What is a sleep regression?
A sleep regression often hits out of nowhere - your little one is sleeping well and then out of the blue you may find they wake through the night, refuse, fight naps and be extremely fussy. If you find yourself in the throes of rough sleep changes, chances are it’s a sleep regression. Whilst this is super tough on everyone it's actually a good thing - it means their development is on track, and your little one is growing and learning so many new things! Rather than viewing it as a regression, see it as an exciting developmental progression!
What ages do we typically see these regressions?
Below are the general ages and stages we see these rough patches in sleep but bare in mind each little one is different and regressions may be seen a month before or after these typical ages.
4-month sleep regression
This regression isn't going to just fade away like other developmental regressions! This is a permanent shift and progression in our baby’s sleep cycles. During the day their sleep cycles become more defined at 45 minutes and through the night 2 hourly. Your little one will start to wake fully between each sleep cycle rather than drift between cycles automatically as they did when they were younger. Now is the time we can begin to work on teaching self-settling skills.
8-9 months sleep regression
This regression is due to all the incredible developmental changes your baby is experiencing. They are now learning to crawl, trying to pull themselves up on furniture and really trying to find their voice! They want to practice these newfound skills at the worst possible times! Around this age, separation anxiety also peaks as they grasp the concept of object permanence - it's no longer just a matter of out of sight out of mind, they still want you when they can't see you!
12-month sleep regression
This regression is also due to all the incredible developmental changes your baby is experiencing. Walking is now a skill they are trying to master and can really put a damper on sleep. They may really fight naps at this age and often we think it's a sign to drop to one nap. DON'T drop to one nap yet! Wait until between 15-18 months of age.
18-month sleep regression
This age can be super tough! Your baby is now a walking, talking (well, babbling at least), tantrum-throwing toddler. This regression has a lot to do with your toddler’s newfound independence. Toddlers are also cutting their big molar teeth around this time too. Your toddler is grasping the concept of cause and effect - that they have influence in the world and their actions impact others!
For example, if I cry and fight this nap then mum will come in and get me up or, if I wake up early demanding a bottle, then mum tries to keep me quiet and gives me one or if I wake up upset through the night, mum will lay down with me until I sleep. This is where we really want to avoid letting any new habits creep in like a bottle to keep them quiet, or bringing them back into our bed, etc.
2 year-old sleep regression
Your 2-year-old is learning so many new physical skills - jumping, climbing, kicking balls, throwing! They are also navigating their way through their imagination growing, wanting to test limits and trying to be independent! They are so egocentric now and it’s all about THEM! Their job is to test the limits and ours is to place firm fair boundaries in place.
What are the signs to look for?
Naps become shorter or your little one may have a nap strike and refuse the nap altogether!
Sudden night wakes
Irritability and extra fussiness which you can’t put your finger on and you know they aren’t sick!
Resisting bedtime and seeming to need extra help settling
Inability to resettle easily
Early morning wakeups out of nowhere
How do I deal with sleep regressions?
Avoid making new (or reinstating old) bad habits. Offer your baby or toddler plenty of extra kisses and cuddles during the sleep regression, but avoid creating new sleep associations. Avoid rocking your baby to sleep regularly, feeding to sleep, or bringing them back into your bed in sheer desperation.
Make sure they have plenty of time to practice their newfound skills - they need the practice to crawl, pull themselves up to standing, and lots of outdoor exploration time when walking.
Offer an earlier bedtime if necessary. Sleep regressions can lead to missed sleep, which can lead to overtiredness, which can then quickly spiral into sleep debt. Give them an earlier bedtime to try and compensate for some of this lost sleep.
Hold firm with your routine. Although sleep regressions make it difficult for you to stick to your schedule, try to keep up with your regular routine as it will make it so much easier to get back to it once the regression is over. If you need help with routines - check out my ultimate guide below...
Give them the chance to self-settle - they haven't lost this skill altogether, they just need some space to work things out.
Give them loads of practice during the day, lots of mat time, exploration time, and a chance to move and burn off some energy and practice new skills.
Go back to basics and re-check that their sleep foundations are in place. Is their room dark enough? Is white noise cranking? Are they consuming enough protein during the day? Are they having good full feeds? Are you following a good routine with age-appropriate awake times?
How long can these regressions last?
This ranges but typically between 2-4 weeks. If you are consistent through these patches with their bedtime routine and settle overnight then these regressions will end! It’s also good to know not every baby will even hit these regressions - some will sail through and others may be hit hard! Our little ones' sleep patterns often return to normal as suddenly as they appeared!
Remember this isn't forever, keep calm as your little one goes through this rough patch. Baby and toddler sleep isn’t linear, there are always bumps in the road and developmental milestones do impact sleep! If you need help getting back on track from a sleep regression that may have resulted in some tricky habits formed, reach out and let me know.