Updated: May 7, 2021
A sleep regression is a period of time, usually about two to four weeks, when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly their sleep goes out the window! They may wake more frequently at night, stay awake for long periods in the night or resist going to sleep at bedtime and for their naps.
Let’s have a look at the most common sleep regressions. You may notice your baby or toddler goes through all of them or just some. They may also be slightly younger or older than the ages listed below, especially if they were born late or premature.
This is the big one! It affects all babies as their sleep cycles mature to be more like ours. After 3 months they go through a very large development in their sleep cycles and they don’t drift from one sleep cycle to the next so easily. Around 4 months old they can wake completely at the end of each sleep cycle, day (45 mins) and night (2-4 hourly) and need to consciously go back to sleep on their own. If your baby relies on you to go back to sleep so for example they are rocked or fed to sleep before each nap and at bedtime, they will cry out for you to help them go back to sleep every time they wake.
Waking every two hours overnight is no fun for anyone. Fragmented sleep is not restorative and can result in a very cranky baby and mum! I’ve been there myself with my first born Ruben, he was waking every 2 hours after midnight at 16 weeks old and I had no clue why, he wasn’t hungry as would only have the tiniest amount of milk from his bottle. It was exhausting!
The good news is we can help solve these frequent wakes by helping your baby learn how to self-settle and re-settle. This is what I did with Ruben, we used an out of the room sleep training technique with regular check ins and it worked wonders. By the third night he was sleeping through after his dream feed at 11pm! He’s been a good sleeper ever since.
Don’t be fooled in to thinking this sleep regression will go away on its own, it won’t until your baby can self-settle and resettle.
This regression is to do with your baby experiencing massive physiological and developmental changes such as learning to crawl, pulling up to stand, lots of chitter chatter and some separation anxiety.
Who wants to sleep when they can be practising crawling and standing up in their cots!
It’s very easy for parents to start trying anything to get their baby sleeping well again which can result in accidentally re-introducing or creating new sleep associations such as rocking, bouncing or feeding. This may work in the short term, but you’ll find that your baby will keep waking frequently looking for their new association.
The best way to support your baby through this regression is if they are upset to just quietly sit with them while they drift off to sleep to ease their separation anxiety without resorting to rocking, bouncing or feeding. If they are happy then it’s best to just leave them to get on with it.
At 12 months your baby starts to become much more aware of the world and will want to explore it every day. There is so much going on in their little minds as they begin to take their first steps and are starting to communicate their wants and needs.
They can have some separation anxiety at this age. They can also be very stubborn and persistent, and their cry can sound much more distressed, making sleep training harder.
Signs of this regression often include nap refusal, especially for their morning nap! You may think they are ready to transition to one nap a day but most often than not they aren’t. Most children drop to one nap closer to 14-18 months.
Keep persisting with putting them down for their morning nap and if they don’t sleep for it bring their lunch nap earlier and for longer.
Around 18 months old your little toddler will go through another big period of growth and development. They may be starting to talk a lot more now and then can also go through another stage of separation anxiety. Plus, their molars can start to make an appearance!
All this growth and development can have a big impact on their sleep!
You may find your toddler regresses back to 45 minute naps or may have complete nap refusal, frequent night wakes or even long periods of wakefulness in the night.
It’s key to not re-introduce or introduce new sleep associations such as laying with your toddler whilst they fall asleep or cuddling them to sleep. Assisting them to sleep will likely result in this regression lasting longer than a month.
And yep there is yet another sleep regression! But the last one – phew!
Nap strikes can start to occur at this age and completely normal but not a sign they are ready for no sleep during the day. Most 2 year olds still need 1-1.5hours of sleep until they are 2.5 years old.
This regression can also start due to moving to a big bed too soon.
Toddlers don’t have much impulse control until closer to 2.5/3 years old so if you move them to a big bed at 2 years, they may get out of their beds over and over again thinking this is a game, you’ll then end up with one overtired toddler!
They can also develop a fear of the dark so instead of staying with them while they fall asleep, try a night light as this can be comforting for them. An orange or red based night light is best as these don’t disrupt the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
If you need help with any sleep regression, I have a wealth of knowledge and experience to get your little one’s sleep back on track so that you and your whole family wake up feeling refreshed and energised after a great night’s sleep!
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