As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have worked with countless families to address various developmental milestones and challenges faced by their little ones.
One of the most common concerns parents share are sleep regressions.
Particularly the 15-month sleep regression.
In this blog post, we will delve into everything you need to know about this sleep regression and explore strategies to help your baby sleep better during this trying time.
Signs Your Child’s Disrupted Sleep Is a Result of the 15 Months Sleep Regression
It is essential to differentiate between sleep regressions and other potential causes of sleep disruption.
The following signs may indicate that your child is experiencing the 15 month sleep regression:
A Sudden Change in Sleep Patterns
If your toddler, who previously slept well, is now suddenly waking during the night, taking longer to fall asleep, waking earlier, or refusing naps, it could be a sign of sleep regression.
Increased Fussiness or Clinginess During Bedtime
If your baby exhibits separation anxiety, resists bedtime, or needs more comfort and reassurance, it may be related to the 15-month sleep regression.
If your child is experiencing rapid growth in motor, cognitive, or language skills, it may contribute to your little one experiencing a regression.
If your baby is showing signs of teething, such as drooling, gum irritation, or increased chewing, it may cause discomfort that affects sleep.
How Long Does The 15 Month Sleep Regression Last?
The duration of the 15 month sleep regression varies among toddlers. For most, these sleep challenges can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
For most toddlers, sleep patterns improve once the child has adjusted to the developmental changes that are occurring or when parents have successfully implemented strategies to support their child’s sleep needs.
What Causes the 15 Month Sleep Regression?
The 15 month sleep regression is a temporary disruption in a baby’s sleep patterns that typically occurs around 15 months of age. It can be triggered by a combination of factors, including:
1. Developmental Milestones
At 15 months of age, babies are rapidly developing their motor, cognitive, and language skills. This exciting period of growth can lead to disrupted sleep as their brain processes these new skills.
Many children start to walk or have just learned to walk around this age. This major milestone brings with it a new sense of independence and is a massive change in your child’s life.
This huge leap in gross motor development can lead to temporary regressions in other areas, a common one of which is sleep. If your child has recently learned to walk, it may be why they are suddenly experiencing a sleep regression.
2. Separation Anxiety
Many babies experience separation anxiety around 15 months of age.
This can make bedtime more challenging as they become clingier and may resist being put to bed without a parent nearby.
For many toddlers, it can also lead to more frequent night wakings as they wake and realize you aren’t there, leading them to cry out for someone to comfort them.
Teething is a common cause of sleep regressions, particularly around 15 months of age when many toddlers get their first molars.
Teething pain can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep, even if your toddler was previously a good sleeper.
4. Sleep Schedule Changes
As toddlers grow, their sleep patterns mature, and their sleep needs change.
Many children drop from two naps per day down to one nap, somewhere between 14 and 18 months old. If your toddler has recently dropped a nap or is going through a nap transition, that can lead to changes in their night sleep.
Dropping from two naps to one means that your toddler will have longer wake windows. Put simply, this just means they need more awake time before each sleep.
Parents may need to adjust nap times and bedtimes to accommodate these changes, which can temporarily disrupt sleep patterns.
How to Handle the 15 Month Sleep Regression
Once you think you know the likely cause of your toddler’s 15 month sleep regression, you can take the appropriate steps to help get your little one’s sleep back on track.
Here are several best practices to help with sleep regressions regardless of the cause, as well as specific recommendations that you can try depending on the specific issue impacting your toddler’s sleep.
Maintain a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine is crucial for helping your child navigate the 15 month sleep regression. A regular routine provides predictability and familiarity, which can help create a sense of security and comfort for your baby.
Here are some tips for establishing and maintaining a consistent bedtime routine:
Set a Regular Bedtime
Choose a bedtime that aligns with your baby’s natural sleep patterns and allows for an appropriate amount of sleep each night. Be consistent with this bedtime, even on weekends, to help establish a rhythm for your child’s body clock.
Create an Optimal Sleep Environment
There are three key elements to a great sleep environment for your baby.
