Baby Sleep Regressions 101. Overview of common baby sleep regression ages and how to deal with them. Even when you’re exhausted!
Picture this: you’re a relatively new parent, and finally feel as though you’ve nailed baby’s nap and sleeping routine.
You’re feeling relieved (and a little bit proud) that your little one is sleeping through the night. They no longer have to sleep only in your arms.
You’re finally getting a decent sleep yourself after months of being exhausted, dealing with your baby’s not-ideal-for-you sleep patterns.
And then it all comes crashing down.
After months of great naps and solid sleep at night, your previously snoozing angel is once again waking up every hour. Or refusing to nap.
This is a completely normal part of life being a caregiver to an infant (unfortunately!).
They’re called ‘sleep regressions,’ and commonly occur at key points of development and growth spurts during your child’s first few years.
If you’re in the middle of a sleep regression in your house, keep reading for everything you need to know, and how to cope.
What Are Baby Sleep Regressions?
A sleep regression is when your baby, who typically has no issue with their sleep routine, becomes fussy and either has trouble trying to fall asleep, wakes up more frequently during the night or nap, and forgets about their ability to self soothe.
We all have the occasional night or two of poor sleep, even as adults.
As an adult, my sleep is especially effected when I’m feeling under the weather or going through big changes in my life or work.
It’s the same with little kids, and the good news is periods of sleep regression usually only last for 2 to 4 weeks.
Causes of Baby Sleep Regression
There are several causes and changes related to baby sleep regression, and they’re things that can make children distressed, anxious, or restless. These can include:
- Growth spurts. Your little one might be extra hungry as their body needs more food due to growth. It’s possible baby’s sleep is interrupted because their tummy is empty and in need of some calories.
- Pain caused by teething. This is a common sleep disruptor, and sometimes one you just have to get through.
- Reaching developmental milestones, and wanting to practice their skill or appreciate a new perspective. Why sleep when you can stand, roll, climb or call out for mama, right?
- New routines or disruptions, such as changing the site of sleep (i.e. sleeping in a pack and play instead of crib or a floor bed on vacations), starting childcare, or switching from being swaddled to wearing just PJs. Similarly, moving a sleep site – such as a new room to make room for a sibling, transitioning from a bassinet to a crib or mini crib – can cause sleep disruptions. These sleep issues often come on suddenly with the change in routine, and resolve fairly quickly.
- Illnesses, such as a cold or a tummy bug, can suddenly disrupt sleep patterns, especially if your child is uncomfortable.
Sleep regressions usually coincide with, or happen right before, a time of developmental changes and reaching milestones.
What Age Do Sleep Regressions Happen?
Look away now if you don’t want to receive the bad news.
Unfortunately, sleep regressions happen frequently during the first couple of years of your baby’s life.
Below, I’ll go through the main, medically-reviewed sleep regression stages based on peer reviewed studies, and what may be causing them.
I’ll also try answer that ever important question for most parents: how long does a sleep regression last?
4 Month Old Sleep Regression
The 4 month sleep regression is usually the hardest sleep regression to cope with, mainly because it’s the first one you’ll experience as parents (especially for a first-time parent too). I know it was hard for me!
Even though everyone calls it the 4-month old regression, it can hit anytime between 3 and 4 months old.
Many reasons cause this first 4-month sleep regression, which include an exciting growth spurt for your baby that tends to happen around 4 months. They may also be cutting their teeth, or be over excited about being able to roll over in bed now, too.
All of this change eats into their sleep hours, as they’re eager to try out these new skills and test their rolling during nap times and at night, too.
Also related is the fact that babies also experience a lot of brain development and are way more aware of their surroundings at this point. Often, babies will spend some time exploring their room with their eyes instead of snoozing away.
At this stage, children should get between 12-15 hours of sleep per day, with 10-12 of these at night. Check that your nap schedule isn’t interfering with night sleep.
If you’re having sleep problems and more frequent awakenings at night, keep your cool and stick with the usual comforting methods. If a comforting hand on their tummy gets them back to sleep, then continue with this.
More independent sleep training methods (i.e. cry it out or encouraging baby to self-soothe) aren’t recommended until babies are 6 months or older.
6 Months Old Sleep Regression
If you’re lucky, you might not experience a sleep regression at 6 months. But be warned some babies do suddenly have another period of sleep problems around 6 months.
