Is your child struggling to get to sleep at night? Perhaps they used to sleep well but have begun often waking again? If so, it may be caused by sleep regression, a common problem in infants and toddlers. Sleep problems can be frustrating for the whole family and can leave you feeling drained and exhausted.
If your child's struggling to sleep or regularly wakes during the night, read on, there are many things you can do to help. This article will look at the causes and stages of sleep regression and will give you details of how long it's likely to last. There are many things you can do to help your child with sleep regression, and we'll also give you some tips to help your whole family to get a better night's sleep.
What is Sleep regression
Sleep regression can be frustrating for parents, particularly if you thought your baby had settled into a regular sleeping pattern. If your baby is suddenly, unexpectedly waking up every half an hour throughout the night, you'll be exhausted and in need of some advice.
Sleep regression is a common problem for babies and toddlers. This condition refers to a period of between three to six weeks where a baby who has previously been sleeping through the night suddenly has changes in their sleeping pattern for no apparent reason. Your baby may have started taking short naps throughout the day and night rather than sleeping for extended periods of time. They may also have started skipping naps.
Parents often aren't expecting their baby to experience sleep regression as it can happen just when they thought they'd overcome their baby's sleep challenges. It can be a shock when seemingly out of nowhere, your baby is frequently waking up during the night. This is frustrating and exhausting for the whole family.
Sleep regression often coincides with a baby's developmental milestone. They may struggle to sleep or keep waking up while teething, when they first start to crawl or if they've moved from a cot to a bed, for example.
Sleep Regression Stages
Sleep regression is a normal part of a baby's development. As your little one goes through changes and develops, their sleeping patterns will naturally change. Each child is unique, but many parents find that when a baby starts teething, they are unable to sleep.
It's important to note that as every baby is unique, so are their sleeping patterns and habits. Don't compare your baby with your friends' babies. However, there are some ages where it's common for babies and toddlers to go through a sleep regression.
By about four months old, most babies will have got over their babyish or newborn sleeping patterns and will be able to sleep most of the night. At around four months, your baby may seem to regress and start waking and fussing during the night again. Many babies begin to have problems sleeping when they are between three and five months old. These problems can last a long time in some cases, months, or even years.
Newborn babies sleep very deeply for a lot of the time. This is why small babies can fall asleep anywhere, and parents are often surprised that they can sleep through anything, e.g., being moved or loud noises.
At four months of age, a baby's sleep cycle changes, which is a permanent change. They no longer sleep as deeply and may start to wake during the night regularly. By four months, your baby's brain will have matured enough to change their sleeping patterns. A four-month-old baby is now sleeping more like an adult and is moving naturally between light and deep sleep.
In many cases, babies will go back to sleeping well after two or three weeks, this will happen naturally, and parents will see the regression as just a phase their baby was going through. Other babies will have developed bad sleeping habits during the four-month sleep regression, and their parents will have to take steps to improve the quality and quantity of their baby's sleep.
The four-month sleep regression is standard and should be seen as a developmental milestone.
At around six months, babies go through a growth spurt that may result in changes to their sleep. Many parents find that this age is a difficult time as their baby isn't sleeping as well as they were in the past.
However, many experts argue that this is natural and due to developmental changes. There isn't a three- to six-week period when the baby has chronic problems sleeping, so this time often isn't regarded as sleep regression.
At six months old, your baby will go through rapid growth and development. Babies of this age, start to learn new things and become more active. Your baby will likely begin to roll, sit up with support, or even scoot along or crawl. When your baby starts to become more mobile, they will also burn more calories than they previously have.
If your baby has been sleeping all night and suddenly starts to wake, it's likely that they need a feed due to the extra calories they've been burning. This isn't a sleep regression; it may be time to increase feeds or introduce solid foods.
Eight to Ten Months
Developmental milestones that take place between eight and ten months of age often result in sleep regression. At this age, most babies are becoming more active and are crawling. They may also be pulling on things and getting ready to stand up. Also, there are many changes taking place within their brains, and your baby will have started to absorb language. During this time, teething also starts.
Your baby will likely wake up more during the night and take shorter naps. Some may even skip naps altogether. This could result in your baby becoming very cranky.
