What is the 12-month sleep regression?
A sleep regression is a “bump in the road” for a baby that’s otherwise sleeping great. At 12 months, most children are going to sleep without much fuss at bedtime, and they’re sleeping through the night without waking and crying. But occasionally, a good sleeper has a rough few nights - they start battling parents at bedtime, or they start waking in the middle of the night to cry for attention. These are called sleep regressions, and it’s important to know that:
- They’re temporary. They’re usually less than 2 weeks.
- And, they’re common. Practically every parent suffers through a sleep regression or two, even if their baby is normally a great sleeper.
The 12-month sleep regression is an especially common one. That’s because babies are going through big neurological changes around 12 months old.
What causes the 12-month sleep regression?
Lots of things.
- Big, neurological developments. Around a year old, your baby is going through big cognitive milestones. 12-month olds typically use one to three words. They’re learning to cruise on their own - walking around the house supported by furniture. An incredible amount of neurological development happens during sleep. So it’s no surprise that a baby’s mind, once awakened at night, can be incredibly active. They want to move, play, and speak to Mom and Dad. They’re eager to use those tools, and start crying out for Mom and Dad to use them at night.
- Even if your baby isn’t walking or speaking yet (which is totally normal), sleep regressions often occur in advance of big neurological milestones. So either way, the 12-month sleep regression indicates healthy, normal growth & development.
- New sleep needs. Moreover, at 12-months, your baby’s sleep needs are changing. As your child transitions from the infant stage to the toddler stage, their sleep need often decreases by one hour. Infants (under 12 months) need 12 to 15 hours, while toddlers (under 12 months) need 11 to 14.
- Newfound independence. 12-month olds are just beginning to develop a sense of identity, and a new ability to resist parents’ expectations. Sometimes, children like to say “No” just because they can. That can make them much fussier at bedtimes, as they push against rituals that have been working just fine
- Teething. By 12-months, most (though not all) babies have started teething. Parents commonly sleep regressions during teething, as their baby deals with some new (and totally normal) soreness.
What can you do to deal with the12-month sleep regression?
As with any sleep regression, consistency is the single most important thing. If they were sleeping well before, 9 times out of 10 you should stick to the routine you had. Don’t let a temporary, random sleep regression cause the formation of bad habits. If you start rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, you run the risk of entrenching a sleep problem that would have resolved itself in a short time. If you’ve sleep trained before, go back to basics. Staying on the conservative side while soothing your baby is generally a good idea - try waiting a few minutes before going into their room. Soothe them with some light verbal communication, and rub their back. Try to leave the room before they’re fully asleep.
You can also try to make sure they’re very active during the day - toddlers have new abilities they’re dying to try out, and they should be playing hard all day long before bedtime.
Finally, if they are going through teething, you can consider tools like a teething ring to help them cope.