Sleep Regressions: Are they fact, or fiction?

Parenting websites, blogs and Facebook groups are full of questions about infant and toddler sleep regressions. “Beware the 4-month sleep regression” is the doom-and-gloom advice you will get from knowing parents and others who have already weathered this storm. But are sleep regressions even real? The simplest answer is that yes, they are real, although they do not happen to every child and they do not happen with the predictability that the internet may suggest.

When and Why Do They Happen?

The most famous (and most dreaded) sleep regression happens at around 4 months after the baby’s due date. This is actually a really big milestone because your baby’s sleep transitions from their newborn pattern to the adult circadian rhythms that he or she will have for the rest of their life! Because of this progression in sleep pattern, babies will have predictable sleep cycles at night with very brief wakings in between (we actually all wake up in the night in between our sleep cycles!). If your baby doesn’t know how to self-soothe upon waking in the night they will need help falling back asleep, which can lead to multiple wakings and fragmented sleep. There are also sleep regressions around 8 months, 18 months, and 2/2.5 years of age. These are all due to large periods of growth and development that cause the baby or child to have difficulty sleeping as their brain will favour working on skills rather than sleeping!

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So What Can You Do?

The best way to handle a sleep regression is to first take a big deep breath, and then be steadfast in your consistency. Sleep regressions are temporary and will resolve on their own unless you fall into bad habits and create patterns out of desperation that weren’t there before. Continue with the same sleep times for nap and night, the same bedtime routines and the same wakeup times. Allow your child the time and space they need to sort out their sleep again and it will return before you know it. Sleep regressions can be very frustrating for parents because we know how important sleep is for our little ones, but remember that this period of development is temporary. Hang in there, you’ve got this!

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