You are exhausted but feeling pretty invincible right now because you feel as if you have this parenting thing down pat. And, then BOOM… your four-month-old decides that sleep is over-rated. Is this a sleep regression? What exactly is a sleep regression? How long do baby sleep regressions last?
The good news: sleep regressions are perfectly normal. And, yes, they do come to an end. We are here to help you get through this challenging time. Read on for signs of sleep regression, the different stages at which a sleep regression may occur, and some tips on coping with it all!
Sleep Regression Meaning: What is Sleep Regression?
A sleep regression is a phase in which your little one goes from sleeping well to struggling with sleep. Sleep regressions will usually last two to four weeks. However, they can last as long as six weeks.
4 Signs of Sleep Regression
The most notable sign of sleep regression is when your baby’s sleeping patterns suddenly worsen. Other indicators of sleep regression may include:
- Difficulty with settling for naps and/or less napping.
- Waking up several times at night.
- Changes in their appetite.
- General fussiness.
Sleep regressions are the result of normal childhood development. As exhausted as you are and as frustrating as it may be to experience, it points to a good thing. Your baby is growing, physically and mentally. They are learning new things and becoming more engaged with the world around them!
At different ages, sleep regressions may be due to various reasons. The 4-month sleep regression is usually attributed to a change in sleeping patterns. Later regressions could be a result of your little one being near to or achieving certain physical milestones. For example, scooting, crawling, or standing up. Other causes of baby sleep regressions include:
- A growth spurt, as this may make your little one extra hungry and wake for a night feed, or two!
- Traveling often entails changes to a sleep routine or a different sleep environment.
- Changes to routine. For example, starting at daycare or mom going back to work.
- Illness, such as an ear infection, a blocked nose, or a sore throat.
- Teething pain.
When Do Sleep Regressions Happen?
There are several baby sleep regression stages. It is unlikely that your child will go through a full-blown regression at each developmental milestone.
The 4-month Sleep Regression
The first sleep regression you are likely to experience is when your baby is in the region of four months old. If your little one was sleeping through the night, they might start waking up once or twice. They will wake crying out for comfort and might be cranky and difficult to settle again.
One of the reasons given for the 4-month sleep regression is the development of your little one’s circadian rhythms. The time that an adult spends sleeping cycles through stages of light and deep sleep. On the other hand, a newborn spends more time in deep sleep. At 10 – 12 weeks of age, your baby's sleep patterns will change to be more like yours. They start experiencing these lighter stages of sleep in which they are more likely to wake up.
Many babies experience a significant growth spurt at 6 months. So, while it might feel like your little one is going through a sleep regression, this is not usually the case.
At, or around, the 9-month mark, many babies start crawling. At 10 months, they might be learning to stand. Your baby might also develop object permanence around this age. Object permanence is defined as your little one’s ability to know that something continues to exist even though they can no longer see or hear the object. Along with this milestone, often comes perfectly normal separation anxiety. Both the physical and mental developmental milestones being achieved during this time may result in difficulty sleeping.
By this age, babies are learning to stand up. Some might even be taking their first steps. These new physical abilities are likely to cause disruptions in their sleep patterns. And also cause complications when putting them to bed at night, because now they can stand up in their cot!
Several factors could cause a sleep regression at this stage. Your baby has learned to walk. They have gained some independence. And their language skills are developing very rapidly.
Separation anxiety is even more of a reality at this age. And another doozie – your 18-month-old might be teething… molars… ouch! No surprise that sleep may be a bit intermittent.
10 Tips on How to Handle Sleep Regression
As frustrating as they are, baby sleep regressions are a normal part of parenthood. But that does not mean that they should get the better of you. Here are some tips on how to deal with sleep regressions so that you and your little one can get back into a healthy sleep routine as quickly as possible.
- Keep your bedtime routine consistent. For example, dinner, bath, storytime, lullabies, goodnight kiss.
- Sleep begets sleep. An overtired baby is more likely to struggle to settle at night and to stay asleep. Make sure that your little one is getting enough sleep during the day.
- Be flexible. You might need to adjust your daily routine slightly to accommodate different napping or sleeping times during a sleep regression phase.
- If you can get your baby to bed before they become overtired, chances are they will fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. Know your baby’s sleep cues and watch out for them. For example, rubbing eyes, yawning, failure to make eye contact, fussiness.
- Your baby is only going to learn to self-soothe if you allow them the time to do so. When your baby starts fussing at night, don’t be too quick off the mark to go and soothe them. Leave them for a few minutes, they might self-soothe back to sleep.
- If your baby does not self-soothe after a few minutes, check on them to make sure that everything is okay. Quietly reassure them with a few gentle words and a little rub on the tummy or a pat on the head. Leave the room.
- Try to avoid picking your baby up and rocking or cuddling them back to sleep. This could encourage them to call out for you when they wake at night.
- Is your little one experiencing separation anxiety or stress from a life change? To reassure them and help them feel more secure at night, spend time giving extra attention during the day and before bedtime.
- Try not to employ any help-to-sleep tactics or sleep crutches that will be challenging to maintain over the long term.
- Don’t be shy to lean on others and reach out for help. You cannot pour from an empty cup. If you are too tired to think straight, it is time for a nap. Ask a friend or relative to come and play with your baby for an hour or two so that you can get some uninterrupted shut-eye. You and your baby will be better off for it.
Baby Sleep Regressions are a Normal Part of Childhood Development
Every child is unique. Some might experience more baby sleep regressions than others. If your child is struggling particularly with sleep regressions, it is not a direct reflection of your parenting skills. But do not hesitate to check in with your pediatrician to make sure that there aren’t any underlying health issues that could be causing sleeping difficulties for your baby.
Before you know it, the sleep regression months will be over. You won’t miss the exhaustion, but you might miss the late-night cuddles and quiet bonding times. Each stage of your child’s development has ups and downs. Make the most of it and trust that this too shall pass.