- Dark – Use blackout curtains to minimize light as much as possible. The exception to this is if your toddler is afraid of the dark. In this case, I recommend using a night light that uses red light, as this reduces the impact that the light has on their circadian rhythm.
- Eliminate loud noises – Use a white noise machine to reduce the impact of sudden loud noises on your child’s sleep. Street noise, household noise, and other sudden, loud noises often lead to your toddler waking prematurely. White noise helps prevent this.
- Keep the room at a comfortable temperature – Ideally, between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, or 20 to 22 degrees Celsius.
Establish a Pre-Bedtime Wind Down Routine
About 30 minutes before bedtime, start a series of calming activities to help your child transition from the day’s activities to bed. This could include taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading a story, some cuddle time, or other calming activities.
Exposure to screens and electronic devices can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. To minimize this effect, limit screen time to at least one hour before bedtime.
Follow the same steps in the same order every night to help your child associate the routine with bedtime. Consistency helps reinforce the expectation that sleep will follow and can make the transition to bed smoother.
Use Sleep Cues
Incorporate specific cues into your bedtime routine that signal to your child that it’s time for sleep. For example, you might dim the lights, sing a lullaby, or say a special phrase as you tuck them in.
Encourage Self Soothing
Teaching your toddler to self-soothe by giving them a comfort object such as a soft toy or a small blanket can help them manage their separation anxiety and fall asleep more easily.
This is particularly helpful if your toddler is experiencing separation anxiety.
Be aware of potential safety risks when selecting an object to add to your child’s sleep environment.
Adjust Sleep Schedules as Needed
If your notice your toddler resisting sleep due to a recent nap transition (dropped a daytime sleep, or needing to drop a daytime sleep), you will need to adjust their sleep schedule.
Monitor their sleep needs and adjust nap times and bedtimes accordingly to ensure they are getting enough restorative sleep.
Learn how many naps you can expect at each age, how long each nap time should last, and when you can expect your toddler to drop naps using our free ‘New Parent’s Guide to Naps’. Click here to download your copy.
Provide Comfort For Teething Pain
If your toddler is teething, you can offer teething toys, cold washcloths, or gentle gum massages to help alleviate your baby’s teething discomfort.
I strongly recommend against using amber teething necklaces, as these have been shown to pose a significant choking risk to children.
Likewise, teething gels are not recommended due to potential safety risks.
Consult your pediatrician for recommendations on appropriate pain relief options, such as over-the-counter pain relievers.
Be Patient and Responsive
Understand that this is a temporary phase, and your toddler may need extra comfort and reassurance during this time.
Respond to their needs and provide a calming and soothing environment to help them transition through this sleep regression.
Remember, this will pass. Your toddler will be able to sleep independently in time, and they will regain their good sleep habits (or develop them if this is something they haven’t achieved just yet).
Encourage Daytime Learning and Exploration
Support your child’s cognitive, motor, and language development during the day by offering age-appropriate activities and opportunities for learning. This can help their brain process new skills more efficiently, potentially improving sleep quality.
When to Seek Medical Help
In most cases, the 15 month sleep regression is a temporary phase that resolves on its own or with the help of the strategies mentioned above.
However, if your child’s sleep issues persist beyond a few weeks or if you have concerns about their overall health and well-being, it may be time to seek medical advice.
Consider consulting your pediatrician if:
- Your baby’s sleep issues do not improve or worsen over time, despite your efforts to address the problem
- Your child shows signs of illness or other health issues that may be affecting their sleep, such as frequent ear infections, breathing difficulties, or digestive problems
- You are concerned about your child’s growth and development, particularly if they are not meeting expected milestones or if their sleep issues seem to be impacting their daytime functioning.
The 15-month sleep regression is a challenging time for many parents and their toddlers.
By recognizing the signs, understanding the causes, and implementing supportive strategies, you can help your child navigate this temporary phase and return to a more regular sleep pattern. If you have concerns about your child’s sleep or overall well-being, do not hesitate to consult your pediatrician for professional advice and guidance.