Is Your Baby Going Through a Sleep Regression, a Phase, or Is It a Habit?

sleep regression phase or habitA great client of mine sent me this idea for an article about how to know whether your baby is going through a sleep regression or a phase. This is the same client who is a strong advocate of Attachment Parenting who contacted me over a year ago about her then 10 month old. She is now expecting a new baby, which is very exciting! This article will consider whether your baby is going through a sleep regression, a phase, or whether your baby or toddler simply has a bad habit.

One primary benefit I have over other parents is YOUR experience. What I mean by that is that, sure, I have my own personal experience with my son who inspired this website, but now that I’ve helped countless parents and approaching my 10,000th e-mail (you can see the counter on the homepage here, which is almost real-time and updates ever so often), I see patterns that most parents don’t have the luxury of seeing. I am very analytical, so I connect things that others may not, since my mind looks for patterns, even when I don’t mean to. I benefit from your experience and know the potential pitfalls to look out for, not only from my own experience, but from all of yours, too. It’s actually very interesting to put it all together!

My experience (or maybe I should say OUR experience) tells me that MANY people will have sleep troubles around the same time:

  • 4 months old – This is probably one of the biggest trouble spots for many new parents (though only some will consider it a sleep problem until 6 months, waiting for baby to “get over it”). The way your baby sleeps fundamentally changes and it never changes back!
  • 8 months old – This one is another big one, but doesn’t always happen in the eighth month. This can be around 8, 9, or 10 months and usually related to a lot of development going on with your baby. This usually gets better a few weeks later, though it’s easy to develop new long-term habits trying to deal with it.
  • 11 months old – I hear about this one enough to know I wasn’t alone, but not enough to say it’s a “big” problem for all families. Around 11 months old, I have found that some babies will start fighting one or both naps and then it will pass 2-3 weeks later.
  • 18 months old – I have not written an article about this one (yet), but this is a common age to hear from parents about their toddler’s sleep, usually related to napping, night waking, and testing limits or questions about discipline.
  • 2 years old – Around this age, I find many parents writing to me about bedtime getting later, which is common at this age, especially in the summer.

These are all very common trouble spots and, as I always say, the biggest “danger” with these times is to make new long-term habits such that something that would have been temporary becomes a long-term sleep problem for you and your baby.

Are there other challenging times? You bet! I would say the first two years (sometimes three) are difficult, regardless, but around 7 months, your baby begins developing separation anxiety, then there is teething, of course, and other issues like that come up here and there. Some will simply be more sensitive to all the changes than others.

So, how do you know if you are seeing a sleep regression or a phase?

First, I should explain that a “sleep regression” has been a term that people have used to say “Sleep really messes up at this time, but don’t worry it will go back to normal.” But, a “regression” implies that something will go back to how it once was and, in that regard, I would say only the “8 month sleep regression” fits the definition. 18 months is a close second, but if you aren’t careful, that strong independence-seeking stage can bleed into 2 and 3 years old and that’s a heckuva long “regression!” At 4 months, your baby changes how he sleeps and while some will then begin to sleep better without you changing anything, he will never sleep the same. At 8 months, this is generally a “blip” due to rapid development and the simple inability to sleep with so much going on in their minds. As long as you don’t inadvertently make some new long-term habits, your baby most likely will get past this in 3 to 6 weeks and go back to how he was sleeping before. If it was bad before, though, that may not be very desirable!

Every other “blip” in your baby’s sleep, I would call a “phase”. Anytime your baby or toddler is working on a new developmental milestone (whether you can “see” it or not), it may affect his sleep. This is going to be quite a lot of “phases” in the first few years. They learn a LOT in a short amount of time! Just to name a few, they learn names of objects, how to roll, crawl, pull up, stand up, sign language, and/or hand gestures, walk, talk, object permanence, eat, cause and effect, and so on and there are likely lots of “little” things we don’t even realize. Some of the things we’ve taken for granted that we know we have to teach our kids. All of that can make some babies feel unsettled, insecure, happy, tired, over-tired, excited, over-stimulated or all of the above! No wonder they can’t sleep, sometimes!

When is it a sleep habit?

There is no black and white as far as when you have a sleep regression, phase, or a habit, but my general rule of thumb is 2-3 weeks. If you have an abrupt sleep change, try to give your baby 1-3 weeks to see if something reveals itself. It could be a new tooth or a new “trick” or even an illness a few days later. There is no reason to feel alarmed that something has changed until it has “stuck” and then that’s when I tend to tell people to take action.

