How to Deal with Sleep Regression in Babies

A 4-5 months old baby awake

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Did you know that brain development in your baby can affect their behaviour? Sleep is one such area where this is most apparent. While newborn babies tend to drift into a deep slumber instantly, adults have a distinct sleeping pattern of going through first light sleep and then deep sleep. This transition of sleep patterns does not exist in babies initially. However, just like their physical growth, you will find their brain development in full swing within months. Sadly, children tend to become fussy and clingy during this time as it wreaks havoc on their sleeping pattern.

What is Baby Sleep Regression?

The disturbance in sleep caused by the developmental changes in a baby is called sleep regressions. This occurs at different ages – when a baby is of four months, eight months, eleven months, eighteen months and at two years of age. 6-month sleep regression is also quite common in children. Not every child will go through a sleep regression at the above mentioned times, but it is common during these ages.

When Does Sleep Regression Happen?

Below are some of the months where sleep regression happens.

1.  4 Months Old Baby Sleep Regression

The first time you will notice a change in your baby’s sleeping pattern is around 4 months old, but sleep regression happens even in babies who are 3 to 5-month-old.

A 4-months-old baby sleeping

a) What Happens In 4th Month Regression?

While your baby may have slept in longer stretches before, now you will notice that she wakes up frequently at night and takes shorter naps. She will be more prone to waking up about every two hours.

b) Why Does It Happen?

These changes in sleep are caused because of your baby’s developing brain. As her brain starts to develop, her sleep pattern even undergoes changes and it begins to become just like that of her parents and elders. She will begin to experience the two stages of sleep, light and deep, which is going to probably be your baby’s first experience with sleep regression.

c) How To Deal With It?  

Here are some four-month sleep regression solutions:

  • Help her to fall asleep the way you normally do but at certain scheduled times. Maybe you usually nurse your child to put her to sleep. Keep doing that for a while until she is used to the new routine. You can slowly wean her off this habit later.
  • Try using a pacifier to soothe your baby while putting her to sleep. Swaddling is another nice way to calm your baby down when it’s time for her naps or bedtime.
  • Create a comfortable and safe environment for her. This will often mean you should be at home and not on the move. It is difficult for a baby to sleep as soundly as before when you are out and about.
  • There is something known as a “dream feed” which works for many parents, especially if the baby is less than 6 months. In this technique, you basically feed your child around her bedtime, say 6pm, and then you carefully give her a nightcap during the sleep before you go to bed.

2.  8 Months Old Baby Sleep Regression

Yet another time to be on the lookout for sleep changes in your baby’s usual routine. Some babies even experience sleep regression even when they are 7-months-old.

a) What Happens In 8th Month Regression?  

Cognitive development during this time can affect a baby’s sleep at this age. By this time a baby will start refusing taking naps and will probably start trying to fight it. Most of the time, these regressions seem to take place during times of nap transitions.

b) Why Does This Happen?

Your baby will be going through many baby milestones and some physical changes. She will begin to crawl, cruise, and may even start her attempts at communication. Some babies even start teething at this age. All these changes are bound to have an effect on your baby’s sleep.
Nap transitions are another thing that may trigger sleep regression in babies. Usually, this is the age where the third nap of the day should be eliminated, especially if your baby is fighting it most of the time anyway. When a nap transition is not handled properly, it could cause a regression.
9-month-old baby sleep regression could also be caused as your baby is most likely to develop separation anxiety at this age and become very clingy.

c) How To Deal With It?

The best way to deal with sleep regression in your 8-month-old is:

  • Stick to the normal sleep routine as changing anything may simply result in more problems. This period of regression is only a temporary one, after all.
  • Allow your baby to have a lot of time during the day to practice all the new skills she has been learning, such as how to stand or cruise. This will help in reducing the chances that she might begin to practice them in her crib.
  • Make a couple of nap schedules, one which is a three nap schedule and the other a two nap schedule. You may have to alternate between the two, but try making sure to give your baby an early bedtime if you are following the two nap schedule.
  • Make your baby’s sleeping area as boring as possible, so there is no stimulation to keep her awake. Make sure it is cosy, safe, and dark.

3.  11 Months Old Baby Sleep Regression

This is rather rare as many babies seem to skip this regression stage altogether.

A baby girl awake

a) What Happens In 11 Month Regression?  

Your baby may start trying to refuse her second nap and try to make do with only one nap. This should not be encouraged though as babies need two naps at least until the age of 15 months.

b) Why Does It Happen?

This particular sleep regression most often happens when parents try to transition their babies to one nap before they are ready. Although most babies these days do end up transitioning at this age and are fine, there are those who do not and in those cases sleep regression will occur.

c) How To Deal With It?

This may seem obvious, but keeping your baby on a two nap schedule is very important in dealing with the sleep regression at this age. While it may seem that your baby is naturally leaning towards a one nap cycle, you must keep in mind that very soon she is going to start walking and trying other things which will drain her of a lot of energy. This is why keeping a two nap schedule will be a life saver and could prevent more sleep regressions in the future.

