18 Month Sleep Regression


This has been the world’s weirdest week. Not everything has been bad per se, just weird. Ryan’s been pulling all-nighters left and right to meet a deadline; I sliced open my wrist and had to go to the ER; Ryan got TWO traffic tickets; I turned 31 (old); we’ve seen a mouse in our house twice (actually, once was the babysitter :/); and, most of all, Emma Vance hasn’t been sleeping…

At the beginning of the week, E.V. had a restless night, which I chalked up to congestion and teething. Then, the next day, she only took a 45-minute nap and woke up woeful and upset, which is very unlike her. Her sleep seemed to digress with each night, resulting in worse-than-newborn nightly sleep patterns. I was confused and a bit flabbergasted. What in the world was going on?!?

It was the strangest thing, and both Ryan and I wracked our brains to figure out what the problem was. Although I wouldn’t categorize E.V. as a “perfect” sleeper, she’s pretty darn good and very consistent (thank you Babywise!), and these terrible sleep habits developed quickly and out of the blue. It would take her forever to fall asleep, resulting in late bedtimes; she’d nap only 45 minutes, wake up in a terrible mood and then pass out during our usual post-nap crackers-in-bed; she’d have these terrifyingly uncontrollable fits in the middle of the night where even rocking or snuggling wouldn’t help calm her down. It was confusing to say the least…and exhausting.

Her sleep habits devolved so quickly that I consulted some other moms, and their reactions were all the same:

Yup, that happened to us, too…

It’s totally normal…

It’s temporary…

There’s nothing you can do…

Mom after mom confirmed my experience: They had been through it, too! So I started reading online. I began by typing “18 month sl–” into Google and immediately “18 month sleep regression” popped up with a million links. Hmmm. Apparently this is a “thing!”

The gist of 18-month sleep regression is simply this: Big developmental jumps = bad sleep.

Everything I read focused on empathy for parents going through this stage, unfortunately because it seems that there isn’t any true solution other than time (a week to two months). Although giving our hardship an official diagnosis hasn’t made it any easier, it has given us some psychological comfort. Knowing that what you’re experiencing is both normal and temporary can do wonders for your attitude! (Uh, yeah…Did I mention that my birthday on Friday started with a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call for “Cookies? Bunnies? Elmo?” And, yes, exhaustion led us to giving in to her requests for cheddar bunnies and Sesame Street.) We’ve been dealing with her restlessness with a full belly, teething medicine, Vicks and socks, and lots of snuggles, but I do have to admit that after a week of fitful nights coupled with a laundry list of other “weirdo” occurrences, sleep deprivation has begun to take over, and I personally have been left a little emotional about the whole experience — in a good way.

Sleeplessness and pregnancy hormones have actually left me a bit weepy and nostalgic about this bump in the road, and those emotions came to a head last night. When Ryan tried to put Emma Vance down at her normal bedtime, she was immediately in tears. No amount of Daddy hugs could soothe her because every time he left the room, she would scream and sob in the most pitiful fashion. I decided that I would suffer with her, sit in her room next to her crib, letting her cry on my proverbial (and literal) shoulder until she could cry no more. We started out in a tearful hug over the crib railing, and as she wailed, she began to grow heavy. Her little legs eventually gave out on her, and she unwillingly collapsed into her crib, still desperate for me not to leave. As I pulled up the ottoman to be close to her, Emma Vance smashed her little face and belly up against the crib rail to be close to me. We just stared at one another for a while with the little light that peeked through the cracked doorway, her big, blinking eyes reminding me of the first time she ever looked up at me. Then, there in the silence and the darkness, my little child reached her tiny hand through the spindles of her bed and grasped my finger. She looked at me with a desperation that said quite clearly, “Don’t leave me yet, okay?” And then I lost it.

While Emma Vance held my finger as tightly as she could, I cried like a baby. It’s been 18 months, but I swear her hands are just as small and fragile as the first time she grasped my finger as a newborn. I watched as she fought sleep, trying not to blink, her little fingers losing their grip and then quickly clenching again so as not to let me go. I took that time, that precious, unplugged, unbothered, unmoving time to pray for my sweet little girl — for her health, her happiness, her future — and I was beside myself. By the time she could fight off sleep no more, I was a wreck, a happy, wistful wreck.

In the midst of my prayers I had come to a realization —  this time where she’s desperate to be near us, ravenous for our touch, eager to be at our sides, is quickly coming to a close. These days, as sleepless and as trying as they are, are so very fleeting, and even though my immediate reaction is to wish them away, to pray for God to let her sleep through the night again, I know that in a few years, when she’s secretive about her life and eager to be independent of us, I’ll look back on these moments with such fondness. I doubt I’ll remember the bags under my eyes, the lack of daytime energy or the frustration I felt at 2 a.m., but I’m certain I’ll remember sitting by her crib, rubbing her back, staring into her eyes in the dark of the night…her grasping my finger with her tiny, tiny hand.

I know this is just a phase. Whether it lasts two weeks or two months, I’m confident that this, too, shall pass. Until then, when she cries out in the middle of the night or refuses to take a full nap, I’ll remember that as this hardship passes, so does the sweetness that this hardship also brings…and that makes these hard days all the better to go through.

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