By their first birthday, infants have usually experienced significant changes in their daily sleep patterns. While many babies sleep through the night by 12 months, sleep troubles are still common at this early stage of life.
Sometimes babies have a sudden worsening of their nightly sleep, which is often called a sleep regression. Some parents notice a sleep regression when their baby is around 12 months old, and it may happen even after a baby had been consistently sleeping well.
Although sleep regressions can be bothersome for parents, they are usually temporary. Timelines for sleep development vary considerably among babies, and brief periods of disrupted sleep are normal.
Learning the basics about sleep regressions can help parents and caregivers understand their baby’s sleep patterns and use practical tips to foster healthier sleep for themselves and their child.
What Is the 12-Month Sleep Regression?
A 12-month sleep regression is a period of sleep problems that arise in a 1-year old who had previously been sleeping more soundly.
The first year of life is full of profound mental and physical development. Around 12 months of age, babies usually start holding and using objects more easily and attempting to walk while holding onto furniture for stability.
Along with these milestones, it is common for babies to start sleeping through the night on most nights by the time they are 12 months old. However, every baby is different, and some still struggle with nighttime awakenings.
Even if they have started getting more solid sleep, babies may experience a resurgence of sleep difficulties around their first birthday. This period of sleep disruption may be called a 12-month sleep regression.
This type of setback to a young child’s sleep is normal during this time of intense development. And while troubles with falling asleep or staying asleep can be challenging for parents, they usually only last for a short period of time.
In the past, some people thought that all babies went through sleep regressions at the same age. Today experts acknowledge that every baby’s sleep can unfold at a different pace, and not all 12-month-olds will have a sleep regression.
Signs of the 12-Month Sleep Regression
A 12-month sleep regression involves disrupted sleep, and it generally happens after a 12-month-old has had periods of improved and more consistent sleep.
Some of the potential signs of a 12-month sleep regression include:
- Resistance to going to bed
- Trouble falling asleep
- Awakening frequently during the night and being unable to fall back asleep
- Increased crying or fussiness
These issues are not always an indication of an actual regression in the quality of a 1-year-old’s sleep. Short-term issues like a cold or changes to their routine may cause brief sleep disruptions.
In addition, there is wide variation in how long it takes for an infant’s sleep to settle into a stable routine. It is common for babies to have ups and downs in their sleep, including after turning 1 year old.
Naps at 12 Months
It is normal for infants to nap, and this extra rest each day can promote their growth and development. Most 1-year-olds continue to nap during the day, but more of their sleep occurs during longer stretches at night.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 11 to 14 hours of total sleep each day, including naps, for children who are 1 to 2 years old. As babies get older, they tend to reduce the amount that they nap, but sleep patterns can vary significantly for every child.
In general, naps that occur too late in the day may create sleep difficulties in the evening. Parents can try to support nap habits that allow at least four hours of awake time between each period of daytime or nighttime sleep.
Why Does the 12-Month Sleep Regression Happen?
A 12-month sleep regression can happen for many possible reasons related to a baby’s development, health, and environment.
- Changing sleep patterns: During the first years of life, babies go through a dynamic process to establish their sleep patterns. Over time, this involves longer periods of sleep at night, but many babies experience sleep disruptions as they settle into a day-night rhythm.
- Greater awareness and mobility: By the end of their first year, many babies have gained considerable physical abilities and mental awareness, including the ability to pull themselves out of a lying position. These changes may increase resistance to sleeping or cause overstimulation that interferes with sleep.
- Teething: Teething can cause irritation and pain that may make it harder for babies to fall asleep and sleep through the night.
- Illnesses: When a baby is sick, including with something minor like a cold, they may have discomfort or other symptoms that disrupt their sleep.
- Separation anxiety: Fear of being without their caregivers can often be intense in 1-year-olds. This separation anxiety may contribute to problems with their sleep.
- Stressful changes: A 1-year-old’s ability to sleep may be thrown off if there are changes to their sleep environment, or if there is a more stressful life change like a move to a new home.
Because multiple factors are involved in a baby’s sleep, it is often challenging to detect a clear cause of a 12-month sleep regression.
Do All Babies Experience the 12-Month Sleep Regression?
