I’ve seen it time and time again. Right when parents are excitedly planning their baby’s first birthday, they’re often hit with a terribly rough patch of sleep. This “12 month sleep regression” often manifests as fighting naps, resisting bedtime and waking throughout the night (sometimes for hours on end.)
Your baby is now 12 months old, so you’ve probably been through a sleep regression or two. So how is this one different? And what’s the best way to get through it?
To help you stay rested (and sane) while celebrating your baby’s first birthday, this article will give you 9 actionable tips for surviving the 12 month sleep regression. And it will explain how you can tell if it’s a sleep regression, teething or growth spurt that’s affecting your one year old’s sleep.
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What is a Sleep Regression?
Sleep regressions are predictable disruptions in sleep for a baby or toddler who was previously sleeping well. It’s when your baby resists falling asleep, starts waking more at night, or fights naps out of the blue.
Sleep regressions come at predictable times because they are associated with developmental milestones. As your little one advances in one area (like walking or talking) it’s normal for another aspect of development to temporarily regress (like sleep.)
Because they coincide with developmental milestones, sleep regressions may happen at 6 weeks, 4 months, 6-7 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years old. Most children experience a few sleep regressions in their first 2 years. It’s rare for a child to experience all of them.
The good news is that sleep regressions are temporary. And your 12 month old should go back to sleeping well in 1-2 weeks.
So if your little one was sleeping great, but is suddenly waking up at night, fighting bedtime or naps, and is fussier than normal- she could be going through the 12 month sleep regression (or the “one year old sleep regression.”)
What’s unique about the 12 month sleep regression?
So now that you know developmental milestones can cause sleep to temporarily regress, it’s no wonder your 12 month old won’t sleep! At this age many babies are taking their first steps, speaking several words clearly, following simple commands and advancing their fine motor skills. There’s a lot going on in your little one’s brain and body!
Also, separation anxiety can peak at 12 months old. It’s a normal phase of development, but can be quite stressful when your little one becomes clingier or cries whenever you put her down or leave the room.
Separation anxiety often surfaces at sleep times. If your baby was previously fine falling asleep on her own, she may now cry when placed in her crib awake.
A greater awareness of the world can make it especially difficult for your 12 month old to wind down and fall asleep for naps. She’ll fight falling asleep because she’d rather be playing!
Also, nap patterns can change around your baby’s first birthday. Many 12 month olds start fighting the afternoon nap, leading their parents to believe it’s time to switch to one nap. But this often leads to more over-tiredness, crankiness and worsened sleep because your baby isn’t yet ready for one nap.
Signs of the 12 month sleep regression
• Fighting naps or short naps
• Resisting bedtime
• Waking more at night
• Hungrier than normal
• More fussy, restless or clingy
12 Month Sleep Regression Survival Tips
Tip #1: Know what you can expect from your baby’s sleep
The first step in fixing your baby’s sleep problems is to know what you can realistically expect. Having a clear idea of your 12 month old toddler’s sleep needs helps you know exactly what you’re working toward.
Naps & Awake Times
- Your baby needs 2-3 total hours of napping everyday.
- This is usually divided between 2 naps. It’s usually too early to drop to one nap.
- Awake times of 2.5–4 hours throughout the day work best at this age.
- Bedtime should fall between 6:30-8 pm.
- This is the “normal” range for bedtime, but try to keep your child’s bedtime within a 15 minute range each night. (Tight bedtimes lead to the best night sleep.)
- Most 12 month olds need 11-12 hours sleep at night. (Some can get by with 10 hours night sleep if they nap 3 hours everyday and moods are stable.)
- Your 1 year old CAN sleep through the night without feeding!
- If you’re worried about your baby’s growth or weight gain, please double check this with your baby’s doctor.
- Check out my Weaning Night Feedings Guide.
Total sleep in 24 hours
- 13-15 hours
Tip #2: Keep daytime active
Most 12 month olds are active little souls! They’re busy scooting around the furniture, or walking, and need plenty of time everyday to practice new skills. So make sure your baby has ample time throughout the day to move around and burn off physical energy.
Create a baby-proofed play area in your living room to keep your baby busy. You can also put him in a jumper or activity center so he’s stimulated and active while you do housework or catch up on emails.
