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If you've ever been a parent, you'll know exactly what we mean when we say all that the joy, unconditional love, and fulfillment you get from raising a child does not come without its own set of challenges.
One of these challenges is known as sleep regression. This happens at the younger stages of infancy (called baby sleep regression) and, depending on the child, can continue until they are a bit older (known as toddler sleep regression).
For parents, this can bring about some stressful situations such as inconsistent sleep patterns and emotional distress. But do not lose hope! Sleep regressions are normal, and it happens to almost every child at some point in their life. It is, though, important to correct these regressions as soon as possible, as sleep is very important to your baby's brain development.
Here is everything you need to know about sleep regression: ages, signs, sleep training tricks that have worked for other parents, and lots of tips that will hopefully allow both you and your baby to peacefully sleep through the night.
What Is A Sleep Regression?
Simply put, sleep regressions are changes to a baby's sleep habits that come at different stages of their early infancy and childhood. There are usually no warning signs, and first-time parents tend to describe the experience as one that comes without warning, and will truly test one's patience. But don't worry, the nights might feel long and never-ending, but like every other experience, this is temporary. Let's take a closer look at the signs and symptoms to look out for during these sleep regressions.
What Ages Can They Happen At?
If you did not already know, sleep regressions are a recurring pattern in babies that can happen more than once and can re-occur several times throughout the early stages of the baby's development. All parents (probably even your own) have gone through these sleepless nights. It's part of the process, and once it's done, your baby will be able to fall asleep with effortless ease, and so will you!
The 4 Month Sleep Regression
The first sleep regression usually happens somewhere between your baby's third and fourth months of life, and it can also be the toughest for first time parents. Although the time it takes for a baby to get over it varies, it usually does not exceed eight weeks.
Why It Happens: It is during this time when your baby is most curious and eager to get to know the people and the world around them. At 4 months, they usually cling to their parents and siblings for attention and guidance, and their mom for nourishment. Their fascination for this whole new world requires them to be watched consistently. One big milestone at this age is the act of rolling over, which babies will willingly practice and experiment with, especially if you praise them and encourage them daily. Practicing these milestones can lead to boosts in energy, bringing about changes in sleep patterns.
Signs Your Baby Is Going Through It: Your baby's sleep habits are becoming more and more irregular and for no obvious reason. During the day, your baby could be busy learning a new skill. This eagerness causes the baby to miss the usual daytime nap.
How To Manage It: Food means extra energy, and the more energy your baby has, the harder it will be to get baby to sleep. As tempting as it is to feed your baby in an attempt to stop it from crying, try something different by feeding baby all he or she needs during the day, and soothe your baby using your voice, rather than the breast or bottle at night.
The 6 Month Sleep Regression
At 6 months, it is quite rare for babies to experience sleeping problems compared to the other periods of sleep regressions, but it does happen sometimes. The good news is that at this age, your baby will most likely sleep longer and more soundly with the help of a little sleep training.
Why It Happens: Just like learning to roll over, babies will be engrossed with more and more skills as they grow. In this case, sitting and babbling will begin! Aged 5-6 months is when your baby begins to sit up and becomes eternally curious, they will also babble or make cute sounds throughout the day. Although these moments are undeniably cute and heartwarming, they can also make it hard for them, and you, to fall asleep.
Signs Your Baby Is Going Through It: Babies aged 6-12 months need at least 16 hours of restful sleep. However, having them nap too much during the day can trigger sleep regression at night, so if your baby takes too many naps during the day this could be a sign of sleep regression at 6 months. Also, if your baby becomes cranky and extra fussy at night this can be a sign of sleep regression. As difficult as this may be, know that like every stage of sleep regression, this too shall pass.
How To Manage: Limit their daytime snoozing to a maximum of two naps. Any more than that may be the reason they are waking up in the middle of the night.
The 8 Month Sleep Regression
This is sometimes called the 9 month sleep regression, and it occurs during the first eight to 10 months of your baby's life. Unlike the first two stages of regression that had more to do with your baby's naturally curious and investigative side, the 8 month sleep regression has more to do with your baby's development of new emotions and new skills.
Why It Happens: Crawling usually begins at this stage, and with your baby's newfound love for moving around comes restlessness, an eagerness to get out of the crib or whatever's considered their comfort zone, and random bursts of energy, mostly at night. Between eight months and one year is also when your baby's first social skills are developed and improved. Do not be surprised if your baby starts saying the words "mama", "dada" or "papa" as early as eight months old. Along with this development, you may see that separation anxiety is at an all-time high for your baby. This means, lots of tears when you leave the room, or when they wake up without you around, and separation anxiety can lead to sleep regressions.
Signs Your Baby Is Going Through It: A clear sign is the constant, more repetitive patterns of night waking. This may or may not involve tears, tantrums, restlessness, and trouble falling asleep in general. Clinginess can also be an issue in this stage, especially because your baby has already begun to develop social and communication skills. Your baby's inability to sleep may be telling you that they don't feel comfortable without you around.
