Boy, oh boy, my baby struggled hard with the 15 month sleep regression. He was learning to walk (which is notorious for disrupting sleep) and it seems like his entire 15th month was one long regression. But many other families I’ve worked with as a baby sleep consultant sailed through the age of 15 months without the slightest hint of a regression. What gives?
Why do some babies seem to go through the 15 month sleep regression, and others don’t? And if your 15 month old is suddenly waking up at night or not taking naps- could something else be causing it?
This article explains the most common sleep struggles for 15 month olds and helps you decide if your baby is going through a sleep regression or not. Plus, it gives specific tips to get your little one’s sleep back on track!
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Is there a 15 month sleep regression?
Many parents wonder whether the 15 month sleep regression actually exists, and if so, what causes it. Let’s start by looking at what a sleep regression is.
Sleep regressions are temporary disruptions in your baby’s sleep that arise when your baby undergoes big developmental changes. These developmental changes can be either physical or cognitive.
At the age of 15 months, the developmental milestones your baby may be mastering are both physical and cognitive.
Developmental Milestones at 15 Months Old
At 15 months, 50% of babies are still learning how to walk or have just taken their first steps. The other 50% are already walking, running, or learning to walk backwards.
Your toddler is learning the meaning of words and the use of everyday objects. When you name certain things in the house, they might be able to point and identify them. It’s common to see toddlers imitating our everyday events like sweeping, putting on shoes and talking on the phone (which is super cute.)
Understanding and identifying things also affects your baby’s speech. You may notice your baby babbling or trying to imitate adult speech. Around this age, many little ones can say a few real words that have meaning! (For example, dog, milk, book, ball.)
The underlying cause for sleep regressions are actually these developmental changes.
As your toddler gains mobility and the ability to interact with you, their world changes. It’s a lot for their brains and bodies to process, so it’s completely natural to see other aspects (like sleep) suffer temporarily. Their system needs time to process these new skills.
You may sense that your toddler is restless and finds it hard to settle or relax. Once their newfound skills become “second nature” for them, they’ll be able to sleep well again.
Many parents think the 15 month sleep regression isn’t real, because it isn’t as infamous as other well-known regressions like the 4 month regression, the 12 month regression and the 2 year regression.
However, what I have discovered working with thousands of parents (and being one myself) is that regressions don’t always happen at the exact time they’re “supposed to.”
For example, my son started walking at 15 months, and holy moly did he regress HARD. But he sailed through the ages of 4 and 12 months, with no disruptions to his sleep.
Each baby is different and their pace of development will determine when (and if) they experience sleep regressions.
Common Sleep Issues for 15 Month Olds
15 month old not sleeping through the night
Whether your 15 month old has recently started waking up at night (or has never slept through the night) it’s so tiring being awake at 3 am with a rambunctious toddler.
The good news is that at this age, your little one has the ability to happily fall asleep on their own, and sleep through the night. Most toddlers won’t do this naturally, though, they have to be taught!
Big milestones (like learning to walk and talk) can definitely cause your toddler to start waking up at night. It’s so hard for their system to settle down and sleep 12 hours straight.
This disruption should only last for a short time, though. If your 15 month old has been waking up at night for several weeks (or even months) it’s time to find a solution to get them sleeping through the night.
The key to getting your baby sleeping through the night is to teach them to self soothe at bedtime and during any night wakings.
When babies are helped to sleep (whether by rocking, bouncing, feeding, holding, or patting) they’re also going to need help falling back to sleep when they wake or stir during the night. There’s nothing inherently wrong or “bad” about helping your baby fall asleep. It’s perfectly natural, and when our babies are young, it’s necessary.
But many parents discover that their older babies don’t settle as easily or start waking more often at night, needing to be helped back to sleep several times. That’s a sign that it’s time for your baby to learn to self soothe.
So if you’re exhausted and ready to get your toddler sleeping great ASAP, check out my step-by-step program here that gives you options for sleep training.
15 month old won’t take naps
Nap refusal at this age is typically caused by the need to transition to one nap. Over many years of helping families with sleep training, I’ve found that 15 months is the “magic age” where many toddlers are ready for one nap.
It’s best to wait until your toddler shows obvious signs that they are ready before you start this transition, though. Some little ones aren’t ready until closer to 18 months.
In general, your toddler is ready to drop to one nap if they are consistently fighting one or both naps, suddenly taking short naps, pushing naps later than the usual time, or taking two naps is worsening their night sleep. Here is my detailed guide on when and how to transition to one nap.
15 month old waking up early
Why, oh why, do toddlers love rising with the sun? While it’s true that young children sleep best with early bedtimes, we can expect your little one to sleep until at least 6 am. Anything earlier than this is considered a night waking.
When I help parents troubleshoot early wakings we look at your baby’s daily schedule to ensure they’re napping enough. We also work on getting your toddler sleep trained and sleeping independently, as this helps them sleep later in the morning. Lastly, we consider any early morning habits that might have formed by exhausted parents being woken at 5 am (ahem, like Peppa Pig.)
There are various reasons your 15 month old could be waking early in the morning. Generally, babies wake this early because their bedroom is too bright, they’re hungry, bedtime is too late, they may have had a bad nap day, or they may not be going to sleep independently (sleep training fixes this.)
However, if your baby was previously waking at a decent hour, the cause for early wakings may very well be a sleep regression.
