As a mom of four children, you’d think I know what to expect when it comes to infant sleep. Still, it seems that each sleep regression my children experienced took me by surprise. When sleeplessness got the better of me, I have been reduced to tears in the middle of the night more times than I can count.
Even a baby who has been sleep trained can experience a sleep regression, throwing their caregivers for a loop and shaking up their routine for days, and sometimes weeks, on end.
Whether you’re looking ahead to prepare yourself for infant sleep while you’re expecting, or you’re desperately researching sleep regression at 3 AM while rocking a sleepless baby, we’ve got the details about this totally normal, but challenging experience.
In this article:
What is Sleep Regression?
If you’re the parent of a little one, there’s a good chance we don’t need to define sleep regression for you — you’ve lived it! Heck, you might be living through it right now.
Just in case, however, here’s the lowdown: a sleep regression happens when a baby who was once sleeping well suddenly stops sleeping so well.
The good news, and the bad news, is that sleep regressions are developmentally normal. The exact cause can vary, but more often than not, sleep regressions are a signal that your baby is doing exactly what they’re supposed to do — they’re changing as they grow older.
In some cases, these little night owls are experiencing a developmental leap. In other cases, your baby may be ready for less sleep during the day.
Personally, with four kids, I’ve experienced my fair share of regressions. I know just how exhausting they can be. I also how easy it is to start blaming yourself, or something you’ve done, for the change.
But sleep regressions are not your fault—they’re a normal (and actually healthy!) part of your baby’s development. They’re a sign their development is on track, and although it doesn’t feel like a good thing in the middle of the night, it is.
What Ages do Sleep Regressions Happen?
Every baby is different, but experts have observed a pattern that generally applies to infants as a whole.
While not all babies will experience a sleep regression, many parents can expect their little ones to exhibit changes in their sleep patterns around four months, six months, eight months, and twelve months.
4-Month Sleep Regression
Around 10 to 12 weeks, your baby’s circadian rhythms being to mature, according to Cleveland Health. They’re starting to sleep a little more like us adults do, with phases of both deep sleep and light sleep as part of their sleep cycle. This change is just as normal as any of the 4-month-old milestones we look for as they get older.
However, this big developmental leap often triggers are a change in the way a baby sleeps because they are more easily woken.
In some cases, it might even mean that their sleep habits are changing for good. Your baby is getting older, they’re sleeping a little less, and it may be a little more challenging to settle in at night.
What’s the best way to handle this sleep regression? Here’s what experts recommend:
- Hang in there with your baby while they adjust to this new sleep pattern. Sometimes all a baby needs is time.
- Introduce a nap and bedtime routine. If your little one has been cat napping sporadically throughout the day or sleeping on the go, now is a good time to create a predictable routine. This means putting them down for naps in their crib or bassinet at generally the same times throughout the day and starting bedtime with the same habits at the same time each night.
- Consider sleep training your little one. For some families, this might mean letting their baby cry it out, but not all sleep training requires crying. You can also work on teaching your little one to put themselves to sleep by following a set routine and putting them to bed calm and awake, but drowsy.
6-Month Sleep Regression
The reasons some babies experience disrupted sleep around six months are harder to pinpoint. It is generally believed that this is just a part of them growing older. They’re moving now, so their parents might just have stopped swaddling.
They’re more aware of the world around them, so they might be easier woken or less excited about going to sleep. During this phase of development, most babies are ready to drop to two longer naps during the day, according to a research review published in the Journal of Sleep Research, and any changes in sleep schedules could also trigger disruption, at least for a few days.
If your baby is experiencing a 6-month sleep regression, here are a few things you might consider trying to get them back on track:
- Cut out the distractions. Previously, your baby may have fallen asleep with no regard for light, visual stimuli, or background noise. Six months is a good time to keep an eye out for distractions that could be disrupting sleep.
- Reevaluate your baby’s sleep schedule. This might be the time to make a few adjustments, like cutting down to two naps or getting stricter about the bedtime routine.
- Start getting active during the day. This is a good time to start teaching your baby that there is a big difference between night and day. Keep them active when they’re awake. Expose them to sunlight during the day and pull the curtains in their room before starting the bedtime routine. These small habits can help them develop healthy sleep rhythms.
- Don’t change your sleep routines. If you’ve established a sleep routine with certain sleep cues—such as a special song, blanket, or book—don’t change them now. Consistency is important during sleep regressions to reinforce the sleep cues you’ve already introduced.
8-Month Sleep Regression
Around eight months, most babies are starting to experience some new things—they’re getting teeth, they’re moving more, and they may be experiencing separation anxiety for the first time. All of these things can contribute to disturbed sleep at 8 months.
In general, the 8-month sleep regression some babies experience at 8 months is all about getting through it. If your baby is waking often, having a hard to falling asleep, or skipping naps, these tips might help you get back on track.
- Stick with it. It is so tempting to give up on bedtime routines when babies suddenly start resisting sleep. Don’t do it! Again, keep up with that bedtime routine and continue putting your baby to sleep awake, calm, and drowsy whenever possible.
- Treat the symptoms of teething. Teething is a part of life with an infant, but you can help them feel more comfortable. A cold washcloth might feel good on their gums, as well as toys that are designed for safe chewing. In some cases, over-the-counter pain relievers are appropriate for teething babies.
- Help your baby adjust to separating from throughout the day. I’ve found that creating a safe space in a play yard with age-appropriate toys allows me to step away for a few minutes a day. This gives me a break and allows my baby to learn that I can be expected to come back if I leave the room.
12-Month Sleep Regression
Just when you think you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, a 12-month sleep regression can turn your schedule upside down.
Like 8-month-old babies, one-year-olds are adjusting to developmental leaps and this could change the way they sleep. At this age, babies are teething, they are moving a lot, and they are more aware of separation from their caregiver.
It might be tempting to drop to one nap at 12 months, especially if it is harder to get them to sleep at night, but this shouldn’t be the first response to sleep regression. As nonsensical as it feels at times, sleepy babies sleep poorly.
Helping your baby get the sleep they need is one of the best ways to help them sleep better in the immediate future. Here are some additional tips:
- Avoid overstimulation. Your baby may want to go-go-go all day, but overstimulation can contribute to poor sleep. (Hint: screens are a form of stimulation, so avoid them before bedtime!)
- Keep that bedtime routine. Try to maintain time for your little one to calm day before they go to sleep. If you’re not already, this is such a good time to start a bedtime reading routine.
- Watch for tummy troubles caused by a changing diet. Chances are your baby is getting used to a lot of new foods, including solid foods and whole milk. Sometimes this transition comes with gas and constipation, which can disrupt sleep. Watch for clues, like hard stools and gas, and supplement their diet with foods that encourage soft stools like prunes or pears.
Truly Mama Takeaway
Hang in there! A sleep regression can be very challenging, but your baby will sleep again.
If for some reason, you have additional concerns about your child’s sleep habits, don’t be afraid to express your concerns to your child’s doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my baby is having a sleep regression?
A sleep regression occurs anytime your baby starts to sleep worse than they were before. Since you know your baby best, chances are you’ll notice when their sleep patterns are disrupted.
Does sleep regression fix itself?
If you keep your baby on a consistent routine, many sleep regressions will fix themselves. In some cases, caregivers may need to make some changes to their routine or implement sleep training to get their little one back on track.
How do you survive sleep regression?
To get through a sleep regression, you may have to operate in survival mode for a while. Cut back on unnecessary responsibilities for a short time and reach out to your support system for help. And remember: sleep regressions are normal and they won’t last forever!
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