Advice For Parents

What Is Sleep Regression?

November 4, 2022   By Clarisa Mcdonald

All sleeping babies may be the cutest and sweetest-looking things in the world, but it can take so much out of parents just to get their children to sleep, especially during sleep regressions. Sleep regression causes babies and their sleep schedules to go out of whack. You may be surprised that your child suddenly “unlearned” all the sleep habits you already taught them. 

We’ve put together some sleep tips and a guide to baby sleep regression to prepare you and ensure your family will get the sleep you need.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

As the term implies, sleep regression refers to the periods in your child’s first two years of life when their sleep patterns drastically change. It may look like a step back in your child’s sleep training, but these periods reflect massive brain development. It will be easier to make sleep associations during these developmental milestones. 

Once you get through the stages and with proper sleep training, your baby’s sleep will improve all the more. In the end, you will be able to get a good night’s sleep too!

How Long Does a Sleep Regression Last?

Your child will experience a few stages of sleep regression throughout the first couple years of life, which can lead to frustrating sleepless nights. At these times, your child’s sleep patterns will shift one way and change another way again. 

The shifts usually only last a few weeks at a time, so don’t fret. Every child is different, and your child may get through most of the regression stages quickly.

Sleep consultants warn about the four-month sleep regression stage. This stage is permanent (sorry!) This means your child’s sleep will start to change and evolve. You have to make the extra effort to teach your child effective sleep habits. 

Sleep Disturbances That Aren’t Sleep Regression

Sleep regressions are a sign of significant mental growth in your little one. Sometimes, these stages can get confused with other causes of a child’s sleep disturbances and disruptions. 

A prime example is growth spurts. Growth spurts happen more frequently than sleep regression and may relate to both mental and physical development.

Teething may also be seen as a cause of a child’s sleep regression. In reality, teething pain occurs for a week or so for each tooth. At the same time, you will actually see teeth sprouting in your child’s mouth. If you don’t see any teeth growing, it could be sleep regression

Lastly, parents may think that their child becomes anxious if they leave, causing a problematic sleep cycle. Separation anxiety often happens during one stage of sleep regression, yet it is an entirely different factor. 

Separation anxiety is linked to a child’s understanding of object permanence rather than mental development. Object permanence is the knowledge that things still exist even if they’re out of the infant’s sight.

Signs of Regression to Look Out For

We hope by now you’ve learnt a little about sleep regression. Now, what are the signs? There will be several signs that you will have to watch out for to know your baby is going through a sleep regression. Mainly, you’ll notice that your child is more resistant to napping. This is a sign to slowly decrease naps.

When your child does nap, sleep quality will be poor, resulting in overtiredness in the evening. Your infant sleeps for a time at night, but they will suddenly wake up and start crying. They might even wake up from the slightest of noises. These sleep interruptions don’t come from hunger or sickness. They can also lead to fussiness, and it will take a while before your child calms down again.

Sleep Regression Stages in the First Two Years

The 8-Week Sleep Regression Stage

You can also correlate and track regression stages based on your child’s age. an eight-week-old baby starts to catnap (take short naps) but sleep poorly during the daytime. 

They have become more aware of their surroundings and have started to create their own melatonin, the sleep hormone. They will now need complete darkness in their sleep environment, much like adults, to sleep well during the day.

Swaddling also helps a newborn sleep better during this stage as they’re less likely to be startled, but make sure they’re lying on their backs and they’re well supported to avoid having them sleep on their stomach.

The 4-Month Sleep Regression Stage

A 4-month-old will experience the most lasting sleep regression ever. During earlier months, babies tend to drift between sleep cycles automatically, which is why they can sleep for long periods. However, the four-month sleep regression stage will fully wake your child after each sleep cycle.

At this point, you have to teach your child how to self-settle. Until your child learns this new skill, sleep disturbances, midnight wakings, and constant crying will be expected in your house. There’s a reason this is dubbed the worst stage out of the lot. Even more so for breastfeeding mothers since this means having to pick them up and feed them directly latched to calm them down.

The 8 to 10 Month Sleep Regression Stage

At eight to ten months old, you can expect another sleep regression stage. Your eight-month-old will start learning multiple skills, such as crawling and standing up. 

Your baby will naturally want to practise these new skills, which can keep them up in the middle of the night. This stage will pass after a couple of weeks. New parents are often frightened during this stage as the fear of the baby wandering off on their own can be assumed.

Just ensure that your baby is secured in their crib, and you can have a peaceful nighttime sleep.

The 1-Year-Old Sleep Regression Stage

At 12-15 months, your baby might go through another sleep regression stage. This stage marks the transition between two daily naps to one singular nap. Your child will have fewer night wakings now and may sleep past 7AM. 

When that happens, you’ll know they will be ready to nap only once in the day. Don’t rush through this stage. Your child will wake up by themself. Observe and adjust the nap routine, and the stage will be over soon.

The 2-Year-Old Sleep Regression Stage

The last regression stage may begin as early as 18 months but can also start at two years. The 18-month sleep regression will mark your child’s independence as a human being. They will consciously refuse to nap because there are things to do and participate in. A daytime nap is still crucial at this period, but you will have to tweak things to suit your child better, so they don’t feel like they’re missing out.

Stay on Course with Healthy Sleep Patterns

Sleep regression may seem overwhelming, but parents can easily get through these stages through consistency and sensitivity. Every child is different, so you have to observe closely and understand what your child needs and adjust their sleep routine accordingly.

A solid bedtime routine will help your child settle down when it’s time to sleep, and make sleep regression stages a little easier. Follow safe sleep guidelines, and bring your baby to their cot when he or she is drowsy though still awake. Consistently do this, and your child will associate the cot with sleep. You will also give your child time to self-settle, the remedy to the big four-month-old sleep regression stage.

During the day, encourage playtime activity under sunlight. When nap time comes, you can black out the baby’s room to encourage melatonin creation and signal your baby to sleep. Use a pacifier only when necessary. You can also play white noise to facilitate high-quality sleep.

Two Steps Back, Three Steps Forward

Sleep regression may seem to be causing a significant problem for you and your child, but as long as you remain consistent in your child’s sleep training, your child will actually learn more. Do know that sleep regression is part of your baby’s development and it should not be seen as a sleep problem. Once all the sleep regression stages are done, you and your child should start to have lasting nights of sleep.

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