4.  18 Month Old Baby Regression

Sleep regression taking place when a baby is 18-months-old is said to be the worst of all.

a) What Happens In 18th Month Regression?  

One moment your baby is sleeping just fine, and then she isn’t. Toddler sleep regression is a time for more bedtime drama, more erratic naps, and constantly waking up at night. Around this time, the level of crankiness in babies only rises, she will want to be cuddled more often and you will also notice a change in your baby’s appetite.

b) Why Does It Happen?  

At this age, your baby is learning to be a bit more independent. And while this is something that will drive her to learn how to feed herself with a spoon or put on her own pants, she will also start defying you. This defiance can most often be seen even during bedtime as she will want to either resist going to sleep or may decide to cry out for you and not go back to sleep until you soothe her. Teething is still taking place at this age, and this is when the canine teeth and the first molar tooth start appearing. It obviously causes discomfort and she becomes restless. Babies at this age also experience separation anxiety. She may lie awake at night and eventually become upset if you are not there or may even resist sleep simply because she does not want to be away from you.

c) How To Deal With It?  

Here are a few things that you can try to help you and your baby get through this difficult phase:

  • Make sure to establish a very strong bedtime routine that has a consistent and proper end. For example, spend some quality time with your baby before bedtime as this will make her feel more comforted. You can end your bedtime routine with a night prayer every single night so that your baby will soon learn when it is time to sleep.
  • Try introducing your toddler to a comfort item such as a teddy bear or a blanket of her choice. When children have something that is cosy and comfortable when they are in bed, they may not want to call out to you often.
  • Offer a bedtime snack rich in protein to ward off those late night hunger pangs. This also turns out to be very useful for cases when growth spurts and sleep regressions coincide.
  • Your baby may not be able to understand if you try to overcomplicate things, but telling your baby firmly why she needs to go to sleep in the most simple way possible will help a great deal in avoiding all the bedtime drama.
  • Some children begin to develop nighttime fears at this age so putting a nightlight in your baby’s room may help to soothe her as she falls asleep.
  • Your toddler may not get over her sleep regression in a couple of weeks. Sometimes things take a little longer. In cases like this, you need to prepare yourself to retrain your baby on bedtime.
  • Remain consistent in your rules of what you will and will not allow. For example, if your child is not allowed in your bed, do not make an exception just because she is going through sleep regression. Another area in which you need to remain firm in is how soon you will go to see to your baby if she wakes up calling for you in the middle of the night. Waiting is usually encouraged to help babies learn to put themselves back to sleep. So, if you have given yourself a time of five minutes before going in to check on her, remain consistent and do not go in sooner than that.

5.  2 Years Old Baby Sleep Regression

This may be the toughest one to handle. However, rest assured that this is the last and final of the sleep regressions your child is most likely to go through.

A 2-year-old sleeping on his dad's shoulders

a) What Happens In 2-Year-Old Sleep Regression?  

As in the cases of all the other regressions, your baby will put up a struggle during nap time or bedtime, sometimes staying up for an entire hour laughing and playing and at other, worse times, she will scream for most of it. Sometimes she may settle down but then will start up a fuss when you leave her alone.

b) Why Does It Happen?

At this age children will go through more separation anxiety and sometimes, they may simply not want to miss out on the fun they think you are going to have without them. At two years of age, your baby will be going through a few notable life changes. Most children are potty trained at this age, and some may even be going from sleeping in a crib to sleeping on a kid’s bed. Some children will also have to deal with welcoming a new sibling at this time, something that puts most children out at first as they feel they will not get much attention.
At this stage, you will notice your baby will start becoming self-aware, and this will cause her to resist her naps. Your baby will also develop a vivid imagination, and while this is great in play, it can cause her to develop irrational fears at night too as she will now be aware that there are bad things out there in the world that could possibly hurt her.

c) How To Deal With It? 

Here are some ways to help your 2-year-old through her regression:

  • If your toddler seems to be developing sleep regression due to any lifestyle changes, such as potty training or shifting beds, stop and wait for a few months until you feel your baby is truly ready to deal with the lifestyle changes.
  • Sometimes you may need to change your baby’s nap schedule to allow for more awake time. You can do this by either making her afternoon nap earlier or by making bedtime later.
  • If your baby is really resisting her naps, then make sure to give her “rest time” where you put her in her crib with some books and some toys. She needs to know that she can stay awake but that she needs to stay in bed. This is also beneficial for you if she does end up feeling sleepy as she is already well positioned for a nice nap.
  • If she experiences night terrors, the best thing you can do for her is to stay calm and not overreact as she will take most of her cues from you. Be calm as you help your child back to sleep, but never encourage bad habits such as allowing your child into your bed or getting into bed with her.

Always remember that these sleep regressions that your baby will go through are not permanent, except for the four-month-old sleep regression. If you have weaned your baby off of some sleep associations, do not go back to all that simply to comfort your child. You can comfort your baby by doing a little bit of what helps to comfort her.

Also Read: Bedtime Routine for Babies