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All About Baby Sleep Regression

Updated: Jul 11

Just when you think you have sleep all figured out and things are going well– BOOM! A sleep regression hits your house and it feels like your baby’s sleep is worse than ever.


Here’s some good news for you– sleep regressions don’t last forever! They’re a phase in your little one’s life but within 2-3 weeks, things should be mostly back to normal. There is one exception to that though… before we get into it, let’s chat about a lesser known regression.


6 WEEK SLEEP REGRESSION


This sleep regression is not one parents think of usually (probably because baby is still a newborn and sleep is all over the place anyway).


However, it’s important to understand what is happening around the 6 to 8 week mark for your infant to know why a regression is possible.

  • Growth spurt

  • Peak fussiness (you leave that newborn honeymoon phase!)

  • Able to notice and interact more with the world around them

All of that stimulation can make them overtired and overstimulated.


The growth spurt only lasts a few days and the peak fussiness will last a week or two. Just get through this time by feeding on demand, being mindful of awake times (around 45 minutes including feeding), and using your calming tools in the evening hours when they’re just done with the day.


You can refer to this article for more ideas on helping a newborn sleep well.


SOME IDEAS TO DEAL WITH 6 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION PHASE:

  • Go into a dark room with loud white noise

  • Babywearing

  • Go on a walk outside

  • Take a bath with your baby

  • The 5 S’s by Dr. Harvey Karp

Things will brighten up in the weeks to follow and then you’ll be ready to tackle the next sleep regression… the 4 month sleep regression!


4 month sleep regression


The 4 month regression plagues a lot of families, and for good reason. It’s a permanent change to your child’s sleep cycles. Their sleep cycles mature from newborn to adult like sleep patterns which means there are more opportunities to wake up (and boy, do they).

This is typically when families will choose to sleep train— through the 4 month sleep regression to get back on track with sleep. If you were to do nothing but ride out the regression, this is the only time I can say that I don’t know when or how sleep will improve. It’s just a waiting game and every families threshold for that will be different!


During this time, your child may figure out rolling and transition from 4 to 3 naps. All lead to sleep feeling a bit “wonky” for a while!


SOME IDEAS TO GET YOU THROUGH THE 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION:

  • Slowly break those sleep associations and allow your baby to put themselves to sleep at bedtime

  • Try a sleep bag to build a positive sleep association (if you aren’t sure what that is, read this blog to learn all about them!)

  • Make sure baby’s sleep environment is as dark as a cave (this is because they are way more aware of their surroundings and anything they can see will distract them from sleep)

  • Use a white noise machine to minimize environmental distractions

  • Maintain a good routine around sleep

  • Consider an earlier bedtime, especially if naps are short (extra naps add extra awake time and make them more overtired, not less!)

  • Make sure you’re getting in enough daytime feedings as growth spurts often happen around regressions

  • Ask for help, take shifts, or hire a sleep consultant to help get you back on track!

Next up….


8 Month Sleep Regression


The three main causes for 8 month sleep regression are:

Around 8-10 months, your baby is becoming a lot more mobile. They’re rolling, sitting, crawling, scooting, pulling up, cruising. Lots and lots of movement!


The key is still to let them practice, practice, practice their skills all day long.


Fun fact: This study found that out of all of the milestones, crawling was the most disruptive to sleep! “When the researchers looked at individual babies’ night wakings before, during, and after learning to crawl, they saw that the babies did indeed wake more frequently in the night when they started crawling.”


Being mindful of awake times, sleepy cues, and utilizing early bedtimes will be your friend during this 8 month sleep regression.


Separation anxiety is also part of the territory with this regression. Some things you can do are:

  • Play peekaboo

  • Practice walking away, speaking to your baby and reassuring them that even though they can’t see you, they can still hear you

THE 8 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION TIPS

  • Don’t assume that because they’re not sleeping well at this age that it is just because of the regression; make sure any sleep associations aren’t creating extra challenges

  • Consistency with your routines brings calm to their chaos

  • Provide extra snuggles and attention at bedtime and naptime (consider a fading approach to sleep training as opposed to methods like Ferber or extinction)

  • Check in with your sleep environment and make sure it’s conducive to sleep

  • All the practice during the day with physical milestones

  • Keep bedtime on the early side, especially if you are dropping the afternoon cat nap

  • Try to avoid old habits that you may have already broken (remember, this is a temporary phase, but the habits will still be there!)

