors and dating and timing and all that, you know, there’s a lot that goes into this, it’s not as simple as like, okay, I can sleep train your kid with a three minute podcast about the teen monthly progression. It’s just, this is the start of the foundation of what we’re doing. You’re not sleep training a toddler, you’re changing their behavior, right? If your kid was trying to ride the dog, right, and you’re like, don’t ride the dog that could hurt his legs, please do not climb on the dog. As fun as that might look, he is not a horse. So do not get on the dog. And, you know, and or you’re gonna go to timeout, right? That’s you just did exactly what we’re doing. You gave them a command. The command was a boundary don’t sit on the dog. But if they sit on the dog, what happens? They go to timeout consequence. Right? But if your kids don’t understand consequences, right of timeout yet, or they don’t care that they’re in that consequence, they’re not going to change their behavior. I’ll just do it when she’s not looking right? At 18 months old, they’re still cognitively young, right? So if you say like, Don’t go near the stairs, don’t go near the stairs. Don’t go near the stairs, right? And they go over towards the stairs. What do you do you go you do not go near the stairs, right? And that tone in your voice, sends a message to them that goes,
Okay, don’t go near the stairs, right? Like, sometimes it’s our tone. Sometimes it’s a change in behavior, like my daughter when she was younger, didn’t care about timeout, right? So if she did something, I would put her on the stairs for like two minutes when she was two. And I’m like, You’re in timeout, right? Well, she grew. She’s like, I don’t care, Mommy, I guess I’m out. And I’m like, Okay, well, then that consequence is no longer effective. Because you don’t care. So I would pick her up. And I’m not a yeller, right. Unless you really pissed me off. I would pick her up in silence walk to her bedroom, set her on her bed, which by the way, in her room is like glitter, sparkles, dresses, nail polish makeup. I mean, it’s like a party in there. Okay, so she’s not going to prison. But I would just put her on her bed, and I would walk out and I would hold the door closed for two minutes, she would go stage 10 nuclear, right? I’m not chaining her to a bed. I’m setting her on her bed. But she can’t see me. She can’t see what’s happening in the rest of the house. That was an effective consequence. Her sitting on the stairs. I know care. Mommy, I sit in timeout, right? It doesn’t change the behavior. But two minutes on her bed. And I opened the door and say, Are you ready to come down for dinner now? Yes. And then the behavior shifts, right? You have to look at your 18 month old and meet them where they are right? Understand that, like you’re allowing the behaviors because you’ve bent on your boundaries. So as family, your action tonight is to sit down, figure out what you’re willing to do. I’m willing to read a book, I’m willing to cuddle for five minutes, right? But then after that the expectation is that you’re going into your crib, and you’re gonna go to sleep, right? And then you have to start looking at the boundaries around that behavior consequence. Okay? It is about a week to change behavior. Okay, this isn’t sleep training, they know how to sleep. This is a behavior change. It’s a very different animal. Okay, so understand if you’re in this, it can be complex, right? clients hire me for sleep coaching all the time for toddlers, because there’s a power struggle, and you don’t know what to do, and you don’t know how to get out of it. Hopefully this will get you started. It’ll get you identifying where you’re going wrong. And then it will help to start you on the path to positive success over the course of a couple days, you have to stick to the boundary, or when your children know it’s spendable, they’re going to constantly push it right. That’s the role of children, they’re going to constantly see as they’re learning in this world, what is happening, and how to kind of manage that boundary. So sleep regressions can last as long as you allow them to because typically, there’s a habit that’s been introduced into the situation regardless of age. Okay? That is typically why they happen. And you can absolutely always prevent sleep regressions, by setting boundaries and sticking to them.
