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Sleep Regressions: What to Do When Your Baby Won’t Sleep

Recently as we lay our 8-month old down to sleep he will roll over, get up on all fours and begin to rock. If he wakes during the night, oftentimes as I peek at the monitor I’ll see him doing the same thing. It's a familiar sight – he’s been working hard at crawling and sure likes to practice it by rocking and moving around his crib. 

Whether it be crawling or clapping, our little ones tend to use this time in their crib to practice new skills, And while learning these new skills is great, when it begins to impact their sleep you might feel a bit differently about it.

As a new parent, one of the most precious and challenging aspects of caring for your baby is navigating their sleep. Just when you think you've settled into a routine, you might find yourself facing what is commonly known as a "sleep regression." These periods can be frustrating and confusing, but understanding them can make a world of difference in how you handle them.

What is a Sleep Regression?

A sleep regression refers to a period when a baby who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking up frequently during the night and/or resisting naps or fighting bedtime. These regressions often coincide with your baby learning new skills, such as rolling, crawling, and walking, and can occur at various stages in their early months and years. 

Causes of Sleep Regressions

Sleep regressions are often linked to developmental milestones and growth spurts. Here are some common examples:

  • Physical development: Rolling over, crawling, walking, and teething can all affect sleep.

  • Cognitive milestones: Increased awareness, separation anxiety, and new cognitive skills can lead to disruptions.

  • Changes in routine: Travel, illness, starting daycare (for more tips on this check out this blog), or any disruption to the usual schedule can impact sleep patterns.

  • Sleep associations or props: Babies may start relying on specific conditions that they now need to fall back asleep during night wakings (example: being rocked to sleep).

Let’s take a quick peek at what these might look like at various ages and then I’ll share what you as parents can do to cope and work through them!

4-Month Sleep Regression

This is actually the only true sleep regression and typically happens between 3-5 months old. We prefer to call it a sleep progression - during this time babies experience significant changes in their sleep patterns and go from having 2 sleep cycles (light/deep) to 4 sleep cycles, just like you and I as adults! 

More on tackling the 4 month sleep regression in this blog!

8-Month Sleep Regression

Another common regression occurs when babies become more mobile cue crawling or pulling up to stand

These physical developments can disrupt sleep patterns as babies practice their new skills.

You may also see a regression in sleep at this stage due to separation anxiety. Working at independent sleep can aid in this issue, as your child won’t be reliant on your presence at bedtime. 

12-Month Sleep Regression

Some babies experience disruptions around their first birthday due to separation anxiety, language development, or walking. There are a lot of transitions at this time that can affect sleep! 

More on tackling the 12-month sleep regression in this podcast!

18-Month Sleep Regression

This regression often coincides with a burst in language development and increased cognitive abilities, which can lead to more frequent night wakings.

At this age, your little one may go from not talking to talking and jabbering all the time! Feel free to leave them to babble in their crib as long as they’re content.

24-Month Sleep Regression

This regression often coincides with a burst in language development and again potentially due to separation anxiety (this seems to pop up every 6 months or so!)

Please know that not all children have all sleep regressions; however, when they do, here are some strategies to cope!

Sleep Regression Coping Strategies for Parents

So you’re telling me this whole sleep regression thing might happen every 6+/- months, how do we deal with this???

Experiencing sleep regressions can be exhausting, but remember, it is temporary. 

Here are some strategies to help you and your baby navigate this challenging time:

  1. Stick to a bedtime routine: Consistency is key. Establish a soothing bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it's time to sleep.

  2. Create a conducive sleep environment: Ensure the room is dark, quiet (we encourage the use of a sound machine to block out any external noises or disturbances), and at a comfortable temperature. 

  3. Stay flexible: Be prepared to adjust nap times and bedtime as needed to accommodate your baby's changing sleep patterns. Soak in the extra cuddles and know that it will pass with time and consistency.

  4. Maintain daytime routines: Consistent daytime schedules can help regulate nighttime sleep. Ensure your baby gets enough physical activity and exposure to natural light when they are awake throughout the day.

  5. Practice New Skills During Awake Time: Your baby is going to have developmental milestones such as walking, talking, etc. Practice, practice, practice these skills while your child is awake as much as you can! That will help them master those skills.

  6. Seek support: Don't hesitate to reach out to other parents, pediatricians, or us for advice and support! Sometimes just knowing you're not alone can make a big difference. 

Navigating baby sleep regressions requires patience, understanding, and flexibility. Remember, every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another. If you are consistent with your response, your child should get through a sleep regression in a week or two.

If your child is not yet sleep trained, during a sleep regression is a great time to do this! If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to us to talk more today!

For more tips on how to handle your baby’s sleep regressions check out this episode of our Coffee and Catnaps podcast.

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