When do Sleep Regressions happen? And how do I navigate them?
Does this scenario sound familiar? You thought you figured out your babes sleep challenges, so now they are blissfully sleeping adequate hours for naps and bedtime and then BAM! They are waking up at all hours of the night, taking short naps or worse - nap striking!
This my friends could be your sweet little one going through a sleep regression. Your babe will go through many mental and physiological changes in their first 2 years! The main reason to the changes in your babes sleep is because these tiny humans are constantly growing, developing and processing. Did your baby just learn to wave? Crawl? Clap? It took a lot of brain power and coordination to master that!
While these challenges in their sleep can be confusing, frustrating, and completely exhausting, they are completely normal and great for their development. You may be wondering - will my baby ever sleep again? The answer is absolutely yes, if you continue implementing your healthy sleep habits you have created, the regressions normally do pass on their own and if they don’t I can help you! As a sleep consultant, I can guide you, giving you the support and confidence to help your babe get their sleep back on track.
Here is all you need to know to help you navigate your babes sleep regressions:
WHAT ARE SLEEP REGRESSIONS?
A sleep regression is a change to your babes sleeping patterns, usually occurring when your babe is going through huge physical and emotional developmental changes. Not all babies will reach these developmental stages at the exact ages listed below, as some may hit recessions earlier or later. You may notice that they are suddenly having issues settling to sleep or waking in the middle of the night, when they have previously been sleeping reasonably well. On average it lasts about 2-4 weeks, but is also baby dependant.
Sleep regressions normally occur at:
12 - 15 months
This is the week when you start to see your baby become a catnap king or queen. Their daytime sleep normally gets worse, as their sleepy newborn state starts to wear off and they become more of an
own melatonin (sleepy hormone) to help them settle into dreamland, as their maternal melatonin has worn off. Melatonin is only produced when it is dark, so it’s very important to invest in some black out blinds for your baby’s sleep space at this point if you haven’t already done so. The darkness will really help your baby to connect sleep cycles and stay asleep during naps and overnight. If you are still struggling with cat naps, even with the black out blinds the reasoning may be that their nap timings may be off and need to be adjusted to help them move away from their newborn sleep habits.
This regression is the one that most people dread. It can happen around 3 months, or sometimes even as late as 5 months.
Although sleep is seemingly in a “regression”, the brain changes at 4 months are actually permanent changes and progressing. At this point in their development, babies develop more defined sleep stages and cycles. They start to fully wake up between sleep cycles instead of just drifting between sleep cycles automatically like they use to when they were a new little bean. So suddenly it’s fully up to them to put themselves back to sleep during nap and bedtime when they wake up, and then again when they wake up during the night. It’s not until this age that a baby is “learning to sleep”, and it takes them lots of practice of self settling to perfect this new skill.
This regression is the one all about developing new skills. This regression can even happen as early as 6 months!! If your baby could talk, they would be saying “look what I can do” all day! They are learning and practicing (usually when they are suppose to be sleeping) all their exciting new gross motor skills. They’ll be learning to roll, crawl, pull themselves up to stand, potentially taking a few steps or some kids even start to walk at this time! The amazing list goes on and on, but no need to fret unlike the 4th month regression this one usually lasts for a couple weeks on and off. You want to give them LOTS of floor time so they can show you and practice all their newfound skills.
Usually around this time is when baby’s also drop down from 3 to 2 naps, so you may need to adjust bedtime earlier to avoid your baby from becoming overtired. An over tired baby can be hard to settle and wake more frequently during the night.
Some baby’s also experience separation anxiety during this period, which can be hard on a parents heart. Continue to follow your soothing bedtime routine, as this will help your baby feel relaxed before bed, and provide consistency and the predictability they need to feel safe. Give them all the snuggles, and spend some daily quality time with no distractions to help them deal with the changes that are going on around them.
This sleep regression is less common, as not all baby’s go through it. It has to do with some baby’s transitioning from 2 naps to 1. Some baby’s will start to push their morning nap later due to taking a long time to settle, protest a nap or even ditch it all together. Sometimes it happens around the 12 month mark (and if your babies are like mine, they may even transition as early as 10 months!), but it’s more commonly seen closer to 15 months.
