Sleep Regression Explained

Sleep ‘Regressions’ Explained.

I hate the term sleep ‘regression’. This insinuates your baby is doing something wrong, or they are going backwards in their development, when in fact the opposite is true. During a sleep ‘regression’ what is actually happening is that your little one is progressing, whether it be with sleep, cognition or a physical milestone. Therefore, I prefer the term sleep PROGRESSION.

Common sleep progressions, occur at around 4 months, 6 months, 8-10 months, 1 year and 18 months – 2 years. That may feel like A LOT of change! But they are not as daunting as they may seem when you understand why they are happening, and therefore the best course of action to help your little one on their developmental journey.

4 months.

This is traditionally the one that gets talked about, mainly because it is the only one that marks a permanent change in your little one’s sleep patterns. At this point sleep cycles become a little more like adult sleep cycles, with baby coming into a light sleep every 60-120 minutes. This is completely normal, we do it too. The only difficulty comes when our little one cannot settle themselves back to sleep. Often, this is because up until now they have been fed to sleep, or held in our arms before going into the cot or bassinet. So when they rouse at the 60-120 minute mark, they are surprised to find themselves not where they fell asleep, but somewhere new! They then cry for you to come and restore the association they used to fall asleep. We often assume they are hungry at this time, maybe having a growth spurt, and so feed them, which reinforces their sleep association and will pop them back to sleep. However, 60-120 minutes later, light sleep again, rousing from a cycle, and the same problem occurs. 

Coupled with this, in the day your little one is more alert and interested in the world around them. They may not be feeding as well due to the distractions, so those extra night feeds become actual hunger wakes! You may also find they start to catnap more in the day – often due to the distractions of the world making sleep harder to achieve.

The best way to address this progression is to establish a routine in the day, to ensure your little on is getting both enough calories and sleep in the day, and to also work on self settling for settling and resettling, so that when your little one does rouse naturally from those sleep cycles, they are able to go right back to sleep without your intervention. 

6 months

At this time your little one is growing super fast. They are becoming really aware of the world around them; they have usually learnt to roll both ways and now they are learning to sit up! This is exciting! You may find that they like to practice this new skill at nap time, bed time and throughout the night. 

8-10 months.

This is another common time for skill development, this time for crawling. As your little one develops their commando skills, progressing to a full crawl, the cot becomes the perfect training ground, again at all the most inconvenient times! Babbling is in full swing at this point too, and so bub may be happily lying practicing their chatting too.

12 months.

This is another period of growth and development for your little one. They may be learning to pull themselves up and cruise the furniture, and the cot is not different. It is a perfect climbing frame! Pulling up has the added bonus that they can then see you across the room. Making sure your little one is in a sleep sack so they can’t get a leg up to climb out, as well as ensuring the room is dark so they don’t stand smiling at you. Words may also be starting to develop here, and you may find bub waking and lying in bed chatting to themselves, practicing their new sounds. 

These 3 sleep progressions are all developmental, whether it be physical or developmental and it is easy to fall into the habit of either picking your little one up and rocking them to sleep, or bringing in another type of association. Another common reaction is trying to stop them from doing these activities, because it is sleep time! And no sleep means an overtired baby, and an overtired you!

However, the quickest and most effective way to get through these progressions is to let your little one carry on with their skill. Remain consistent with your nap and bedtime schedule, and if they want to crawl about for a while then let them. If they wake in the night and are happily standing, let them carry on. As long as they are safe and not upset, letting them practice this skill will mean they get better at it faster and the night wakings and sleep resistance will subside quicker. If they are upset then of course, tend to them in using whatever method you are doing, but again try and be consistent; keep to what you have been using successfully, don’t bring in another sleep association. 

18 months – 2 years.

Separation anxiety can kick in strong here, your little one may find it harder to get to sleep without you and want you to be close at all times. Try to remain consistent at nap time and bed time, and in the day make sure you do lots of demonstrating that you will always return, by walking out of the room for a short while at first, chatting as you do so, so they can hear you, and returning happily. Additionally your toddler is starting to assert their independence around sleep and may start demanding more stories, more water, more cuddles. Again consistency is key, as are firm boundaries!

If the information in this post is resonating with you, then I can likely help you further! Drop me an email and get in touch.

Leave a Reply