It seems like as soon as your baby starts learning better sleep habits, a sleep regression hits and you’re back to square one. Learn about the most common sleep regressions and how you can survive them so everyone can get a better night’s sleep.
Just when you get your little baby or toddler in a good sleeping groove, it seems like a sleep regression hits. Your baby might go from sleeping a solid stretch in the middle of the night to waking up every 40 minutes. Or she may have been a dream napper and during a regression go on a complete nap strike for several days or even weeks!
Sleep regressions can come on suddenly and seemingly from out of nowhere. They may make parents feel like their child is a newborn all over again with that day night confusion. They may totally blindside parents who thought they had a “good sleeper.” And unfortunately, sleep regressions are often part of having a baby and a toddler.
The good news is that when you set up good sleep habits, you can help mitigate sleep regressions or avoid them altogether. Learn all about the most common sleep regressions and see how you can make it through them!
What is A Sleep Regression?
A sleep regression is a change or disruption to your baby’s night time sleep or naps. It may come on suddenly, out of nowhere, and leave just as suddenly. The most common sleep regressions generally occur when your baby is hitting a major development, either physically or cognitively.
If you’re struggling to get your 4-month through 24-month-old to sleep, help is here! I put all my sleep consulting tips into a step-by-step guide for ages 4 months through 24 months. It includes how to wean your baby from night feeds, how to get them sleeping independently, how to get them on a consistent routine, and more! Check it out here!
How Do I Know if My Baby is Having a Sleep Regression?
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether your baby is hitting a sleep regression or needs a schedule change. I like following The Wonder Weeks app, which tells you when your baby may be hitting a major developmental milestone, based on their age.
Sleep regressions can last anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. If the change came on suddenly, and your baby’s schedule is on track, then chances are you’re dealing with a sleep regression.
How to Avoid Sleep Regressions?
All children will regress at some point in their sleep, whether it’s due to developmental milestones, teething, pushing boundaries, or needing a schedule change. Some children will be more sensitive to them than others. I dreaded the four-month sleep regression but it never hit us on our four-month baby schedule!
Always check that you are following appropriate wake times for your baby before assuming it’s a sleep regression. If wake times seem good and your baby is feeding fine, then you might just have to ride out the regression and let is pass.
Try not to introduce new sleeping props or poor sleep habits during a sleep regression. Do what you can to get your baby to sleep without introducing new sleep crutches and know that the sleep regression can end just as quickly as it began.
Most Common Sleep Regression Ages
Here are the ages where babies and toddlers typically experience sleep regressions:
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
- 12 months
- 18 months
- 2 years
These are the most common ages for babies and toddlers to have sleep regressions. Other sleep regressions can occur when your baby is sick, teething, or dealing with a new transition such as a move, parent going back to work, or a new sibling.
Those regressions are often related to an event rather than an age but can still affect sleep patterns in our babies.
Learn more about each common sleep regression and how you can survive it!
The dreaded four-month sleep regression! This is one of the most commonly known sleep regressions and is often the worst one because it creeps up on new parents. Babies who were seemingly sleeping pretty well may start to be up every hour or two throughout the night.
Why it happens: Babies’ sleep cycles change around four months of age and become more like an adult’s sleep cycle. Newborns sleep really hard, but around four months their sleep patterns change.
We all wake up several times a night, but we put ourselves back to sleep when we see our familiar bed, pillow, blanket, etc. We don’t even realize we are doing it because we naturally connect sleep cycles.
When babies are used to being rocked or nursed to sleep, they may start to wake up looking for the same sleep association that helped them get to sleep in the first place. They start to need this same sleep prop every time they come out of one sleep cycle (which is about every 40 minutes!).
This may be why your heavy newborn sleeper is suddenly waking up every 40 minutes or so throughout the night!
How to make it through: If you haven’t already, now is a great time to start your baby on a consistent sleep schedule. Start teaching her how to fall asleep independently so she learns to come out of one sleep cycle and into the next seamlessly.
Six-Month Sleep Regression
Your baby may just start to be settling into a good sleep schedule around this age. You’re feeling more confident as a new mom, the 45-minute intruder has disappeared, and your baby may even be sleeping through the night! Just when things are smooth sailing, another sleep regression rears its ugly head.
Why it Happens: Your little baby is growing and developing and learning new skills everyday! And with that often comes a sleep regression. As your baby learns to roll, crawl, and sit up, her body and mind is going through great change. All this excitement can disrupt your baby’s sleep.
How to make it through: Give her plenty of opportunity to practice her new skills during the day. Allow her to be mobile so she can explore her new physical abilities. Check that you are following appropriate wake times for your baby and consider transitioning from two naps to one if it seems appropriate.
Many parents also choose a popular sleep training method around this age to help teach their baby independent sleep skills.
