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Baby Sleep Regressions: Ages, Causes, and Everything you need to know to sleep again

Updated: Jan 25

You finally got your baby to sleep better (or at least better than they are now) and just when you thought your sleep troubles were over, suddenly your little one is waking at all hours and sleep is back to being a struggle. You’re tired and you’re frustrated and so is your baby. What happened that suddenly everything changed? What can you do to return to how things were, so everyone in the house can get the sleep they need? 


WHAT IS A REGRESSION?

A sleep regression describes a significant change or decline it sleep patterns. Typically happens over a period of time (~2 to 6 weeks) when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts taking short naps and/or skipping naps or constant overnight wakings, for seemingly no apparent reason and out of nowhere.


WHY DO KIDS GO THROUGH REGRESSIONS?

Many babies go through sleep regressions.  The truth is that the three most common causes of sleep regressions are:

  1. The child's sleep/wake schedule is not age-appropriate 

  2. They are reliant on someone to assist them back to sleep. 

  3. All the while, they are going through a developmental milestone leap. Except for the 4-month sleep regression, most sleep regressions often take place and coincide with developmental (or environmental or situational) milestones. 

These are not the only causes but the most common. Other factors may be environmental or situational like getting sick, travel, bringing home a new sibling, etc.

 

You’ll notice TEETHING is not listed here. While parents often blame a regression on teething and think they can just ride it out, teething doesn’t cause a regression. Nor can they ride it out. A regression usually requires a change in habit and actions.

 

WHEN CAN YOU EXPECT TO SEE A SLEEP REGRESSION HAPPEN?

4 months, 6, months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, 2 years and sometimes again 2.5-3 years old. As every child is different, some may experience a regression earlier or later, if they experience it at all.  


Here we’ll explain why they happen, how they affect baby sleep patterns and what you can do to survive a sleep regression.



4 MONTHS OLD:

What you notice: Your baby’s sleep will seem to go haywire. Your baby may have been sleeping well up until this point (except for a night feeding or two) and suddenly, they are struggling. Baby may struggle with short naps or resisting naps altogether or may be waking frequently overnight. You may also notice that your baby suddenly relies on you to help them fall asleep - whether it is nursed/fed to sleep, rocked to sleep, given the pacifier, going for a car or swing ride, etc.  

 

Why it happens: Once babies are 4 months old, they become increasingly more alert and engaged in the world around them. They are significantly more aware of the environment and interactions. They go from being a newborn who can sleep anywhere, regardless of noise and distractions to becoming more like an adult who takes a little longer to fall into REM sleep. They have massive physical, cognitive, and emotional developments occurring all at once. They may be more sensitive to light and temperature because of this new awareness, thus the sleep routine may be impacted. At this age, learning new skills like holding baby toys and interacting with people are new favorite activities. These newfound abilities are both interesting and stimulating and thus can make it challenging to unwind at night. 


The 4-month 'regression' is the only time where it is a biological change in the sleep cycle, not developmental or situational. This is when the baby is shifting from having only 2 sleep cycles, Active and Quiet to now be more like that of an adult who had 4-5 sleep cycles. A newborn spends 50% of their time in each cycle, falling immediately into REM (Active) sleep whereas adults take several cycles before falling into REM. 

What sleep looks like going forward: Now that baby has more than two sleep cycles, it may be harder for them to connect their sleep cycles. If your child struggles to fall asleep longer than 2-6 weeks, assess the situation to see if it is because your child relies on you to help them fall asleep by way of being rocked to sleep or nursed/fed to sleep. This is a sleep association. However your child falls asleep at the onset of sleep is what they think needs to happen when they wake early from a nap or overnight. This can be frustrating for everyone so, if you are struggling with sleep associations and setting healthy sleep habits, let Sleep Tight Tonight help you and together we’ll create a plan to get your whole family sleeping again. 

 

What you can do: A bedtime routine is supremely important and if you have been doing a routine, they begin to recognize it! It is around the 3 month period that babies start to recognize a routine. Having a consistent bedtime routine not only cues it is time for bed but is calming and comforting. Follow age-appropriate sleep schedules to ensure the baby doesn’t get over or under tired. Check out my Sleep Chart Cheat Sheet to see if your child is on par with sleep averages for their age.  


After 4 months, I look at the later regressions as PROgressions - as they are typically aligned with physical developmental progress and milestones like learning to sit, crawl, walk, etc. or situational like travel, illness, or getting a new sibling. 


baby sleep regressions

6 & 9 MONTHS OLD

What happens: So you just got over the 4 month regression, thought you were on the other side and you get hit with the next one! Your child may begin waking up during the night again, waking early before 6am or having short naps, or even fighting naps and bedtime.  

