Congratulations on surviving the first year and a half, you have a toddler on your hands, and this comes with its own set of obstacles. Did you know sleep regressions occur beyond the one-year mark? If not, in this article, I am here to have the 20 Month Sleep Regression explained.
A sleep regression is a disruption to babies or toddlers’ sleep patterns, seen by protesting falling asleep for naps and bedtime. We may also see increased night wakings, early morning rising, difficulty falling back asleep, and short or skipped naps.
The reason a sleep regression may occur is due to several reasons, including; developmental leap, learning or mastering a new skill set, teething, illness, and separation anxiety are the most common causes.
Sleep regressions often last between 2-6 weeks, as long as we avoid creating new dependencies, our toddlers often return to their usual sleep habits. Many families note toddler sleep regressions are more difficult to maneuver due to toddlers being more persistent, pushing boundaries, and can be more vocal.
Sleep Needs For 20-Month Old
Around the 20-month mark, we should see a total of 12-13 hours of sleep in 24 hours. This is usually split between 11-12 hours of sleep at night with 1-3 hours of sleep during the day. The nap is usually in the middle of the day after being awake for approximately 4.5-5 hours in the morning. We may also see wake windows ranging from 5-6.5 hours before bedtime.
If your toddler is oversleeping during the day, this can impact their ability to fall asleep at bedtime, resulting in crying and protesting. This can present as sleep regression. Always check on your toddler’s age and sleep need requirements to make sure you are within the suggested amount, this will help avoid unrealistic sleep expectations.
Expert Sleep Tip: If you find your toddler stalling at bedtime with wanting more of everything, they are trying to exert independence and be in control. Let them (within reason), give them choices but limit options. You can present your 20-month-old with two pairs of pj’s and they get to choose which pair to wear. You can also present them with two books, letting them pick one. When they feel in control they are more likely to cooperate with the process.
Sleep Regression Causes
Developmental leaps can disrupt your toddler’s sleep, their brain is working extra hard to learn a new skill, such as walking, running, or talking for example. This can make it hard for your toddler to settle in at night and unwind. Causing the process of falling asleep at bedtime to be drawn out.
Since their brain is already working overtime during developmental leaps while learning or mastering a new skill set it would be best to try calming down the brain before bedtime. Meaning avoiding screen use at least one full hour before the time they need to sleep.
Teething can cause inflammation of the gums and increased pain. Your 20-month-old is in the developmental stage of getting their first molars anywhere between 13-19 months of age on the top and for the bottom molars, we often see them surface between 14-18 months. Every toddler is different but the developing molars can pose challenges in the sleep department.
It is always best to treat the need, if your toddler is struggling with sleep due to increased pain, it is advised to treat their pain with pain-relieving medication. Always consult your pharmacist or physician if you have questions regarding dose or frequency.
Illness can disrupt sleep patterns as well, your 20-month-old is likely on the move, exploring everything they can at home, at daycare, at the park, and in stores. They are notorious for being germ magnets and becoming sick frequently. When our toddlers are sick they may increase fever, congestion, cough, and body aches.
This in itself can pose difficulty falling asleep and sleeping soundly. If your toddler has a fever treat it with medicine, if you are concerned about an ear infection, bring your toddler to the doctor as ear infections can cause extreme pain and usually will negatively impact sleep.
Separation Anxiety comes in bouts and cycles. There are many periods your little one will experience episodes of separation anxiety, causing them to protest when it comes time for bed.
If you have yet to introduce a lovey, this can be an ideal time to do so. Your 20-month-old may adapt well to having a security item they can hold onto while they sleep. You can introduce the item to them during the day, hold the lovey between you and your toddler while you cuddle during the bedtime process, and read books.
Hunger can come into play with sleep regressions. Your 20-month-old is on the move more than ever before, this comes with an increase in burning energy (aka calories). It can be beneficial to offer a snack before bed and review your toddler’s total intake of food.
