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If you have a 12-month-old, you’re probably already all too familiar with sleep regression. Unfortunately, you’ve been through this before. If you haven’t, you’re one of the lucky few. Consider this your survival guide to the next 1 to 2 weeks of sleepless nights.
You may feel like you have a newborn again, but the good news is, it won’t last for long. Hopefully you’ve already been through some sleep training, meaning your child possesses the sleeping skills they need, they just need some extra comfort in the meantime.
About Sleep Regression
If you haven’t already been through a sleep regression or two, here’s what it’s all about. Perhaps you did go through it, but you either don’t remember (who can remember anything these days?) or you didn’t know that’s what it was.
Sleep regression is when your child’s sleep gets disrupted or they don’t sleep well for a period of time. They may have trouble falling asleep, wake up more at night, or fight naps during the day.
Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty predictable. These periods of sleeplessness surround developmental milestones. As your child grows in one area, like walking or talking, it’s normal for them to regress in another area, like sleep.
Sleep regression happens when your child goes through periods of growth, so they can happen at a variety of times. They’re common at 6 weeks, 4 months, 6-10 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 2 years. However, most children will only go through a few of these. Hardly ever do they go through all of them.
These regressions in sleep are temporary, and your 12 month sleep regression will last only about 1 or 2 weeks, which is much shorter than the sleep regressions you may have experienced so far.
If your child was sleeping well and is now suddenly waking up again at night, fighting falling asleep, or fussier than normal, you could be experiencing some 12 month sleep regression.
How 12 Month Sleep Regression is Different
If you’re familiar with the sleep regression routine, you may feel like you know what it’s all about or what to expect. However, the 12 month sleep regression is slightly different than what you’ve experienced already.
You already know that it’s caused by developmental milestones, so it’s no wonder your child is going through it now. At about a year, children are taking their first steps, speaking their first words, following simple directions, and learning to use fine motor skills. There’s so much going on in that little body and brain!
In addition to these developments, your child may also experience a growth spurt at about 12 months, which can lead to increased hunger and body aches and pains. Both of these things can cause them to start waking up again at night.
While pain and hunger aren’t technically signs of sleep regression, they can definitely compound your issues and make it difficult to tell what exactly is going on.
On top of all of that, separation anxiety is also a huge problem for a lot of 12 month olds. It’s a normal phase, but it’s stressful for both you and your child. Unfortunately, separation anxiety is more of a problem at naptime and bedtime because if you’re placing your child in their crib awake, they’re going to see you leave the room.
More awareness and wonder at the world around them can also make it difficult for 12 month olds to fall asleep. Instead of winding down, they’re stimulated by everything around them, making it hard to fall asleep when they know they could be playing.
Nap patterns also change around a baby’s first birthday, making it really hard to keep up a consistent nap schedule. If you find your child resisting naps all of a sudden, you may be tempted to switch to one nap.
However, your baby isn’t quite ready for that yet, and if you try to switch now, you’ll only be dealing with more fussiness, overtiredness, and worse sleep.
Signs of 12 Month Sleep Regression
Look for the following signs to indicate that you may be experiencing the 12 month sleep regression:
- Resisting bedtime
- Fighting naps
- Waking up more at night
- More fussy or clingy than usual
Your child may also have symptoms of increased appetite, but this is likely due to the growth spurt that happens around this age. While growth spurts are definitely a part of the developmental milestones that happen around 12 months, hunger by itself is not a sign of sleep regression. It’s a direct result of the growing your child is doing right now that’s causing a change in sleeping patterns.
Preparing for the 12 Month Sleep Regression
Whether you’re approaching the 12 month sleep regression or you’re already in the thick of it, there are some things you can do to ease your baby’s stress and make them feel a bit more comfortable. These tips will also help keep you a bit more sane so you’ll feel like you’re getting through it faster.
1. Keep your baby busy during the day.
Your 12 month old is already very active. If they’re not already walking, they will be soon, which means they’re scooting around, crawling, pulling up, and practicing all kinds of new skills. They’re working with their hands almost constantly, and they’re very alert.
Make sure your baby has plenty of stimulation during the day and give them enough time to burn off their energy. This will ensure that they’re tired enough to fall asleep more easily at night. It could be the only thing you need to make it through this rough patch.
