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Sleep Regression – The Complete Guide

Last Updated on March 17, 2020 by Ashwini G

Sleep regression – this is a phrase that many parents do not know existed before they had a baby. If your little one wakes up every 20 minutes or so and you are more exhausted than you have ever been, you have probably learned a lot about this type of baby sleep pattern. So, what exactly are sleep regressions? They are a period when a baby or a toddler whose sleep patterns have been normal suddenly starts to wake up at night and/or skip naps or wakes up earlier than usual from naps for no apparent reason. Just when you think that you have conquered all the sleep challenges that come with a baby, you are suddenly back to constantly waking up at night and non-existent naps. Sleep regression can be frustrating, to say the least!

What Age Do Babies Have Sleep Regression?

When it comes to sleep regressions, it is essential to remember that every baby is different. The sleep patterns that your friends’ babies go through will not necessarily be the same as what your baby goes through. This means that your little one may show actual signs of sleep regression at some of these month markers, but not other babies or toddlers. That said, there are a few ages when babies or toddlers go through this type of baby sleep behavior.

  • 4 Months: The changes that take place when your baby goes through the 4-month sleep regression are permanent – essential to remember. By this age, your little one no longer has his babyish sleep patterns and starts to sleep more like a grownup. This translates into waking up at night frequently – plus a lot of fussing – and taking shorter naps.
  • 8 Months (Sometimes 9 or Even 10 Months): The sleep regression that your baby goes through at 8, 9, or 10 months is due to the developmental milestones that are taking place at these ages. At this stage, most babies are making huge physical strides, such as learning to crawl, to cruise, to pull up, etc. A lot of brain development occurs at this stage as well, e.g., absorbing language. It is also during this stage that most babies cut at least a few teeth. When all of these are added up, what you have is more night waking, shorter or skipped naps, and do not forget, a very fussy, cranky baby.
  • 11 or 12 Months: This seems to affect fewer babies compared to other sleep regressions – may be because it is less common. The 11 or 12-month sleep regressions have more to do with naps than sleeping. Specifically, your baby might suddenly start to refuse his second nap and try to get by with a single nap a day. Many parents assume that this is a normal transition in their little one’s napping habits and that it means that he is ready for just one nap a day. However, experts say that you should treat this as a sleep regression since most toddlers are really not prepared to make the transition to one nap per day until they reach the age of about 15 months.
  • 18 Months: Good news for parents – this is an easy one! Why? Well, your baby is now a toddler – one who walks, talks (or babbles at least), and throws tantrums. The 18-month sleep regression has a lot to do with the new independence that your little one has found. He is learning that he has opinions and can express those opinions – for instance, by shouting “No!” at the top of his voice. Another factor that comes into play here is separation anxiety. Your toddler may experience genuine distress when you leave at naptime or when you leave his room when it is bedtime. Finally, at 18 months, teething is still very much a factor. It is often at this age that toddlers are cutting molars, which are big and painful.
  • 2 Years: This regression, to be honest, is slightly less straightforward than the other sleep regressions. Why? Because it can be caused by many different factors. Firstly, at the age of 2, the awake time of your toddler is growing longer, but it can disrupt his sleep as he makes the transition. It is also likely that your 2-year old is going through some significant life transitions, such as potty training and making the transition to a big-kid bed. Plus, at around the age of 2, many toddlers start to have nightmares – in some cases, even night terrors. These can all result in a very exhausting sleep regression by the time your little one is around 2 years old.

What Causes Sleep Regression?

Sleep regressions can be caused by a wide range of factors. As you have learned, they are often the result of developmental milestones, both physical and mental. Teething, potty training, switching to a big-kid bed, cognitive bursts, physical developments, etc. are some of the common causes of sleep regression. Some of the other top causes include the following:

  • Illness: If your little one’s sleep behavior changes suddenly, especially if it is combined with pain-like crying or clinginess, the first thing you should do is check for illness. Although fever is one of the sure signs of illness, you need to bear in mind that it is not a symptom of all illnesses. One of the things that can cause your baby or toddler to wake up or cry when he is half asleep is seasonal allergies, which can cause breathing difficulty. They can also result in sleep apnea and snoring. In such cases, you should definitely consult a medical professional. Your little one can also experience pain when sleeping due to food allergies, especially an allergy to milk protein. Another common cause of sleep regression is eczema.
  • Changes in Sleep Needs: Over the first 5 years of life, the sleep needs of babies, toddlers, and even big kids change. If you do not adapt your little one’s sleep schedule to accommodate those changing needs, you will likely see night wakings or difficulty falling asleep. You should bear in mind that what looks like a sleep regression may actually be mismatched sleep expectations that you can resolve by adjusting your baby or toddler’s sleep schedule.
  • Chronic Sleep Debt: When your baby or toddler has chronic sleep debt, his levels of adrenaline and cortisol can go up. This, in turn, makes it difficult for him to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is important to bear in mind that sleep difficulties such as these can look a lot like a sleep regression. You need to make sure that your little one should be made to catch up on sleep. Otherwise, things will just get worse instead of getting better.
  • Stress or Change in the Family: Changes in your baby or toddler’s sleep behavior or patterns can be caused by major life changes, such as the birth of a new sibling, starting daycare, moving homes, or parents’ divorce. This is not to say that it is necessary to protect your little one from all change. It is important to remember that change is part of life, and short-term stress that occurs in a loving home can help resiliency instead of hindering it.

