So, we've covered the earlier sleep regressions. Now we're into the Toddler Territory ...
While these regressions are separate, the 18 Month Sleep Regression (18MR) and the 2 Year Sleep Regression (2YR) share a common theme: this is all behavioural.
WHAT'S GOING ON?
The 18MR coincides with when you start seeing your little one discovering their independence and asserting themselves in ways you've not encountered before. I'm talking about temper tantrums and that delightful oppositional behaviour that turns your angel into a devil, seemingly overnight. At 18 months, your baby is coming well and truly into the Toddler Phase (the Terrible Twos is a misnomer - the trouble starts much, much sooner!) and they will be displaying a terrifying strength of will. At bed and at nap times, this will be in the form of some hearty displays of defiance.
They're also teething. They're always teething. For the 18MR, it's canines and first molars. For the 2YR, it's the second molars. Lovely.
There's also the reappearance of some pesky separation anxiety so they may want you to stay near them, or be there when they wake at night.
And with the 2YR, you get all that, plus bedtime stalling (one more book/cuddle/drink etc) and a really strong assertion that naps are for losers.
WHY ARE THESE DIFFERENT FROM THE EARLIER REGRESSIONS?
The 18MR and 2YR are all about behaviour and that's why these are such hard phases: your toddler will be morphing from an easy to please, take-anywhere baby into an on the floor screamer 24/7 and that's exhausting in itself. Add to that that quite often you're back at work by this stage, plus have another child who needs sleep, too. That's a lot of emotional pulls.
Where with the 4MR and 8MR, there was more meeting of those wants involved, the 18MR and 2YR are about limit setting. Remember we're dealing with defiant behaviour which is typical of toddlerhood and all part of their development and our response as parents needs to be mindful of this: children crave boundaries - they make a child feel safe. Being clear about what they are expected to do isn't being mean, it's being fair - if you want your little one to get all the sleep they absolutely need for their development, help them to achieve that.
But it's really important to note that this isn't the time to start sleep training, instead support the positive sleep associations you have in place and really work hard to avoid introducing anything new that you'll need to wean them off once the regression is over.
The 18MR sees much, much stronger wills and listening to your child cry is an almost impossible task for lots of parents, especially if you've had a child who has slept well previously (a case for a lot of my clients). But remember this: children cry for far more reasons than adults. Before speech is confidently established, crying is a little one's main form of communication and so crying doesn't always mean distress. Toddlers cry through frustration and anger, as well as sadness and disappointment.
But that doesn't mean you can't respond to your child's cries: of course you can. It's just making sure that you do it in a meaningful and appropriate way, giving them something that will support their independent sleep and not encourage the development of a new sleep crutch.
HOW DO I GET THROUGH THIS?
Stick to your schedule but be mindful of shifting wakeful windows. They may need their nap times tweaked so they're sitting more comfortably within their wakeful window. For the 2YR, they've moved into their new WW of 5-6hrs so a tweak could see an easier settle for the nap.
Don't be tempted to drop the nap even if they're really resisting it. Naps are needed until they're around 3. Keep plugging away regardless of the battle and they'll slip back into their routine once it's over.
Be super consistent: know your limits and be clear about your boundaries
Now's not the time to start sleep training if you've never done it before.
Likewise, avoid introducing new sleep associations such as co-sleeping or anything else if you don't want to continue doing it once the regression is over.
Use your sleep techniques to support your toddler's sleep - be as patient as you can and get some help if you're struggling.
Keep telling yourself THIS IS JUST A PHASE- because it is.
HOW LONG WILL THIS LAST?
As with all regressions, the 18MR and 2YR usually last between 2-6 weeks. That's why it's so important that you keep everything the same - the less you tinker with their sleep during a regression, the easier it will be for them to slip back into it when it passes.
Struggling beyond 6 weeks? Let me help you get a plan in place to support your child in getting all the sleep they need.
Lucy Barker is a certified sleep consultant and mum of two under three based in the beautiful Test Valley. She work with babies from the age of 18 weeks right up to children who are starting school, resolving a whole range of sleep challenges including regular night waking, negative sleep associations such as rocking or feeding to sleep, and bed-hopping. Lucy decided to retrain after a successful career as a PA after using a sleep consultant to solve her 2 year old son’s sleep problems which were dominating the family's lives. The change she brought to the family once her son was sleeping well was incredible and Lucy knew that she had found the vocation for her.
"Working with families to bring harmony back into their homes is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do – I feel very lucky that this is my job!"