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Sleep Regressions

Sleep regression has to be two of a parent’s least favorite words. And to be honest, I think they are overused. As a sleep consultant, I get asked about sleep regressions because parents want explanations for why their baby has suddenly stopped sleeping. If your little one is sleeping well and is suddenly having trouble with naps, bedtime, night wakings, or early mornings, a sleep regression is generally the first thing people blame. Well, that and teething. What is a sleep regression, and how do you get through it?

Is My Baby Going Through a Sleep Regression?

Babies grow and change SO much in their first two years of life, and sleep is crucial because there is so much change in their brains and bodies. A newborn needs to sleep every 45 minutes during the day and only experiences two sleep cycles: REM and deep sleep. 

Around four months, the baby’s brain reorganizes the sleep cycles, and we typically see massive disturbances in sleep at this time. It doesn’t happen to all babies, but the majority of parents describe long night wakings, prolonged periods of crying before finally sleeping, and waking up less than an hour after going down; it’s all just a mess. Getting through this phase can feel exhausting, and after this regression, most parents start to look into some sleep training. 

Any other sleep disturbance that lingers for more than a day or two is considered a regression due to developmental or environmental causes rather than a change in sleep cycles. 

Here are a few causes of sleep regressions:

Developmental Milestones: Babies and toddlers are constantly growing and reaching new milestones, such as rolling over, crawling, teething, or walking. These developmental leaps can disrupt their sleep patterns as their brains and bodies adjust to these changes.

  • Separation Anxiety: Around 6 to 8 months of age, many babies experience separation anxiety, making it harder for them to settle down to sleep without their parents nearby. This can lead to increased nighttime waking and difficulty self-soothing.
  • Changes in Routine: Any disruptions to your child’s usual sleep routine, such as travel, illness, starting daycare, or transitioning to a new bed, can trigger a sleep regression.
  • Teething: The discomfort and pain associated with teething can cause disruptions in sleep patterns, leading to more frequent waking during the night.

Managing Sleep Regressions:

While sleep regressions can be challenging, there are strategies parents can use to help manage them and promote better sleep for their little ones:

Stick to a Consistent Bedtime Routine: Establishing a calming bedtime routine can signal your child that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Consistency is key. Trying something new to fix the problem can be tempting, but if they have slept well before, they can sleep well again, and changing up your process will be challenging.

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Make sure your child’s sleep environment is conducive to restful sleep. This includes ensuring the room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Consider using white noise or soothing music to drown out any background noise.

Encourage Independent Sleep Skills: Help your child learn to self-soothe by encouraging them to fall asleep independently. This might involve gradually reducing your involvement in their bedtime routine or teaching them to use a comfort object, like a stuffed animal or blanket, after one year old.

Respond to Nighttime Wakings Consistently: When your child wakes at night, respond to their needs consistently but avoid creating new sleep associations that might make it harder for them to self-soothe. Comfort them with a gentle pat or soothing voice and then encourage them to sleep independently.

Practice Patience and Persistence: Remember that sleep regressions are temporary and usually resolve on their own within a few weeks. Stay patient and consistent with your approach. Give it seven days before throwing in the towel and trying something new. 

Remember Your Baby is a Person: Just because your child sleeps through the night doesn’t mean they will never wake up at night again. They are a person just like you. Have you ever had trouble sleeping and been overstimulated? Woken up and couldn’t get comfortable again? Of course you have, and so does your baby! Be patient with them, be consistent in your response, and avoid reintroducing any previous sleep helps or starting new ones. 

Sleep regressions can be challenging to navigate, but with understanding, patience, and consistency, you can help your child through these challenging periods and promote healthier sleep habits in the long run. Remember that every child is different, so finding the best strategies for your family may take some trial and error. If you’ve been dealing with a sleep regression for more than seven days and you can’t see an end in sight, book a free sleep assessment with me so we can get your sleep back!

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