Time spent outdoors is vital with helping our little ones take in new stimulation and burn off energy. Include a trip to the park or play time in the yard everyday. Even a stroll around the neighborhood can help avoid pent up energy preventing your baby from settling to sleep at bedtime. On bad weather days, arrange a play date or sign up for a baby swim class.
Being active during the day will prevent your 12 month baby from being awake hours in the night wanting to practice his new skills!
Products to Keep Your Baby Busy
Tip #3: Don’t make big changes to your sleep routine
The 12 month sleep regression is not the time to transition to one nap or switch to a toddler bed. Regressions are times of restlessness and disrupted sleep. The more you can stick to your baby’s typical sleep routine, the better she’ll bounce back after this regression passes.
Specifically, keep up with your calming bedtime routine and consistent bedtime everyday. If your little one typically falls asleep on her own, continue encouraging this everyday. You can sit quietly in a chair in her bedroom if separation anxiety makes her cry when you leave her bedroom.
Keep your baby on 2 naps a day, with awake times ranging from 2.5-4 hours. Sometimes daycare will transition babies to one nap at 12 months old. If your daycare insists on doing this, that’s ok. Just make sure baby continues taking 2 naps when home with you. Earlier bedtimes may also be needed on daycare days.
(Easier said than done with a one year old fighting sleep) but try your hardest to avoid pulling baby into bed with you. Although it can seem like the only thing that works, it’s a guarantee that you’ll be co-sleeping long-term. Instead of bed-sharing, keep your baby sleeping in her crib and you camp out in her bedroom for a few days and ride out this sleep regression.
Children thrive with consistency and routine, especially during difficult times. Although your baby may fight his typical sleep routines, doing the same activities at the same time each day actually eases his restlessness, because he knows exactly what will happen and that it’s time for sleep. So stay consistent!
Tip #4: Give extra comfort
As babies and toddlers go through developmental bursts, it’s normal for them to seek closeness to their parents. Your 12 month old is learning to be more mobile and independent, but still needs a lot of reassurance.
Separation anxiety is the process of newfound independence causing stress for your little one. Your baby is understanding more and more that she’s a separate individual from her parents. And there will be times she needs more comfort, affection and reassurance.
Plus, your baby will be over-tired, fussy or clingy because of the disrupted sleep from this regression.
Give your baby extra cuddles, kisses and one-on-one time during the day. Remind her how much you love her. Make a point of sitting down together several times a day (for just 10 minutes each) and read a book, play a game or sing songs together.
Make sure baby’s bedtime routine is filled with eye contact and hugs, and free from distractions. This will help your little one unwind enough to accept falling asleep.
At 12 months old you can safely introduce a stuffed animal or lovey. Having something to cuddle helps soothe and comfort your baby at bedtime.
Tip #5: Feed your baby more frequently
There’s often a growth spurt around your baby’s first birthday, which makes your little one hungrier than usual. This extra hunger can make him wake up early from a nap or more often at night.
Don’t refuse a night feed if your baby wakes and seems genuinely hungry. Feed him, and make sure to focus on feeding more the next day.
Your 12 month old should have milk or solids every 2-3 hours during the day during this regression. Maybe you need to increase the volume of his feeds or offer a snack more frequently. Feeding enough to fuel his growth spurt will help prevent hunger from disrupting his sleep.
Tip #6: Hold off on weaning for now
Going through several major milestones at the same time can be a recipe for a sleep disaster! If you planned to wean off breastfeeding when your baby turned one, but you’re in the throes of the 12 month sleep regression, consider waiting a few weeks.
Since regressions coincide with a need for more closeness with mom, attempting to wean may be more difficult. Instead, use breastfeeding as a way to comfort your baby during this restless and tiring phase.
Tip #7: Find creative ways to get a break
There is no shame in admitting you’re exhausted and frustrated and need a break. No one wins awards for “toughing it out” during a sleep regression.
Sleep deprivation and lack of personal time make most moms grumpy and short-tempered. (I know it does for me!) Carving out small blocks of time for rest and rejuvenation will get you through this rough patch without extra mom guilt because you yelled or snapped at your family.
You don’t need a regular babysitter to get a break.
Instead, there are plenty of creative ways to get help:
- Do a swap with another mom. You each take turns watching the kids for 2-3 hours one day. This is plenty of time for a mental break, a nap or a lunch date with your best friend, kid-free!
