The Super-Early Sleep Regression
Dear, wise Amy – please help me sort out this sleep issue!
My daughter just turned 16 months, and the last few weeks have been a little rough.
Sickness: we’re (hopefully) exiting about 3-4 weeks of on/off fever and bad colds.
Teething: at 16 months my daughter still only has four teeth (actually 4.5! a new one just broke through!) Her gums are perpetually red so I can’t tell if it’s still bothering her.
Developmental leap? In the last couple weeks she’s just grown-up overnight. I’d conservatively estimate she knows at least 30 words (in context, used / said correctly, frequently) and has begun stringing 2-3 words together. She’s also just SO….aware. Aware she can say no, aware we’re asleep in the other room, aware she has options.
So the issue: in the last few weeks, sleep has become super inconsistent. I always put her to bed awake: most nights she says “night night, love you” and does her thing. But a couple nights a week now she cries and fights it. Most nights she sleeps through the night like she used to (albeit with a bit more moaning / crying briefly in her sleep throughout the night). But a couple nights a week now she wakes around 11pm, or 2am, and is inconsolable for 1-3 HOURS while we go through the old playbook of comfort in the crib, reassure, walk away, time out our return, etc. Often we’ll literally go through 1-2 hours of her standing up and sobbing for 2 minutes, lying down trying to sooth herself for a few minutes, repeat.
What in the world is going on? Is this the 18 month sleep regression, just really early? Is it teething? Are we crappy parents who somehow haven’t fully taught our toddler how to sleep? Is she still not feeling well and I’m a monster for keeping her in her crib?
Please please help! Thank you!!!
/opens imaginary textbook on baby sleep
//flips to chapter on 18-month sleep regression
Oh look! It’s a picture of YOUR BABY.
Sleep regressions aren’t an exact calendar science, as MANY MANY babies start them earlier or later. Some babies have them on a completely different schedule altogether, or skip all the early regressions and then have their sleep go haywire right when their parents think they’ve miraculously made it through.
Everything you’re describing: the teething, the developmental leap, the vocabulary, that sudden awareness of EVERYTHING, nighttime separation anxiety: these are the classic triggers for the 18-month sleep regression, which could really be called the 16/17/18/19/20-month sleep regression. It has the widest range, in my experience, since toddlers hit that big developmental leap at wildly different points.
It’s also, in my experience, the most frustrating. You think you’ve got it all figured out and gotten used to, you know, SLEEPING, and then suddenly it feels like you’re back in the newborn trenches. Only with a baby who seems more like a person and who should not be putting you through this ridiculousness.
But alas, the only way through it is through. Remind yourself that it is indeed temporary and (in the big picture of things) a short-term hiccup. So the best advice I can give you is to make sure that you don’t create any long-term sleep habits during this time that you’ll regret. (A return to co-sleeping, for example, or hours of rocking or dependency on you and your presence to sleep.) Stick with the check/comfort/exit pattern. Offer a musical crib soother, if you don’t already have one, or play some quiet lullabies for her.
(“ALEXA, PLAY THE GO THE EFF TO SLEEP PLAYLIST IN THE NURSERY.”)
Make sure she’s getting adequate naps during the day, and you can also look up solutions for toddler separation anxiety, since that’s often a BIG component of the inconsolable crying at night.
It sucks! It really does suck and it’s okay to think it sucks. But I promise it’s a temporary suck and you are not crappy parents at all. The sleep regression is the crappy one here.
Read more about the 18-Month Sleep Regression here: