Your baby was finally sleeping for a long stretch at night, and suddenly she’s waking up regularly again. Or one day your new walker who was a nap champ starts fighting sleep at nap time. Maybe your toddler who was a breeze to put to bed begins throwing nightly bedtime tantrums.
If any of these sound familiar, you may have a sleep regression on your hands.
Sleep regressions can come and go throughout the first two years of life: Just when your little one finds her sleep groove, she loses it. Frustrating, we know, but the good news is she can find that groove again. We’ll get to how you can help, but first let’s take a look at what sleep regressions are.
What is a sleep regression and how long does it last?
A sleep regression is when a baby or toddler who was previously falling asleep easily and staying asleep for age-appropriate lengths of time suddenly beings to display one or more of these:
- Protesting and crying at bedtime or nap time
- Taking longer than usual to fall asleep, or not falling asleep at all for naps
- Increased nighttime wakings
Sleep regressions, on average, last for 2-6 weeks.
Why and when do sleep regressions happen?
Although more research is needed to determine why sleep regressions happen, experts tend to agree that major developmental changes are the culprit. Because every child is different, it’s hard to know exactly when (or even if) sleep regressions will pop up. That said, there are common ages for them:
Around 4 Months
This is the most common sleep regression, because babies’ brains are going through a big, permanent sleep-related change: Their previously disorganized sleep begins to shift to distinct “adult-like” cycles of deep and light sleep. As they adapt to this change, they often wake up between cycles and struggle to fall back asleep. This can lead to frequent nighttime wakings and shorter naps.
Around 8-9 Months
Around 12 months
Around 18 months
This sleep regression coincides with toddlers’ newfound desire to exert their independence.
What can you do about sleep regressions?
Rule out other issues that may be the culprit of disrupted sleep.
Phases of disrupted sleep aren’t always due to sleep regressions. Teething, growth spurts, medical issues (like reflux), or illness (like a cold) can also throw off your child’s sleep and require a different approach.
Do a sleep inventory.
Be sure your child’s sleeping environment is snooze-friendly. Is she sleeping in a crib where she can stretch out? Is the room dark, cool, and quiet? Would it help to run a white noise machine? Are her sleeping clothes and sheets soft? Is your child taking naps and going to bed around the same times each day? Do you have a relaxing pre-sleep routine?
Support your child without creating unwanted sleep habits that may be hard to break later.
During sleep regressions, keep offering the same sleep support you were before without introducing or re-introducing sleep crutches. For instance, if you usually rock your child until she’s very drowsy, keep doing that. Try to avoid rocking her fully to sleep, or reintroducing a pacifier if she’s given them up. Keep in mind that the 18-month sleep regression involves your toddler testing boundaries, so stick to your usual bed and nap time limits.
Consider an earlier bedtime.
Some little ones sleep better if they go to bed earlier. What’s more, they may become overtired during sleep regressions and an earlier bedtime can help them make up for lost sleep.
Be careful about dropping naps too soon.
You may equate sleep regressions to your child being ready to drop a nap. Try to give the regression time to pass before you change your little one’s nap schedule. You may find that she gets back on track with her all of her naps, which means she still needs them!
Avoid starting sleep training during a regression.
If you’ve already sleep-trained your child, going back to the method you used may help her get back on track during a sleep regression. But if you’ve never introduced sleep training, it’s best to avoid starting during a regression. Because regressions coincide with big developmental changes, starting sleep training in the midst of one may overwhelm your child and be ineffective.
Above all, remember that sleep regressions are temporary. Do your best to support your child though them, keeping in mind that like so many childhood phases they too shall pass.