Sleep Regressions By Age and What to Do About Them

Infant Sleep · Toddler Sleep

Babies experience six common sleep regressions over the first two years of life. No two babies will experience these regressions at the exact same time, and the degree to which their sleep is affected will vary. However, regressions occur due to developmental leaps that every baby will take.

These are the moments when your regular schedule appears to go out the window and your reliable sleep training plan seems to fail. The truth is, having a good sleep plan in place is even more important during regressions because it’s what gets you through to the other side in a timely manner.

We compiled a list of many of the regressions to explain why they occur and how to handle them best.

6 Weeks

This is a major growth spurt for newborns, and your tiny baby will want to eat near-constantly. Nighttime is no exception. You’ll find yourself feeding more frequently during growth spurts like this one. This regression is one you need to just push through, but luckily, it doesn’t last very long. You are going to pretty much watch your baby grow bigger over a period of several days.

Development changes are happening at this age as well, adding to the overall fussiness. After 3-5 days, your newborn will bounce back. When the regression passes, you’ll notice that your baby is more alert and can spend more time awake.

The 4 Month Sleep Regression

The infamous four-month regression is not really a regression at all. In fact, it’s a complete shift in how sleep occurs on the biological level.

Newborns can sleep through almost anything because they only experience one type of sleep: deep sleep. As soon as they doze off, they enter into the deepest stage of sleep and stay there, usually until hunger eventually wakes them. Between three and a half to four and a half months, babies sleep cycles change to function like adults. Instead of dropping into undisturbable slumber, their sleep levels start to move in waves of light to deep sleep. Every 30 to 50 minutes, babies enter light sleep. Those moments are when they start to wake up.

The graphic below details a few tips to help navigate the 4 month sleep regression. Ensuring that you provide a pitch-black room, white noise, and a solid sleep schedule becomes vital at this age. Additionally, babies who have reached this developmental point need a way to put themselves back to sleep without external intervention. Independent sleep skills are only the true way to avoid interrupted sleep following this biological change in sleep.

The 4th month sleep regression is well known by parents. Often a baby that had been sleeping well starts to struggle at this stage of development. This graphic offers 3 tips to help parents and caregivers get through this regression.

Putting your baby down while she is still wide awake will help her learn how to settle herself down, and she will be able to use those tools to handle nighttime wakings herself. If you haven’t worked on independent sleep, now is a great time to start. If you have already taught these skills, focus on removing any hint of lingering drowsiness to slide past this milestone more painlessly.

8 – 11 Months

This brief regression occurs around the time a baby starts crawling and babbling. Since these skills represent such a major skill-related milestone, sleep is often affected for a short time.

Don’t introduce new sleep props during this regression. Continue with the methods you’ve been using to soothe your child, and be sure to re-examine the schedule. If you decide to pick your baby up while comforting, make sure that he always goes back in bed while he’s still awake, and you’ll slide right through this developmental leap!

In addition to practicing the baby’s desire for increased mobility during awake times, often times, babies need an increase in awake windows at this age as well. Building additional sleep pressure can help sleeping with ease return more quickly.

11 – 16 Months

This one coincides with an even bigger milestone: learning to walk. Before a baby takes his first steps, there is a LOT happening in his brain. Muscle control and coordination are mental feats that can have a major impact on sleep.

Continue with your regular sleep plan, and expect some temporarily rough nights or short naps. Once your little one begins walking, you might find him waking to practice in the middle of the night. Leave him if he’s not upset. He has a cognitive need to practice the skill, and it will pass.

Don’t mistake this regression immediately as a sign that it’s time to go to one nap for a child under 13 months. While the change is certainly nearing, transitioning too soon can be problematic. Read this blog to know when it’s time to switch to one nap.

The 18 Month Sleep Regression

This well-known regression is one of the most notable and often the most difficult. It occurs due to a combination of factors. The explosion of language skills is a huge cause of the 18-month sleep regression. Sometime between about 17 and 20 months, little ones are either expanding their vocabularies or learning to string words together to form sentences at this age, and their brains are on overdrive. They wake up trying to practice their new verbal skills.

Although another bump up in awake times can be helpful, whatever you do, definitely do not switch to a toddler bed in an attempt to fix this regression. The crib to bed transition is not meant to solve sleep issues. Stay firm in the sleep training plan you’ve been using to avoid any backtracking, and ensure you’ve removed all milk and screen time from sleep times. Before bedtime, talk to your child about the nighttime expectations using simple language.

24 Months

Around age two, sleep needs drop. Toddlers will often need a longer stretch of time awake before nap and between nap and bedtime.

However, even if the nap is temporarily skipped here and there, don’t assume it’s time to drop the nap altogether. Children under 30 months still need a nap of at least an hour and half each afternoon. Instead, you probably need a small schedule tweak, either pushing the nap back so it actually happens, capping it, pushing bedtime back, or some combination of these. Your child simply needs less total sleep and has to stay awake longer to get properly tired.

Sleep regressions are part of the journey through babyhood, but you can get through them with confidence if you are prepared.

By Kelsey Hotchkiss, Senior Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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