How To Manage: Begin practicing separation slowly and in small and short intervals. The main goal is to assure your child that, even if you leave a room or don't see her for a few minutes, you will always come back. Aside from normalizing sleep patterns, this is also great preparation for the separation that's bound to happen when your child starts school or daycare. Also, if you can try to take turns with night time duty. A consistent stream of sleepless nights can leave anyone feeling drained and cranky. Ask your spouse or partner if you have one to take turns staying up. If you're a single parent, try to take power naps when your baby naps during the day. Trust us, you'll need that energy.
The 12 Month Sleep Regression
For most parents who deal with sleep regressions, the one-year-old mark could very well be the last rodeo. Again, this is a gentle reminder that all of this is temporary. Sleep regressions shouldn't last longer than eight weeks and sooner or later, the whole family will be able to sleep better.
Why It Happens: For your one-year-old, no time is more exciting than the present. By now, your baby could be learning how to walk and talk. These newfound skills may be the source of their energy bursts that carry on until the evening. They may even gain a sense of power and independence by being able to walk to your bed or call out your name whenever they need you, especially in the nighttime. At one year old, your baby's imagination is expanding so quickly, that this often carries over into sleep in the form of dreams. Waking up from a dream, good or bad, can be confusing for your little one.
Signs Your Baby Is Going Through It: Generally, they have a harder time falling asleep any time of the day. They may also start to wake up in the middle of the night and this can be accompanied by tantrums and fussiness.
How To Manage: We cannot prevent bad dreams from occurring, but we can help alleviate the fear by giving children a safe environment to wake up to. Adding a warm night light to your nursery or on the hallway can help your child to feel safe in familiar territory, instead of waking up in darkness, feeling lost and confused.
Sleep Regressions Beyond The One Year Mark
For those whose children carry on these sleep regressions after the one-year mark, don't fear! It is definitely not permanent and it is normal. Some children suffer from an 18-month sleep regression, 2-year-old sleep regression, and even toddler sleep regression. As they are much smaller than us, toddler's systems can easily be overloaded by any emotion such as happiness, fear, and adrenaline, affecting bedtime.
How To Manage: At this age, it is time to teach your child how to self-soothe, with some supervision, of course. Waking up in the middle of the night? As hard as it is, don't pick them up or feed them. Only come in when it is absolutely necessary or when they are taking too long to calm down and fall asleep.
What Causes Them?
There are a lot of reasons why this phenomenon can occur depending on the age of your baby or toddler. It is important to remember that every child, baby, or toddler is different but here are some common factors that can cause sleep regression:
A Growth Spurt: Sleep regressions can happen when babies go through what's called a growth spurt. During growth spurts, they tend to improve their motor skills and spatial awareness. Generally, they also have bigger appetites and may want to be fed more often. Their sleeping patterns can also change drastically, which can disrupt their current bedtime routine.
Teething: Teething is the process wherein their first set of teeth grows from their gums and can lead to some discomfort, causing your baby to bite, gnaw and drool. The discomfort caused by teething can affect sleep patterns at this age.
Changes In Your Child's Daily Routine: Day-to-day changes can also trigger sleep regression. Some of these are skipping meals and naps, starting school or daycare, traveling, and exposure to unfamiliar people and environments.
Developmental Milestones: A baby's developmental milestones, such as learning how to crawl, walk, talk and communicate can also have significant effects on their sleep cycles.
Illness: Illnesses such as fevers and colds can make babies just as uncomfortable as adults when they catch it, leading to sleep regression. If you are ever concerned about your baby's health, please seek medical advice.
Our Top Tips For Survival
Some days may be harder than others, especially if you've had a few consecutive nights of little to no sleep. Here are some general tips that can be applied to any age and stage of your baby, toddler, or child's development:
1. Stay consistent with routines even if it seems discouraging at times. Know that your baby will eventually outgrow these regressions and that will mean some peaceful sleep for you is coming soon!
2. Keep them active during the day. Have them play, swim, crawl or walk around to their heart's content so that, by nighttime, they will be tired enough to actually get some sleep.
3. Keep your cool. Do not approach your baby with anger or desperation as this will only further upset them or make them think that there is something wrong.
4. Practice affectionate gestures like stroking your child's head and stomach, whispering kind words, playing a lullaby, or whatever works best to calm them down. This can help to soothe a child to sleep.
5. Create a bedtime routine. This could involve reading your baby a bedtime story or bringing your baby to the crib at approximately the same time every night.
6. Try not to have them sleep in your arms, but instead put them down when they are drowsy or half asleep. This will help send them the message that it is indeed time to settle down and get some rest.
7. Be intuitive in the process. In the end, all children are different, and it is your time spent with your baby, coupled with your parental instincts that will guide you to do what is best for your child.
8. Be ready for anything. Sleep is not a linear process for babies so anticipate some bumps along the way, and adjust your expectations on how your child might behave.
9. Show your child unconditional love, affection, patience, and support throughout the entire process. Rest assured that sleep regressions are temporary and remember that this too shall pass.
10. For children, learning to self-soothe or to calm themself down is an essential skill. This will come in handy when they start daycare or interact with other kids their age so is something that you can encourage and teach at home.
If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at our top tips for the 6 month sleep regression, or the [10 month sleep regression].
The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.