 

Why it happens: Developmental milestones are at the root here - teething, the development of learning to go from laying down to rolling over, to sitting up. Once babies are 6 months old, they seem to be learning something new every day and picking up new skills such as scooting, smiling, crawling, standing, looking in the mirror, and putting everything in their mouths. Some are starting to crawl or roll. The days of being able to plop baby down and have them stay in that spot are limited.  They may be so excited about their new skills that they want to practice in their cribs when they should be sleeping! 


What sleep looks like going forward: Around 6-9 months kids typically drop from 3 naps to 2, having one nap in the morning and one nap in the afternoon. So since it is around this time that your child is on 2 naps, be sure to follow the set nap timing (as opposed to wake windows). If your child struggles to fall asleep longer than 2-6 weeks, assess the situation to see if it is because your child relies on you to help them fall asleep by way of being rocked to sleep or nursed/fed to sleep. This is a sleep association. However your child falls asleep at the onset of sleep is what they think needs to happen when they wake early from a nap or overnight. This can be frustrating for everyone so, if you are struggling with sleep associations and setting healthy sleep habits, let Sleep Tight Tonight help you and together we’ll create a plan to get your whole family sleeping again. 


What you can do: A bedtime routine is supremely important and if you have been doing a routine, now is the time to start. Your baby can recognize a routine and surroundings and will learn to anticipate and predict what comes next. Having a consistent bedtime routine not only cues it is time for bed but also provides predictability and is calming and comforting. Follow age-appropriate sleep schedules to ensure the baby doesn’t get over or under tired. Check out my Sleep Chart Cheat Sheet to see if your child is on par with sleep averages for their age. Keep to your nap times and usual sleep schedule even when things start to get out of line. Routine and consistency is the best and fastest way to get things back into place.


12 MONTHS OLD

What happens:  Similar to other sleep regressions, the one-year sleep regression is identified by increased night wakings, and shorter naps, with some children even resisting naps completely. During this period, your child may exhibit behaviors typical of younger babies, including clinginess, crying, and crankiness, also known as the "3 C's."


Why it happens: Happy birthday! So much has happened in a year and now baby is coming into toddlerhood. At 13 months, separation anxiety is common to peak around this time. They may create an emotional attachment to objects like bottles, pacifiers, or certain toys. Some are beginning to graduate from crawling to walking. Cause and effect is in full effect with things like, “if I drop my food on the floor, someone will pick it up.” Routines are an increasingly important part of their day as they are predictable, and toddlers thrive on knowing what is next and they can represent a calm in the storm of their busy little lives. Routines also help smooth transitions, especially when it comes to toddler bedtimes and routines, morning schedules, and daycare. Having a consistent bedtime routine not only cues it is time for bed but is calming and comforting. Kids who still do not know how to self-soothe may find themselves looking to their parents to help them fall back to sleep.   


What sleep looks like going forward: Around 6-9 months kids typically drop from 3 naps to 2, having one nap in the morning and one nap in the afternoon. So since it is around 12 months that your child is on 2 naps, be sure to follow the set nap timing (as opposed to wake windows). Some daycares will try to drop a baby down to one nap, but if you can, try to hold off dropping to one nap until 15-18 months. If your child struggles to fall asleep longer than 2-6 weeks, assess the situation to see if it is because your child relies on you to help them fall asleep by way of being rocked to sleep or nursed/fed to sleep. This is a sleep association. However your child falls asleep at the onset of sleep is what they think needs to happen when they wake early from a nap or overnight. This can be frustrating for everyone so, if you are struggling with sleep associations and setting healthy sleep habits, let Sleep Tight Tonight help you and together we’ll create a plan to get your whole family sleeping again. 


What you can do:  Now is a great time (if you haven’t already) to baby-proof your house as their mobility is constantly improving. Set loving and firm boundaries and stick to them. In a world where you’re always being told what to do, where to go, etc a child craves control. Offer choices within your boundary “would you like to wear your hearts or star pajamas?” Empower them to help with tasks around the house like turning on lights, helping you bake or closing a cabinet. Use lots of positive reinforcement and praise. Follow age-appropriate sleep schedules to ensure the baby doesn’t get over or under tired. Check out my Sleep Chart Cheat Sheet to see if your child is on par with sleep averages for their age. Keep to your nap times and usual sleep schedule even when things start to get out of line. Routine and consistency is the best and fastest way to get things back into place.


