Sleep regression is a period of time (anything from a few days to a few weeks) when your baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night. In addition naps can suddenly be disrupted as well.
Despite it being named a regression, there is no evidence to show that your baby’s sleep is actually regressing in any way. In fact a sleep regression is simply part of your baby growing and developing. The underlying reasons for these regressions are almost always developmental. Your child is learning a new skill, going through a period of brain growth or development. They are also becoming more socially aware.
Despite it being a lovely and reasurring time for development, parents often describe it as a total shock! You finally think you have got the sleep thing mastered and then suddenly you are back to what feels like square one. The multiple night walking’s and disastrous nap times suddenly come back out of no where.
You may be able to observe the cause of some regressions (if your child is learning to walk, for instance). But most regressions are caused by development that is not easy to see. Making it even more frustrating at times.
Many parents say they notice sleep regressions at common stages in their baby’s first year. In particular the 4 month sleep regression. Some experts believe at 4 months your baby’s sleeping patterns are becoming more like an adult’s by establishing between light sleep and deep sleep cycles. If your baby hasn’t yet learned to settle themselves back to sleep at this point, they may wake more frequently as they move between these sleep cycles.
Another key period for sleep regressions is at around 8 months which some experts put down to learning a new skill like crawling and for some even walking.
A child’s brain is constantly developing and changing. Even in the early school years, advancing imagination and social awareness means a child can have anxiety about saying goodnight and being alone. In other words, kids don’t just start sleeping one day and never regress. Needing our help to re-establish healthy sleep habits as the child grows is to be expected.
A preschooler might need a few more checks after bedtime to help with separation anxiety, or more tools for managing fears of the dark, but try to avoid staying in the room until the child is completely asleep, as it may quickly become a dependency.
More night wakings don’t necessarily mean increased hunger at night. After the first 6 months, wakings are usually more about active brains and habits than rumbling tummies. That doesn’t mean an older baby can’t be hungry in the night, of course, but don’t assume you need to add in multiple feeds overnight for a baby who used to make it through the night with only 1-2 feeds.
Check your bedtime and nap routine are working well for your child’s age. An outdated bedtime routine may also cause some sleep regression. In addition your baby may not need as many naps as they age. Or the times of these naps may need altering slightly.
You will definitely need to offer your baby or toddler plenty of cuddles during the sleep regression, which is ok. But avoid creating new sleep dependency. By that I mean avoid rocking your baby to sleep regularly, or nursing them to sleep. If you have worked hard to get your child off the pacifier, don’t be tempted to revert back to this. As this then may become a new dependancy for your child.
Sleep regressions can lead to missed sleep, which can lead to over tiredness. To avoid over tiredness an earlier bedtime may be needed.