Sleep regressions can be such a downer as a parent. Just when you start to feel you’re getting in your parenting groove, a sudden change can really shake your confidence.
What’s a sleep regression you ask?
A sleep regression can cause even the best sleeper to suddenly take too-short naps (or skip naps altogether) and wake frequently at night. In my work with families, I’ve learned that sleep regressions usually top a parent’s list of “things I that make me feel like a failure”!
What Are Sleep Regressions, and When Do They Happen?
Simply put, sleep regressions are a period of time during which a baby or toddler, who’s been sleeping okay, suddenly (often without any warning) begins waking frequently at night and/or refusing to nap during the day or taking naps that are too short. These regressions usually last for approximately 2 – 6 weeks, depending on age and child; then, your baby or toddler’s sleep should return to its normal patterns…if you haven’t developed new, poor sleep habits, that is. Sleep regressions happen during a period of mental and/or physical development for your baby or toddler.
Although developmental leaps can happen at a multitude of ages, the primary, and most-disruptive, sleep regressions usually happen at the following ages:
- 4 months
- 8-10 months
- 18 months
- 2 years
You can read more about each of these sleep regressions, and glean tips on how to deal with them, by reading through this Sleep Regression Resources page.
5 Tips to Help Your Baby or Toddler Through a Sleep Regression
Sleep regressions can be difficult for many families and if you have a high-needs child at home, then you can count on extra-big doses of fussiness. Here are my top tips to help you get through a sleep regression without losing your mind:
Avoid overtired-ness like the plague. Some children are sensitive to being over-tired and more prone to develop the “overtired cycle” – that is, baby gets a little overtired, which makes the next nap hard, which means even more overtired-ness, which makes the nap or nighttime after that REALLY hard, etc. etc. So, watch your baby’s sleepy cues and the schedule pretty closely, and compensate for any missed or shortened naps with an earlier bedtime.
Keep some semblance of your usual schedule, if possible. It’s fine to change up the schedule to prevent overtired-ness, as I mentioned in the previous point, but try to maintain some of your usual order during the day. Keeping some semblance of predictability in your day can help during a sleep regression, especially if your baby or toddler doesn’t particularly like change.
Try to stay home. I know this one isn’t entirely in your control – life happens! But during a regression, it’s best to avoid big vacations, lots of busy traveling or errand-running, etc. Staying home also helps you follow your sleep and feeding schedules a bit more closely, which can bring sleeping through the night and better naps more within your grasp. Babies going through a rapid period of development can get over-stimulated quickly!
Hold your baby and give her a lot of attention. Your baby or toddler may become very demanding for your attention during a developmental leap. All of those changes can make him very irritable and feel a bit out of sorts. All that means is he may want to snuggle more, so plan to clear your calendar a bit, so you can focus on you him until he’s ready to be a bit more independent once again.
Try really, really hard not to undo any sleep coaching progress you’ve made. If you’ve been working on sleep with your child, and have been making progress, do your best to avoid undoing all your hard work. If, for instance, your baby or toddler has finally learned to fall asleep on her own, try not to go back to rocking/nursing/holding her to sleep during the sleep regression. Instead, you can soothe your baby a bit extra until she’s calm, and then lay her down for sleep, but keep the expectation that she still puts herself to sleep. This is an accommodation that may help with fussiness but won’t undo all your work.
However you handle your baby’s sleep regression, remember they are usually short, but you can accidentally create long-lasting habits. Most families find that within a few weeks, things get somewhat back to normal, provided they’ve supported their baby through the regression without going overboard. Hang in there and remember, this too shall pass!
Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, Nicole and her team at The Baby Sleep Site® can help! Download the popular free guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night, to get started today.