What exactly is a sleep regression?

The term used a lot around the age of 4 & 8 months with regards sleeping issues is “Sleep regression”. This can be a particularly challenging time for both the parents and the little one. These regressions in some babies and toddlers are experienced by having one or two periods of poorer sleep as they grow. On some exceedingly rare occasions there are some children who experience these sleep regressions at all phases of age developmental milestones. Sleep regression also vary in the duration they occur and the severity of the experience.

Sleep regression what is it?

The term “sleep regression” is used to describe a period where a baby/toddler sleeps get worse than normal. In most cases the sleep regression appears by the means of the little one struggling to fall asleep. As well as being accompanied by more frequent wake ups than usual at night. For some it can also mean being awake for extended periods at either bedtime or throughout the night. For some it can sadly be both. Exactly how long the regression will last depend on the child’s age.

Why do sleep regressions happen?

Sleep regressions are caused by developmental milestones. These milestones can be either a physical, mental, or emotional development. This varying milestone depend on the age of baby/toddler. Meaning that as your baby/toddler grows, which we know is most of the time, their consequent development disrupts their sleep for various reasons.

 What are the most common sleep regressions?

Most regression are around 4, 6, 9, 12 & 18 months.

However, it is important at this point to note that due to regressions being about development and all children developing at different rates, which results in the actual age this can occur can be one or two months earlier or later. This is individual to each child’s development.

4-month-old sleep regression

From a sleep perspective, this is the age with the most significant regression. It is due to the development of an especially important mental growth happening. During the age of 12 and 16 weeks, sleep cycles begin to start forming. Leading consequently to the memory starting to form. Leading in turn to any sleep associations that were previously used to assist with the little one’s sleep, such as feeding to sleep/rocking to sleep etc, start to have the negative effect on the little one’s sleep. Meaning suddenly, the little sleepy angel who was only waking once for a feed, has now started having multiple wakening. Looking for whatever it was that was being used as their sleep prop/association. They need this sleep association to link their sleep cycles.

How long can I expect it too last?

Unfortunately, this is a key moment for everyone sleep. If changes are NOT made and turned into positive and helpful sleep association then these regressions can turn into a more permanent and longer lasting regression.

Surviving a 4-month-old sleep regression?

This age is a great time to look at those opportunities to help your baby learn new sleep associations. By putting baby down drowsy, yet awake, offering them a little help to self-settle when needed and start removing negative sleep associations can have positive impacts on sleep. Remember it is always best to attempt this in combination with things step too. Such as, implementing a bedtime routine, being aware of awake times and ensuring the environment is optimal for sleep to occur.

6-month-old sleep regression

As I mentioned above, physical development is the main cause of a regression. At this age it is mainly associated with the development of rolling or sitting up. Baby could have woken you by having rolled onto their stomach or into an uncomfortable position they cannot get out of. Or similarly, baby might be able to sit up alone but struggle to be able to lie back down.

Other common reasons for this regression can be due baby needing a longer awake window. This being the amount of time between sleeps. Making awake a bit longer, for this age, its roughly 2h30 – 2h45 awake time between sleeps. Some babies are ready to move on to 2 naps however they do not cope as well at this age with the longer stretch to bedtime.

The introduction of solids also can cause sleep disruptions. When new food is introduced, digestive issues can occur causing that to wake the babies at night. It can also be often tricky finding the right milk/solid balance.

How long does it last?

Great news with this age regression, luckily for most, this regression does not last too long. With all the development happening in their bodies it means adjustment can be quicker to embrace these changes and usually within 2 days to 2 weeks.

How to survive the 6-month-old sleep regression?

Development at this age need one thing. Practice, your baby just needs time more than anything else to learn their new skills. Help your child by practice. Help them learn this by rolling them over from back to front and from front to back during wake times. Your little one might struggle at first with the new routine of only two naps. Key here is consistency. Through consistency they will achieve a new rhythm soon. It is best to try to extend naps and do not be afraid to bring bedtime earlier if required.

9-month-old sleep regression

At this age, there is huge amounts of both mental and physical development occurring. Mental is mainly shown in separation anxiety. With the physical development occurring with them starting to crawl or even stand up. With especially active babies finding themselves getting into quite uncomfortable positions. And once again, that when they start standing up early, it can be tricky for them to be able to sit back down.

How long does it last?

Lasting anywhere from a couple of days to couple of weeks.

How to survive the 9-month-old sleep regression?

Remaining consistent is key here. Especially when separation anxiety occurs. This consistency is particularly important. It is by doing that you give them security and confidence by you remaining as normal and loving as you have been.  By adding a little extra time during the bedtime routine for one-on-one time can be especially helpful at this age.

As I mentioned earlier, with the little one’s physical development practicing their new skills during awake time and help them to sit down as needed is helpful.

12-month-old sleep regression

Being the least common sleep regression, it simply is due to naps. Some toddlers simply refuse to have 2 naps, so therefore parents often think it is time to move to 1 nap a day.

How long does 12-month-old regression last?

At this age it can last between 2 and 6 weeks.

How to survive the 12-month-old sleep regression?

At this age, it is helpful to cap the first nap. By not allowing this nap to go on too late, it ensures that the second nap still fit in comfortably. Be aware that if the little one does skip the second nap, the sensible and wise thing to do is to move to an earlier bedtime. If night-time sleep is not being affected, then it is not something to worry about too much. Your little one is clearly coping fine with less sleep. Be vary of moving to just 1 nap too quickly, it can have a bigger impact than you wish.

18-month-old sleep regression

This sleep regression can be one of the most challenging sleep regressions as discipline does start playing a major role. Teething, emotional development (separation anxiety) and a growing sense of independence are the main culprits.

How long does 18-month-old regression last?

Between 3 and 6 weeks usually.

How to survive the 18-month-old sleep regression?

If you have not already, now is the time you need to start setting boundaries and display firm discipline. It is from this consistency that your toddler will start to develop a sense of security which in turns leads to independence. At this age there is most definitely no longer any need for milk at night. Just as you will not feed solids to your child at night, providing milk during the night can do more harm than good.  

Although sleep regressions can cause sleep disruptions, the key and most important thing to remember is consistency. If you do then it should only be a bump or phase not a permanent change. If your little one was sleeping well before this regression, when your consistent then they should go back to being a good sleeper after the phase. Ensure that the regression is not a reason to start a negative association.

Ive tried this and it did not work, now what?

If you have tried to be consistent and you are still finding your littles sleep is off and you are struggling to return to where you were then I suggest we chat. I offer 30-min or 60-min consultation calls where I can help you pinpoint how and where it has gone off the rails and advise you on how to get this back on track as quickly as possible.

As well as the calls for you how is little one has not returned to great sleep, I offer personalised sleep programs to help those of you who is little one has never been a good sleeper. You do not have to suffer; sleepless night is not a necessity or requirement of parenting. I offer 15-minute discovery call where we discuss where your little one’s sleep is right now and how I can help you all get the good night sleep you all need.