  • Try not to stress too much (your baby can sense this)

12 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION


This sleep regression primarily affects naps and most parents take that as a sign to transition to 1 nap. Unfortunately, this can be too soon for the majority of babies and sleep ends up getting worse instead of better!


It’s also not really a common regression, some kids will breeze right over it. If you’re in the trenches though, keep reading!


HERE ARE SOME CAUSES FOR THE 12 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION:

  • They’re more aware! They are way more interested in playing than they are sleeping. This is what leads to boycotting naps.

  • Walking (and talking); they may just be figuring out how to stand or taking a few steps independently but they’re also adding a lot of words to their vocabulary. With so many skills to practice, sleep moves lower on the priority list.

  • They just don’t need as much sleep as they used to. However, this doesn’t mean drop the nap completely!

So what do you do?!

  • Encourage lots of day time play

  • Don’t drop the nap (~17% of babies are ready at 12 months, the majority will transition around 14/15 months)

  • Try to stick to your normal schedule

  • Avoid extra sleep crutches if possible

  • Utilize your sleep coaching plan to support them

  • Be consistent (don’t change everything up!)

18 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION


Every sleep regression can be linked to some sort of mental or physical development, it seems. This one is no different!


A lot is happening around 18 months.

  • Possibly getting molars (this should not wreck sleep completely, but can exacerbate the problem)

  • Going through more separation anxiety

  • Gaining a lot of independence

  • Their language is really taking off

This one can feel like the most difficult regression because there’s a new aspect involved… discipline. The earlier baby sleep regressions didn’t have to address independence-seeking behaviors.


Your sweet little baby may now start throwing (epic) tantrums and other challenging behaviors that are new to both of you! This can lead to a lot of stress and exhaustion for you.


So add together the fact that they’re not sleeping with difficult behaviors and it will seem basically impossible because we know extra tired toddlers do not make life easy!

This may look like:

  • Nap refusals (they’ve learned they have a choice in whether they sleep or not)

  • Difficulty going to bed (again with choosing to sleep or not, but also separation anxiety)

  • Night wakings (teething, growth spurt, overtired)

If you’ve previously used sleep coaching to help your child with their sleep habits, then it is totally fine to use those same coaching methods to help you get through this regression!


HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO SURVIVE THAT 18 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION!

  • Extra 1:1 time during the bedtime routine

  • Introduce a lovey

  • Don’t be afraid of an early bedtime if they skipped their nap

  • Keep your emotions regulated

  • If you set a boundary, hold firm to it

  • Keep offering the nap!

2 YEAR SLEEP REGRESSION


So if you’ve made it this far, you can probably assume what this regression looks like and the general reason it’s happening!


Your 2 year old may suddenly:

  • Refuse naps

  • Have difficulty falling asleep

  • Wake early in the morning

  • Wake during the night again

Here’s why it’s happening:

  • Separation anxiety peaks (again, I know…)

  • Fear of missing out (FOMO!)

  • Fears (bad dreams, etc)

  • “No” becomes their favorite word

  • Sleep needs change

  • More teething

  • Transitioning to a toddler bed too early

  • Potty training could begin

  • New sibling

As you can see, there is a lot going on for a little 2 year old! It can seem like a lot is changing at one time for them.


All the resistance to sleep will also make them really overtired. We need to be mindful of that and 1) don’t drop the nap but also 2) put them to bed early if needed.


So what’s a parent to do during this baby sleep regression?!

  • Add a routine chart at bedtime

  • Give some choices in the routine (which of these pajamas? Which of these books?)

  • Stick to the boundaries

  • Keep the nap

  • Empathize with fears

  • Use the crib as long as possible

  • Create a plan for how to respond to night time wakings

Regressions can feel like they’re never ending! The most important things are to be consistent, formulate a response and plan for responding to extra wake ups, and be mindful of any habits you begin during a sleep regression because they will be there when the regression is over!

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