How Long Does 6-Month Sleep Regression Last?

Parents have heard about the 4-month sleep regression, but do you know about the 6-month one? Once your baby turns 6 months old, you begin to feel like you have a routine again. At this age, babies tend to nap at semi-regular times, and roughly 60% of 6-month old babies sleep through the night. It is also likely that you will find your baby increasingly fun to be around as this is when he becomes more social, laughing, and cooing at anyone who plays and spends time with him.

And then, just when you are feeling like things are becoming a little normal again, another sleep regression strikes! Although the 6-month regression is not as common as regression at other ages, it does have a significant impact on many families. Because of milestones like pushing up on all fours and rolling along with a desire to be more social and interact with others, your baby can have difficulty sleeping.

Causes of 6-Month Sleep Regression

Some of the causes of sleep regression at the age of 6 months include the following:

  • Many 6-month olds are on their way to becoming mobile. If your baby has not already, he may begin pushing up on all fours or rolling. Some babies of this age, even start to crawl.
  • Rather than sleep, your little one may want to practice the new skills he has acquired. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep.
  • If your 6-month old has rolled onto his stomach and has trouble rolling back, he may even cry out for you in the middle of the night, and this may make it difficult for him to fall asleep again.
  • Because your baby is more engaged with his surroundings and does not want to miss out on what is happening around him, he may fall asleep only to wake up a short time later, or wake up the minute you lay him down.
  • Separation anxiety can also play a role in sleep regression at the age of 6 months.

When your baby was younger, sleep may have been more random. However, at 6 months old, most babies have fallen into a routine with 2 or 3 naps at regular times and consistent sleep. This is a great development, but the problem is that major changes to your baby’s schedule can wreak havoc on sleep overall. It could also simply be that your baby is less flexible than before. If your 6-month old misses a nap, being overtired may cause him to fight sleep later at bedtime. He may also not be able to nap while you are on the go because he needs the quiet environment of home to catch a few Zs.

Last but not least, a lot of babies experience growth spurts around the age of 6 months. If your 6-month old was sleeping through the night previously and is now waking, it could be due to hunger. Instituting a night feeding may be necessary until the growth spurt passes. If you previously nursed, bottle-fed, or rocked your little one to sleep previously, you may find that this no longer works at all.

Now, the good news for parents – the 6-month sleep regression is temporary! Also, not all babies experience regression at the age of 6 months. If your baby does, you will be glad to know that he will go through it only for anywhere between 2 to 6 weeks. This means that you and your little one can go back to a normal sleep routine again very soon!

What You Can Do About the 6-Month Sleep Regression

Here are a few things you can do if your baby goes through the 6-month sleep regression:

  • First off, if you have the feeling that your 6-month old is teething, you should consult his pediatrician and ask if she can recommend any pain relief medications. You can also ask for tips on how to get your little one to sleep while he is teething.
  • If your 6-month old is mastering a new skill, such as standing up or crawling, you should bear in mind that it is important not to create new sleep habits, e.g., rocking him to sleep. Instead, you should lay him back down once and then proceed with the method of sleep training you choose.
  • If you suspect separation anxiety to be the cause of the sleep troubles your baby is experiencing, you should try putting him down awake and comforting him while you sit next to her crib. While continuing to soothe her, move farther away from your little one’s crib and closer to the door every 2 or 3 nights. You will eventually end up outside the door, and within a few weeks, you should be able to put your baby down and walk away, knowing that he will fall asleep on his own.
  • Most babies learn to fall asleep independently by the time they are 6 months old. You should encourage this. As mentioned earlier, you may find that techniques, like feeding or rocking that you used to get your baby to sleep, are simply not working anymore, or that he needs your help to fall back asleep when he wakes up during the night. You can try shifting bottle-feeding or nursing to the start of your bedtime routine to prevent your baby from falling asleep. You can also try engaging in other comforting activities, such as reading books or pre-bedtime bath, before you place your little one is his crib drowsy but not asleep. Keep in mind that he may protect but in time, he will learn to fall asleep on his own.
  • It is also important to make time for play if your baby goes through the 6-month sleep regression. At 6 months, your baby is more active than ever before and you need to make sure to give him plenty of time and space during the day to practice his new skills, like pushing up on all fours, sitting, standing up, etc. This will make it less likely for him to want to do so during the night or at naptime. Playtime will also help in ensuring that he spends extra energy and is ready to sleep once he hits the crib.
  • Providing comfort is important if you think that separation anxiety is the cause of your little one’s sleeping difficulty. Sleep regression causes a lot of difficulty for the entire family, and you need to make sure that your baby, especially, gets the extra comfort he needs during this time. It is likely that he will be clingier and crankier due to lack of sleep. You should clear your schedule as much as you can and spend lots of one-on-one time cuddling, reading books before bedtime, etc. Spending as much time as possible can help immensely with separation anxiety.
  • As mentioned already, babies who are about 6months old start to fall into more of a routine, and before being hit by the sleep regression, you may have had a predictable schedule for feeding, sleep and play. It is important to resist the urge to eliminate this routine when your little one has trouble sleeping. Babies take comfort in routine as they signal what is coming next.
  • As you now know, growth spurts can be a cause of sleep regression at around the time babies turn 6 months old, and you may find that your baby wakes up during the night to nurse or for a bottle. You obviously need to feed your baby if he is hungry, but it is also important to try to pay attention to whether or not he is actually hungry. In most cases, you do not need to feed 6-month old babies multiple times a night, and the reason your baby wants to be fed may be the need for comfort. The only problem with feeding your little one automatically every time he wakes up is that he may become dependent on it to fall back asleep and you will find yourself back to night feedings several times a night unnecessarily. It is a good idea to wait a few minutes when he wakes up to see if he goes back to sleep, or you could give him a reassuring pat instead of taking him out of his crib.