Eleven to Twelve Months
A lower percentage of babies seem to be affected by the eleven-month sleep regression. If your child is going through a sleep regression at this age, it's more likely to canter around naps. You may find that your baby is suddenly unable to sleep at their second nap of the day.
Many parents assume that their baby has grown up enough to just have one nap during the day. However, it may be due to sleep regression, and you should still try settling your baby down for two naps a day. Most toddlers need two naps a day until they are between fifteen and eighteen months old.
At around twelve to fifteen months, your child will be learning to walk. This may result in disturbances in sleep. It is more common, however, that when your fifteen-month-old suffers from problems sleeping, they can transition to one nap a day rather than two. If your child is still having two naps during the day at this age, they will likely wake very early or wake up during the night.
Sleep problems are unlikely to go away after a few weeks and are more likely to be caused by your child's sleep schedule. You could try reducing the number of naps they take or having two naps during the day but making them shorter.
At eighteen months of age, your child may have a sleep regression that's difficult to deal with. This sleep regression is more likely to have to do with your toddler's new-found independence. Between eighteen months and two years, toddlers start to talk and have their own opinion, they are likely to have tantrums and might not want to go for a nap or go to bed at night.
At this age, your child may also have separation anxiety and be distressed when they're left alone at nap time or bedtime. Around this age, children are getting their molar teeth, so a mixture of painful teeth and anxiety can cause sleep problems.
A two-year-olds sleep regression is likely to be less straightforward than at other stages. Many things can cause sleep regression in two-year-olds, and their life circumstances should also be taken into account.
Your two-year-old will be awake for much longer during the day as most children nap less at this age. They are also going through developmental milestones such as potty training or moving from a cot to a bed. Many two year olds are getting a new baby brother or sister, and others will start to have nightmares. All of these factors can cause sleep changes, which can leave you and your child exhausted.
How Long Does Sleep Regression Last
Each stage of sleep regression is likely to last between three and six weeks, depending on your baby's age and development. Some stages will be easier than others, and how you soothe your baby and get then back to sleep will vary depending on the age of the child. In some cases, sleep regressions can last up to eight weeks.
Most babies won't go through every sleep regression between birth and three years old. Some developmental milestones are more challenging than others, and this varies depending on the child's personality and maturity. Other milestones are disrupting or exciting and will affect their sleep. These include things like changing from a cot to a bed or getting a new sibling.
If your baby or toddler has a sleep regression lasting for longer than two months, you may like to seek professional help. It's a good idea to try out some of the tips below beforehand, as these may improve their sleep.
Sleep Regression and Teething
Some people would argue that teething doesn't cause a sleep regression but is a normal developmental change. It's likely that when your baby's teething, they will have trouble sleeping or staying asleep. You can do many things to soothe your child, such as applying a cooling gel to their mouths or giving them something to chew on.
When babies' teeth, they experience a variety of symptoms such as drooling and chewing everything. They may also have swollen gums and experience changes in sleeping habits and difficulty eating. Some babies become very cranky, and other pull at their ears. Sleep regressions occurs when new developmental milestones are reached, and teething can definitely affect your baby's sleep.
Whether your baby has a sleep regression or is teething, the best thing to do is provide comfort and try to stick to a familiar routine wherever possible.
Sleep Regression Tips
Now that you know why your baby or toddler has a sleep regression, you can figure out some strategies that might help to improve their sleep. These top tips will help your child to fall asleep at bedtime or during nap time and will allow them to stay asleep all night.
There are different things you can do to get the whole family sleeping soundly again, and this will depend on the age of your baby. It's important to remember that the four-month sleep regression is here to stay. This is a permanent change rather than sleeping deeply; your babies' sleep cycle will go through deep and light periods of sleep, which may result in them waking during the night. You won't be able to go back to the way things were before this age.
After a few weeks, it's likely that you'll be through the worst of the four month sleep regression. You'll then be able to help your baby break any sleep associations that they may have made and encourage them to learn how to fall asleep without you being there to help. Once a baby learns to settle themselves after waking during the night, they will be able to momentarily wake and go back to sleep without a fuss, and the whole family will be able to sleep through the night.
