Changing sleep patterns of a 12 month old

Congratulations, you got through the first 12 months of baby sleep ups and downs! But, just as you’re thinking that the only way is up from here, you’ve settled into a good rhythm with your little one and life in general…and then without warning, your 1 year-old decides to make things interesting and turn your world upside down!

If your baby’s sleep patterns have changed and is suddenly waking more overnight, taking longer to settle, or resisting naps as they reach toddlerhood, you’re definitely not alone! While not every child goes through this, it’s still very common.

It might seem like a frustrating step backwards, or what you may have heard labelled a ‘sleep regression’, but it is actually due to a progression in their development.

There is an incredible amount going on for your child right now. Let’s look at some of the reasons this is happening, and what you can do to support them (and yourself!) through this normal, but exhausting and challenging phase.

Why is my 12 month-old baby suddenly waking more?

To understand this, it always helps to try to see life through your little one’s eyes. So much of what is happening in their life right now can impact their sleep. You know yourself that when you’ve got a lot going on in your mind that you struggle to sleep.

Babies are no different. It’s not that they don’t want to sleep; it’s just that they’re struggling to and they need your help.

Here are some of the many factors that could be contributing to your little one’s sleep challenges around their first birthday (of course, every baby is different, so they will experience these milestones at varying stages):

  • Teething and the associated discomfort or pain (is that ever not happening?)
  • Their daily sleep patterns may be changing. They may be having shorter naps or consolidating them. These changes take time to get used to.
  • Separation anxiety. Their distress when you leave the room is genuine, not a way to manipulate you. Leaving them to cry can only heighten that anxiety.
  • They may be starting to pull themself up on furniture, to cruise, to stand, to walk, or to climb stairs or furniture…and for them, the cot is a great place to practice these new physical skills in the middle of the night!
  • Toddlers are very active, curious, and busy. All of this daily sensory input and discoveries is highly beneficial to their brain, but it can be trickier for them to quieten down those rapidly developing little minds.
  • Your baby will now have moved to fully eating what the family eats, so they could be tasting and experiencing lots of new flavours, colours, and textures.
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, they may have recently moved to cups, or stopped drinking formula altogether. If they’ve started a new milk (cow’s milk, for example), or you’ve weaned from breastfeeding, their body is adapting to these changes.
  • Your 12 month-old is starting to understand their own and other people’s emotions. You may have seen them look sad if another child cries.
  • They’re starting to communicate in different ways. They may be pointing, nodding, waving, and starting to speak, perhaps one or two words now.

So, as you can see, there is an unbelievable amount of physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development happening for your little one who has only been in the world a year!

A lot of these massive changes are most likely happening at the same time and at a very rapid pace. Is it really any wonder that their little growing body and brain becomes overwhelmed, unsure, and anxious? Is it a surprise that it’s impacting their sleep? The answer is a heartfelt and empathetic ‘no’.

How can I support my baby (and myself) through this stage?

The first thing to recognise is that it’s a stage, meaning that it’s temporary. It might feel like this is your life now, but rest assured that it isn’t. How long it lasts depends on the factors causing it and their temperament.

The second thing to understand is that you haven’t done anything wrong and you’re not failing. How your baby sleeps (or doesn’t!) is not a reflection of your parenting.

And finally, your baby hasn’t ‘forgotten’ how to sleep. Sleep is a biological need and not a skill that has to be learnt, so there’s no need to consider sleep training.

There’s also no quick-fix or single solution to help your child through this, but it’s a good opportunity to create some positive sleep habits  Here are 10 strategies you can try:

1. Have a consistent bedtime routine. If you haven’t already established a nightly routine, now is a good time to start. It builds a sense of security, familiarity, and predictability. It also helps them to wind down after a busy day. Read more about the value of a bedtime routine. 

2. Spend time where your baby sleeps. Taking a baby straight to their bed from another room might make it more difficult to settle them. It’s a great idea to spend at least the last part of their bedtime routine in their room to build a positive sleep association with it.

3. Use a condensed version of your bedtime routine for naps. Your active toddler needs time between playtime and naps to slow down. You might like to read them a book, sit and rock them listening to a lullaby, or snuggle with them until they’re asleep.

4. Use positive language to explain what’s happening. By now, your child understands a lot of what you say. You can talk them through the steps so they know what to expect. You might gently and with a smile say something like ‘after lunch, we’re going to read a book, and get ready for a rest’. Or, ‘after your bath, we’ll have some milk and a cuddle, then it’s sleepy time’.

5. Incorporate several sleep cues: This will look different for every family, but some examples that signal that bedtime is approaching are: putting them in their sleeping bag, giving them their comforter that’s only used for sleep, turning on the white noise or lullaby, closing the curtains, singing a particular song, and saying your sleep-time words (such as ‘night night, sweet dreams’). Do this consistently each day.

6. Watch for their tired cues. Your toddler’s sleep needs may be changing, so observe your bub rather than the clock. They might be needing an earlier nap after lots of activity, or a longer nap, an earlier bedtime or a later one. Let them guide you, and experiment with a few small changes to see if things improve.

7. Meet your child’s sensory needs. Children of all ages from birth have a biological need to receive sensory nourishment. So, getting outdoors in the fresh air, having some messy play, and listening to music are all great for stimulating senses.

8. Fill your child’s love cup every day. Just like when your own emotional cup is empty, and you feel irritable and impatient, babies need quality one-on-one time with you (and their other caregivers) or else they feel unsettled, clingy, and cranky. In order to feel loved, connected, safe, and valued, here are some ideas to meet their emotional needs. 

9. Provide plenty of opportunities to practice their skills. Encourage natural movement as much as possible during playtime to build and master their newfound skills (and, of course, wear them out!). Refrain from using too many contraptions that might hinder their movement, such as baby seats, swings, walkers, bouncers, or too long in the pram, car seat, or highchair. Just ensure the space is child-proof so they can explore freely and safely.

10. Help them to cope with separation anxiety. Give your child extra cuddles, reassurance, and compassion. Separation anxiety is normal and healthy; you haven’t ‘spoilt’ your baby with too much love. We have some great tips to help your baby through this here.

I’m feeling exhausted and frustrated. How can I get through this stage?

Whilst these sleep difficulties are normal and healthy, it can be incredibly hard to deal with. By remembering that a child’s sleep isn’t perfect, understanding that it’s not linear (meaning that it doesn’t just improve over time without any issues), and not being hard on yourself are all important parts of caring for yourself.

Consider how you can get more sleep yourself while you ride out this storm. This might be going to bed early some nights, sharing the overnight wakes with your partner if you have one, napping on the weekends when you potentially have another adult to help, or outsourcing some household tasks so that you can prioritise your rest.

Be kind to yourself, set reasonable expectations of your baby, and reach out for help and support if you can.


If you would like to book a sleep consultation with our resident holistic baby sleep specialist Kara Wilson, please email her at [email protected]

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