Not all 1-year-olds are affected by a sleep regression. Every infant is unique, and they may develop sleep patterns on a different timeline than their peers.
Sleep difficulties can arise at various ages, but these ups and downs are typical for babies as they go through multiple stages of rapid development. For that reason, some children have sleep regressions at 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, 18 months, or at other times in the first few years of life.
How Long Does the 12-Month Sleep Regression Last?
There is no standard length of a 12-month sleep regression, but it is usually temporary. Sleep problems may occur for a couple of nights to a few weeks depending on their cause. Maintaining healthy sleep habits and routines may reduce the impact of sleep regressions.
Tips for Coping With the 12-Month Sleep Regression
When sleep disruptions happen, parents can take certain steps to promote and maintain healthy sleep routines and habits that may be beneficial in both the short- and long-term.
At 12 months, some parents attempt sleep training, which tries to help their child self-soothe and fall back asleep on their own. A sleep regression can be a good time to review the child’s sleep environment and any sleep training strategies with a pediatrician to see if adjustments are recommended.
In addition, there are a number of other approaches that parents and caregivers can try to promote better sleep for their 1-year-old.
- Maintain the same bedtime: Having a set bedtime is a simple way to provide consistency for your 12-month-old and help them develop a stable circadian rhythm.
- Have a nightly routine: A regular bedtime routine can signal to your baby that it is time to get ready for bed and make it easier for them to doze off.
- Avoid excess stimulation: Too much playtime, screen time, or other stimulating activities before going to bed may make it hard for your baby to unwind and fall asleep quickly.
- Design a tranquil sleep setting: It’s important for a baby’s bedroom to be quiet, dark, and free of distractions like toys in the bed. A white noise machine may be worth trying to create a more relaxing environment.
- Encourage daytime activity: Your child can explore their new skills and abilities during the day, and if they get exposure to natural light, it may also help them get accustomed to a steady pattern of activity in the day and sleep at night.
- Keep nighttime visits short: If your 1-year-old wakes up in the night, try to keep any visits to their room brief. Try to not take them out of bed, and consider a policy to not take them out of the bedroom. Keep the lights down while you comfort them.
- Limit late naps: While napping during the day is normal, a nap that happens too close to bedtime may prevent your baby from falling asleep at night.
- Support falling asleep in bed: Take your baby to bed when they are drowsy but still awake. This allows them to more closely associate their bed with falling asleep.
When to Talk to Your Pediatrician
Sleep needs typically start to change around a baby’s first birthday. Between the ages of 4 months and 11 months, experts recommend 12 to 15 hours of total sleep, including naps, every day. From the ages of 12 to 24 months, though, experts suggest that babies get 11 to 14 total hours of sleep per day.
These sleep needs don’t change immediately at the 12-month mark. Instead, a baby’s sleep is often full of ups and downs that are expected and rarely a health concern.
Regular checkups provide an opportunity to discuss your 12-month-old’s sleep habits with your pediatrician. You should also contact your child’s doctor if your child has sleep problems and you notice symptoms such as:
- Loud snoring
- Thrashing during sleep
- Inability to gain weight
- Significant changes to daily feeding
- Missed or delayed developmental milestones
How to Care for Yourself During the 12-Month Sleep Regression
Sleep regressions can be exhausting. Although you may be tempted to focus only on your baby’s sleep, self-care is important, too.
Practical tips can help you navigate a 12-month sleep regression while doing your best to not lose sight of self-care.
- Share sleep-related duties: If possible, divide up tasks with a partner including putting the baby to sleep, handling awakenings in the night, and waking up with the baby in the morning.
- Get help during the day: Asking for help from friends or family during the day may provide you with some blocks of time when you can recharge or get caught up on your sleep.
- Be realistic: While it’s natural to hope that sleep problems are a thing of the past, that is probably not realistic. Sleep disruptions happen, and they can make it harder to stay on top of other tasks or chores. Try to reduce stress by having reasonable expectations about the challenges of parenting.
- Improve your sleep hygiene: Your own sleep routines and habits are important, and optimizing your own sleep hygiene may allow you to get the most out of the limited time that you do have available for rest.
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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!