Baby proof a play area to keep them busy and provide them with stimulating toys and activities like jumpers and activity centers. This can also give you time to make dinner, clean up, or catch up on work.
Being outside is also a great way to keep your child healthy and stimulated. Take a trip to the park or run around the backyard every day. Even a leisurely walk around the block can help you avoid pent up energy at bedtime.
When the weather is bad, schedule play dates for some parallel play or go to the gym or indoor pool. If you wear your baby out by letting them practice their new skills during the day, it will eliminate those midnight practicing sessions.
2. Avoid big changes right now.
This is not the time to make changes like switching to a toddler bed or transitioning to one nap. Not only is your child not quite ready for transitions that big yet, but it could make the sleep regression worse.
These times of disrupted sleep don’t need any other disruptions in the routine. The more you can stick to the routine they’re used to, the faster they’ll bounce back to normal.
Keep up your bedtime routine and be consistent. If your child has been falling asleep by themselves, continue to encourage that. If separation anxiety is a struggle, you can sit quietly in a chair until they fall asleep as long as you don’t offer any extra stimulation they don’t need.
Stick with two naps a day throughout this time, to ensure that your child is still getting the sleep they need, especially since they may not be getting it at night. If daycare insists on transitioning to one nap, make sure your child still gets two naps a day at home on the weekends. You may also need to adjust to an earlier bedtime on daycare days.
Try not to bring your child into bed with you. It may work to comfort them and help them sleep, but it can be detrimental long-term to the good sleeping habits you’ve already helped them develop.
While it may seem like your child is struggling, consistency in a routine is often what will give your child the most comfort. They may be fighting it, but it’s still the best thing for them.
3. Tweak naps if needed.
In the spirit of avoiding big changes, you can tweak naps right now to ensure your child gets the sleep they need, but it should be done with caution. Your baby still needs two naps right now, but if they’re fighting it, at least make sure they get time to rest.
If they insist on staying awake in the crib during nap time, put them down for a nap anyway. It helps keep things consistent.
If your child starts to refuse an afternoon nap, you can shorten the morning nap to an hour so it’ll be easier to accept another nap later. It will also wear them out by the afternoon nap, increasing the chances that they’ll sleep.
Your baby may be ready for slightly longer stretches of being awake, which is another reason some children this age fight naps. Extend the times your child is awake to 3 or 4 hours and see if that helps the nap situation.
You can also help your child catch up on some sleep during a sleep regression by putting them to bed a little earlier. If your baby is overtired from fighting naps or not sleeping at night, this may be needed for a week or two.
4. Know what to expect.
In order to fix your 12 month old’s sleeping problems, you need to understand their needs and what to expect. Having a goal will help you determine how you need to arrange your day to get there.
Your 12 month old needs 2 to 3 hours of naps every day, and it usually happens between two naps. It’s too early to drop to one nap just yet. They’ll be awake between 2.5 and 4 hours at a time during the day.
Bedtime should be between 6:30 and 8pm. If you need to adjust bedtime to accommodate a lack of sleep, do it in 15 minute increments every couple of nights. Consistent bedtimes promote better sleep.
Most 12 month olds need between 11 and 12 hours of sleep every night and can sleep through the night without a feeding. However, if you or your doctor are worried about your baby’s growth or you’ve been instructed to continue feeding during the night, continue to do so as the doctor suggests.
5. Offer extra comfort.
Whether separation anxiety is the cause of the sleep regression or a byproduct, it can be helpful to offer additional comfort for your child. Even if separation anxiety isn’t an issue at all, sleep deprivation can have some negative effects that a simple cuddle will cure.
It’s perfectly normal for your child to want to be closer to you during a time of extreme growth. As your child becomes more independent, they need even more reassurance from you that it’s ok to branch out.
This exploration can be stressful for your baby, and while their clinging to you is also frustrating, they need your affection more than ever.
Extra cuddling, hugs, and kisses with some one on one time during the day can remind your child that you love them. Make sure you sit down with them a few times every day to read, play, or sing.
Bedtime should also be full of undivided attention without distractions. It can help them unwind and fall asleep much easier after having their emotional needs fulfilled.
