If you have a 12-month-old, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with sleep regression. The phenomenon, which causes babies who were previously sleeping well to wake at frequent and unscheduled intervals, is relatively common.
Many children experience a few sleep regressions before their first birthday. Of course, by now, you may have thought night wakings were a thing of the past. After all, at 12 months, most babies are able to self-soothe and sleep through the night.
Still, sleep regressions can occur anytime. Restless nights can (and likely will) appear again.
The good news is sleep regressions are temporary — so don’t fret! All of your hard work hasn’t gone to waste. Here’s everything you need to know about the 12-month-sleep regression.
According to Corey Fish, MD, the chief medical officer at Brave Care in Portland, Oregon, sleep regression is “a term used to describe a time where an infant who was previously sleeping for long stretches suddenly struggles to fall or stay asleep and/or has more prolonged waking periods in the middle of the night.”
Sleep regressions can occur at any age, including 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, 18 months and 2 years. The 12-month sleep regression occurs at or near baby’s first birthday, though some children begin regressing at 10 or 11 months.
The length of any sleep regression varies, depending on your child’s age and social and emotional development. Most sleep regressions resolve quickly, with the 12-month sleep regression lasting 2 weeks (or less).
If sleep troubles last longer, you may want to contact your child’s doctor. They can help you rule out illness or an underlying health condition.
Experts believe there are numerous reasons why children regress at 12 months. According to Fish, the disruption usually coincides with a developmental milestone.
“Babies typically exhibit sleep regressions right before a period of intense neurological development,” Fish explains.
“With the 12-month sleep regression, we think this is linked to learning to cruise as well as language and social development. Many babies will start to have anywhere between one to three words at this age, and the brain development in terms of the ability to express language is complicated and unique to this developmental time in a child’s life.”
However, other developmental changes or circumstances may affect your little one’s sleeping habits, including:
The best way to manage sleep regressions is to be patient. Know this period will pass.
Of course, that’s easier said than done — especially when you’re emotional and exhausted — but there are a few things you can do to make this period easier for you and your child.
- Keep on schedule and stick with bedtime routines. Children thrive on consistency. Deviations from “the norm” can make transitionsharderand cause regressions to last longer.
- Find ways to soothe your child without another feeding. Some options include rocking and/or holding your little one until they’re almost asleep, rubbing their back, or giving verbal cues, like, “It’s okay. Lie down. Mommy’s here.”
- If you used cry-it-out before, you can try it again. However, know that during a regression your child may struggle to self-soothe. Additional support may be needed.
- Make sure your child is very active during the day. Toddlers have lots of energy, and they need time to burn it off — and test out their new skills.
- Address possible teething pain. If you think they may be teething, you may want to try giving them a cold washcloth or teething ring.
While bedtimes and sleep needs will vary from family-to-family and child-to-child, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most 12-month-olds sleep 11 to 14 hours out of each 24 hours.
When your child gets their sleep might differ from other kids. Some children sleep through the night but refuse to nap during the day, while others wake at 5 a.m. and then take two long naps. Just remember: the when doesn’t matter as much as the total amount of sleep they’re getting.
In addition to the suggestions mentioned above, there are a few general tips you can employ to help you and your child sleep better.
- Create a soothing nighttime ritual, and stick with it. Examples include giving your little a bath, reading them a book, and/or singing them a song.
- Avoid screens before bed. Electronic light stimulates the brain and can disrupt sleep.
- Consider using an “OK to wake” light. A special clock that illuminates when it is time to get up may help your child distinguish day from night.
- Cover the basics. Ensure your child is dry and fed before laying them down.
- Tend to the sleep environment. Use white noise machines, sleep sacks, music and/or blackout drapes, when appropriate.
Sleep regressions can be hard, and the 12-month sleep regression is no different. For a few weeks, you and your toddler will be tired, cranky, exhausted and frustrated.
But this period is important. The milestones that may contribute to sleep regressions are necessary for your child’s social, emotional, and physical development, and are totally normal. This period is also temporary — it will pass.
In the meantime, be patient with your little one and yourself. Try to remain consistent, and ask for help. You don’t have to go it alone.