The first year of your child’s life can feel like a complete blur. It’s filled with joyful milestones and firsts as well as its fair share of challenges and sleepless nights. By the time your child turns one, you generally expect to be on a more predictable schedule, especially when it comes to your little one sleeping through the night. But 12 months is another age when you might have another sleep curve ball coming your way.
The 12-month sleep regression is not quite as common as, say, the 4-month sleep regression, but it still impacts many children and their parents. Developments like learning to walk and talk can wreak temporary havoc on your toddler’s sleep. Read on to learn more about what sleep regression is, why it can occur at 12 months and what to do to help your child through it.
What is Sleep Regression?
If your young child suddenly has trouble sleeping after consistently sleeping well for some time, it’s likely she’s experiencing sleep regression. Sleep regression can show up in a variety of ways. Your child may have trouble going to sleep at night or at naptime or wake up shortly after going to bed. She may also wake up several times during the night or take short naps. Sometimes children who once went to bed without protesting may cry or fuss when placed in their cribs.
Everyone has a bad night of sleep once in a while, but if you notice a trend of sleep issues lasting three or more days, you’re probably in the middle of a regression. Sleep regression usually occurs around certain ages during the first two years because of changes to sleep patterns or physical or developmental milestones. The good news is that not only is sleep regression completely normal, it’s also temporary. While every child is different, sleep regression usually lasts between two and six weeks.
Even though sleep regression is temporary, it can still be very challenging for young children and their parents. Sleep is vital for a young child’s development and sleep deprivation can impact cognitive functioning and mood regulation. If your child is up several times a night for weeks, you may also develop a sleep debt. As you care for your child during sleep regression, be sure to also keep an eye on your own well-being. Help your family get rest when they can and reach out for help if you need it.
While the 12-month sleep regression isn’t quite as common as regression around other ages, it does still impact many children. There is a great deal happening at this age that may impact your little one’s sleep. The 12-month sleep regression tends to impact naps specifically but can also manifest as night wakings or trouble falling asleep. The following list summarizes why sleep regression can occur at this age:
Greater Awareness: By age one, children simply have a greater awareness of the world around them than ever before, and they want to explore everything. Children around this age start to understand sequences and become increasingly interested in stacking blocks or reading books. This interest in play often means that 12-month-olds will fight naps. They are simply too busy to take a break for sleep. They may even have trouble settling down at night because there is so much to see and do that’s more interesting to them than sleep.
Walking and Talking: While there is a large age range for when children start walking or talking, many begin to at least try to do so around the one-year mark. Many children around this age can take a few steps, either independently or holding onto furniture or an adult’s hand. Even if your 12-month-old isn’t walking, chances are that she is still moving around a great deal. It’s also common for children this age to say a few words, like “Mama” or “Dada.” And one-year-olds understand much more than they can say. With so many motor and language skills to practice, your little one might be less interested in sleep, especially naps.
Changes in Sleep Needs: Around 12 months, a child’s sleep needs shift slightly. While babies between four months and a year need around 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day, children between one and two years old need about 11 to 14 hours per day, including naps. Most children will still nap twice a day when they’re a year old, but these naps may be shorter as they move to shift to one nap around 14 or 15 months. All of this may manifest in your child fighting naps or waking up early from them.
Like other periods of sleep regression, the 12-month sleep regression should last anywhere between two and six weeks, though it depends on the child. If you have concerns about your child’s sleep, do reach out to your pediatrician.
How to Help Your Baby through the 12-month Sleep Regression
The 12-month sleep regression catches many parents off-guard because they’re likely used to getting a full night’s sleep at this point. While you can’t exactly prevent sleep regression, there are steps you can take to ease your baby through it and ensure it’s as short as possible:
Encourage Daytime Play: One-year-olds are so eager to practice new skills, like walking or talking. If they’re unable to do so during the day, they’re more likely to fight sleep because they have pent up energy. Be sure to provide lots of time during the day for your child to move, interact with others and play with toys. When possible, avoid having your child in his car seat or stroller for large amounts of time. Your child will be less restless when nap or bedtime rolls around, and extra playtime will help his development.
Don’t Drop a Nap: Some children transition to one longer nap around 12 months, but many aren’t ready to do so until closer to 14 or 15 months. If your child fights naptime, you may take it as a sign that she’s ready for one nap, but hold off on making big changes to her schedule until the regression passes. As much as possible, stick to your normal routine, even if that means two thirty-minute naps or even quiet awake time in her crib. Giving your child the opportunity to rest a couple of times a day will keep her from becoming overtired and fighting sleep at bedtime.
Avoid Sleep Crutches: During any sleep regression, it’s tempting to revert back to old sleep crutches, like rocking your child to sleep. While it’s true that you want to encourage as much sleep as possible during a regression, forming a new (or old) habit may backfire. If your child becomes dependent on you to fall asleep, then he may need you to intervene every time he wakes up. Provide lots of comfort during this time, but encourage your little one to fall asleep independently. While you have to decide what’s right for your family, many parents utilize sleep training methods at this age to help their children fall asleep on their own.
Be Consistent: If your child is fighting bedtime or only napping for thirty minutes, it may seem like you should just throw your sleep routine out the window. In actuality, sticking to a consistent routine will actually help ease your child through this sleep regression. Young children thrive when they know what to expect, especially as they start to enter their toddler years. Try to stick to the same bed and nap times every day, and utilize the same general sequence of events (e.g. bath, pajamas, book, lullaby, bed). Your child will eventually fall back into the routine.
Provide Comfort: Sleep regression is difficult for parents, but it’s also hard on your child. Overtired children tend to be more emotional and clingy than usual, so be sure to provide extra hugs and comfort. A nap or bedtime routine that includes lots of cuddles and quiet, together time can also help ease your child from playtime to settle down for sleep.
Ask for Help: In addition to providing comfort to your little one during the 12-month sleep regression, you should also keep an eye on your own well-being and that of your partner. Sleep regression is not a time to start a new project or worry about how clean the house is. If your child is waking up multiple times a night, consider trading “shifts” with your partner. Reach out to family or friends if you need extra help.
12 months is a time for big, exciting changes for your little one, but these milestones can also lead to sleep issues. And while the 12-month sleep regression doesn’t impact all children, that doesn’t make it any less challenging for the families who experience it. Sticking to a consistent routine and providing lots of playtime during the day can help ease your child through this sleep regression. Do what you can to ensure your family gets as much rest as possible, and reach out for help when you need it.
Additional Tuck Resources
If you’re looking for more resources related to childhood sleep, check out these other Tuck guides: