When Do Sleep Regressions Happen Plus Tips
When you are a child sleep coach, your blog is a pretty popular place at night! And you know what people are googling about a lot? Sleep regressions. And also there are lots of inquiries about “what are the ages when sleep regressions happen?”
Read on for the skinny on sleep regressions and tips on how to handle these challenges like a pro…
In This Post:
What Is A Sleep Regression?
A sleep regression is when your baby or toddler has been sleeping well and then suddenly has a drastic decline in their sleep patterns. When one or more of these start, your little one is likely in a sleep regression:
- Having difficulty separating at bedtime and falling asleep
- More frequent night wakings
- Early morning wake ups
- Shorter naps
- Fighting naps or refusing them altogether
What Causes Sleep Regressions?
If your child is healthy and sleep suddenly derails, it is normally due to one or more of the following factors:
- Brain maturation – this is a key component of the 4-month sleep regression in particular
- Skills development – rolling, crawling, sitting up, standing, walking, talking
- Sleep associations – activities that your baby or child thinks they “need” you to do for them to sleep
- Nap transitions/sleep needs change – sleep regressions oftentimes coincide with nap transitions and the need for schedule adjustments
- Teething – this can be a contributing factor, but won’t cause long-term sleep challenges. This post is a must-read for all parents!
- Illness – this is usually only temporary while your little one isn’t feeling well
How Long Do Sleep Regressions Last?
Sleep regressions typically last a few days to a couple of weeks. Then your child should go back to their previous sleep habits.
Here’s the thing though…your child may never go back to their old habits, if:
- They didn’t have independent sleep skills before the regression
- Your little one has formed some new habits during the regression. They now think they need YOU to do those things for sleep. Activities like feeding, rocking, bouncing, being held or replacing the pacifier. This keeps your child dependent on you for sleep. When this happens, it can be difficult for your child to return to their previous habits.
Common Ages For Sleep Regressions
Below I’ve outlined all of the common sleep regressions timeframes and what’s going on developmentally that plays into the regression. If you want to dive deeper into each regression and get more specific advice, click on the heading below.
If your little one is experiencing a regression outside of these timeframes, it can be due to physical milestones (like rolling, sitting, walking), which babies master at different ages.
Around 4 months, babies go through a series of developmental changes. One of the key changes is that sleep becomes more adult-like due to brain maturity. Now they begin to cycle between lighter and deeper sleep cycles, just like adults.
Typical Night For A Baby
If your baby can be put in their crib wide awake and fall asleep without your assistance, this sleep regression may not last long or impact your child’s sleep all that much. We talk a lot about helping babies learn how to do this during newborn sleep consultations!
If your child, like many of their peers, is used to being fed, rocked, bounced, held or in any way helped to sleep, you’ll normally see lots of night wakings and short naps. Truth be told, not all babies go back to their previous sleep habits if they aren’t able to put themselves to sleep without assistance.
This sleep regression can strike anytime between 7 to 10 months.
The key factors that play into the 8 month sleep regression include:
- Increased mobility – sitting up, scooting, crawling, pulling to stand. Lots of fun to be had when they should be sleeping!
- 3 to 2 nap transition – nap transitions can result in overtiredness. Overtired children have more difficulty falling asleep, have more restless sleep, more night wakings and early morning wake ups. In general, they just don’t sleep well. At all.
- Separation anxiety – this is one of the first peaks of separation anxiety. Your baby who may have laid right down and fallen asleep peacefully is now reaching for you and fighting the routine.
This sleep regression strikes normally in the 11-13 month range and mostly affects naps.
Many parents assume that their baby is ready to drop to one nap when they start protesting either the morning or the afternoon nap. Dropping nap too soon can result in an overtired downward spiral.
Other factors that play into the regression include:
- cruising or walking
- another spike of separation anxiety
- increased independence and awareness of their surroundings can tire or overstimulate your child more quickly
Separation anxiety rears its ugly head again around 18 months. This is one of the main contributors to this sleep regression. Also, toddlers are starting cut their first molars, plus the 4 canine teeth. Toddlers also go through a major language explosion around this timeframe as well. So much to say!