If you have a child who has a nightmare, and you go in and then for 45 minutes, you’re like rubbing their back, I get it like your kid was scared. Okay, well first remove whatever the thing is that they were scared of. So my son didn’t like Toy Story for I’m sure it’s a fabulous movie. But when you think about it, it’s kid’s toys are coming alive. He woke up one night having a nightmare after we watch Toy Story for them. It’s dolls were coming alive and he was freaking out. Now I didn’t respond as a you know, stoic animal. I walked in and I was like, What’s going on buddy? Like, you know, he’s like my animals. My dog was mobile vulnerable, like, Alright, let’s take them off the bat. Here’s a nightlight. You’re okay. It’s just
Still movie, but I understand how it can be scary. Would you like me to take these out of the room? Would you like to take off the bed? Let me read your back. And, you know, for a minute, I rubbed his back and I was like, take some breaths, buddy. I’m right here and I sat there for a minute. And let them kind of cool the engines. You know, my kids, I threw a little lavender on his on his wrists, but you know, everybody to each their own. And, you know, just got them to like, chill back out. Okay, he fell back asleep. And that was never an issue. Again, we don’t watch Toy Story for okay. But if you go in there and you’re like, I’ll sleep with you come in my bed, cuddle, do the things. The next night they wake and they have a nightmare the next night they wake in they have a nightmare, then you’re just perpetuating this habit, right? So sometimes you have to identify like what happened and try your best to solve for it. Especially as kids grow, right? You know, an 18 month old isn’t going to correlate Toy Story four, but a five year six year old did at the time, right? And, you know, we got into this, this pickle for one night. And I was like, and I’m pretty, I’m always accessible, right? And I tell my clients all the time, you should always be accessible, do not be excessive.
Right? There are sleep consultants that will basically you pay, and they tell you to lock your kid in their room, like I will never ever do that. Like it is not necessary to do that. Nor do I think it’s safe. Nor do I ever want a kid to feel like they are locked in their room. Okay. So to each their own if you do that, but it’s not necessary. In my opinion, as a professional sleep consultant to do that. You are changing a behavior and behavior changes take time.
All my private clients know we take about a week to get them sleeping through the night, you getting out of the room, you having a beautiful night, you saying the night and knowing that it is silenced for 12 hours, okay, but it takes every bit of a week. And you have to have the right plan because if they don’t, and you bend, they’re gonna keep walking all over you and you’re gonna be like, Courtney, you’re an idiot, I could still waking Well, you’re not doing something, right. And sleep is complex, right. That’s why we exist as sleep coaches. So if you’re in a pickle, and you’ve taken some time to implement what I’ve talked about today, and you just quite haven’t figured it out, connect with us. I have a beautiful team of 10 Sleep consultants, I still see clients myself on a limited basis because I also do sleep consultant business coaching with other sleep consultants. So I do mentoring, and I’ve got a lot of stuff on my plate besides just sleep coaching, but I still see private clients, my team sees private clients. And we’re always happy to help you with your sleep needs. Because toddlers can be a little bit of a pushover, okay. And so it’s certainly important that they get the rest, because you need to make sure that they’re growing and thriving, and their behaviors balanced and they’re eating good, right, all this stuff is connected. And sleep is the foundation for which the house is built. Okay, so if your 18 month old or 19 month old or 20 month old is struggling with sleep, you got to reach out, because it’s the only way we can help you. And you can get it back in about a week. Don’t struggle for months and months and months and asleep progression that’s never going to end and have you know, a kid that moves into your bed, and your spouse or partner moves into the guest room. So you don’t want to get there. And we’re always more than happy to help and I hope you have a beautiful rest of the day. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to jump out to the website at Tiny transitions.com We have a ton of freebies, a lot of education. I’m always trying to serve the community in different ways. So definitely take some time to do that. And I hope you have a beautiful rest of the day.
Hold on one more thing before you go. As a valued listener of the kids sleep show. I want to help you build a great sleeper not just in the times you’re listening to the show. But all day every day. Every week of the year. I have a new Facebook group called slumber made simple. It’s a place to gather with other parents looking for sleep support laughs and the latest in sleep research to build a family that is rested and at their best day in and day out. If you want to be part of the community where you can get free sleep support, weekly training sessions, unbelievable content and so much more. Head on over to tiny transitions.com forward slash community that’s tiny transitions.com forward slash community are head over to Facebook and search slumber Made Simple. drop me a note and let me know when you join. I can’t wait to see you there.
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