Babies’ 6 month sleep regression coincides with their discovery of the ability to babble and make new sounds on-demand, along with more advanced motor skills.
This can lead to her wanting to stay awake longer, and to want to try out these hidden talents rather than snooze as they should.
As well as coos and babbles, your kiddo can suddenly roll more capably, and they’re likely pretty excited about it! You may find they do more gymnastics at night. Sometimes they don’t like how they end up, and end up calling for mom and dad to come help.
Other babies may be delighted to find they’re able to sit up, and may sit up in their bed with no way to get back down again.
If this happens, help your baby get comfortable again and soothe them back to sleep.
Other causes of common sleep problems for babies at this age include teething, and for some, separation anxiety from parents can hit.
At 6 months your baby might be sleeping around 8 hours in the night and may not be waking up for an overnight feed anymore. For many babies, however, they call out for parental snuggles still.
If you find your child experiencing a 6 month sleep regression, it could be a good time to begin a sleep training method you feel comfortable with.
8 – 10 Month Sleep Regression
You may hear this sleep regression stage being called, the 8-month-old, 9-month-old, or 10 months old sleep regression (and can actually begin as early as 7 months too!)
This phase is where your usual nighttime routine seems to go out of the window, and no matter what you do, or how you try to settle your little one, the normal tactics to help babies fall asleep at night simply aren’t working.
There are a few reasons for the sleep regression at this age. Try to remember it’s a positive sign! Your little one is reaching milestones and is going through a significant period of neurological development.
It may be that your child now needs longer between naps to feel tired, and they’re resisting that third nap in the day, which can cause an overtired baby once you get to the evening.
Naps are almost never a “set it and forget it” routine – they need constant tweaking in terms of how many naps, and how long each nap should be, and that changes as your baby gets older!
If your baby has dropped the third nap and is over tired, it can be a bit of a vicious cycle. Over-tiredness not only leads to it being more difficult to get your baby to sleep in the first place, but also makes night waking more frequent, too. Which then they then miss out on more deep sleep!
Your baby may also be suffering from separation anxiety, after being very close with caregivers in the day, and learning how to call for attention only heightens this for parents and baby. This is a very normal part of development, for both babies who stay home with parents or those who go to daycare, too.
Your child’s annoying teeth will continue to cause sleeping problems during this time, too, with bigger, side teeth cutting and causing discomfort.
You also have to factor in greater mobility, too. You’ll find your child is now able to pull themselves up to stand in the crib and practice their new ‘moves’ while they should be sleeping through the night.
12 Month Sleep Regression
At 12 months old, you would have hoped the sleep regressions were all but done and that your child is sleeping well each night.
At this age, your baby has begun to master walking and talking more and is gaining confidence in their skills. All these changes can result in a 12 month sleep regression for many kids.
It can also be due to the other problems common in the other sleep regression phases, such as teething, and separation anxiety.
For some little ones, night terrors may happen and cause sleeping problems.
During the 12-month sleep regression, it is important to give a little extra support, but keep it balanced, as not to create bad sleep habits. If your child has been able to self-soothe before, continue this throughout the 12 month sleep regression, but remember you may need to give a little extra support as well.
According to medical advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, most 12-month-olds sleep 11 -14 hours per day.
If your child’s waking schedule isn’t allowing for this much sleep, the 12 month sleep regression could simply be a sign you need to rebalance your daily baby sleep routines. Consider adjusting naps and monitor your baby’s sleep patterns to ensure they get enough sleep.
18 Month Sleep Regression
At 18 months you may find this sleep regression one of the hardest battles of them all. You’re now faced with a child who can be oh-so-determined not to sleep and protests can be tiresome for all involved.
At this age you have a child with greater cognitive awareness, so unlike the battles at 4 and 10 months, now you need to explain sleep importance with a child who is more aware of how to express themselves and has greater motor control to boot.
At 18 months, you may need you to get creative with the sleep persuasions (and invest in a larger coffee cup!)
Again the 18-month sleep regression is a side effect of the developmental growth and increases in brain development for your little one. It’s a good sign, even though it’s exhausting as a parent or careigiver.
As well as the routines and need to keep consistent habits for your little one, you can factor in elements that make your child feel like they have a say in their sleep, such as offering them choices between their pajamas, which bath game they want to play, or which storybook they’d like before sleep.
2 Year / Toddler Sleep Problems
At 2 years of age, another sleep regression may happen.