Behaviorally, this is a common timeframe for our children to really test the boundaries. “No” becomes their new favorite word! Toddlers start seeing what they can and cannot do. They test this with little experiments like “If I throw my lovey out, what will Mommy do?”
Another key factor in this regression is the 2-1 nap transition. Many toddlers are getting ready to drop their morning nap. This means we are asking them to stay awake for longer than they ever have before. If we don’t make the necessary schedule adjustments, like moving bedtime earlier, they can quickly get overtired.
This sleep regression normally starts right around the time your little one is turning 2. It usually looks like bedtime battles/stalling and nap strikes.
This is a common timeframe when parents to reach out to us for help. All of a sudden, everything has changed! Their little one isn’t a baby any more and has big opinions and feelings. Parents feel hopeless that their child will ever return to their sleep habits! (they can and we can help!) Here are the key factors that play into the regression:
- Separation anxiety peaks and can intensify – toddlers don’t want to be left alone and will LOUDLY share that with you
- FOMO – enough said!
- Fears start – this is when the imagination explodes and they can begin having real fears.
- Continued testing limits and increased desire for control and independence
- 2 year molars
- Decreased daytime sleep needs
- Transitions – transitioning to a big kid bed too early, potty training, new sibling, and the start of daycare or preschool
Around 2.5 years old, many parents think that their little one is done napping because they strongly protest at naptime or just don’t fall asleep. In actuality this is a sleep regression. Most children nap until they are between 3-5 years old!
The factors listed above, in the 2 year sleep regression section, are the same factors that play into this regression as well.
Stick with offering the nap. You’ll be happy you did when the regression is over! Your little one will start getting the rest they need and you get a break again!
5 Tips to Handle Your Little One’s Sleep Regression
Tip #1: Lots of Practice During The Day
When babies and toddlers are working on physical milestones, they can spend lots of time practicing in their crib, when they should be sleeping. Give plenty of time for your little one to practice all their new moves during awake periods so they aren’t practicing as much at naptime and bedtime.
Tip #2. Meet Your Child’s Sleep Needs
Keeping naps too long can make your child under tired at bedtime, making your child energy to fight you. Dropping naps too early can result in overtiredness, which can make sleep regressions even more difficult to navigate.
This chart gives you a good idea of how much sleep your child needs each Day. Plus the ideal number of naps per day and age appropriate bedtimes.
If you want some help figuring out an age appropriate schedule or tweaks, schedule an Ask Me Anything session.
Tip #3: Provide Extra Comfort, But Maintain Independent Sleep Expectations (if you can)
If your little one is upset, provide some extra comfort to help them through this phase. Take extra time in your routine for snuggles and bonding, but make sure you start the routine a little earlier. We want to avoid pushing bedtime later, which can result in your little one getting more overtired.
If you can, try not to form new habits during the sleep regression. If your little one has been settling to sleep independently, try not to bring back feeding or rocking to sleep.
Temporary solution can quickly becomes a permanent expectations. This can affect your little one’s ability to get healthy sleep. Plus you’ll be up all night and battling at bedtime!
Tip #4: Reset Expectations
If the wheels come off the bus (no judgment – been there!), once the regression has passed, you may have to do some remedial sleep training. Within a night or two, your little one will remember that they have the skills to sleep independently. Then you can all go back to getting amazing sleep!
Tip #5: Consider Sleep Training
If the sleep regression made sleep go from bad to worse, you may want to consider sleep training.
This sleep stuff can be confusing! That’s why we’d love to help you figure out all the pieces of the puzzle and empower you to teach your little to be a healthy sleeper.
Our sleep solutions aren’t one size fits all. We help families choose a sleep training method that aligns with your parenting philosophy and it is a good fit for your child’s personality and temperament.
If you are a DIYer and want to get started immediately, check out our online baby sleep course, Transform Your Baby’s Sleep. This course is designed for parents with babies between 4-18 months and provides you with everything you need to help your family get more rest!
If you’d like guidance and support no matter your child’s age, schedule a discovery call and let’s talk about working together!
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