Thought you’d cracked the sleep code, but your baby or toddler starts waking again?
The likely reason is that they are experiencing sleep regression. An astounding 80% of babies experience sleep regressions, making it a challenge that most parents will face at one time or another leaving them scrambling for answers and desperate for a good night’s sleep.
Let’s start by diving into what sleep regression is, why it happens and what you can do about it.
What Exactly is Sleep Regression?
Sleep regression refers to a period when a baby or toddler, who previously slept well, suddenly experiences difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. It's like a curveball thrown into your perfectly balanced sleep routine, leaving parents baffled and, often, sleep-deprived.
These regressions are usually temporary phases, but they can feel like an eternity when you're in the midst of them.
They’re normally triggered by developmental milestones such as learning new motor milestones such as crawling or walking, language development, varying waves of separation anxiety and piecing together how the world interacts with them.
As your baby's brain races to absorb the wonders of the world, their sleep-wake cycles are thrown off balance, leading to frequent night awakenings and bedtime battles.
If your baby seems ‘out of character’ or displaying the 3 Cs of clinginess, crying and crankiness, their little brains may be making big changes.
Common Ages for Sleep Regression
4 Months: The first major sleep regression often hits around the 4-month mark, surprising many parents who thought they had passed the newborn sleep challenges. This is where their sleep cycles change permanently to become more adult-like. Catnaps emerging during the day and waking 1-2 hourly overnight are the most common signs.
6/8/10 Months: linked to object permanence, motor milestones, separation anxiety (10m) may see regressions happen around these ages. Some may not notice these at all!
12/18/24 months: these can be the biggest ones, and if you haven’t experienced previous regressions, these ones may pop up. Due to language development, waves of separation anxiety and bit motor milestones like walking, running and the beginning of toddlerhood and testing life’s boundaries (until they’re 18 years old – yay!).
Sleep Regression Strategies
Establish a Rock-Solid Routine
Avoiding pre bedtime over stimulation and sticking to a consistent bedtime routine is your secret weapon. Predictability is a source of comfort for babies and toddlers, signalling that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Understanding your child's sleep cues such as red eyes and gaze aversion is also important so you can get them to bed before they become overtired, where we see yawning, fussing, and rubbing eyes.
Craft a Tranquil Sleep Sanctuary
A dark room, white noise and positive sleep associations will send consistent signals to your babe that it’s time for bed. These elements create a calming environment that will help your baby fall sweetly into slumber.
Sleep regression tests your patience, but remember, it's a temporary phase that shouldn't last any more than 2-4 weeks. Your calm and reassuring presence can work wonders in soothing your little one.
Try to stick to your normal settling strategy, and you may need to ‘shift in’ to it temporarily but keep an eye on any ‘new’ associations that may creep in that you don’t want to continue – commonly feeding/rocking to sleep at older ages if it wasn’t done previously.
Ensure your baby gets ample daytime sleep. Overtired babies often struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep at night, which then starts the cycle of sleep regression.
The harsh reality is that sleep regression is a tough parenting rite of passage. A
Armed with patience, and a consistent routine, you can weather these sleepless nights.
And always remember that I’m here to support you. If sleep regression is causing significant stress and disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.