Remember, our babies’ brains are on overdrive as they master new developmental skills. In the early morning hours, melatonin, the “sleep hormone”, has worn off causing your little one to wake up early ready to experiment with their new skills.
If your baby is currently going through the 15 month sleep regression and waking early, you may need to ride it out a few days. But after 1-2 weeks of disrupted sleep, it’s safe to assume that the regression has passed and the best way to get your toddler sleeping later is to begin sleep training.
Separation anxiety tips
Separation anxiety causes your toddler to become unsettled or upset when they are separated from you. This can also be extended into feeling anxious when seeing unfamiliar faces.
Your little one may suddenly cry more, cling onto you when you’re about to leave, display sudden shyness to new people or show insecurity in new places.
Separation anxiety is a normal and healthy part of our children’s lives. It happens on and off in the first few years of their life, especially in the first 1-2 years when they can’t yet fully express themselves verbally.
Research shows that babies express distress when seeing new faces, or when their caretakers leave the room, as a response to the “unfamiliar.”
When going through big developmental changes, our toddlers are biologically more vulnerable. This makes them cling to the most familiar and loving people around them. It’s their survival instinct!
Going into the crib at bedtime, and being separated from parents, can cause sudden distress for a toddler experiencing separation anxiety. It’s tough for parents who want to continue encouraging independent sleep habits, but who have a toddler who seems to suddenly be afraid of the crib.
One of the methods in my sleep training program was created for little ones struggling with separation anxiety. It allows you to stay with your child, but teach them to sleep in the crib all night.
Here are some tips to help your 15 month old with separation anxiety:
Help them understand the concept of returning.
Your 15 month old is starting to understand the meaning of things now, so this is a perfect time to introduce the concept of “coming back.”
Whenever you leave, your toddler gets upset because they don’t yet understand (or trust) that you will return. Create a phrase to help them understand that you will return, and that your separation is temporary, to help reduce the stress of the separation.
Each time you leave, use the same phrase. For example, “Mama is coming back soon.” Each caregiver can use this phrase and also practice it in play throughout the day – with toys, your pets, and even when you go to the kitchen to get some water.
Utilize your phrase as much as possible to help your toddler understand (and believe) that everyone eventually returns.
Make goodbyes fun.
First of all, it’s important that you always say goodbye to your little one when you leave the house, no matter how upset they get. It’s an important part of life and cognitive development to understand that things disappear and reappear. (It’s also why babies throw things off the high chair over and over again!)
Just make sure that when you say goodbye, you make it fun and upbeat. Don’t mirror any anxiety or sadness they have. You may be feeling it on the inside, but it’s important to display a positive outlook.
Say something breezy like “It’s okay, I’m coming back soon!” give a quick kiss and leave. Prolonging the goodbye will only make it worse.
Spend quality time with your toddler.
It’s very important in this tumultuous time that our little ones get quality time with us. No screens, no distractions – just you and your baby playing, hugging and giggling. (Daddy’s invited too!)
Lots of eye contact and cuddles for a focused period of time will help comfort your toddler and give them the security they crave.
Aim for a few 10 minute periods throughout the day. Or if you’re away from your little one most of the day, a half hour in the evening can work.
Stick to your regular sleep routines.
Throughout any sleep regression, you should always try to stick with your baby’s regular routines. Try to avoid creating new dependencies on you for sleep, even though it may be hard.
For example, if you were previously rocking your baby to sleep, try to avoid scooping your baby up and co-sleeping all night when the regression hits. You may need to rock them more to help them settle, or even an extra time or two in the night, before placing them back in the crib.
If your baby was previously sleep trained, and is fighting going to sleep alone, see if lingering quietly in the bedroom helps them drift off easier. This is fine and can easily be undone after the regression passes.
Independently sleeping babies sleep deeper and longer, and go down easier for sleep. That’s why sleep training helps your baby long-term, as restful sleep is especially needed with all the developmental changes our babies constantly go through.
15 month old sleep training
If your 15 month old toddler has never slept through the night, it’s never too late to begin sleep training!
An advantage of sleep training at this age is that most toddlers aren’t able to climb out of the crib yet, which helps sleep training go much easier. At this time when your baby is becoming more mobile and growing up, the need for restorative sleep is as important as ever.
Through sleep training, you’ll be able to help your baby have restful sleep, which gives them enough energy to fuel their days of happy learning and playing. And of course, YOUR rest is a top priority too. When babies sleep through the night, it has been proven that parental mental health improves.
My 21 Days to Peace and Quiet program has detailed sleep training guides, personal support and customizable sleep training methods to fit your family’s needs. I don’t believe in “one size fits all” sleep training – my approach is to help every family find their own path to restful sleep.
By now you should have a good idea whether the cause of your 15 month old’s sleep struggles is a regression or something else. If this is a recent development, try to ride it out a few days. Many babies bounce back to sleeping well again.
Whatever the cause, just know that it’s definitely possible to get your 15 month old falling asleep on their own and sleeping all night. Whether you’re sleep training for the first time or doing a quick sleep training “tune up,” a few nights of solid commitment can get your 15 month sleeping great.
Check out my sleep training program here, which gives you several step-by-step methods to choose from depending on your baby’s age, temperament and your parenting style. When it comes to getting babies sleeping great, there’s always a way!