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How to Handle Sleep Regressions

So your baby has been sleeping well for months now and is happy, well rested with a very predictable schedule. All of a sudden your champion sleeper is now protesting at bedtime, waking up multiple times a night, and/or fighting those precious naps. A slew of questions might be circling your brain: What is happening? What do I do? Is this the end of good sleep for my baby…and me? Will this last forever? If we get through this, will it happen again? If this scene seems all too familiar, your baby might be going through a sleep regression. The good thing is sleep regressions are common and normal; all babies go through them. Some lucky parents have children that will breeze through some of these regressions with no noticeable problems or setbacks, while other children show all the signs and have parents scratching their heads on what to do. 

WHAT IS A SLEEP REGRESSION?

Babies go through several periods in their first 2 years of life, where they experience leaps and bounds in their mental and physiological development. This can cause a shift in sleep habits and patterns resulting in more protesting, shorter naps, and more wake ups at night. 

Although this seems daunting right now, remember that sleep regressions are signs that your baby’s development is on the right track. Unfortunately, their sleep can take a toll from this, but the good news is that your baby is growing, learning new things, and becoming more engaged with everything around them which is something worth celebrating!

SIGNS OF A SLEEP REGRESSION

The main sign that your little one is going through a sleep regression is that his sleeping pattern takes a turn for the worse. He was napping and sleeping at night like a champ and all of a sudden you find yourself part of an ongoing nap protest and night wakings. 

Other Signs to Look For

  • Easily woken up
  • Resisting naps or bedtime
  • Baby is overtired as a result of poor naps
  • Frequent wake ups at night
  • Naps become shorter
  • Fussiness/Irritability
  • Unable to easily go back to sleep on his own
  • Baby is not hungry or showing signs of illness

AT WHAT AGES DO SLEEP REGRESSIONS OCCUR?

There are various regressions that most babies and toddlers experience. The first regression most parents typically encounter is the dreaded 4 month sleep regression (or ‘progression’ as I like to call it), followed by another regression somewhere between 8-10 months, a third one around 12 months, the fourth is at the 18 month mark, and as if four regressions weren’t enough, a fifth regression typically hits at two years old. 

Remember not all babies will reach these developmental stages at these exact ages so if your baby is around these ages, was a good sleeper and suddenly started showing some of these signs for a couple of weeks, it’s safe to assume they've hit a regression.

HOW LONG DO SLEEP REGRESSIONS LAST?

Not all sleep regressions last for the same amount of time, and will depend on the age and development of your little one. Some can last from 4-6 weeks, so be patient mama, this too shall pass. The good news is that most of these regressions should only last a few weeks as long as no new sleep habits creep back in during this time.

4 MONTH REGRESSION

I like to call this a sleep 'progression' because at this age, your baby’s sleep is becoming more adult like. By 4 months, your baby has said bye bye to his babyish sleeping patterns and is sleeping more like an adult – and that translates into frequent night wakings with lots of fussing, along with shortened naps. Now, the 4 month regression is a different beast than all the others. This is a permanent change to how your baby sleeps and more than likely won’t go away until he has learned how to self soothe. If you need help with this, reach out to us at sleepwellsleepspecialists@gmail.com. We would love to help you over this hurdle!

8-10 MONTH REGRESSION

This regression is often due to all of the developmental milestones your baby is working on They’ll be learning to crawl, pulling up to stand and finding their voice. Your baby is a busy bee, which means they want to wake in the night to practice their newfound skills. There’s also a lot of brain development happening at this stage, and your baby is absorbing language like crazy!

12 MONTH REGRESSION

This regression doesn’t seem to be as common or as impacting as the other regressions, and has a lot to do with nap transitions.  You might find that your baby suddenly starts refusing his second nap, and tries to get by with just one nap. Lots of parents assume that this is a normal nap transition, and that it means their little one is ready for just one nap a day and for some babies this can be true. However, this is why I encourage parents to wait at least 2 weeks before making the transition down to one nap because it is possible that this is just a temporary regression and he isn’t quite ready to move to one nap a day. 

18 MONTH REGRESSION

This is by far the most challenging! This is because now your child is officially a toddler! He is walking, talking (well, babbling at least), likely protesting more and even throwing a tantrum or two. This regression has a lot to do with your toddler’s new-found independence. He is learning that he has opinions about things, and when things don’t turn out the way he wants to he will want to express his dissatisfaction intensely. Separation anxiety also comes into play here; your toddler may genuinely be distressed when you leave at nap time, or when you walk out of the room at bedtime. Finally, teething can play a factor at 18 months – toddlers are often cutting molars around this time. 

2 YEAR REGRESSION

There can be a variety of reasons for this sleep regression. Your 2 year old’s awake time is growing longer, but as he makes that transition, it can disrupt sleep. There tends to be an explosion of language during the 2nd year. Your 2 year old is likely also going through some big life transitions, like potty training and transitioning to a big-kid bed (and maybe even getting a new sibling!) And around 2 years of age, lots of toddlers begin having very real nightmares (or even night terrors). All of this can lead to a very real, very exhausting sleep regression around 2 years old. 

HOW DO I SURVIVE A SLEEP REGRESSION?  

  • First, take a deep breath and realize this won’t last forever. Other than the 4 month regression, these regressions should pass over the next few weeks, so hang in there!
  • Try to encourage good sleep habits before these regressions hit.
  • Stick to a schedule: Although sleep regressions make it difficult for you to stick to your schedule, try to keep up with your regular routine as it will make it so much easier to get back to it once the regression is over.
  • Try to stay consistent but if your baby needs more from you during this time it’s OK to give him more comfort. Just be careful to not start rocking your him to sleep or doing something that is totally different from what you have been doing. 
  • Give him lots of love and cuddles during the day. Try to remain calm if your baby is really upset and reassure him. 
  • Give him lots of opportunities during the day to move and work on his new physical skills. 
  • If he has just learned to stand, help him learn how to sit down and lay down from the standing position during the day, practice this 2-3 times a day until he has mastered the skill to sit and lay down.
  • Sometimes bedtime needs to move 30 mins earlier or later depending on which regression your baby is going through.

Navigating a baby’s sleep is hard, and throwing regressions into the mix doesn’t make it any easier. Following a schedule and implementing good sleep habits early on will certainly help you down the line and will allow you to recognize when something like a sleep regression is occurring with your baby. You will feel confident in your ability to determine whether or not your baby is just having a few rough nights, or if he is going through a regression due to the inconsistency in his sleep patterns that weren't there before. We love educating families about their little one’s sleep, and getting them on the right track with healthier sleep habits. If you have tried everything to help your baby get on a good sleep schedule, and feel like you need a little extra guidance let us help!

About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

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Working with Shannon, I went from 2-3 wake ups every night to 1 or 0. She aligned the plan with my preferred sleep cycle. She was always coaching, never judging. Shannon was great, I have referred MANY people to her! That's the best testament to her work that I can give.

Laura

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