What Is Sleep Regression in Babies?
Is your baby who was sleeping beautifully through the night suddenly waking up in the middle of the night? Or is your baby boycotting naps and bedtime like crazy all of a sudden? This could be a sleep regression! So… what is sleep regression? Sleep regression is a period of time when your baby who was a great sleeper suddenly starts resisting naps, taking short naps or waking up during the night. Your baby is constantly learning and developing new skills and this can impact their sleep and cause sleep problems. While these new and exciting skills (such as walking or talking) are so amazing to see, it can be really frustrating and confusing to parents when it comes to our babies sleep.
What is Sleep Regression in Babies?
The first we typically see of a sleep regression is around 4 months old. You’ll hear the dreaded 4 month sleep regression talked about in all the parenting blogs, accounts and forums. This is when babies’ sleep cycles are maturing and changing and the perfect time to start working on independent sleep with your baby. The 4 month sleep regression is quite infamous, you think you’ve just gotten this baby sleep pattern thing maybe figured out when BAM, your baby is taking super short naps, hates being laid down and basically is just flat out refusing that sleep that they so badly need. During this developmental progression, it’s actually a great time to start working on getting your child on a sleep schedule.
During the first two years of a child’s life their growth and development increases exponentially. They are constantly learning new skills, their little brains are on overdrive! There are also several growth spurts that go in within your child’s first two years of life. With all of this development going on it can cause restlessness in your baby, leading to a sleep regression. Sleep regressions typically happen during milestone developments around 4, 8, 12, 18 and 24 months. Now, they don’t happen on the exact day that your baby turns 4 months, 8 months, 12 months, et cetera, but they typically happen around those times. They can last from a few days to a few weeks, but with consistency you can make it to the other side and get past the regression without losing all of those wonderful sleep skills that you have taught your baby!
Signs of Sleep Regression
Some of the most common signs of sleep regression are:
- Resisting naps or bedtime sleep
- Taking a long time to fall asleep
- Having trouble falling back asleep
- Overnight wakeups
- Short naps
- Overall fussiness at nap or bedtime
I recently wrote a blog post about when babies go through sleep regressions. This post goes in depth on when the different regressions hit, signs that they are coming and tips on how to work through them at each stage. Your baby may be extra sensitive to each sleep regression, or they may breeze through without any change to their sleep. Each baby is different but it is so helpful and useful to be armed with this information so that you can help your baby get to the other side of the regression.
Causes of Sleep Regression
Now that we know what sleep regression is, what signs to look for, let’s dive into the causes of sleep regression. Typically we can pinpoint what is causing the regression by looking at what new skills or developmental milestones our babies have recently gone through.
Some of the most obvious causes of sleep regression are:
Crawling, scooting, pulling up to stand, walking
Any sort of new physical movement in babies is a HUGE development. One that is so exciting to see but also means that their bodies and brains are making a giant leap in learning a new skill.
Babbling, talking, advanced language development
There are few things more exciting than hearing your baby say “mama” or “dada” for the first time. Or when they start to babble their incoherent baby talk and then finally get the hang of saying real words, talk about a heartwarming moment!! When babies start talking and babbling, their brains are going into overdrive trying to figure things out.
Separation anxiety and social development
Babies are inherently social creatures. As babies and toddlers they love to snuggle and cuddle and be talked to and played with as well as meet new people and hang around with other kids. At a certain point they realize that they’d much rather be with you then be in their cribs sleeping alone! Separation anxiety can be a huge development for some kids that can have a REAL impact on sleep. Does your baby cry out for you once you lay them down? This may be their way of telling you “hey mom come back, let’s hang out some more!” It’s not necessarily that they are scared or afraid!
Teething can have a MAJOR impact on sleep. It can cause a major discomfort to your baby. I’m sure a lot of you have been told “just wait until they start teething” in warning about what’s to come with your baby. Teething can be some of the hardest times we go through with our babies in that first year or so because it feels like there’s nothing we can do to soothe them.
Illness and teething can typically go hand in hand with the impacts they can have on infant sleep. When a baby is in pain (teething), has a fever, is congested or just plain doesn’t feel good they can have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. When a baby is sick or not feeling well, it’s usually best to adapt to their current needs and then get back to the basics of their sleep routine once they feel better.
The above items are just some of the main causes of sleep regression. My post on when sleep regressions happen also goes into more detail about what causes which regression and some quick tips on how to make it through each regression.
How to Manage Sleep Regression
There are several key ways to manage sleep regressions.
The biggest one is CONSISTENCY!!
Consistency is your best friend when it comes to addressing and getting past a sleep regression. If your baby is suddenly really struggling with sleep and you haven’t done any sort of sleep training yet, now is the time to consider it! Whether your baby is 4 months old or 18 months old, as a sleep consultant I can help you and your baby get through this and set up a solid sleep foundation for current and future regressions.
Another big one in staying consistent is sticking with the same bedtime routine every night, regression or not. Your child’s bedtime routine cues their brain that it’s time for bed and time to wind down. Bedtime routines don’t have to be a long drawn out process, simply pick a few key things to do and do them every time it is time for sleep. This can really help build solid sleeping habits in your baby! One caveat to this is that if your baby is sick or not feeling well, adjust the routine to what works best right now and offer care and comfort when they need it. Just remember to get back to your original routine once they’re feeling back to themselves.
Something that parents often overlook when their baby hits a sleep regression is remembering to give the baby time to self soothe.
Oftentimes when our babies are great sleepers and they suddenly wake up crying during the night we rush right in to see what is wrong. Taking a moment to wake up yourself, watch your baby on the monitor for a moment and give them time to settle themselves back down can sometimes be all they need to get past this little blip in their sleep.
I hope that this post was helpful in making sleep regressions feel more manageable for you. I am always here if you need help with this or any other sleep troubles you may have!