Nothing is more valuable than a good night’s sleep. For most parents, getting your little one to sleep through the night is worthy of a celebration. You’ve finally established the perfect routine and you’re looking forward to catching some zzz’s.
Then out of the blue your baby or toddler begins waking up during the night and you’re having a hard time getting them to sleep.
So, what’s going on? It could be a sleep regression.
What Are ‘Sleep Regressions’?
A sleep regression is a shift in your baby or toddler’s sleep pattern. They begin to wake up during the night and have difficulty going back to sleep, have shorter naps, or skip them altogether.
There are many things that can alter a baby’s sleep habits such as illness or teething. So how do you know if it’s a sleep regression?
You can separate a sleep regression from a normal sleep disturbance by looking at three things:
- When the change in sleep happens
- How long it lasts
- If there are any other issues happening.
If the sleep disturbance comes and goes fairly quickly, it’s most likely not a sleep regression.
When and Why Do Sleep Regressions Happen?
Sleep regressions usually occur because a baby’s little brain is developing, or they may be going through a growth spurt. Learning new skills can also cause them to feel stressed and frustrated. They typically last about two to four weeks, sometimes longer.
The good news is that sleep regressions are a completely normal thing – and even better, they’re only temporary.
So how do you know if your little one is having a sleep regression or just a bad couple of nights? There are a few signs you can look out for to help you know for sure.
If they are waking up multiple times during the night, are fussier than normal, have less frequent or shorter naps, or they have a change in their appetite, it may mean that they are having a sleep regression.
The first regression typically occurs when your little one is around 4 months old. At this age, they are taking in a ton of new information and are constantly learning new skills, such as sitting up or rolling over.
The second regression happens around 8 months when your baby is learning to crawl or pull themselves up and they are developing new language skills. This is a time when they are also starting to sleep less during the day.
The last sleep regression occurs when your little one is about 18 months old. It’s usually the most difficult of the three because they may be experiencing some separation anxiety, making it difficult to separate themselves and fall asleep.
Less common, but just as difficult, your little one may have additional sleep regressions – at 6 months, 12 months, or two years of age. Like the others, they are usually associated with other developmental milestones.
Some parents may be lucky enough to never experience sleep regressions. But for most of us, our little ones will have at least one during the first two years of their lives.
Take a look at these 10 tips to help you get through those sleepless nights.
How to Cope with Sleep Regressions: 10 Tips
1. Focus on a full belly
Make sure that you’re giving a full feeding each time your baby eats. Your little one may be more interested in exploring the world around them instead of eating. Eliminate any distractions you can and focus on a full belly. This leads to less hunger during the night and hopefully fewer wakeups.
2. Practice their new skills
When learning new skills, your baby doesn’t have a grasp of time. So, they may try and practice at night when they should be sleeping. By taking time during the day to practice with them, they are less likely to try and practice when they should be sleeping.
3. Pay attention to cues
When babies or toddlers are sleepy, they will give you cues. Look out for eye rubbing, yawning, and fussiness – they are all signs that they are ready for bed. Response time is key when trying to get them to sleep, so be sure to pay attention.
4. Put them to bed drowsy
When it’s time to sleep, you want to make sure your little one is drowsy rather than fully asleep. It may take a little rocking or some extra cuddle time to get sleepy but being drowsy will help them drift off easier.
5. Establish a routine
Routines are important for babies and toddlers as well as parents. Be sure to establish a sleep schedule and a consistent night-time routine. Stick to it and know that your own routine will need to adjust as well.
6. Darken their room
A dark room will help create a better sleep environment and encourage better overall sleep. If your baby wakes up during the night, a dark room will help them fall back asleep easier.
7. Be calm and quick
It’s always better to allow your baby or toddler to try and soothe themselves back to sleep, but if you need to assist, remember to be calm and quick. Nighttime is for sleep. Keep the lights off, or at least very low, and avoid turning on any screens. A low-key, calm approach will help your little one get through the diaper change or feeding and be able to drift back off to sleep.
8. Stick with what you know
Your little one is adjusting to a lot, so consistency matters. Stick with the soothing techniques that your child responds to – rocking, nursing, shushing, or a pacifier – to bring them comfort and help them get back to sleep.
9. Just go with it
In a perfect world, your baby or toddler will always nap or sleep in their own bed. However, in the real world, sleep can happen just about anywhere. Don’t worry if during a sleep regression your little one prefers to sleep somewhere other than their bed – as long as it’s safe.
10. Love and support
Above all, nothing is more valuable than a little love and support. Extra cuddles and kisses will comfort your baby or toddler and make them feel loved. And don’t forget about you! Make sure to ask for support from your spouse, partner, or family member when you need it.
These 10 tips will help you survive every sleep regression your little one may have and avoid any unnecessary stress. Remember, this is not going to last forever. Just like everything else, your baby is going to go through stages. This is just one of them. Take a breath and keep doing the best you can. In the end, baby (and you!) will come out just fine.