If your baby wasn’t sleeping well before and then starts to sleep worse, that would be another reason to start working on sleep. Sleep may not become perfect until the sleep regression is over, for example, but it could be a whole lot better if your baby WAS waking 3 times per night and is now waking 6-8 times per night, which is excessive even for a sleep regression.

In the end, you know your baby best and, although you may be a new mom or on your third baby and forgot everything from your younger one(s), your instincts will guide you more than you think. As soon as you start to feel resentment or that you can barely function or, worse, your baby can barely function, it’s likely time to do something about it. Although it may be your fault your baby won’t sleep doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Only some will eventually grow out of their sleep problems. I work with parents of toddlers all the time still waiting for their baby to grow out of the same sleep problems they had at 4 months old!

If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan® you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

How do you decide if your baby is going through a phase or has a sleep habit?

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23 thoughts on “Is Your Baby Going Through a Sleep Regression, a Phase, or Is It a Habit?”

  1. I know this site is intended for mothers but I hope you’ll read my comment as a father. While my wife is the one mostly struggling with our 8-month old, I do help out when I’m not struggling to build a business and provide for my family. And yes, I do get up at least once every night to be with our 8-month old.

    I’m reading about your 8-month old regression and your comments about determining whether it’s a “simple” regression or something more is what has me worried. I say this because our son’s “regression” has definitely spanned more than 6 weeks. Frankly, I don’t remember the last time he slept through the entire night…I think it was at 2 or 3 months old.

    Let me paint a picture. Our son loves to sleep on his side or stomach and absolutely detests sleeping on his back. So, every night, once one of us has walked laps in his room to get him to sleep, he’ll roll onto his side or stomach as soon as we put him down in his crib. Within 1.5-2 hours, he’s screaming because he’s either rolled into the side of the crib or onto his back and will not stop crying until one of us picks him up. Within 5-10 minutes, he’s back to sleeping in the crib. Then, after another 2-3 hours, he’s crying for mother’s milk. My wife doesn’t think he drinks much in that nightly serving but he falls asleep anyways, but only for another 1-1.5 hours, at which point he needs someone to help him again. If at that point he’s back to sleep, it again is only for an hour or so, by which point he’s awake and ready to “party” at around 4am. In other words, he’s not crying but talking and gleefully yelling, which is a problem because he has a 4 year old sister in the next room who, if she doesn’t sleep through the night, turns into a day terror, leaving us with 24 hours of “fun” (which also limits our ability to just let him cry it out).

    And yes, it is my wife that deals with most of that “fun” but when I console her afterwards and absorb some of her angst, it becomes my “fun” too, especially in the night as she’s a light sleeper and unable to fill the hours he’s asleep with her own semi-decent sleep. And ladies, I’m not complaining so please don’t say that your husbands are terrible fathers. Maybe some are, but not all. As is evident by my comment, I’m here because I’m worried about my entire family, not just myself.

    So I don’t know, maybe I’m just venting. But if you have any input on how we can figure out if this is more than just a regression, I know my whole family would be forever blessed and thankful.

    • Hi @Adrian, thank you so much for writing to us! I’ll first off say that we of course welcome all parents! We do have a higher population of mothers so often you may see our articles are more leaning towards women (but those may be our older articles as we’ve been around a long time – we know as mothers ourselves that many fathers are definitely involved – my husband being one of the all stars like yourself as well). I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been struggling with your son’s sleep. I know that can be particularly challenging when you have another child to take care of during the day so your wife is unable to get a break even when the baby naps because she has to be “on” for your daughter.
      We have a ton of resources that can help. It does sound like it’s more than a regression since it’s been happening since he was 2-3 months old, but I don’t say that to scare you – we have worked with MANY families in the same situation as yours and it is possible to overcome this and get better sleep (without crying it out as well and therefore disturbing your daughter). To start, here is a link to a free guide with tips to help your baby sleep through the night:
      This guide will likely be a good place to start but because it’s a free resource, you’ll find it may not be enough for your situation (it often is for families, but is totally dependent on the situation). From there, if you would like it, we would love to walk through this with you. We have a team of sleep consultants that are ready to help you step by step through the process, and they will take into account all of the things you mentioned have been obstacles through this. To read more about our personalized consulting which I think would be hugely beneficial to you, please visit here:
      I realize you may have more questions about how it all works so please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact us directly anytime at [email protected]
      Thanks again for writing and we look forward to hearing from you. Hang in there!!

  2. Our 17-month old has always been an absolute champion sleeper. But this week she just refuses to go down without third and fourth tries. I’m concerned we are creating bad habits by going in to soothe her when we’ve never had to do this before. Is this a do-what-we-must situation and just get through it? Or should we let her cry it out and figure it out on her own?