Expert Sleep Tip: Regardless of the sleep regression cause, to the best of your ability maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Every single step helps signal to your toddler’s sleep is approaching. Making sure the bedtime routine is long enough can help your little one relax and calm down before we expect them to fall asleep.
The worst thing we can do during sleep regressions is let go of our consistency. Toddlers thrive with boundaries and knowing what to expect. During a sleep regression, it is not the time to switch up their routine, switch up their sleep space or go with the flow and let them lead the way.
20-Month-Old Sample Schedule
- 7:00 am – Wake Up
- 12:00-1:45 pm – Nap (1.75 hours)
- 7:00 pm – Start Bedtime Routine
- 7:45 pm – Into Crib/Bed
The above sample schedule allows for 5 hours of wake time before nap and 6 hours before bed. It is normal for your 20-month-old to take 15-20 minutes to fall asleep. Having them in their sleep space before 8:00 pm or by 8:00 pm usually is best for their sleep drive and allows them the chance to fall asleep within a reasonable time frame. This sample schedule provides 13 hours of sleep in 24 hours.
If your 20-month-old is on the lower end of sleep needs, you may only need a 1.25-1.5 hour nap and 10.5-11 hours of sleep overnight. Ideally, we do want to see 12 hours of sleep in 24 hours.
20-Month-Old Nap Schedule
Gone are the days of multiple naps, at 20 months of age we should be seeing one main nap. Having the nap occur around lunchtime will allow your toddler to have a proper wake window leading up to the nap so they are tired enough to fall asleep but will also allow a long enough stretch before bedtime.
Expert Sleep Tip: If you want a consistent nap time, it is best to wake up your toddler at the same time every day to allow for a consistent set nap time. If you allow your toddler to sleep later in the morning, multiple days in the week, this will push nap time as they will need a certain length of time awake before they are naturally ready for sleep.
The length of nap you should see for your 20-month-old should be at least one hour with a cutoff or maximum nap length of 3 hours. Keep in mind our toddlers have the total sleep needs they require, if you have your toddler nap for a full 3 hours, we would only need to see 10 hours of sleep at night, for a total of 13 hours of sleep.
Not all toddlers will need a full 13 hours of sleep within 24 hours, some will only need a minimum of 12 hours. Therefore you would want to avoid having a 3-hour nap for the toddlers on the lower end of sleep needs and likely have a 1.5-2 hour daytime nap, with the remaining sleep occurring at night.
Before your toddler’s nap, make sure they are eating lunch. This will help avoid your toddler waking up early out of hunger. A full and happy belly is the key to a successful and solid nap (as well as nighttime sleep).
If your toddler is protesting their nap, taking a while to fall asleep, or missing it altogether, this is a classic sign of a sleep regression. You may be tempted to stop offering a nap, but often we see toddlers needing to nap until at least age 3. The nap duration shortens over time but most 20-month-olds are not ready to go without a daytime nap.
Alternative 20-Month-Old Sample Schedule
- 6:30 am – Wake Up
- 12:00-1:30 pm – Nap (1.5 hours)
- 7:15 pm – Bedtime Routine
- 8:00 pm – Into Crib/Bed
The above sample schedule allows for a total of 12 hours of sleep in 24 hours. This also provides a 5.5-hour wake window before nap and a 6.5-hour wake window before bed, allowing both wake windows to be age appropriate.
Alternative 20-Month-Old Sample Schedule
- 7:00 am – Wake Up
- 12:00-1:00 pm – Nap (1 hour)
- 6:30 pm – Bedtime Routine
- 7:00 pm – Bedtime
The above sample schedule allows for an earlier bedtime if your toddler is showing tired signs due to taking a shorter nap. If your toddler is having a hard time making it until 7:00 pm, you can even adjust this schedule and put them down at 6:45 pm.
Ideally, we want to avoid putting our toddlers to bed too early as it can result in an early morning wake, often we see a wake up 10-12 hours from when they fell asleep.
