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Things Every Parent Should Know About Infant/Toddler Sleep Regressions

8 min read

By Activebeat

Sleep regressions are no fun for all parties involved! Just when your little one seems to have gotten into the the swing of things, and is sleeping through the night, they throw a curveball and you are back to the sleepless nights that you were just starting to forget — and certainly did NOT miss. When you are tired and frustrated, it is a truly difficult time for the whole family. There are common sleep regressions to note, however, some may strike right ‘on schedule’, while some others may come early, be delayed, and fingers tightly crossed – may not happen at all! Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about sleep regression, and tips on how to get through them…

13. What Is A Sleep Regression?

A sleep regression is thought to occur when a child who is normally sleeping well (possibly through the night) for a long period of time and then, all of a sudden, without a known cause (such as big sleep robbers: illness, travel, teething), their sleep begins to go down hill, and they begin to wake frequently at night and/or fights or refuses naps.  They can seemingly come out of nowhere, and can be every tired parents worst nightmare.

12. Why Do Sleep Regressions Occur?

Sleep regressions often coincide with your little one is going through cognitive or developmental milestones. During these milestones, your little one may start waking at night, and/or skipping naps for seemingly no apparent reason. Parents often describe being caught off guard — just when they thought their little one conquered their sleep challenges, they are back to night wakings and nonexistent naps.

11. When Do Sleep Regressions Commonly Occur?

Sleep regressions typically occur at 6 weeks, 3-4 months, 6 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 2 years old. Most children do not experience a full regression at each of these milestones, so parents, do not fear.

10. 6 Week Sleep Regression

Newborns frequently go through a series of growth spurts that often lead to increased hunger and fussiness. There is so much happening in such a short span of their life, that it takes a lot of work on baby’s part. The sleeplessness that comes with the growth spurt (where babies wake more often at night, and early from naps), is cause by your baby’s hunger and need to eat, and isn’t due to any cognitive or developmental milestones like the later sleep regressions.

9. 3-4 Months Sleep Regression

This sleep regression is often referred to as the 4 month sleep regression. This regression can be particularly challenging. In addition to your child going through a growth spurt, they are going through bursts of brain development, and increased awareness of their surroundings. During this regression, thing that used to work to get your baby to sleep may not be working anymore. You may have been able to put your baby to sleep while holding them and then transferring them into their bed, but now they might start to wake as you put them down. This can be a big challenge, because they are still too young to know how to soothe themself back to a sleeping state. So, it may take several attempts to get your baby into bed.

Many babies also begin rolling at this time, which means if you are still swaddling your child, you will need to stop so that your baby doesn’t roll themselves in the swaddle. They may also get stuck on their tummy, so it is important your little one gets lots of tummy time practice during the daytime so they are proficient at rolling, and less likely to practice at night.

8. 6 Month Sleep Regression

If your baby wasn’t an early roller, they may begin to roll more frequently by the time they reach 6 months of age. As they develop more core strength through rolling, the next milestone that usually follows is crawling. Some little ones will crawl as early as 5 or 6 months, while others may wait a bit longer. Whenever it happens, it is usually accompanied by a sleep regression.

You may see your little one on all fours in their crib rocking back and forth, practicing for their upcoming mobility. Additionally, at 6 months, babies are going through another growth spurt and as a result are hungrier. They may wake for more night time feeds to help tide them over.

7. 8-10 Month Sleep Regression

This sleep regression is often referred to as the 9 month sleep regression — since it typically occurs anywhere between 8 and 10 months of age. This sleep regression often coincides with your little ones new found ability to pull themself into a standing position. Something I wish I knew, was that with this developmental milestone, it is important to have them practice sitting back down. During the day, when your little one stands up, try putting something down on the grown as an incentive to get them to reach down for it. Help guide them to bend their legs, and then let them practice doing it on their own. This is so important because if they don’t know how to get back into a laying down position, they will not be able to return to sleep if they wake up and stand.

Also, at this time, your little one maybe begin to experience separation anxiety. While before you little one didn’t care if you left the room for a few minutes, now they are suddenly really upset about it, and scream even when you just need to use the washroom. With this, bedtime can be a particularly big challenge, since this is the longest stretch the child will go without their parent being by their side all day. This separation is often most strongly associated with the parent with whom your child has their primary attachment.

6. 12 Month Sleep Regression

Often around 12 months of age your little one will be reaching the major milestone of walking! Some babies walk sooner, some later. Accompanied by this milestone again, is another sleep regression. This regression can crop up about 2 weeks before you even see any significant walk skills emerge. Much like with their earlier milestones, it is still very important to give your little one plenty of practice time during the day, so when bedtime actually rolls around, they will be more tired out, and not feel like they need to get in some more practice in their crib.

This sleep regression is slightly less-common. This may be due to the fact that this one has more to do with your little one’s naps, and not as much on their sleep at night. Often at this time, your little one may begin to refuse to take two naps. At this time, many parents assume it’s time to transition from two naps to one, but this is usually discouraged until they are between 15 months and 18 months of age.

5. 18 Month Sleep Regression

This sleep regression was a tough one!  Around 18 months of age, little ones may experience a huge growth in their communication skills. While they may have been babbling away for months, words and direction following can really begin to emerge at this time. Your toddler may still have some difficulty communicating exactly what they want, which can make them (and parents) a bit frustrated. Usually, their receptive language (what they understand) usually advances first, then their expressive language (what they can articulate). You can work on this with your little one by talking to them about what it is you are doing and when you are doing something that involves them.

Also during their toddler years, children often become obsessive about their need for predictability, and have some control over their environment. At this time, it becomes important to them to have routine. Being consistent with their bedtime routine as well as your response to any night wakings is essential to keeping this regression as short lived as possible.

4. 2 Year Sleep Regression

For some children, their verbal skills may not increase until they are closer to 2 years of age — resulting in a later regression. At 2 years of age, some children even get a jump start on potty training! When children start potty training at a young age, it can certainly throw them for a bit of a loop when it comes to their sleep.

Most children don’t start night potty training until later when they learn to successfully stay dry consistently throughout the day. Night potty training can follow several months or even years after for some. Either way, if your child starts potty training at an early age, it can result in sleep regressions as they begin to practice this new developmental skill.

3. Does Every Child Experience Sleep Regressions?

Every child is different. Some children may experience regressions at all these milestones, while others may not experience the full regression at all. Practicing working on these major milestones during the day may help to lessen the burden on the night time, but unfortunately there is no guarantee. It never hurts to try!

2. How Long Do Sleep Regressions Last?

Sleep regressions typically last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks. This can feel like an absolute eternity to tired parents but there is no rhyme or reason to how it will go for your little one. Fingers crossed it will be short-lived!

1. What Can We Do When Sleep Regressions Occur?

As a parent of a child going through a sleep regression, we must do our best to soothe our child by being responsive, but not creating any new sleep crutches or falling back into old ones, as this will only make things harder going forward! Don’t be afraid to offer extra feedings, as growth spurts can be a component of sleep regressions. Sleep regressions can lead to a lot of missed sleep, which can lead to overtiredness, which can quickly spiral into more missed sleep. So, don’t be afraid to offer an earlier bedtime, to ensure they are getting the recommended amount of sleep they need.

As trying as these times can be, it is important to be patient and remember that this is only temporary. Recognizing that your little one is just as tired and frustrated with the developmental milestone that is going on, is also a helpful perspective to maintain. Fingers are tightly crossed that this sleep regression will be short-lived and that you will all get back into a good, restful sleep routine as soon as possible.