Too nap once or twice, that is the question? Basically you don’t want to rush this phase, there’s no rule that a baby has to be on a one nap schedule (unless you are going back to work and the daycares schedule is requesting it - that’s another topic for another day). You want to be flexible with the nap schedule, as you may go through a couple weeks with baby taking two naps one day and then one nap the next. Since your babe is adjusting to the new change, you may start to see earlier morning wake ups or even your babe waking up after one sleep cycle at bedtime. It can be confusing and somewhat frustrating for the parent, but once they finally ride out their 2 to 1 nap transition, sleep will settle out.
As always, bedtime may need to move earlier as your babe navigates the world of transitioning from 2 to 1 nap.
You may have started to notice your babes clothes become too short from them growing so quickly, or they are starting to complain of their molars which are coming through at full force around this age. Your not so little bean starts to become more confident and independent, which can lead to some protests to sleeping as they would rather do something else. To support this let them make some age-appropriate decisions such as choosing their pyjamas or bedtime books by giving them two different choices.
Some toddlers experience a return of separation anxiety around this age, and can lead to some nap and bedtime tears as they do not want to be left alone to sleep. To help them with this, it’s important to stay consistent and stick to your routine, making sure their room is a quiet, calm place for sleep. Share lots of cuddles and one on one time. Always tell them that you are leaving, and when you will be back. Don’t just try and sneak out as that can heighten anxiety.
Support your toddler as you know how in getting the sleep they need during this regression without going to off course from your routine. Sticking to your schedule will make it easier to return to the norm and give them a sense of structure and security.
This is a regression that surprised me, I thought I was in the clear following the first year and a half and booooyyyyy was I wrong!
There’s a lot of big changes and developmental milestones happening around this time for a tiny human. Some children get a brand new sibling, some learn to potty train or are newly potty trained, some learn to climb out of their bed and transition to a big boy bed (I highly recommend waiting until closer to 3 for this!), some drop their nap (like my big kids). And let’s not forget, their independence that just keeps on growing so they have an opinion on everything that they may disagree with.
This age there’s a lot of pressure for them to “grow up”, but it’s important to remember they are still little. They need your help navigating this big world, whether it be giving them some one on one time, or they may need a little bit more reassurance especially if a new sibling has arrived, and maybe some extra snuggles and hugs.
*Cue Four Hugs a Day by Charlotte Diamond* A song my oldest sings on repeat.
As always, with nap transitions take it day by day as some days your toddler may take a nap every other day to help them drop the nap completely. Sleep begets sleep! So remember to put them to bed early to avoid that sleep debt.
HOW TO NAVIGATE ALL THE REGRESSIONS
When you are in the thick of the regressions you are probably wondering, “where is my blissful sleepy baby, and how do I get back to the nights where everyone slept peacefully again?” No? Just me?
Take a deep breath and remember this won’t last forever. The 4 month sleep regression is a permanent change, so there’s no going back to the way baby slept before. But now, you can focus on giving your baby the chance to self settle as your baby is now able to fall asleep on their own - this shift happened during the 4 month sleep regression (hello silver lining)! Once babe learns the important skill of self settling, they are well on their way to being able to sleep through the night without your help.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the season of regressions:
Offer extra feedings: Growth spurts sometimes accompany sleep regressions, so its okay to offer an extra feed during the night making sure your baby stays awake for this feed. Eat, back in their crib awake to let them self settle and continue their sleep. No falling asleep on the job!
Comfort as much as needed: To help babies and toddler cope with the regressions, they may need extra cuddles and kisses which is completely okay. You just want to avoid creating new or bringing back old sleep associations, such as rocking or feeding to sleep, or offering a pacifier.
Lean on your village: Sleep regressions can last up to 4-6 weeks, which can definitely be exhausting for all parties involved. Ask for help, talk through your emotions and lean on your village for support.
Put your baby to bed earlier: Sleep regressions can create a sleep debt if your babe is waking more at night, waking early, refusing naps, cat napping or dropping a nap. This can lead to an overtired child, which can quickly create an even bigger sleep debt. So always offer an earlier bedtime if necessary to catch up on missed sleep! Like I tell my clients, don’t be afraid of a 5:30PM bedtime once in awhile.
Although it may feel like your babes first two years of their lives are just a rollercoaster ride of regressions, remember that sleep regressions are a great sign that your child’s growing, developing, learning new skills and becoming pretty fascinating humans - and that’s something to celebrate!
If you would like to a chat with me or would like to find out more about how I can help your family nurture healthy sleep don’t hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org