Updated: Aug 15, 2022
I bet you didn't know that there's actually one true sleep regression...or did you??
Today we are going to get into all the "sleep regressions" - when they commonly happen, what causes them, and how you can handle them, because, honestly, sleep isn't optional - it's a basic need!
What is a sleep regression and why do they happen?
A sleep regression is just that - a regression with sleep - due to some sort of development, often characterized by bedtime battles, short (or no) naps, more frequent night wakings, and sometimes early morning wakings. Sometimes it's due to physiological development, physical milestone development, cognitive development, or language development. Often, when your baby is on the verge of learning a new skill, or shortly thereafter, they feel the need to practice this skill...even during their sleep...and we see it in the form of a regression. Not all children have sleep regressions. Some may experience one or two, some may experience them all. Some experience regressions in other areas - feeding or toileting, for example.
Handling the Regressions
The best advice I can give regarding all the regressions is to focus on starting with and then maintaining a healthy sleep foundation to fall back on. Have a plan and know how you're going to respond when a regression hits so that you don't lose the progress you've made and so that you don't backtrack with your baby's sleep...too much. Also, make sure that daytime sleep is on-point. During a regression, we don't also want to be dealing with overtiredness. Just thinking about an overtired and regressing baby makes me cringe! Make sleep a priority when you can.
Regressions can last up to two weeks. Being consistent with your response during this time can help your baby work through it more quickly. Let's get into the specifics of each one:
The 4-Month Sleep Regression - The BIG One
This regression is actually the only regression that is wholly related to sleep. Between 3-5 months of age (hence the "4-month" regression) your baby's sleep goes through a physiological change where it reorganizes from only two sleep cycles to a full four that they will have for the rest of their life. A baby's sleep cycles are shorter than an adult's, and this is why a baby going through the 4-month regression often wakes every 45 minutes or so! With the rise and fall of each sleep cycle, there are now more opportunities for them to wake up.
Your baby may also start rolling around this age, which is another thing that can interrupt sleep. Practice this skill during the day to help your baby master it - hopefully then they won't feel the need to do it in the middle of the night. If you haven't yet, removing the swaddle is a must when your baby starts showing signs of rolling, as it's a safety hazard if they roll over in the swaddle and get stuck.
The 6-Month Sleep Regression
Around 6-8 months, your baby may be starting to crawl. Another major milestone = another regression. As with rolling, you'll want to help your baby practice their newly found skills during their awake time as much as you can!
Most babies around this age also experience some separation anxiety, so know that there might be some feelings around this. If you're considering sleep training, it can be really hard for some kiddos to have mom or dad going in and out of the room so consider your baby's personality and where they're at with separation anxiety to choose a method they might do well with for this stage in their development.
The 12-Month Sleep Regression
This regression can happen anywhere between 10-14 months and is characterized, again, by another bout of separation anxiety, language development, and potentially walking. Just when you seem to get through one thing, another hits. I get so many tune-up calls scheduled with families around this time simply because of everything going on developmentally.
Stay consistent. Make sure your little one is on the most appropriate schedule for them (most are on 2 naps right now) and that you're also separating feeding from sleep.
The 18-Month Sleep Regression
You might notice a fairly large language burst at this time, and, you guessed it - another regression! You might hear your little one babbling away in their crib in the early morning hours or before or after a nap. As long as they're content, leave them be to offer the opportunity to extend the sleep. You might again notice some separation anxiety around this time too. Hang in there, mama! Soak in the extra cuddles and know that it will pass with time and consistency.
The 24-Month Sleep Regression
Another year, another regression! More language development is usually the culprit of this regression. IF your child is potty-trained around this time (most are not, but some are ready around this time) you might also see a regression with toileting. This is why I recommend waiting to toilet train until you are 100% certain your child is READY to be potty trained. I'm no potty training expert (I have friends who specialize in this, so reach out if you need a referral!), but I've found in my past nanny, daycare, and teaching years, and with my oldest son, that you'll have more success with the process if your child is totally and completely ready. Like, we pre-trained for like 6 months and Bram was trying to take his diaper off to pee on the floor and that's when we knew he was ready, around 26 months! If this regression doesn't come in the form of toileting, it likely will present itself with sleep.
As with the others, STAY CONSISTENT with your response and your child should get through it within a week or two.
Moving Forward During or After a Regression
If your child is not yet sleep trained, there's no time like the present. Teaching independent sleep skills will only help your baby get through these regressions more easily.
The only times I don't recommend sleep training are:
if your baby is less than 16-weeks-old
if your baby is sick
if you're traveling within the next 2-3 weeks
If your baby is teething or going through a regression, DO IT! Do it now! It can't be worse than it already is, right??
If you don't know where to start, or just want some help navigating your child's sleep check out our services page - we are happy to help!