Nine-Month Sleep Regression
The 9-month sleep regression is very similar to the six-month sleep regression and happens just a few short months later. Not all babies will be affected by both or either sleep regression.
Why it Happens: Your baby is learning new tricks all over again! She may be starting to pull herself to a standing position or even cruising along furniture at this point. She could have one or two teeth starting to pop through, which can cause a lot of pain and issues with sleeping.
How to make it through: Make sure to not introduce any new sleep props. One bad habit shouldn’t replace another. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about offering a pain reliever if you suspect teething is the culprit. By now most babies have dropped the third nap, so look at your schedule to see if that could also be a culprit.
Your little one is quickly moving from the baby stage into toddlerhood! Soon enough (if she hasn’t already), she’ll take her first few steps and start speaking her first words! All that exciting growth can lead to the 12-month sleep regression.
Why it Happens: All that development—physically and cognitively—is a lot for your baby to take in! When she goes down for bed or a nap, it’s far more fun for her to play in her crib than to sleep in it!
Many babies get their one-year molars around this time as well, which can be painful and cause discomfort. Separation anxiety can also set in at this age. Your baby may not want you to leave the room at night or nap time.
How to make it through: Give your baby plenty of opportunities to practice her new skills during the day. Let her move around, practice walking, talking, and following simple directions. Give her plenty of emotional reassurance as well through hugs, kisses, and cuddles. Build her security throughout the day so she feels secure at night in her room.
18-Month Sleep Regression
This regression can be much harder than some of the others because toddlers can express so much more emotion and frustration than a baby. Your toddler is starting to exercise independence and has no problem letting her little (big) opinions be known!
Why it Happens: Your little baby is growing up! She is now a full-fledged toddler and has plenty of opinions, even when it comes to napping and bedtime. Your little toddler is also mobile now, meaning she may be able to climb out of the crib.
Toddlers love to push boundaries to see what they can get away with. Your toddler might try protesting sleep to get in bed with you or forgo nap altogether.
How to make it through: Give your toddler the opportunity to make plenty of choices during the day and leading up to bedtime. We love following the Love and Logic approach, which suggests you give two choices, both of which you are okay with.
Some examples include, “Do you want to read two books or three books?” “Do you want to wear the heart pajamas or the flower pajamas?”
Little people love having some control over their situations. Give away the control when you can in the hopes that they will be more agreeable when you really need it.
Stay consistent with the sleep patterns you’ve established. If you haven’t set up any sleep boundaries, now is a good time to establish some. Sleep regressions at this age are often more about behavior than they are about sleep cycles.
Welcome to the terrible twos and the two-year old sleep regression! Your toddler may start waking up in the middle of the night out of nowhere or begin to resist naps. Some parents may feel like they’re back in the newborn phase with their toddler’s sleep habits at this age.
Our daughter started waking up in the middle of the night all over again and we had to stay consistent with our boundaries to keep her in her bed. We waited as long as we could before transitioning her out of the crib.
Why it Happens: Your two-year old can be experiencing a number of things, which could cause a regression. Welcoming a new sibling, potty training, or starting a new preschool can all cause sleep issues.
Additionally, two-year molars come in around this time and they can be painful to your little one! Your toddler may also start experiencing fears like darkness or monsters as well. Many parents transition into a toddler bed around this time, giving their children a whole new sense of independence!
How to make it through: Let your toddler express her concerns and fears during the day. Make sure to give her plenty of attention throughout the day. Stay consistent with the sleep habits you have worked so hard on and set boundaries for your family regarding sleep at naps and night time. It’s a toddler’s job to push those boundaries, so they certainly will try it regarding sleep (and everything else!).
I didn’t know there was a 3-year old sleep regression until we hit it ourselves! Our 3.5 year old started waking up in the middle of the night and struggled to go back to sleep.
We made it through by staying consistent and keeping clear boundaries and expectations. Also, check your toddler’s sleep schedule to make sure they aren’t getting too much daytime sleep!
Why it Happens: Toddlers can be experiencing changes in their life that can impact sleep such as welcoming a new sibling, starting preschool, moving to a toddler bed, and more. Their imaginations also start to run wild introducing new fears.
How to make it through: Consistency is more important than ever! If you don’t want your three-year old in your bed, don’t start co-sleeping. You will only send them mixed messages if you cave sometimes and not others.
Talk through their fears during the day, check their nap schedule, and be wildly consistent with them when they do wake up at night or fight bedtime.
If you’ve worked really hard with setting up healthy sleep habits with your child, then stay strong through these common sleep regressions. Know that they are normal and can pass just as quickly as they started!
If you need extra help with your baby’s sleep, I’m here to help! Feel free to reach out if you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep.
- An Optimal 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule for Your Toddler - April 12, 2021
- 5 Tips to Make it Through the 9-Month Sleep Regression - April 8, 2021
- Sample 2-Month Old Schedule with Babywise - April 5, 2021