Sleep regression. It’s a phrase you probably didn’t know existed before you had a baby, but now? Now that your baby is waking every 20 minutes, and you are exhausted beyond all reason? Now that your toddler is waging a fierce anti-nap campaign?
Yeah – it’s a phrase you’re probably familiar with!
Sleep Regressions: What They Are
A sleep regression describes a period of time (anywhere from 1 – 4 weeks) when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night, and/or skipping naps (or waking early from naps) for no apparent reason. Parents often describe being caught totally off guard: you think your have conquered all your little one’s sleep challenges, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re back to constant night wakings and nonexistent naps.
Frustrating, to say the least!!
Sleep Regressions: When (And Why) They Happen
Remember, every baby is different, so what is true for your friends’ babies may not necessarily be true for yours. That is, your baby or toddler may show true regression signs at some of these month markers, but not others.
That said, there are some seasons during which most babies or toddler so through at least a mild sleep regression:
4 Month Sleep Regression
This one’s permanent, folks! That is to say that the changes that happen with the 4 month sleep regression are permanent changes. By 4 months, your baby has ditched her babyish sleeping patterns and is sleeping more like an adult – and that translates into frequent night waking (and lots of fussing) along with shortened naps.
Find 4 month sleep regression help HERE and HERE.
8 Month Sleep Regression (sometimes 9 Month Sleep Regression, or even 10 Month Sleep Regression)
This one is all thanks to the developmental milestones that are happening around 8 months, 9 months, and 10 months. At this stage, most babies are making great strides physically – learning to crawl, to pull up, to cruise, etc. There’s also a lot of brain development happening at this stage. Your baby is absorbing language like crazy! Finally, most babies are cutting at least a few teeth during this season. Add it all up, and you get more night waking, shorter (or even skipped) naps, and one cranky baby on your hands.
Find 8, 9, 10 months sleep regression help HERE.
11 Month Sleep Regression (or 12 Month Sleep Regression)
This one doesn’t seem to affect as many of our clients as the other regressions do – maybe it’s a less common one? At any rate, this regression has a lot to do with naps – specifically, you might find that your baby suddenly starts refusing his or her second nap, and tries to get by with just one nap. Lots of parents assume that this is a normal nap transition, and that it means their little one is ready for just one nap a day. However, we urge parents to treat this one as a regression instead, since most toddlers really aren’t ready to transition to just one nap a day until about 15 months.
Find 11 month or 12 month sleep regression help HERE.
18 Month Sleep Regression
Oh, parents – this one is a doozie. Why? Because now your baby is a toddler – a walking, talking (well, babbling at least), tantrum-throwing toddler. This regression has a lot to do with your toddler’s new-found independence. She’s learning that – guess what – she has opinions and things! And – even better – she can express those opinions by shouting “NO!” at top volume! Separation anxiety also comes into play here; your toddler may genuinely be distressed when you leave at nap time, or when you walk out of the room at bedtime. Finally, teething is still a factor at 18 months – toddlers are often cutting molars (those big, painful teeth!) around this time.
Find 18 month sleep regression help HERE.
2 Year Sleep Regression
To be honest, the 2 year sleep regression is a little less straightforward than the others. That’s because there are a variety of factors that can cause it. For one thing, your 2 year old’s awake time is growing longer, but as he makes that transition, it can disrupt sleep. Your 2 year old is likely also going through some big life transitions, like potty training and transitioning to a big-kid bed (and maybe even getting a new sibling!) And around 2 years of age, lots of toddlers begin having very real nightmares (or even night terrors). All of this can lead to a very real, very exhausting sleep regression around 2 years old.
Find 2 year sleep regression help HERE.
Sleep Regressions: How To Move Past Them
You know the what, the why, and the when behind common baby and toddler sleep regression – now how about the ‘how to’? As in, “How the heck do I fix this and get back to my peaceful nights of sleep again?!?!”
Well, for starters, remember that the 4 month sleep regression is a permanent change – there is no going back to the way things were. Once you are through the worst of the 4 month sleep regression you will want to focus on helping your baby break her sleep associations, and on heaping her learn to fall asleep without help from you. Once she can do that, she will be well on her way to sleeping through the night, and establishing a more predictable daytime schedule.
As for the other sleep regressions, here are a few tips to help you cope WITHOUT undoing all the sleep coaching progress you’ve made up to this point:
- Don’t be afraid to offer extra feedings. Growth spurts can be a component of sleep regressions, so don’t worry about offering an extra nighttime feeding (or even daytime feeding) here and there. Remember – this is temporary! You will eventually return to your normal schedule.
- Offer comfort as needed, but avoid making new (or reinstating old) bad habits. You will definitely need to offer your baby or toddler plenty of extra kisses and cuddles during the sleep regression, and this is okay! But avoid creating new sleep associations – avoid rocking your baby to sleep regularly, or nursing her to sleep. Avoid reinstating old bad habits, too – if you have weaned your toddler off the pacifier, for example, don’t revert to offering the pacifier during a sleep regression.
- Solicit help, and lean hard on your partner. Sleep regressions last for awhile (up to 4-6 weeks, in some cases!) And if you are doing your due diligence, and trying to cope while not creating new sleep associations, you are bound to get tired. This is the time to ask for help from anyone who will offer it! Have friends or family members help you (either with your little one, or with the household management).
- Offer an earlier bedtime if necessary. Sleep regressions can lead to missed sleep, which can lead to overtiredness, which can quickly spiral into more missed sleep. Yikes! So to ward off exhaustion, offer an earlier bedtime if necessary.