Q&A: 18-month sleep regression redux

I got a question from Kelli a few weeks ago, and then an almost identical question from Kyo a couple of days ago, about the 18-month sleep regression.

If you all recall (and those of you with kids over the age of 18 months probably do), there's a big developmental spurt that happens right in the 18-21-month corridor, so many kids who've been fine sleepers suddenly stop sleeping (either at nighttime or for naps or both) around 18 months and it lasts for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

It completely and utterly bites, and parents can feel blindsided and insulted and very very angry about it.

So, what Kelli and Kyo were asking was what they should do about it. Their kids were waking up in the middle of the night either once or a bunch of times, and they were having varying degrees of success with getting them back to sleep using various methods. The big concern seemed to be whether they were setting themselves up for later problems if they did things like nurse the kids back to sleep or bring them into their beds or use other sleep crutches that they'd mostly gotten away from before the sleep regression happened*.

I think that, as usual, it depends on your kid. By the time your child is 18 months old, you've been through a few sleep regressions already. So think back to what happened when your child came out of the 4 month regression and 9-month regression: Did your child go back to sleeping the way s/he'd been sleeping before? (Some kids just go right back as if the regression had never happened.) Or did you need to ease your kid back into sleeping and wean off processes of getting to sleep that you'd used to hold down the fort during the regression? (Bitey Biterson, for sure.)

Whatever happened with those other regressions is probably going to happen with this one. If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know that I figure that people just sleep the way they sleep, and there's not much parents can do to change that. So the sooner you can figure out how your kid sleeps, the sooner you can figure out both what's realistic for you and how you should approach sleep issues.

The other thing to think about, though, is "Do you care?" I know that, for me, it didn't matter if I knew I'd have to spend a few weeks breaking a habit again as long as I could get some !@#$% sleep in the meantime. If that's the way you are, then who cares, and do whatever it takes to get you all the max amount of sleep at any given night.

But if it will kill you to have to undo something, and you're not so fried at this moment that you just need to sleep By Any Means Necessary, then take a little time to think about how you could replicate conditions that will help facilitate sleep without actually going back into the processes or crutches you don't want to use. Either that or schedule a solo vacation at a spa for a week and let someone else deal with it. (If only. Can you imagine?)

Anyone want to share any fond memories of the 18-month sleep regression?  I would, except I seem to have blocked out a whole lot of it. I can, however, remember standing over my older son's crib wondering how I'd morphed from awesome to completely incompetent in a matter of weeks. Parenting is hard.

* In general, I think sleep crutches of all sorts, from pacifiers to rocking to loveys, get a super-bad rap. No one has to bring their mom along to college to nurse them to sleep. And so what if you have to sleep with a white noise machine? If it bugs you when you're 30 you can break the habit your own self, and leave your poor parents out of it. So I'm only talking about breaking habits because some parents really want to get away from sleep crutches because they're adding more stress to their lives. If sleep crutches are working for you as a family, then party on with them for as long as they work, and then figure out the next thing.