Updated: Nov 1, 2020
We’ve all heard of the dreaded 4 month sleep regression, but what is it? Can you avoid it? And are there any other regressions you need to worry about?
Even for the best little sleepers out there, sleep progression is not always straight forward. Just as with all things baby related, as soon as you think you have it worked out, they throw you a curve ball.
Firstly, if we can change your mindset around sleep regressions, and see them as a positive learning or developmental phase, it can help us to understand how best to support them.
During these phases of sleep disruption, our little ones are going through major changes. Their brains are working in overdrive, forming synapses, trying to retain what they're learning.
A baby or child who has strong sleep foundations and healthy sleep habits will likely experience a temporary blip in their current sleep. With a little support and patience, they will quickly return to their usual sleeping habits.
For a baby or child who already struggles with sleep, any disruptions can exacerbate the current situation and it can cause extended periods of sleep difficulties.
Let’s have a look at the most common sleep regressions we hear about. You may notice that your baby goes through all of them or just some. They also don’t always hit right at these age brackets but can occur a little either side.
This is probably the big one you hear about a lot in your Mum groups. I know when I had my first, I was oblivious to the fact that regressions even existed and when I started to hear about the 4 month regression and what it was going to do to my baby, I was terrified.
If by about 4 months old, your baby is a bit of a cat napper during the day and hasn’t yet mastered the skill of self-settling and re-settling, then you may start to see them waking every 2-4 hours overnight. This is due to a maturation in your baby's sleep architecture. Their sleep patterns change and they can begin to fully rouse between each sleep cycle, so if they require assistance to go to sleep, they will need the same conditions recreated to go back to sleep.
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). Your baby will be waking for the day already tired and they can easily fall into an overtired cycle.
The good news is that we can help solve these frequent wakes by setting up healthy sleep foundations and teaching your baby how to self-settle and re-settle. This does not mean leaving them to cry it out or refusing them feeds overnight. You can learn how to set your baby up for sleep success at this age with the Better Sleep Guide (4-8 months).
Read more about the 4 month regression here.
This regression is usually caused by a combination of things. Separation anxiety, developmental milestones such as crawling and rolling and recent changes to solid intake and day sleep.
Who has time to sleep with all that going on? 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 association like 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 to check in on them more often, or just quietly sit with them while they drift off to sleep to ease their separation anxiety without resorting to rocking, bouncing or feeding.
At 12 months your baby can get a real case of FOMO. They don’t want sleep when they could be playing and hanging out with you.
They still have some separation anxiety at this age, and they are not shy about letting you know. They can be very stubborn and persistent, and their cry can sound more distressed.
Make sure you allow them enough time to wind down before sleep time. And don’t be fooled into thinking they are ready to drop down to one nap. With all the energy they are using playing and learning to walk, most babies definitely still need two naps.
Don't make any drastic changes to their routine during this regression, keep offering them the opportunity for two naps for at least a couple of weeks before deciding whether or not you need to adjust their routine.
Click here for my top TWO tips for surviving the 12 month regression.
The 18 month regression is usually linked to the recent transition to one nap a day, another round of developmental milestones and is often followed by a language explosion.
You may find your baby regresses back to 45 minute naps or they may have complete nap refusal, frequent night wakes or even long periods of wakefulness in the night.
Now more than ever, your toddler needs consistency and predictability. If they're not sleeping well in the day, bring bedtime earlier so they can catch up on some lost sleep and avoid falling into an over tired cycle.
Read more about the 18 month sleep regression.
And the regressions don't stop there! Read here about the 2 year sleep regression.
Get in touch for help getting your little one's sleep back on track.
One on one consultations and downloadable sleep guides are all available online x