Sleep Regression. It’s one of those terms you never knew existed until you became a parent. Next thing you know you’re hearing it everywhere! Baby swim class, local mom’s group & filling your Pinterest feed! If you’re wondering if this ubiquitous phrase is a current babies buzzword or a bona fide research-backed sleep phenomenon, you’re not alone. This article separates fact from fiction on sleep regressions: what they are, what causes them, and what you can do about them.
What are Sleep Regressions?
Sleep regressions are disruptions in sleep for a baby or toddler who was previously sleeping well. It’s when your baby starts waking more at night or his naps worsen out of the blue. These disruptions come at predictable times because they are associated with developmental milestones. Most babies and toddlers experience a few sleep regressions over the first 2 years of life, but you may not notice them if your baby doesn’t sleep well generally. (If your older toddler has suddenly started fighting nap time with a vengeance and you’re wondering if he’s outgrown napping, check out When Do Toddlers Stop Napping?)
What Causes Sleep Regressions in Babies?
Have you noticed that your baby temporarily slows down in one area of development, like speech, while he is expanding in another, like walking? Pediatric expert Dr. T. Berry Brazelton explains that a surge of growth in brain development that happens during a developmental milestone (like learning to walk) often coincides with another part of development slowing down or regressing (like speaking.) So what’s causing your baby’s current sleep regression could be a milestone he’s hitting like rolling over, standing or walking. It’s completely normal.
When Do Sleep Regressions Occur?
Sleep regressions follow a predictable sequence based on brain development, explains Dr. Brazelton. Because they coincide with developmental milestones, sleep regressions may be seen at 6 weeks, 4 months, 6-7 months, 8-10 months, 11 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years old. Sounds like one long regression, right?
Before you throw in the towel, you should know most babies and toddlers don’t experience each and every regression. Plus, if your baby has good sleep habits before a sleep regression hits, he will fall back into his rhythm after it passes. Sleep regressions are over just as quickly as they arrive. (Well, except for the 4-month sleep regression…you can read about that here.)
How Long Do Sleep Regressions Last?
A sleep regression can last 1-2 weeks, which is a very long time when you’re sleep deprived. It helps to stay positive and think of what your baby is accomplishing during the day. Has he recently started sitting up or rolling over? Focusing on the milestones can help you stay relaxed and patient. When you can attribute your disrupted sleep to a temporary cause, like a sleep regression, it eases your worry and confusion.
How Can I Help My Baby Through a Sleep Regression?
If your baby or toddler was sleeping well, just do your best to ride out the regression. Make a plan for night wakings that doesn’t involve you getting your baby back to sleep. For example, if you start rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, he’ll plan on you continuing this after the regression passes. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t comfort your little guy. Go ahead and rock, feed or give him a back rub. Just make sure he’s nice, relaxed and drowsy (not yet asleep) when he goes back to bed.
If your baby or toddler wasn’t sleeping well before the regression, there’s no better time to begin learning healthy sleep habits.
Has your baby been through a sleep regression lately? How did you deal with it? Tell us in the comments below.