Just when you finally start to feel like you’ve got your little one’s sleep figured out, suddenly everything changes. Now, before you start questioning everything you’ve done or changed in the last month, take a breath! It’s quite possible that your little one is experiencing a sleep regression. I’m here to remind you that even though they can be challenging, test your patience, and are absolutely exhausting, they are also temporary. Since we can’t completely avoid sleep regressions from happening, I’m going to help you learn all about them, how to navigate them, and how to cope and support your little one through them.
What are sleep regressions?
A sleep regression is when your child was sleeping great and now they’re experiencing some difficulties during naps and throughout the night and changes in their habits. On this side of the hive, we like to call them “progressions” for a few reasons. One, because “regression” refers to “a return to a former or less developed state”. This is actually the opposite of what is happening! Your baby’s sleep isn’t actually regressing—their sleep it’s being disrupted for a period of time because they are learning, developing, and growing.
Why do sleep regressions happen?
During a sleep regression, your child is experiencing a lot of changes. Their brain is developing and working hard to learn new motor and cognitive skills, This increase in brain activity can make it difficult for your little one to settle down and stay asleep during the lighter stages of sleep cycles. They become more stimulated, excited, frustrated, and feel the urge to practice their cool new trick when they should actually be sleeping!
Here are some reasons why your child might be experiencing a sleep regression:
- Developmental milestones: sitting, crawling, walking, and talking
- Growth spurts
- Increased awareness of their environment
- Separation anxiety
- Becoming more independent
- Developing circadian rhythm: research shows that it begins developing in the utero and continues to develop in the early years of a child’s life.
What are the signs of a sleep regression?
Not all babies will show the same signs, however here are a few indicators that your busy bee is going through a sleep regression:
- Increased crying, irritability, and fussiness: It may be more difficult to soothe your baby both during the day and night.
- Disrupted sleep patterns: Short and/or skipped naps, waking frequently during the night, early morning wakings, bedtime battles due to mood.
- Increased physical contact: Your child might want more attention and/or to be held and comforter more often.
- Changes in their appetite: this can look like an increase or decrease in feedings.
How long do sleep regressions last?
While there is not much research that has been done on sleep regressions, the research from a study that was conducted in 2002 showed that on average, regressions lasted for two weeks, however there was a range of 1-4 weeks.
What are common ages for sleep regressions?
Your little one can experience sleep regressions throughout the first two years of life, but they are common around the ages of 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months. It’s important to remember that every baby is different and they can go through regression periods at different ages.
Here is a little bit about what is happening at these ages:
4 month sleep regression
A newborn baby cycles through two stages of sleep—deep sleep and REM. At around 4 months, a baby’s circadian rhythm re-organizes from these newborn sleep patterns into more mature and adult-like sleep patterns that include lighter stages of sleep.
6 month sleep regression
Around this age, your child might be learning that they can do some pretty cool things like roll over, sit up, and crawl. Even when they are tired and should be sleeping, their little brain just can’t turn off, they NEED to practice until they’ve perfected. So mama, do lots of practicing during the day to help speed things up!
8 month sleep regression
Now that your little one can crawl around, they’ve likely realized that they can pull themselves up and scale the couch… and anything else they come in contact with. You might have experienced that sheer anxiety when turning on the baby monitor and seeing your little one standing and walking across their crib (yep, I’ve been there too!). Too bad nap and bedtime isn’t the time to show off these new skills! It’s also possible that your little one is experiencing some separation anxiety as they’re beginning to learn about object permanence.
12 month sleep regression
Your child is likely learning how to walk and talk just in time for their first birthday! They might be starting daycare or switching to a one-nap schedule. With so much happening around this age, it’s very possible that all of these things can be the culprit of some new sleep challenges.
18 month sleep regression
Now that your child is running around and calling demands, they’re getting a taste of independence. These cognitive and emotional changes, and all that stamina they seem to have can cause bedtime battles, frequent night wakings, and short naps.
24 month sleep regression
I don’t know about your 2-year-old, but mine talks non-stop, does not stop moving, and remembers everything (just like that popsicle I told her she could have later). This age is so much fun and of course we’re never bored or left in awkward silence, but all of these developmental changes can be the reason they’re having a hard time settling.
How to support my baby through a sleep regression?
Since we learned that there isn’t much that can be done to avoid sleep regressions, here are some tips for coping with them:
Of course this is easier said than done, but trust me, you’ll thank yourself for it in a few weeks! Aim to stick to your schedules, routines, and sleep habits. Your baby didn’t forget how to sleep, they’re just experiencing some temporary difficulties. I encourage offering some extra support and comfort for a few weeks, but I also encourage continuing with healthy sleep habits so that once the regression is over, sleep can go back to normal.
Follow an age appropriate schedule
If your child has been going through a sleep regression for a few weeks, it might be time to adjust their awake windows. Ensuring they they’re not becoming overtired or going to bed under-tired can make all the difference when it comes to sleep.
Offer a comfort item
If your little one doesn’t already use a lovey, now might be a great time to introduce one. This can help your child feel more secure.
Practice, practice, practice
When you practice these new skills with your baby, they will learn them much quicker. This also provides an opportunity to show them how to roll over, sit up, stand up, and walk safely.
Whether this is from a family member or a friend, remember to ask for help and take a break if you need it. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes for some self-care.
A little one who has great sleep skills can have an easier time transitioning through sleep cycles throughout a regression. If you are looking for a solution to your child’s sleep challenges, I am always here to help! To learn more, book a Sleep in Your Hive Consult. I would love to chat with you!