Boom! Here we go again…another hurdle in the world of sleep. Just as you may have felt your nights were getting on track suddenly they are being disturbed again and you may be wondering “what now”?
Well, this is possibly the 18 month sleep regression. Or as we all know I like to call a “progression” because your baby is maturing, not regressing...even though you may feel the sleep is somewhat..!
So here today I explain the WHEN, WHY and the HOW to navigate through your way through this sleep hurdle with hopefully not much disturbance for all the family.
So the WHEN, This sleep “progression” is typically around 18 months but can be a little earlier or later. Most commonly around 18 months because it co – insides with a transition of 2 naps down to 1 which happens around this time. The WHY, During this delicate time your toddler will be coming out of the baby zone and entering into toddler hood and toddler sleep comes with it as a package! Your child's physical and cognitive development is maturing and they are learning yet more skills, wanting to explore more and test us more for sure! They are figuring out limits and testing the boundaries. Your toddler may be in a big bed with no sides (my advice it to keep them in their cot for as long and close to 3 years of age as possible due to the lack of impulse control they have before 3 years) That impulse control couples with the “mummy, can I have one more kiss, I neeeed some more milk, maybe I can climb out of my crib, oooh, maybe I can go sleep in mummy’s bed…” These are the boundaries your child maybe testing. Sound familiar to you? They enter a second bout of separation anxiety (the first being around 9 months when object permanence is realised) but this separation anxiety may be a little more momentous in the way they have a little more fear and curiosity. For example they may see you leave the room but then they may wonder, what if Mummy does not come back, what it I cry and she does not hear me, I can hear a dog bark, is it near me, what is that shadow over there…?
Naturally children and adults will wake 3-6 times a night when shifting from one sleep cycle to another, falling back to sleep independently is the art and skill we need to teach our children and if they have not learnt this skill they may struggle more at these waking’s, need our assistance and of course with this sleep “progression” their sleep may be more disturbed with their new thoughts going on in their maturing mind and need more comforting.
Your toddlers language skills are not fully developed yet and they can not always express themselves so we may be wondering what on earth they are trying to convey. Especially in the night when it is dark and we are all tired and a little bit dazed from perhaps being up already 5 times... You may wonder are they hungry, perhaps I should offer milk, do they need a nappy change or perhaps they are cold/hot, no it must be teething... yes, a feed will help get them back to sleep…
I am sure you have come up with a number of endless possibilities your toddler is waking for.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Keep your toddlers sleep space the same and consistent. Now is not the time to move them into a big “girl/boy” bed or change the room décor. This will only confuse them more and give opportunity to explore it. Of course if your toddler is jumping out of the cot then yes, a new bed is needed for safety reasons.
Of course if you are moving house or a new sibling is arriving soon, talk to your toddler about this, use books to help, perhaps a visit to the library to see what book they have on the topics. If moving try have your toddlers room marked as a priority, have the same bed, same bedding, same pictures and teddy around. Mimic the old familiar sleep space. Park the Pinterest decor you had…just for a few months anyway! It will come!
2. Be Consistent. I talk about consistency ALL THE TIME, and certainly those of you who have worked closely with me know I bang on about this a lot, but it is vital. Being consistent for your toddler at this time will help with their anxiety and expectations. If you give in to the “one more story, one more drink” demands intermittently they will cotton on to this FAST. And know they can get what they want if they go on and on enough..! Giving into your child is effectively rewarding them and at this young tender age they see it as a win.
2. To help with consistency you may like to use a picture time chart, this helps your toddler know what comes next. You can make it with them, cut out a pictures from magazines, a family eating dinner, a bath, a story, a cup of milk… they could even get the picture to pop in a “sleep box” at each “event” to sleep with your toddler on their shelf.
3. ROUTINE. Again this coincides with consistency and boundaries. Your toddler’s circadian rhythm is set to wake, eat and sleep at the same times every day. Don’t mess with that. You will rock the boat and then you have an over tired or even under tired toddler on your hand.
4. Your toddler is growing up mentally and physically, so treat them this way. Start to give them a little option or 2 , what top would you like to wear today, this blue one or this green one, what story shall we read first, the Gruffalo or Mog. Of course this goes within the boundaries and age appropriate. Things they can control will help the situation and helps in them feeling important and independent.
If you find your toddler is taking time to fall asleep and is happy in their sleep space, then leave them to it. Eventually they will fall asleep and grow out of this awake time. Of course if they are upset and you feel they need some assistance in some way of course lovingly go to your toddler and respond appropriately. Remember to be consistent in the approaches.
You may need to do frequent check ins, or sit in the room until your toddler falls asleep. But again I say it…be consistent at every wake up!
If your toddler is starting to kick up a stink and you are not sure how to respond do take this opportunity to reach out to me and I can help and offer advice and guide you through this period.
It is very normal to experience this sleep “progression” so hang in there as it may take a week or so to pass. Your anxious toddler may take some more persuading and comforting and that is perfectly normal and expected. Support them through this time.
Of course if you would like any more help and advice on this sleep “progression” don’t hesitate to get in touch, I am here to help you make this shift as easy as possible for you and your family.
Don’t forget to share this with a friend you know who may find this helpful also.
Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant