Just when you thought you had the whole sleeping shebang sorted, suddenly it all crumbles to dust. Naps become a nightmare, your baby who was sleeping like an angel is now an all-night clubber. Don’t panic! It could be what’s known as sleep regression. A perfectly natural change in your little one’s sleeping patterns usually linked to milestone moments in their mental development.
One sleep forward, two steps back…
So sleep regression is a GOOD THING. The name sounds like a step back, but in fact it’s all about your baby’s big steps forward. Sleep regression is all just part of growing up. Don’t feel alarmed or anxious! Nothing you’ve done has caused it, but there are things you can do to make it easier to get through. Read on!
What is sleep regression?
As you probably know only too well, there are so many ways that your mini’s sleep can be disrupted. Summertime clock changes, a ray of sunshine through the window, warmer weather, hunger, teething, coughs and colds, colic, reflux… These can all cause restless days and sleepless nights. It’s always worth checking these out just in case it’s a problem easily fixed.
Sleep regressions are different. They can happen, no matter how well your baby is, and how well your sleep training has gone. But the good news is that most sleep regressions will simply go away, in their own time. It may take a week, or a few months. Just sit tight and hold your nerve, because consistency and sticking to your routines are key in getting you all through these troublesome times!
How will you know if it’s sleep regression?
The main sign of a sleep regression is a major change in sleep patterns. Things to look out for are:
· Daytime naps getting shorter
· Waking up more frequently during the night.
· Getting overtired through lack of proper sleep
· Harder getting them to settle for naps and sleeps
· Not going back to sleep easily when they wake up
· Being grouchy for no reason
Once you’ve ruled out all the possible external factors like is it too bright, are they too cold, and checked that they’re not hungry, sick or soggy, then it could well be a sleep regression in progress.
When do sleep regressions happen?
Babies and toddlers might go through a sleep regression at any time. They’re usually linked to major mental developmental stages, rather than physical changes like growth spurts – although these can affect sleeping, too. There are a number of commonly recognised life stages when your mini might experience a sleep regression. The exact age might vary. All babies are little individuals, after all, and follow their own timetable. And not every baby will experience a sleep regression at any, or all, of these stages.
8-week baby sleep regression
New babies come into the world deliciously sleepy, armed with maternal melatonin. This is the sleep hormone that kicks in when it gets dark and helps manage our circadian rhythms and sleeping regime.
When this maternal melatonin supply runs out after the first few weeks, you could suddenly find yourself with a very wide-awake baby! Catnapping during the day and not sleeping well at night can carry on until they start producing melatonin for themselves in a month or so.
What to do
Blackout blinds can help babies establish the link between darkness and sleeping, and set up good night-time sleep patterns. Tweaking nap times can also help them move on from their newborn snoozing habits.
4-month sleep regression
Around 4 months, your baby learns to roll over. That’s a huge change! It means they’re getting ready to get out there and explore the world. This is also the time when your baby experiences the biggest change in their sleeping cycles. Waking fully more often during the day, and every two hours during the night. And if your baby only gets to sleep when held or rocked, you are both going to be very, very tired bunnies in no time!
What to do
You can’t stop the waking up. But what you can do is help your bubba get back to sleep independently. Some people call it sleep training, but it doesn’t have to be a boot camp! Don’t ever leave your little one crying. But maybe just wait a moment to see if they’ll settle back down. Often, they do. Try putting them down gently when their drowsy but still awake and let them nod off all on their own. Some parents swear by white noise to soothe back to sleep. Self-settling, once established, is an absolute game changer!
9–12-month sleep regression
Around 9-12 months, the next giant leap for babykind happens! Your mini-me starts to realise that you exist and that they quite like you. So much so that they start suffering from separation anxiety when you try to put them down for a nap or night-time sleep alone.
They might also be taking big jumps in their physical development. Sitting, standing or even taking their first steps. And then practising their new skills in their cot. It’s all perfectly normal. Just leave them to it and they’ll soon work out that if they lie down again, they can get back to sleep all by themselves.
What to do
Stick with your morning and afternoon nap routine. Stay close by while they’re settling and give lots of eye contact. Yes, you’re still there! Don’t be panicked into giving them something new they never needed before to get to sleep – like an extra feed or cuddles. Now really is the time to work on self-settling and sleeping through the night. Before toddler tantrums come marching over the horizon!
12–15-month sleep regression
Roundabout now could see a sudden surge in that separation anxiety. Your toddler may be adamant that they can’t get to sleep without a final hug from you. They may also have learnt that making a very loud noise gets results!
This is the stage at which it’s important to realise that there is nothing wrong with your child, they’re just scrying because they want your attention. By this time, night feeds are no longer needed, and your toddler should be getting a good, long night’s sleep as well as a nap during the day. So just dig in and hang on to your hat! Stick with that routine. It worked before, and it will do again.
What to do
Just carry on doing exactly what you were doing before. A brief cuddle if they wake up, but otherwise, consistency is the way to go. Take it in turns at bedtime – separation anxiety can get worse when they’re expecting the same parent every night. Cut naps down to one. This should be enough and help with sleeping at night. And maybe a teddy bear, toy or cuddle cloth right now could provide the comfort they’re looking for. And take the pressure off you!
24-month sleep regression
Well done! You’ve survived this far, so you’ll be overjoyed to hear that this is the last sleep regression you’ve got to get through. Your toddler’s hit two. By now they’re testing out their sense of independence, the boundaries of their cot, and your limits. They may not go to sleep, just because that’s not what they feel like right now, thank you!
Don’t be tempted to move them to a big bed. It’s too soon and all they’ll do is get up even more to enjoy their new-found freedom. Don’t stop the naps – until your toddler has gone for at least 10 days without drifting off to sleep at the usual time. Do make sure their room is pitch black, to give them all the help they need to sleep.
What can you do?
Keep calm and carry on. Continue with the cot and the naps and stick with whatever sleep regime you’ve already created. You could try a small, low level night light as extra reassurance and to make the wake-up moments more interesting for them.
Be prepared, before it happens
Whatever stage you’re at, get that sleeping plan in place. You’ll be in a much better place if you’re baby does start to show signs of sleep regression. Establish good routines that work for you and your little one. It will give you a life raft to cling onto whenever the ship of sleep seems to be sinking into the abyss!
Create a daily schedule that includes the right amount of waking, play and rest times. You don’t want baby to be overtired and fractious, or already too rested, when it’s the right time to sleep.