Monday, November 16, 2015

How we survived the 18-month sleep regression

If you're a parent, you know the effort it takes to encourage your child to be a good sleeper.  I'm sure some parents were blessed with automatically awesome snoozers, but it's more likely that you're going to have to do some sort of sleep training to get your child to sleep through the night and put him/herself to sleep.  Max started sleeping through the night at around 6 weeks, but then when he started teething at 3 months, those long nights of uninterrupted sleep were replaced by frequent awakenings.  In hindsight, I realize that I did some things that hindered him from developing good sleep habits, such as: keeping him up too late, letting him fall asleep on me instead of in his crib, nursing him to sleep, etc.  Even despite a great, consistent bedtime routine, he still woke up multiple times a night and needed help to go back to sleep.

It wasn't until we moved to our new house last March, when Max was 10 months old, that I really got serious about the sleep training and began using the Ferber method of "crying it out" (I had tried the gentler "Sleep Lady" method earlier and I feel like I wasted 3 months of our lives with no success. That's not to say it wouldn't work for your child, and I have her book if you'd like to have it!  I did like her suggestions for a daily schedule for baby). The first week was awful and he cried every time I left his room, but each night got better and better as he learned to put himself to sleep, which then equipped him to put himself back to sleep if he woke up in the middle of the night. As a result, he's a fabulous napper and even better nighttime sleeper.  I feel relief because I know he's getting plenty of sleep, and he's a very happy kid as a result.  My one regret was not starting sooner.

Snoozing peacefully

However, in late October into November, Max was going through a textbook sleep regression.  He was only 17 months old at the time, but everything he was doing was consistent with what is described as the 18-month sleep regression.  Sleep regressions are common in babies/toddlers at various ages, largely due to the new skills they are learning, such as crawling, walking, eating solids, etc.  According to the Baby Sleep Site, these are some common causes of the 18-month sleep regression:

  • teething--they're likely cutting their canine/cuspids (the pointy teeth), and they could even be starting to grow their two-year molars
  • separation anxiety--this usually rears its ugly head around 7-8 months, but it can last through 18 months
  • increasing independence--if you've got a strong-willed toddler, you could be in trouble!  They like to test their limits.
Sleep regressions often begin out of nowhere, with no warning, and they typically end just as suddenly. They can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks, and they can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting, both for baby and for you.  Max's regression lasted for about 2 weeks, and it was a doozy of a regression.  The older the child gets, the harder the sleep regressions become because you have to add in a discipline factor since they could be testing their limits with you when they refuse to sleep.

This was completely true for Max.  He started throwing some wicked temper tantrums right around the time that his regression started.  When naptime or bedtime came around, he went up to his room willingly and seamlessly went through his bedtime routine.  However, once I left his room, he would stand facing his door and scream and cry--at the top of his lungs--and he was relentless.  He would typically calm down after 15 minutes and go to sleep, but those 15 minutes were long and loud.  He would also wake up at least once a night screaming and wouldn't be able to soothe himself back sleep, requiring me to go in to him and rock him for a bit.  He would always cry for at least a little bit after I put him back in his crib, but most nights he'd be asleep again within 5 minutes.  Naptimes were also rough, with the same screaming/crying/yelling. He would wake up after about an hour and scream and cry again; sometimes he'd go back to sleep and other times that was the end of naptime.  Still, on some days, he didn't nap at all.  This was such a drastic change from my wonderful sleeper who would sleep 11-12 hours through the night and 2-3 hours at naptime every day.

The worst of this regression occurred one Saturday morning at around 5 AM.  I left Max's room after soothing and rocking him for about 10 minutes.  I went to the bathroom before heading back to bed, and I heard a loud *thud* come from Max's room.  I bolted to check on him, but before I got to his room, he was opening his door and walking out to me.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he flipped himself out of his crib! Enter panic mode!!!  First thing was to check to make sure nothing was broken.  Thankfully, Max was fine. Then as I tried to rock him to calm him down, a million thoughts were spinning through my head: is it time to transition him to a toddler bed?  How do we make sure he doesn't climb out again?  Long story short, Max never went back to sleep that morning, and Mommy was a zombie all day. Victor and I put his crib mattress on the floor inside of his crib to make it more difficult for him to climb out, and we put some extra cushioning around the crib in case he did manage to get out again. My gut was telling me that he literally catapulted himself out of his crib that morning because he was so mad and that it wasn't an intentional jail break.  I didn't think he'd try to climb out again, but each naptime and bedtime after that, I watched the monitor like a hawk while he screamed and cried to make sure he wasn't trying to climb out.  He hasn't tried since, thank goodness.

I am happy to report that we have had zero screaming/crying/yelling at naptime or bedtime for about 2 weeks now; it ended just as suddenly as it started--like I said, textbook sleep regression. How did we survive, you ask?  First of all, I did my research and determined that this was, in fact, a sleep regression and wasn't a result of some other issue.  Secondly, I tried to remain calm and patient, which was easier said than done at times.  Thirdly, I was consistent and reverted back to my sleep training principles that I used when Max was just 10 months old.  I let him scream/cry it out for no longer than 15 minutes before I went up to soothe him.  If he woke in the middle of the night or during his nap, I'd give him 10 minutes to try to calm down before checking on him.  The video monitor helped a lot so I could see what he was doing and was reassured that he was safe.  Fourth, I tried to remain confident that I was doing what was best for my child. even when my methods were questioned by others.  Max is at the age where he makes cause and effect connections, and giving in to his tantrums would only encourage his behavior. I knew he was safe, had a clean diaper, was fed, and was warm enough in his crib.  He was testing his limits, and I had to stand my ground.

Parents, if you haven't experienced a sleep regression yet, I hope this gives you some helpful information for when you do.  Even if you don't subscribe to the cry-it-out/Ferber method of sleep training, know that you can still revert back to your chosen method if your child goes through a sleep regression in the future.  And if your precious babe starts giving you the run around at bedtime, hang in there, go with your gut, and remain consistent.  You'll get through it!

Lastly, here is a great chart with the recommended amounts of sleep that babies need at various ages. I've seen many similar charts (some go as high as 7-8 years old), and the total number of hours of sleep/naps for each age is pretty consistent across the various charts.  This is a great guideline, but something I have learned in my 18 months of being a parent is that your child might not subscribe completely to these totals.  Something else I have learned is a well-rested baby equals a happy baby, so do what you can to ensure your baby is getting good sleep, even if it means you have to leave a party early or turn down a lunch date from time to time.

Note: this chart states the total hours of sleep a child needs per day, which includes both nighttime sleep and naps.

I am always happy to share what has worked for my family with regard to sleep training and routines. This does not guarantee that it will work for your child (my fear is that it might not work for baby #2!), but I'd be happy to share with you if you have any questions!  Feel free to send me an email at with any questions you may have!

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to try this tonight. We are on day 6 and we are all exhausted. It all started on her first day of daycare. She will nap there but not at home anymore. I'm heartbroken! She was such a great sleeper from about 6 months on after we did sleep training. I've tried all the gentle ways but now she will only sleep if we are holding her. She is 18 months old 30 lbs of love so it's no easy task. Wish us luck!


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