How to Get Through the 12 Month Sleep Regression

Nap refusals, bedtime chaos, multiple overnight wake ups (for no apparent reason), and a 12 month old, this is also known as the 12 month sleep regression.  Yep, yet another regression! Why oh why! Luckily, this one is temporary, as long as you don’t create a new sleep association, things should get better within 2 – 6 weeks.  We can chat if things don’t improve. 

I have the 12 Month Sleep Regression on my mind – naturally as I have a newly turned 12 month old who is generally a fantastic sleeper (now)!  He certainly wasn’t always a great sleeper.  Side note – I can’t believe he is ONE! ONE!  Born 5lbs, tiny little guy and now he’s one! Anyway…. About his sleep. 

Now he self-settles for all naps and bedtime and sleeps through till morning, waking briefly during light sleep phases and settling himself back to sleep.  Normally, I don’t hear from him until morning, between 6:00-6:30am, sometimes slightly earlier if he hears phone alarms going off!

However, he is at the age where a regression could occur (fingers crossed it doesn’t – but as his mom I know this is developmentally normal and he is in the zone where it can totally happen).   

We see a regression at 12 months because there is so much going on in the life of a 12 month old.  Let’s face it – they are at that in between age – do we call them a baby or do we consider them a toddler?!!!  I’m going to go with baby, I don’t have a toddler just yet!

Developmental Milestones

At 12 months of age – there is a wide range of developmental milestones happening.  Remember each child is totally unique and reaches milestones at different times, but regardless of where they are developmentally and when they reach specific milestones there is just a lot going on with 12 month olds and their development.  Your doctor would be able to give you a better idea about how your child is doing in terms of development.  But in general, there is just a lot of physical, social, emotional, and cognitive, development happening!

Physical Development

At 12 months of age some babies (toddlers) are crawling, others are beginning to take their first steps, cruising along furniture, pulling themselves up to standing, or others are actually walking on their own or even attempting running. Some could just be learning to sit up, others are just army crawling.  As you can see, there is a large spectrum depicting what is normal at this age.

Language Development

Language is another significant piece of development.  Language is really beginning to pick up at this age as well, you hear a lot more consonant sounds and babbles that are so close to words.  Some children might even be saying some words like “dada”, “mama”, “no”, “yah”.  My son, funny boy is calling me Jenny instead of mama. He says dada and Jenny… how convenient ( I wasn’t the one who gave birth to him or anything!)

Emotional Development: Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety begins to form around 8 months or so and could become fully apparent by 12 months.  This is especially true for mommas or daddies returning to work and having to leave their 12 month old at a baby sitter, with a nanny, or at a daycare.  They really understand this and they begin to feel it and show you they feel it at bedtime when you’re trying to leave the room and they start screaming for you.  Don’t worry this is normal and it’s a good thing – you child is developing normally.  This too shall pass.

Cognitive Development

They are constantly learning new ways to play, discovering different sounds, colours, textures, objects, and hearing new words!  They are little sponges and are picking up everything.  They try to mimic everything they see.  They try to grab at and touch everything.   Again these are all good things – very good things!

Why do all these Developmental Milestones relate to Sleep?

These milestones relate to sleep because they affect, directly affect sleep – a 12 month old baby is constantly learning new things and their brain is working really hard to learn and remember everything! That’s hard work- and so two things could be happening when we expect these little ones to be sleeping.  Sometimes they just want to practise their new skills.  Look mom what I can do, stay here and watch me or I’ll cry and cry!  They might want to show off the new sounds they learned so they spend their 15 minute falling asleep period, shouting out their newly learned words or sounds.  Other times, it’s just more difficult to go to sleep because their brain is working overtime! They are trying to process everything they are learning and store it as a memory and this means their little brains are going a mile a minute and can’t stop for sleep!  Who has time for sleep anyway! 

So what can you do when you have a 12 month old and this suddenly starts happening!  Keep reading….

Tips for Helping you Get through the 12 Month Sleep Regression

Tip 1: Try To Do Very Little

If your little one is normally an independent sleeper meaning they put themselves to sleep, then it would be best that you don’t try to fix the issues by starting a new association such as rocking or feeding your child to sleep.  It’s best you just let it happen – maybe that means sitting on a chair in their room while they fall asleep, offering some kind words, gentle touches, and cuddles when necessary.  In other words, show them you are there for them and understand they are upset but don’t put them to sleep. 

Tip 2: Stay Consistent (in approach, routines and timings)

Stay consistent- I repeat STAY C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-T! This is super important!  Don’t try to move things around or change things up in hopes that you are going to make things better.  You will likely just make them worse! Yikes!  Stay consistent with your nap times, your wind down routines, and your approaches.  Keep offering two naps, yes two (it’s too early to drop the morning nap- keep offering it).  Some days your child may refuse and that is okay, this is part of the regression but keep offering at the time you normally would and it should re-instate itself within a few days.  Avoid – I repeat avoid dropping this morning nap all together – it’s too early (as mentioned above), but many parents naturally make this mistake as their little one keeps refusing the morning nap or sleeping in the morning and refusing the afternoon nap! This is also known as a NIGHTMARE!

Overnight, try to remain consistent, go to your little one as necessary but try not to help them back to sleep.  Just comfort them and reassure them that you are close by.  This might mean camping out in the nursery in a sleeping bag or a comfy chair or it might mean multiple trips over to the nursery to offer comfort and reassurance but then to leave again and give them space for re-settling.

Tip 3: Practise New Skills

Practise all those new skills during the day!  Practise a lot!  Practise all the time, so they are tired of practising the skills and don’t want to do it again during a nap or at bedtime.  This also helps develop their confidence, if they have mastered pulling up to standing for example, then they likely don’t want to keep practising it.  This is super important. 

Tip 4: Use an Early Bedtime (If needed)

If your naps have gone astray and your little one didn’t get close to 3 hours of daytime sleep use an early bedtime ( I like to say no earlier than 5:30pm)!  I know – you are thinking 5:30pm that’s crazy – but trust me with an overtired baby this may mean they only fall asleep closer 6:30pm so it is best to go with earlier instead of later!  Later will only cause you more trouble!  Trust me here!

Tip 5: Take Care of Yourself  

Take naps if you’ve been up all night, (this is of course if you can)-  you need rest too!  If you can’t take a nap, get yourself a nice cup of coffee, treat yourself! You totally deserve it!  Ask family or friends for some support.  Call up grandma so you can have some ‘me’ time on the weekend or one evening.  Maybe you just need to sit at home alone or maybe you need to get your nails done or you want to go to the gym!  Maybe you need to sit on the couch with a big bag of nachos!  That’s okay too!  Swap shifts with a partner so you can both get some rest overnight.  Bottom line, whether you’re a mommy or a daddy with a 12 month old in the midst of a regression, make sure you are taking care of yourself, especially if you are the one attending to your little one during naps and at bedtime and overnight!  You need to take care of you before you can take care of mister or misses on a nap and bedtime strike!

Like I mentioned – this regression should only last about 2-6 weeks, so just hang in there, it may seem like forever when your smack in the middle of it! 

If your regression is lasting a little longer than you would like it to, don’t worry this happens and you are certainly not the only one!  Book a free no obligation call and we can chat about how I can help you get the rest you and your entire family deserve!