When your tried-and-true nighttime rituals don’t help your little munchkin drift off to sleep (or stay asleep), your baby may be going through what’s known as sleep regression.
Perhaps your baby was once a sleeping pro and now all of a sudden is having trouble falling or staying asleep come bedtime. No worries! No matter what boat your baby is in, it’s important to remember that sleep regression is both common and temporary, especially when babies hit the notorious four-month mark. We created this guide to help your baby conquer sleep regression at any stage. Below, we’ll cover practical ways to help work through sleep regressions as they come and go, so you and your little one can get back on track to a peaceful night's rest.
Sleep regression is when your little one is experiencing disruptions in their sleeping patterns, which negatively affect their normal sleep schedule. Dealing with sleep regression may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but remember that this is a temporary phase that won’t last forever.
It can be difficult to decipher whether your baby has had a bad night’s sleep or is starting a period of sleep regression. Most bouts of sleep regression tend to last a week or two before your baby gets back on track, but they can last longer. Since you know your baby best, you can probably pick up on changes in their behaviors. It’s common for your baby to sleep through the night one evening and then have a poor night's sleep the next, but sleep regression will become more than a one-off experience. Don’t discount your parental instinct or wait to contact your pediatrician for any help navigating this juncture.
Since sleep regression can take many different forms and occur at all ages, we broke down some general indicators your baby may be experiencing one below:
- Your baby starts to have trouble falling asleep.
- Your baby begins to avoid naps, which could lead to overtiredness.
- Your baby starts to wake up more than usual throughout the night.
- Bedtime is becoming associated with fussiness, resistance, and temper tantrums.
- There are changes in your baby’s overall sleeping patterns.
As a parent, you want to take any pain away from your baby, and sleep regression is no exception. You can breathe a big sigh of relief though because there are a few ways you can help your baby manage their sleep. We’ll cover more on this later on.
Just as babies need time to learn how to walk, they also need time to develop their circadian rhythm — i.e., the natural processes that respond to light and dark, which is often referred to as the body’s “internal clock”. Babies start to develop this around 12 weeks but don’t master it until they’re about a year old, which is one major driving force behind sleep regression. It's no wonder they wake up in the middle of the night cranky since their internal clocks aren't synchronized with 24-hour days (like adults).
As well as babies' internal clocks not being synchronized, here are some other factors that may contribute to sleep regression:
- Your baby has hit a cognitive leap or developmental milestone
- Your baby is going through a growth spurt
- Teething pain may be keeping them up at night
- Your baby has come down with a cold or illness
- There has been a change in their sleeping environment
- Your baby has been experiencing disruptions in their bedtime routine
Newborns tend to sleep 14 to 17 hours a day, but as they grow they start to sleep less and less and can experience disturbances in their sleeping patterns. Below, we break down the most common sleep regression periods and possible underlying causes.
3 to 4 Months: You may be familiar with the common four-month sleep regression. This can be due to factors like growth spurts or waking up in a new environment. For example, your baby can get confused if they fall asleep in your arms and wake up in their crib or bassinet. Falling back asleep after waking up is a skill that babies haven’t fully mastered yet so they may be looking to you for extra help to soothe them back to sleep.
6 Months: At six months, your baby is sleeping fewer hours than when they were a newborn but for longer periods. They may even sleep for long stretches during the night, however, it’s common for babies to hit a roadblock at this milestone. Factors like cognitive leaps, overtiredness, growth spurts, and overstimulation can all play a role and cause them to wake up more frequently throughout the night. This is a good time to encourage them to self-soothe and try falling back asleep on their own.
8 to 10 Months: Babies at this stage may be moving around more and have difficulty calming down before bed. A simple change in routine like moving from three to two naps a day could cause them to become overtired at bedtime. Other factors like pain from teething or separation anxiety can affect your baby at this stage as well.
11 to 12 Months: Babies at this stage are reaching tons of new milestones such as walking and talking! Changes in their sleeping routine can mess with their sleep cycle. Your baby may also experience nightmares or hunger pangs. As they develop more independence, some babies may become more resistant to settling down for bed.
Sleep regression can last anywhere from one to six weeks, but if it lasts longer, you can always contact your pediatrician for advice.
We know sleep regression can be frustrating for both you and your baby — and no amount of coffee can make up for a terrible night’s rest. You’ve most likely tried to create a helpful sleepy time routine and it’s easy to get discouraged when it doesn’t seem to be working.
Take a moment to pause and remember that this is only temporary and you and your baby will come out the other side of it just fine. The nights might be long, but this stage is truly a fleeting moment in time that you will be able to look back on years from now with the knowledge that you and your baby conquered it together.
Since most babies experience sleep regression at one point or another in their lives, below are some helpful tips to make bedtime a success.
- Stay Consistent in Your Bedtime Routine: While you may want to react to sleep regression by trying a new routine, we recommend sticking with your usual bedtime routine to reinforce consistency and learn when to wind down.
- Don’t Get Rid of Naps Too Soon: Some babies may want to skip their naps and stay awake during the day to play. Do your best to enforce nap time so they are not overtired later on.
- Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment: Keep the lights dim or dark in their room. You can also try using a white noise machine. Once they wake up in the morning, open the curtains and let the natural sunlight in. This will help in establishing their circadian rhythm.
- Start Sleep Training: Sleep training helps your baby to sleep through the night and self-soothe, should they wake up.
- Pay Attention to Sleepy Cues: If your baby starts nodding off or yawning, then you know it’s time to get them ready for bedtime.
- Try Soothing Techniques: If your baby does wake up in the middle of the night you can try rocking them or giving them a pacifier while keeping their environment calm and dark. There’s nothing more soothing than parents’ calm whispers.
Sleep regression can lead you to your wit's end, especially the longer it lasts. You should always call your doctor anytime you feel you need to speak with them about your baby’s health. After all, they are there to answer any questions and be a resource to you.
If it’s been longer than 1-6 weeks and you’ve tried sleep training, creating a calming environment, and other interventions and nothing has gotten better then it’s always a good idea to speak with your pediatrician (or sooner if you can). Always remember to never bring your baby into bed with you at night, as this can be dangerous.
Overcoming sleep regression takes a ton of patience and time! But watching your baby overcome this hurdle can fill you with pride. Find more insightful parenting tips and advice on our blog.