- See if your gym or YMCA has a free daycare. You can do a workout class, hang out in the steam room or nap in the car!
- You and your partner take shifts. No point in you both being exhausted and drained all the time. You get one night of full sleep wearing ear plugs in the guest room. Tomorrow night, you’re on shift and partner gets a break. Do this during the day, too. Trade off 2-3 hour breaks to do whatever you want on Saturday. On Sunday, it’s Dad’s turn!
- Find a teenager in your neighborhood who can babysit (affordably) for a few hours.
- If naps are nearly impossible, it’s ok to let baby nap in the stroller or car. Wear ear plugs and listen to your favorite motivational podcast while baby snoozes on-the-go. Whatever helps baby sleep easiest during this regression!
- Send a spontaneous invitation to grandparents asking them to come visit. After a bit of small talk, hand over baby to them and sneak off for a nap! 🙂 Many grandparents are also happy to watch baby in the morning so you can get an extra hour of sleep.
Tip #8: Stick to independent sleep habits
Most babies need extra comfort in order to relax and sleep during sleep regressions, but try to keep up with your baby’s independent sleep habits.
Make it a goal to keep your 12 month old sleeping in his crib, and do everything you can to achieve this! You may need to sit in a chair (or sleep on the floor) in baby’s bedroom for a few nights. Keeping your baby’s sleep environment and routines consistent will make it so much easier to get back on track when this regression passes.
Do your best to avoid feeding or rocking to sleep, because this can make babies wake more at night, needing to be fed or rocked!
If your little one hasn’t yet learned to fall asleep on his own and sleep through the night, check out my sleep training program. It guides you through teaching your baby to sleep all night in a way that suits his temperament and your parenting style.
At 12 months, your baby can be expected to sleep 10-12 hours at night without feeding. What a great birthday gift to give your entire family!
Tip #9: Gently tweak naps (with caution)
At 12 months old, your baby still needs 2 periods of quiet rest each day. Ideally this would be 2 naps, but if your 12 month old is fighting naps it’s ok to let her hang out in the crib awake during nap time.
If your toddler always refuses the afternoon nap, shorten the morning nap to one hour. This can help her accept another nap 3-4 hours later.
Around 12 months old, many babies need slightly longer awake times. This could be a reason that your 12 month old is fighting naps. Extend awake times to 3-4 hours and see if that helps your baby settle easier.
A great way to help your little one catch up on lost sleep is to move bedtime earlier. This is especially helpful if she’s overtired from short naps or waking a lot at night.
Is it teething, a growth spurt or a regression disrupting my baby’s sleep?
Before deciding that the 12 month sleep regression is the cause of all your problems, it’s important to rule out the other “usual suspects.” Other causes of sleep problems for 12 month olds are teething and growth spurts. Let’s discuss them below.
Many parents blame teething for weeks (or even months) of poor sleep. While it’s true that teething can disrupt your baby’s sleep, this interesting article explains that teething only affects sleep for a few days.
If you can’t see or feel a tooth bud on your baby’s gums, chances are that teething isn’t the problem.
Growth spurts make babies hungrier for 2-3 days. Babies need extra nutrition and calories during times of rapid growth. So it’s normal for your little one to want to eat more during the day and night.
If your toddler has had a sudden appetite increase with no other signs of fussiness, clinginess or restlessness- it could be a growth spurt. Increase the volume of solid meals by one tablespoon each meal. Or feed your baby a snack or milk more often during the day.
If your baby has been waking up hungry several times a night, for many weeks, it’s not a growth spurt. It’s habit. Focus on feeding your 12 month old milk, solids or a snack every 2-3 hours during the day. Then start weaning off night feeds.
If your 12 month old’s naps and night sleep have recently worsened out of the blue- and neither extra feedings nor pain relief seem to help- it’s probably due to a sleep regression.
This is especially true if many aspects of your baby’s sleep are affected, such as fighting naps and waking more at night. In this case, following the tips from this article will help your child sleep as well as possible during this rough patch.
Remember, the 12 month old sleep regression is a temporary phase of restlessness, clinginess and disturbed sleep. It stinks that it can coincide with your baby turning one and all the celebration that will ensue! But a bit of flexibility, and following the 9 tips from this article, will ensure this rough patch doesn’t completely ruin your little one’s sleep.