6. Keep up with independent sleep habits.
Your baby may need extra comfort, but if you’ve established good independent sleeping habits, continue to encourage those. Your 12 month old should be sleep in their own crib, so if you’re coming up on 12 months, prepare for the sleep regression by working as hard as you can to achieve this goal.
It’s much easier to get through a sleep regression by establishing good habits and sticking with them until the sleep regression passes. It’ll also make it easier to get back on track with good sleep when it’s all over.
Avoid feeding or rocking to sleep if you can, because it can actually cause your baby to wake up in the night for more feeding or rocking. If you still haven’t encouraged your child to go to sleep on their own, it’s never too late for sleep training.
7. Feed your baby more frequently.
To avoid these bedtime or night time feedings, feed your baby more frequently during the day. It’s common for 12 month olds to go through growth spurts, which may lead to an increased appetite. This hunger can wake them up during nap time or at night.
While you shouldn’t refuse a night feed for a baby who needs it, you can feed more frequently during the day to help combat this. Milk or solids every 2 to 3 hours, increasing the volume of feeds, or offering more frequent snacks can help prevent hunger from disturbing sleep.
8. Don’t wean just yet.
There are a lot of milestones to achieve right now. From growth spurts to increased mental development, your child is entering a brand new world. Keeping the routine consistent and curbing that extra hunger both mean you shouldn’t be trying to wean your baby off of breastfeeding just yet.
Make sure you get your child through the 12 month sleep regression first and then try. Your child wants to be closer to you right now and breastfeeding can offer that much needed comfort during a restless and uncertain phase.
9. Find ways to take a break.
Sleep regressions are exhausting for everyone. There’s no shame in admitting when you need a break from the frustration. Even moms experience sleep deprivation. Coupled with a lack of “me time,” you’ll feel a bit short tempered.
Carve out small blocks of time for some relaxation. You may not get an hour at a time, but you can find 10 minutes while your child is occupied by a toy to sit and enjoy a glass of water or do some deep breathing exercises.
You don’t need to pay for a babysitter to get a little break here and there. Here are some things to try:
- Look for a free daycare. A lot of YMCA locations have this. You can take a workout class or nap in the car.
- Find some other moms you can swap with. Take turns watching the kids for each other so everyone gets a break.
- Take turns with your partner. Sure, you like to be together, but giving each other a break every now and then can really rejuvenate your relationship.
- Let your baby nap in the stroller. Some fresh air will do the both of you some good, and if naps are tough right now, it’s ok to encourage some extra sleep while you walk around the block.
- Make use of grandparents. If you live close enough to family and they feel up to helping, it can be a great way for them to bond with their grandchildren while you get a break.
Sometimes, sleep regression is caused by another issue that’s easy to fix. In fact, these other suspects are also common among 12 month olds, and could be the cause of your problems. Rule these out to really tackle your 12 month old sleep regression head on.
It’s pretty easy to blame teething for poor sleep. After all, teething is a beast and it’s pretty hard to get through. Teething can disrupt sleep, but it should only affect your child’s sleep for a few days.
Check your baby’s mouth to see if you can feel a tooth bud. Their gums may also be inflamed or they’ll be exhibiting signs of teething like drooling excessively and chewing constantly. If you can’t see or feel anything, it’s not teething.
Growth spurts can definitely make your baby hungry. For 2 or 3 days you may notice an increase in appetite and your baby definitely needs these extra calories to fuel their growth. It’s normal for them to want to eat more during the day and at night.
However, if your baby has a change in appetite but no other signs of restlessness, clinginess, or fussiness, chances are the sleep regression you suspect is just a growth spurt. However, if your child is waking up hungry multiple times a night for weeks at a time, it’s not a growth spurt anymore.
They’ve developed a habit that you need to nip in the bud. Feed your baby more often during the day and start weaning off of night feedings.
If your 12 month old has all of a sudden started getting worse sleep during naptime and at night with no other symptoms of pain or hunger, it’s likely due to sleep regression. If several aspects of your child’s sleep are being affected, like fighting naps and waking up more at night, in addition to fussiness and clinginess, you can almost guarantee that’s the problem.
Use these tips to help your child sleep better and get you both through this phase a bit easier. It’s temporary, and it can be hard to deal with, but with some flexibility and understanding, you’ll be able to support your little one through it.