When a baby who normally sleeps through the night starts waking and crying multiple times throughout the night, your baby may be experiencing a sleep regression. Sleep regressions happen for many reasons, but there are some things that you can do to help your baby get through this tricky period.
What is sleep regression?
Sleep regression is a period during which a baby suddenly has trouble going to sleep or wakes up fussy in the middle of the night, when they were previously sleeping well. These time periods usually last for about 2 – 4 weeks, but the length of time a baby may experience sleep regression ranges from child to child. Many things can cause sleep regression. If your baby is going through a growth spurt, they may start expressing signs of sleep regression due to being hungry more often. Reaching a new developmental milestone or teething can also cause sleep regression. Other possible causes include disruption in their daily routine (such as starting day care), an illness or infection, or sleeping in a new environment (including when traveling).
What are some signs of sleep regression?
Signs of sleep regression can vary from child to child but if your baby is waking up in the night more often than usual, is having a hard time falling asleep, is more fussy than usual, or is protesting naps, then your baby may be experiencing sleep regression.
When are babies most likely to experience sleep regression?
Sleep regression can occur at any time, but there are some ages where a regression is more likely.
4 Months Old– This is often the first sleep regression you will experience with your baby and is caused by a change in his sleep cycles. Around 4 months of age, babies move from sleeping in shorter newborn sleep cycles, to longer adult sleep cycles. At the end of each sleep cycle, your baby will awaken slightly to ensure all is the same as when he first fell asleep, then return to sleep. As the night goes on, he will move from being in a deeper sleep to a much lighter state of sleep in the early morning hours. This is when most parents notice their babies waking more frequently when they didn’t before. This new way of sleeping just takes the baby some getting used to.
6 Months Old– At 6 months, babies are often able to sleep through the night, but may go through a sleep regression due to another big growth spurt at this age. Also, starting solids and sitting up are new things that can each have their own impact.
8 Months Old– Babies may start to experience some social anxiety at around 8-10 months old. This is completely normal, but it may lead to sleep regression because the anxiety can cause your baby to wake up throughout the night and look for you for reassurance. It is also a time when many infants start crawling, which they love to practice when alone in their crib, instead of sleep!
12 Months Old– When babies begin reaching major developmental milestones- such as standing, walking, etc.- sleep regression may occur as a result of the excitement with their new skills.
18- 24 Months Old– Toddlers experience sleep regressions as well. Most are caused by developing language skills, separation anxiety, nightmares, or moving to a toddler bed before they’re ready.
How can I help my baby during a sleep regression?
Sleep regression is a tricky time for parents and babies alike. Try to remember that this phase is temporary and they will be sleeping normally again in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here are some tips that can help:
-When your baby is showing signs of sleepiness during the day (yawning, crankiness, rubbing eyes), move up nap or bed time. This is because overtired babies have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep.
-Likewise, make sure your baby is getting plenty of sleep to prevent them from becoming overtired. An early bedtime is key during any sleep regression. Read more on that here .
-Start to build a consistent nighttime routine. This can include bath time, snuggle time, reading time, and then going to bed.
-If your baby is showing signs of anxiety or separation anxiety, make sure to give them extra comfort and attention throughout the day and especially right before bed. This will help them feel secure and safe because learning new things can be pretty scary for babies.
-Try not to change your response at night. If you’re used to your baby sleeping through the night, or only receiving 1 night feed, stay the course as introducing anything new will eventually become the new way of life. Giving your baby time to work things out on their own is often the best approach for them long term.
-Try cluster feeding or giving extra snacks during the day to boost calorie intake if you feel they’re going through a growth spurt.
-Evaluate the sleep environment and make sure the room where the baby is sleeping is quiet, dark, and cool. See my blog post here for creating the ideal sleep environment.
-If the sleep regression is not getting better after a few weeks, call your child’s pediatrician for extra advice. Never hesitate to call the doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your baby.