Usually, we still want to see a bedtime between the 7:00-8:00 pm range for a toddler, following an age-appropriate wake window after a nap leading up to bed. If your toddler is taking over 20 minutes to fall asleep at bedtime, consider if they are oversleeping during the day or if the wake window needs to be adjusted.
An over-tired toddler can act hyper or wired, whereas an under-tired toddler not ready to fall asleep can protest the process or cry due to being in an overtired state.
Another rule of thumb to follow, your toddler should go to bed anywhere from 11-13 hours from when they woke up in the morning.
Handling The 20-Month-Old Sleep Regression
If you are sleep training, maintain consistency in your plan of action. Your toddler knows what to expect in the sleep department when we are consistent in our approach.
If independent sleep has not occurred over the last 20 months and now you find it is negatively impacting their ability to sleep soundly, it would be a great time to focus on a method that aligns with your comfort level and with your toddler’s temperament. It is always easier to achieve healthy sleep habits at a younger age but it is never too late to improve sleep habits.
The best way to navigate sleep regressions is to come up with a plan of action in how you will respond when your 20-month-old protests to bed or wakes in the middle of the night. Always give your toddler time to fall back asleep on their own before going into their room.
Often parents are quick to enter their bedrooms which stimulates our toddlers and if we go too quickly, takes away the opportunity for them to fall back asleep on their own.
FAQ – 20 Month OId Sleep Regression Explained: Questions
Question: How Long does the 20-month-old Sleep Regression last?
Answer: Sleep regressions last on average 2-4 weeks in length, some sleep regressions can last upwards of 6 weeks. The more consistent you are during a toddler sleep regression the faster we often move through this phase.
Question: How Long Should my 20-month-old be Awake Before Bed?
Answer: We often want to see at least 5 hours of wake time leading up to the bed, the average wake window length for a 20-month-old would be 5.5-6.5 hours before presenting them the opportunity to fall asleep at bedtime.
Question: Why does my 20-month-old wake up Multiple Times at Night?
Answer: If your 20-month-old is oversleeping during the day or if the wake window before bed isn’t the proper length it can impact middle-of-the-night wakings. Frequent night wakings occurring out of the norm can also be a sign of the 20-month sleep regression.
Question: Why Does my 20-month-old Refuse their Nap?
Answer: Your 20-month-old may be experiencing a sleep regression which often results in protesting their nap or missing it altogether. If your 20-month-old has been falling asleep for their nap after a 4.5-hour wake window, it may be time to length this wake window to reach 5-5.5 hours before providing them the opportunity to sleep.
Always remember the 20-month-old sleep regression is a phase, with consistency, a plan of action, and maintaining boundaries, your toddler’s sleep should revert to normal within 2-6 weeks.
On average we see improvement within 2-4 weeks. Maintaining a relaxing and consistent bedtime routine will help signal your toddler’s sleep is approaching. Additionally, focus on an age-appropriate wake window before bed, helping them fall asleep better vs. being tired.
Parental consistency is imperative to avoid creating new dependencies. If you offer milk to help your toddler fall asleep it may cause them to continue wanting milk to help them connect sleep cycles all night long. Another new dependency can be rocking your toddler to sleep, causing them to wake and cry until they are rocked back to sleep.
The best course of action is to maintain the healthy and independent sleep skills your toddler has likely already achieved. Keep reminding yourself this too shall pass and hang in there!
Kayla is a mama of two littles, each born during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to becoming a mom, she worked as a Registered Nurse for 12 years. Now as a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, she owns and runs Serenity Sleep Consulting full time.
After having her first baby, sleep deprivation hit hard. She was desperate for rest and knew she needed to focus on establishing a healthy sleep foundation. Kayla researched infant sleep and started to focus on what she likes to call Sleep Shaping. Her son went from waking every hour to sleeping 4-5 hour stretch, followed by 6-8 hours, and eventually 12 hours at 3 months of age. This method has turned into her signature service, it allows her to provide education and tools to help families with newborns. She also works with those who have babies 4 months upwards of 4-5 years.
We all function at our optimal level with a full night’s rest and Kayla loves to support parents in this journey!