This one is often related to the developmental stages, growth spurts, increased mobility and desire to climb everything (including their crib), and separation anxiety as before. But can also be due to having a more active social life, cutting into their daytime nap schedule so they are not sleeping as much as they were before.
At 2 years old, it is also important to factor in changes to the family, as it may be a time they experience getting a sibling for the first time.
Sleep regressions as a toddler could also be due to more frequent night terrors, as children experience more of the world around them and have more interactions with things that they both do and do not like. This can often be replayed and self-analyzed by your toddler during sleep.
How To Handle Regressions Effectively
The good news is, sleep regressions don’t last forever. They usually are done within 2 to 4 weeks. This is usually how long it takes your baby to get used to a new milestone. Or allows them to recover from any illness or disruption they may have faced.
As a parent, these can be challenging times. And they usually come after the initial throes of offers to help with a new baby have long since finished. But this is the time to reach out and accept help when it’s offered.
Here are some of my top tips for how to handle regressions effectively.
Take the Lead From Your Baby
Watch your baby for tell-tale signs of tiredness and cranky behavior. This could include rubbing their eyes, yawns, and fussiness. Try to get them to bed before they become overtired. Once in an overtired state it can take longer for them to get to sleep and stay asleep.
For the time being, be flexible.
A sleep regression will likely put a stop to your usual schedules and routines. Remember, it isn’t forever, it’s just for a few weeks while your baby makes their big milestone changes.
During this time, it’s okay to shift naptime earlier or change up the bedtime routine. If you see that your little one is fussing, take the signs from your baby! Do what seems right in the moment, regardless of what your clock says.
It may mean adding an extra daytime nap or bringing forward bedtime for a couple of weeks. This can help your child make up for the sleep lost during the night.
Ride with it, and when their sleep patterns get better again, rebalance daytime naps, too.
While you need to be flexible, keep as much consistency where possible.
If you always have a bath before bedtime, continue doing so. They are already experiencing a transitional time of change, so keeping as much familiarity with routines is helpful.
Add Calming Vibes
Within your normal routines, you may want to add some relaxaing elements to help your baby with sleeping.
For example, many parents find a baby massage after bath time helps their baby get ready for sleep.
Likewise, make sure the temperature of the nursery is perfectly set, and keep it dark. Many bath thermometers also work for measuring room temperature.
Keep things calm, even down to the storybooks you choose. Read sweet, calm ones, and not silly pop-ups with overexciting elements
Don’t Create Bad Sleep Habits
While a sleep regression can be difficult, remember to reinforce good habits for future bedtime routines. Yes, be flexible and support your baby through the crankiness. But try not to introduce any bad habits that will be tough to break.
It’s okay to spend an extra few minutes rocking your child to calm them down. But don’t make this a new habit where you need to rock baby to sleep for every bedtime.
Same goes for sitting beside your baby to settle them at the crib to sleep. If you make it a habit, you will create this association for all future bedtimes, too.
Times of sleep regression often coincide when baby going through a growth spurt or developmental change.
They may need extra fuel in their body to cope with this! Don’t be afraid to give them a little extra food or milk if they seem hungry. It may be just what they need to make it through the night!
Look After Yourself
Finally, make sure you also take care of yourself as a parent. Being a new mom or dad has enough of its own challenges, without juggling the stresses of life too. A couple weeks of frequent night waking due to sleep regression is enough to drive any parent insane!
Reach out to friends and family members and ask for support where you can. Ask them to watch the baby for a few hours so you can catch a power nap. Or have them cook a dinner for you, which you can repay in the future when they need it. Balance chores with your partner where possible. And don’t shoulder the full burden of the sleep schedule on your own.
No one will mind you asking for help. In fact, friends and family are happy to help and probably thrilled to get a bit of time with baby!
Final Thoughts on Sleep Regressions in Babies
Your baby’s sleep regressions are certainly normal, if a little unsettling for parents. It’s important to remember to just do your best to get through the challenging time. This period of waking more in the middle of the night will only last a few weeks. And your baby will eventually get back onto their usual sleep schedule.
Try to avoid creating bad sleep habits and keep bedtime as normal as possible. Otherwise, you’ll need to restart sleep training to get your bedtime routine back to how it once was.
The most important thing to remember is to be flexible and take your cues from your baby. The amount of sleep each day will most likely vary during this time. Monitoring and making small adjustments will enable you all to sleep better eventually!
If you know other parents dealing with infant sleep regression, please share!