12 month sleep regression: Myth or real?Updated Nov 08, 2022
If you’re looking for a magical timeline for when your baby’s sleep is going to go off the rails, you won’t find it here. Yeah, we know there’s a vast collection of articles online suggesting otherwise. But the scientific evidence for sleep regressions (as they’re commonly framed) doesn’t actually exist. In reality, a child’s sleep will go through ups and downs for a variety of reasons — and the timing isn’t predetermined.
That doesn’t mean we’re squarely on #TeamMyth though. There are some solid reasons why your baby’s sleep may get bumpy around their first birthday. More importantly, there are things you can do to combat those common sleep disruptors. So if you got into a good rhythm with your child’s sleep over the past couple of months and you want it to continue, then read on.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
Is there a 12 month old sleep regression?
First thing first: sleep regressions (i.e., periods when your baby’s sleep patterns take a sudden turn for the worse) can happen at any age. That said, it’s fairly common to see babies this age struggle with naps. And since day sleep has an impact on nighttime sleep, we frequently see new issues with night waking and early rising crop up too.
Does this mean all babies will have sleep trouble around their first birthday? No! Adjusting your baby’s wake windows and setting up healthy sleep habits can help a baby’s sleep stay consistent.
Why do 12 month old babies have sleep issues?
Reason #1 Dropped the nap too early
Most kiddos are NOT ready to transition to a 1-nap schedule at this age. If you thought babies dropped a nap right after their first birthday you’re not alone; it’s a common misconception! Doing so can lead to chronic overtiredness — which in turn can contribute to increased night wakings and a pattern of early waking (you know, all the things we want to avoid).
Reason #2 Longer wake windows are needed
Let’s talk about daytime struggles: shorter naps, skipped naps, and fighting naps. Babies who have outgrown the 3 - 3.5 hour wake windows may struggle to sleep at their normal nap times due to insufficient sleep pressure. Translation: they’re just not tired enough to snooze, so they skip their naps (or take forever to fall asleep) as a result.
Reason #3 Mastering milestones
It’s common to see night waking and bedtime resistance develop during periods when babies are mastering developmental milestones (Mindell et al., 2015). At 12 months old, many babies are pulling up, standing, or even walking. While this increased mobility is so exciting, it can bring new sleep challenges too.
Reason #4 Hunger
Hunger can interfere with a good night’s sleep at any age. After their first birthday, most children should be getting the bulk of their nutrition from solid foods (rather than breastmilk or formula), which means it’s a transitional period for most kids. If your little one isn’t getting enough food during the day (usually 3 meals and 2 snacks), this may contribute to disrupted sleep at night.
Reason #5 Falls asleep with assistance
Let’s get this out of the way: we’re not here to pass any judgment on how your children fall asleep. If your baby goes to sleep with your help (e.g., you feed, rock, or hold them to sleep), we’re here to support you as long as it works for your family and it’s safe. In many cases, though, parent assistance at bedtime translates into sleep issues, like increased calls for assistance throughout the night and less sleep overall.
How long do 12 month sleep issues last?
We’d love to give you a definitive answer. But there’s no official starting or ending time for sleep issues at this age. How long the problems last will depend on the cause, and the steps taken to alleviate them.
Since my 12 month old won’t nap does the 12 month regression affect naps?
It’s common to see 11 - 12 month olds start to outgrow their 3 - 3.5 hour wake windows, which can lead to nap challenges that some refer to as the “12 month sleep regression.” Think skipped naps, short naps, and nap resistance. These daytime sleep issues can often be resolved with a schedule adjustment, while at other times we also need to change our naptime routines.
5 Tips to handle 12 month old sleep issues or regressions
Tip #1 Don’t drop the nap too early
Some babies may continue to sleep well if they skip a nap here and there, but most children this age aren’t able to comfortably handle napping just once a day, all week long. A full transition to a 1-nap schedule typically happens between 14 - 18 months old.
Try to hold onto the 2-nap schedule for another couple of months, especially if your child is waking frequently at night (or too early in the morning) because they’ve been skipping naps. You may need to adjust your baby’s sleep times to encourage two naps per day. Check out our sample 12 month old sleep schedules here.
Tip #2 Lengthen wake windows
While most babies aren’t ready to drop a nap at this age, many are ready for longer wake windows. If your baby is suddenly struggling to sleep at nap or bedtime, consider lengthening wake windows to 3.5 - 4 hours in between sleep periods. Longer wake windows can help ensure your baby is tired enough for both naps.
This may temporarily result in less total night's sleep. But as long as your baby’s getting at least 10 hours of sleep at night, the 2-nap schedule with the longer wake windows usually results in better overall sleep than dropping the nap too early.
Tip #3 Give plenty of milestone practice time
If your baby is tackling a new developmental milestone, like pulling up or walking, be sure to give them plenty of opportunities to practice during the day. This may help them master the skill faster. That could mean less time spent with your baby “stuck” in the standing position in the crib, unsure of how to return to a seated position.
Even with practice, however, some lost sleep may be inevitable as they practice their new moves (or new words) instead of sleeping. It’s understandable that a baby might be more interested in standing up and seeing their surroundings from a new perspective. This is temporary, and the novelty will wear off.
Tip #4 Maintain consistent pre-sleep routines
Ensure that you’re regularly using a naptime and bedtime routine. Not only do regular routines help improve sleep for kids, but they can all provide a host of other developmental benefits as well. Learn how to solidify your sleep routine here.
Tip #5 Focus on independent sleep skills
Kids who fall asleep on their own tend to call for their parents less and sleep longer. If you currently help your one year old fall asleep at bedtime, consider helping them learn to fall asleep without being rocked, fed, held, or otherwise helped to sleep. You can learn about the most common sleep training methods here. If you’re looking for personalized guidance, consider Huckleberry Premium.
12 month sleep regression FAQ
Q: Is the 12 month sleep regression a myth?
It’s common for babies to have new nap struggles around 12 months old, as they outgrow wake windows.
Q: Can a sleep regression happen at 12 months?
Yes, sleep can regress at any age, for many different reasons. Illness, travel, and developmental milestones are common sleep disruptors. A baby’s routines and environment can affect sleep patterns too.
Q: Do all babies have sleep regression at 12 months?
No. There’s no evidence to support that the majority of babies develop setbacks at certain ages. However, we do see that many 12 month olds need a schedule adjustment that allows for a 2-nap schedule with longer wake windows in between sleep periods.
Q: Why is my 12 month old baby not sleeping?
Babies this age often skip naps because they need longer wake windows of 3.5 - 4 hours. This is what often gives parents the false impression that their baby is ready for a 1-nap schedule. It can be tempting to ditch a nap when your baby keeps refusing to sleep during the day. Don’t be fooled! They likely need to keep 2 naps but lengthen the awake time between sleep periods.
Q: Can babies have nightmares at 12 months?
Possibly. Dreams, including frightening ones, occur during REM sleep (which occurs in babies this age). While it’s common for verbal toddlers to describe an occasional nightmare, there isn’t sufficient evidence to support that children this young have bad dreams.
Q: 12 month old baby won't sleep unless held. What should I do?
Consider sleep training to help your baby learn to fall asleep without being held. Sleep training methods include Ferber and Cry it Out but can also include more gradual approaches. Parents who prefer to limit tears as much as possible may prefer a gentle method where your assistance is faded out over time.
Sources: Mindell, J. A., Owens, J. A., & Owens, J. A. (2015). A clinical guide to pediatric sleep: Diagnosis and management of sleep problems. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
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Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.