Developing good sleeping habits will also help you establish a routine, and you'll have a more predictable schedule during the day. During sleep regressions, it's essential to stay as flexible as possible. Watch your baby for cues during the day to see if they need to have a nap. This is particularly important for smaller babies. If your baby is rubbing her eyes or yawning, it's probably time for a rest. Having regular naps during the day will help and stop your baby from becoming overly tired, which will cause irritation and further problems sleeping.
For the other sleep regressions, you can try out one or more of the following. Remember that what works for one child won't always work for every child. It's important to try out different tips until you find something that works for your baby or toddler.
Extra Feeds or Dream Feeds
Sleep regression in babies is often caused by growth spurs, which cause them to burn extra calories as they become more active. You shouldn't be afraid to offer additional feeds, either during the day or before going to bed, and can even provide a dream feed where necessary.
Many babies will wake extra early as they are ready for breakfast a lot earlier. You can offer night-time feeds if necessary or if your baby is old enough, start them on solid foods, which is likely to improve their sleep.
Most parents like to stick to a routine, but it's ok to deviate from this when needed, and this is likely to be temporary.
Comfort and Reassurance
Offer your baby or toddler comfort and reassurance as needed. It's essential to avoid creating new bad habits or reinstating old ones. It's ok to give your baby or toddler extra cuddles and kisses if they're struggling to sleep, especially if this is causing them distress.
You should, however, avoid creating new sleep associations that they'll want you to stick to for the foreseeable future. For example, if your baby becomes dependant on rocking or nursing to get back to sleep.
Also, avoid reinstating old habits that you may have stopped in the past. If your toddler has been weaned off a pacifier, don't give it back during a sleep regression.
Get support from your partner
Sleep regression can last for a while and affect the whole family's sleep. If you're always getting up to tend to a baby, you're likely to become exhausted. You must remember to look after yourself during this time. Ask your partner for help when you need to. This may be help with the baby during the night. Or help during the day with older children so that you can take a nap or support with other household jobs.
You may also be able to reach out to friends and family members who will be willing to lend a hand. Many parents rely on caffeine to help get them through their baby's sleep recessions, and while this may be an effective short term solution, its important to have other strategies in place to improve your babies and your own sleeping patterns.
It may be beneficial to offer your child an earlier bedtime. This may seem counterproductive if your baby is awakened during the night, but sleep regressions can cause your child to lose sleep. This can lead to overtiredness in the long term and can cause more lost sleep. To stop your child from becoming exhausted, offer an earlier bedtime.
Change day time naps
As your child gets bigger, they'll need fewer naps during the day. Most babies have two daytime naps until they are around fifteen to eighteen months old. After this age, they'll need less sleep during the day. If your toddler is waking during the night or getting up too early, you might try adjusting their daytime naps to see if that makes any difference.
Guide them back to bed
It's often more challenging to deal with sleep regression in older children than in young babies. Older babies and toddlers will be able to stand up in their cot if they're awake, and toddlers that have moved into a 'big bed' might get up in the night. In these cases, you'll need to offer more comfort and reassurance to get them to lay down again.
If your toddler has got out of their own bed, you should gently guide them back to bed and say good night again. Don't let them get into bed with you as this will create bad habits and is likely to become a regular occurrence.
Consider other causes
If your baby has ongoing long-term problems sleeping, you should consider what other factors could be causing this, such as the rooms temperature, uncomfortable diapers, separation anxiety, or teething pain. You'll then be able to take steps to make them more comfortable, which will hopefully result in a better night's sleep.
In the case of sleep regression, comforting your child, and providing extra care and reassurance will usually help them to get through it. It's important to remember that sleep regression is a normal part of growing up and will usually pass within three to eight weeks.
Likely, your child won't experience sleep regression at each of the developmental stages as these vary slightly for each baby. All babies go through the four month sleep regression process, and this is a permanent change.
If you feel like you're suffering from exhaustion, speak to your partner or another family member as they may be able to help with household tasks. Having a child who isn't sleeping can have an impact on the whole family, and if you feel that your child's sleep regression is going on for too long, it's crucial to get help from a professional. Your health visitor can offer tips and advice about how to get through the sleep regression and can talk to you about the best way to settle your baby or toddler.