18 MONTHS OLD

What happens:  As with the other sleep regressions, you’ll notice increased bedtime battles, overnight or early morning wakings and nap struggles. 


Why it happens: Your little one is growing up and it can be challenging to cope with sleeping regression. Your toddler is now a walking, talking (or babbling) more, and is now a little person who is learning more about themselves and their preferences. They are becoming more independent. This newfound independence includes wanting to decide when to sleep, and when not to. In addition to these changes, your child may also be cutting their first or second set of molars, which typically happens between the ages of 1-3. Unfortunately, this can be extremely painful for your child. 

 

How sleep patterns change: If they haven’t already, they are probably dropping to 1 nap. This means much more independence and freedom to your day and theirs.  If your child struggles to fall asleep longer than 2-6 weeks, assess the situation to see if it is because your child relies on you to help them fall asleep by way of being rocked to sleep or nursed/fed to sleep. This is a sleep association. However your child falls asleep at the onset of sleep is what they think needs to happen when they wake early from a nap or overnight. This can be frustrating for everyone so, if you are struggling with sleep associations and setting healthy sleep habits, let Sleep Tight Tonight help you and together we’ll create a plan to get your whole family sleeping again. 

 

What you can do: You can talk to your pediatrician about pain relievers. Set loving and firm boundaries and stick to them. In a world where you’re always being told what to do, where to go, etc a child craves control. Offer choices within your boundary “would you like to wear your hearts or star pajamas?” Empower them to help with tasks around the house like turning on lights, helping you bake or closing a cabinet. Use lots of positive reinforcement and praise. Follow age-appropriate sleep schedules to ensure the baby doesn’t get over or under tired. Check out my Sleep Chart Cheat Sheet to see if your child is on par with sleep averages for their age. Keep to your nap times and usual sleep schedule even when things start to get out of line. Routine and consistency is the best and fastest way to get things back into place.


2 YEARS OLD

What happens: You feel like the joke is one you and you have a baby in the house again. Your little one finally just started sleeping through the night consistently only to start waking overnight and fighting naps again.  It is common to see a child resist naps so you think they are done and ready to drop all naps. Don’t be fooled. 


Why it happens: Being a two-year-old is a big deal. They may be experiencing some very big emotions and feelings and significant life events. Perhaps there is a new baby sibling, or they are potty training or you transitioned them to a new toddler bed (don’t rush this one!) 


How sleep patterns change: Offer a nap (anywhere from 60 minutes to 2 hours) around 1-3pm but don’t let your child sleep past 3pm or it will impact bedtime. They are able to stay awake longer than they ever have which may make you think they just aren’t tired and that they can stay up later. An overtired child may look hyperactive. Like all the other sleep regressions, this one will also usually last between 2-6 weeks, after which your child resumes normal sleeping habits. If your child is still struggling after 6 weeks, let’s work together to troubleshoot what is happening and create a plan to help your child get the sleep they need.

 

What you can do:  Keep offering that nap. Continue to offer a bedtime around 7:30p/8:00pm.  Set loving and firm boundaries and stick to them. In a world where you’re always being told what to do, where to go, etc a child craves control. Offer choices within your boundary “would you like to wear your hearts or star pajamas?” Empower them to help with tasks around the house like turning on lights, helping you bake or closing a cabinet. Use lots of positive reinforcement and praise. 



When a child can fall asleep without assistance, it is often easier to get back on track or simply pass through these phases. 

 

In summary - As parents, what can you look out for - to know if it is a sleep regression? 

  1. Have they hit a major developmental milestone?

  2. Do they have a sleep association where they need assistance in order to fall back to sleep? 

  3. Has this sleep disruption been going on for 2-6 weeks or more? A true regression will pass quickly if you are consistent with the routine and timing. If it lasts longer than this, it is likely behavioral and may require you to change schedules and/or habits and that is a great time to reach out to Sleep Tight Tonight! For example, A 4-month-old baby who is rocked to sleep and starts waking up frequently at night may continue this pattern until they learn to fall asleep independently. This may take a week or months. A sick child, on the other hand, may sleep better within a week of feeling better.

 

Sleep regressions are tough for everyone, parents and kids, regardless of whether you’re a seasoned or new parent. With this guide, you'll be confident knowing that it's only a phase, what to expect and that this too shall pass. Better sleep is just around the corner!


You've got this!


If you have any more questions about sleep regressions or how to break a sleep association, send an email or schedule a free sleep consult. Sleep is not a luxury. Parenting is hard enough. We'll be happy to craft a custom plan so together, we can get everyone sleeping better again so that you can all Sleep Tight Tonight!

 

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