    • Hi @Ray, thanks for writing to us. I’m sorry to hear you’ve suddenly started struggling with your daughter’s sleep! If this is the 18 month sleep regression (very possible as it can come a little early than that), we generally suggest to keep things as normal as possible in order to not create bad habits. I know it’s a fine line to walk to decide how to comfort your child without becoming an enabler to their sudden revolt to sleep! Here is a link to a free guide with additional tips to help with toddler sleep that may help:
      Usually regressions smooth out in a few weeks so if this persists for months and months it’s likely you’ll need to create a plan to get things back on track. If you need help with anything, we have a ton of resources and we’d love to help you as much as you need, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that! Hang in there!

  3. My 8-month-old is usually a champ sleeper. He recently dropped his last night/early morning feeding, and usually, if he wakes up in the middle of the night he soothes himself and is back to sleep within 5 minutes. However, he has just learned how to pull himself up to standing – the past few nights when he wakes up, he stands up in his crib and gets “stuck” (he hasn’t quite figured out how to sit back down without a jolt, and it scares him a little). I tried going in the lay him back down but once he sees me he gets mad if I leave without picking him up (which leads to prolonged crying – longer than I’m comfortable for “cry it out time). Picking him up to soothe him makes him want to eat and more crying if he doesn’t. So now he’s picked his middle of the night feeding back up and it is a huge ordeal.
    I’m at a loss – do I just deal with the regression until he figures out how to sit himself back down, do I let him cry it out longer and hope he’ll get tired enough to plop back down eventually, do I go in and soothe him and skip the feeding even if he cries?

    • Hi @Jessica K, I am sorry you’ve been struggling recently with your son’s sleep! It can be challenging when they learn a new skill such as pulling up, but it will pass soon, probably in the next few days/weeks! With sleep regressions, just try to stay as consistent to the normal routine as possible to not build any additional bad habits that last longer than the regression. Here is a link to a free guide that may have some additional tips with help for sleeping through the night which will hopefully help:
      Hang in there and I hope this passes for you quickly!

  4. Great article!! I have a baby that is about to turn 7 months in a week. Since the end of month 5 and all of month 6 her sleeping has changed drastically. She use to be able to sooth her self back to sleep if she woke up at night. Now she wakes up crying and won’t go back to sleep unless myself or my husband go in, pick her up, and sooth her. We try to put her back down in the crib while she’s still awake and she won’t have any of it. Side note. She’s been and is still teething. So I wonder if this is the reason why. We give her some Tylenol before she goes to bed but that still doesn’t help, because she’s waking up 4 + hrs later. We will then give her some more and we’re up for 1.5 – 2 hrs trying to get her to sleep in her crib and not in our arms. It’s not till we feed her which by the way we didn’t have to before that she’ll fall sleep in our arms and we can finally lay her down in the crib without her waking. HELP!! What is going on?

    • Hi @Celena Powers – thanks for writing to us. I am so sorry to hear that you have been struggling with your 7 month old’s sleep! It can be tricky to say what exactly is happening, but I know that teething is really challenging for some babies (mine included) so it could be making a sleep issue even worse! We have a free guide to help with some tips to sleep through the night that you can download here:
      I’ll also mention that while some 7 month olds can sleep through the night without a feeding, others may still need 1 feeding for a while but it will take time to figure out if she is waking because she needs to be fed or if it is a habitual waking that could be eliminated. If you need focused help with this, we can help! Our sleep consultants can look at the full situation and create a plan and offer advise specifically for her. If you are interested, you can see our offerings here:
      I hope this helps!

  5. My 21 month old is literally crying the entire night – nonsleep for her, my husband, or myself. She is never like this – always a 730-830 sleeper. We tried everything we could. Is there anything associated with 21 months?

    • @Mary – I am so sorry to hear that your daughter (and as a result, you and your husband) is not sleeping! There are no typical regressions at 21 months, but there is an 18 month and a 2 year sleep regression which she’s right in between the average age for the regressions to hit. If this is something that’s suddenly happening, is there the chance that she is not feeling well, or perhaps you have been traveling or been off schedule recently which has led to her getting over tired? It is hard to say exactly what is causing it, but I do hope your family gets some rest soon. If the problem persists, I do think you would greatly benefit from working with one of our sleep consultants so they can look at your full situation and assess it from there. If you are interested in reading about any of our packages you can do so here:
      And if you need help selecting a package please feel free to email our Client Relations team at [email protected]
      I do hope you see improvement soon! Thank you for stopping by and let us know if we can help further!

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