From 12-18 month J slept through the night and we had absolutely no complaints about his sleep. When the 18-month mark hit, we experienced a very sudden and challenging regression with his sleep. He had consistently been going to bed around 8pm and waking around 8am, but all of a sudden he protested bedtime, and had wake-ups every two hours until morning. During those wake-ups there was a lot of inconsolable crying.
We sleep trained back when he was 6 months old and it had worked well for us, but at 18 months his cognitive and perceptive skills were impeccable. Sleep training was an entirely different scenario when our child knew we were right outside and could hear him. Another thing that had worked in my favor during his first 16 months was that he was breastfed, and it felt like the magic card up my sleeve. If all else failed, I always knew that would comfort him. But when he self-weaned at 16-months, that was no longer in my box of tricks. Additionally, he had recently weaned off the pacifier prior to 18 months. Mr. Pen and I were out of cards to play.
While getting through the 6-week long sleep regression, we had a few nights of trial and error. Here are the things that worked for us:
Modifying bedtime routine
This was the biggest change that ultimately improved our process and how J slept. Prior to 18 months we had a simple routine of bath time, pajamas, one book, one song and bedtime, all in all taking less than 20 minutes. But at 18 months he appeared to be having a harder time with the transition, so we decided to rearrange things and add in extra time for him to make the transition more seamlessly. Instead of one book, we would read three or four. At this age, he started to enjoy being the facilitator of which books would be read before bed. We also started allowing him to have some quiet one-on-one play with us in his room that involved things like puzzles, imaginative play, coloring, blocks and occasionally a ball game. He also started asking for more than one song that we would sing while holding him and swaying back and forth. We love this lullaby, and he started singing along as well. As he became more musically inclined, he started requesting songs he likes such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the “Tiger Song” (from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood).
I mentioned this a bit in the previous section, but allowing him a little extra time to make the transition helped us a lot. We ate, and now we still do, eat dinner between 6 and 6:30 p and have bath by 7pm, which allowed for nearly 45 minutes for the entire bedtime routine. The transition had finally become much more seamless when he had time to anticipate that it will be bedtime, and knowing exactly what his routine was. In fact, if any part of the routine changes even now, he is the first to notice and ask for that particular thing (such as if we skip bath time).
Middle of the night wakeups
The hardest part of the sleep regression though was going back to middle of the night wakings. We started rocking him again in the middle of the night, and usually singing a song. But there was a lot of crying involved, and I’m not sure if he went through a spell of having bad dreams? But many things were no longer soothing to him. There were many nights where he simply wasn’t tired anymore at 1am, and wanted to run around and play. On those nights, it was useless to try and hold him in our arms to rock him, or even put him back in his crib, as he would just wail. So we would let him walk around and pull out toys, however, we always kept it dark. Where we live there is a decent amount of streetlights coming through our windows, so he always had enough light to see to walk around, but we never wanted to encourage his wakefulness by brightening the room. This seemed to help keep those midnight play sessions short. Allowing him to play, even just for 10 minutes, usually helped him release what energy he had, and go back to sleep. But we didn’t make a habit of this, and still needed a wind-down time such as rocking and singing songs.
One thing that didn’t work anymore was taking him into our bed, which I had done a few times out of pure exhaustion and desperation. But instead of it being consoling and a special treat for him, it meant playtime. Needless to say, it didn’t take more than two or three times to learn that co-bedding would not work with our toddler!
After a very long 6-week period, his sleep finally returned to normal and just a couple months later we also transitioned to a one-nap schedule. He is 24 months now, and back on his 8pm-8am sleep schedule.
Did you experience an 18-month sleep regression? How did you handle it?