The 6-month sleep regression can be frustrating as well as exhausting. If you find that you are in need of more support or assistance, you should consult your baby’s pediatrician. She, or a professional she recommends, can help in developing a sleep plan that meets the needs of your little one as well as your entire family.

Is There a One-Year Sleep Regression?

The first year of your little one’s life can seem like a complete blur. It is filled with not only memorable firsts and milestones but also its fair share of sleepless nights and challenges. By the time your child reaches the age of one, you generally expect to be on a schedule that is more predictable, especially when it comes to him sleeping through the night. However, another sleep curveball might be coming your way when your little one turns one.

Again, like the 6-month sleep regression, the 12-month or one-year, one is quite uncommon, but it still does have an impact on many children and their parents. Your toddler’s sleep can go through many temporary problems due to developments like learning to walk and talk.

Causes of the One-Year Sleep Regression

Because there is a great deal happening in your child’s life at the age of 1, his sleep can be significantly impacted. The one-year sleep regression tends to have an effect on naps specifically, but it can also manifest as trouble falling asleep or night waking. Some of the causes of sleep regression at the age of 12 months include the following:

  • By the time they turn one, children are simply more aware of the world around them than ever before, and naturally, they want to explore everything. Around this age, your child begins to understand sequences and becomes more and more interested in activities such as reading books and stacking blocks. His increasing interest in play means that he will fight naps and will also be simply too busy to take a break for sleep. You may also find that he has trouble settling down at bedtime because he has discovered that there are so many things to see and do that are so much more interesting than going to sleep.
  • Many children start walking and talking by the age of one. They can take a few steps, either with the help of an adult’s hand or the support of furniture or independently. Even if your toddler is not walking yet, it is highly likely that he is moving around a lot. He may also be saying a few words, like “Mama” or “Dada.” Because he has so many languages and motor skills to practice, your one-year-old might be less interested in sleep – naps in particular.
  • At around the age of one, there are slight changes in a child’s sleep needs. While babies between the ages of 4 months and 12 months need about 12 to 16 hours of sleep daily, children between 12 and 24 months need about 11 to 14 hours a day, including naps. When they are a year old, most children will take a nap 2 times a day, but they may become shorter naps as they shift to one nap at the age of around 14 or 15 months. All of these changes in your one-year old’s sleep needs can manifest in him fighting naps or waking up early from them.

Like other periods of sleep regression, the one-year one should last anywhere between 2 to 6 weeks. However, keep in mind that this varies from one child to another. If your child has turned one and you have concerns about his sleep, it is important to make sure that you consult his pediatrician for advice and recommendations.

What to Do About 12-Month Sleep Regression

Many parents are caught off-guard by the one-year sleep regression because, at this point, they are likely used to getting a full night’s sleep. Although you cannot exactly prevent sleep regressions, there are things you can do to ease your little one through it and make it as short as possible.

  • Because one-year-olds are so eager to practice the skills they have newly acquired and have loads of energy, they may fight sleep if they cannot practice those skills during the day. To make sure that your toddler does not have any pent up energy at bedtime, you should encourage daytime play. Make sure that he has loads of time and space to play, move, explore, and interact with others. This way, your little one will be less restless when it is time for a nap or bedtime. Plus, the extra playtime will help immensely in his physical and mental development.
  • Your one-year-old may fight naptime because most children are ready to transition to one longer nap a day rather than 2 or 3 short naps. However, bear in mind that many are not ready for this until they are closer to the age of 14 or 15 months. You should hold off on making major changes to his schedule until the regression has passed. You should stick to your normal routine for as long as you can. Giving your one-year old-time to rest a couple of times a day will prevent him from becoming overtired and fighting sleep when bedtime rolls around.

No matter at what age your child goes through a sleep regression, you should take steps to make the experience easier, and as you have read, there are many things you can do. Keep in mind that sleep regressions impact both your little one and your whole family, so it is important to seek professional help and support if you think you need it during this time.

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