As parents you have most likely heard all about the extremely common 4, 8 and 18month sleep regressions. But did you know that 12 months is also an extremely common age for sleep setbacks to occur? This sleep regression often hits without warning and can be extremely disheartening if your baby was previously sleeping well. If you have a baby who is already a bit of a tricky sleeper the 12-month sleep regression can be downright devastating, and many parents may be left feeling like they’ve just gone three rounds with Mike Tyson by the time it passes.

The good news is that much like the 8 and 18month regressions, the 12-month sleep regression is usually temporary, lasting approximately 2-3 weeks and occurring at some point between 11 and 13months. Like with all sleep regressions though, it is really important that we encourage really healthy sleep habits instead of introducing new sleep associations or sleep props which may prove difficult to overcome later.

So why does the 12-month sleep regression occur?

Sleep regressions occur at times when children are going through periods of great physical and or emotional development. Some of the most common causes of the 12-month sleep regression are as follows:

Resistance due to their developing independence: Around 12-months many babies are developing a new found sense of independence which may cause them to want to resist naps and bedtime out of a sheer need to have control. Your baby is not doing this to defy you. They are simply learning that they are able to say no to sleep. But don’t fear, they will soon miss it and will most likely go back to finding comfort in their nice relaxing day naps and bedtime ritual.

Walking: Between 11 and 13months old many babies will take their first steps (though it is not uncommon or necessarily a concern if they take a little longer). To put one foot in front of the other and learn to walk is a HUGE milestone that takes a lot of physical and mental energy. This can cause night disturbances and you may even see your little one practising their new skill at unusual hours.

Talking: Around their first birthdays many babies may start to develop some new vocab, or at least babble in their own gibberish language. As they are developing their ability to speak, you may find that they wake up in the night just to have a chat and practise talking.

How do I know if my child is going through the 12-month sleep regression?

There are a number of signs and symptoms of the regression which are also common across the 8 and 18-month sleeps regressions. These are:

  • They are 11-13months old
  • They have great difficulty settling for naps/ bedtime.
  • They are waking frequently through the night when they were previously sleeping through, or at least for longer stretches
  • They wake in the night for a long period of time to just talk and play
  • They are crabby and fussy during the day, having more frequent temper tantrums

If you child is showing a combination of any of these behaviours there is a good chance that they are going through the 12-month sleep regression.

So how do I help my child get through it?

The good thing about the 12-month sleep regression is that if you had a child who was already sleeping quite well, they should be back to their usual self in no time…(If your child has never been a great sleeper a baby sleep consultant might be a good option for you). The key is to be extremely patient and let them go through the motions. Be sure to spend plenty of time practising their new skills with your little one during the day; so that they can master them without needing to spend their whole night working on it. Make sure you are giving them plenty of praise and attention while keeping them nice and active, you want them to be looking forward to their restful sleep at the end of the day. Please also follow your existing routine and try not to try and find quick fixes.

Sleep regressions are a time that many parents make the mistake of introducing a new sleep association which may help temporarily to get everyone some shuteye, but will not be practical in the long term, for example:

  • Laying with your child to get them to sleep
  • Letting them sleep in your bed
  • Offering milk feeds through the night where previously they weren’t having any

Many parents also panic and think that they need to make drastic changes to their child’s routine to help get them through. Please don’t fall into this trap because you may find that the changes can wreak havoc on your child’s sleep, and it may take a long time to undo the damage. Examples of making counter intuitive changes to your little one’s routine include:

  • Trying to prematurely drop the morning nap– most children need two naps up to 15 months plus. Trying to drop this nap early will culminate in a vicious cycle of overtiredness and will likely lead to more night waking and a very cranky child during the day.
  • Trying to push bedtime out later- Ideally a one year old should be going to bed between 6:30 and 7pm. This ensures that you are following the natural increase in sleep hormone (melatonin) and aligns with your baby’s natural circadian rhythm.
  • Allowing them to sleep longer for their naps- While it is true that sleep begets sleep, it is also true that there is only so much sleep a human being needs in a 24-hour period. Do not make the mistake of letting your child use up too many of their hours during the day. It will result in night waking and early rising.
  • Offering extra milk feeds- It is counter productive to overwhelm your child’s digestive system. Ensuring that they are enjoying a well-balanced diet containing plenty of healthy carbohydrates, protein and minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium is enough. More milk does not equate to more sleep.

It is only natural to want to intervene and solve all of little ones night time problems. However, with these sleep regressions it is often best to exercise patience and support your little one through it, as opposed to trying to “fix things”. People often panic because they know that the four-month Sleep regression marks a permanent change in their child’s sleep and they therefore worry that all future regressions will be the same. But it’s certainly not the case.

Being a parent can be tough, the sleep deprivation is something that I understand all too well, but know that you are not alone and things definitely get easier with time. Baby sleep can be tricky, but with the right help, you too can receive the gift of blissful sleep!

If you are struggling with baby/ toddler sleep, and need some strategies to overcome these bedtime battles, then please send through an enquiry to Dream to Grow for your free 10 minute telephone consult.  

-Courtney x