Many babies will periodically go through phases, termed ‘sleep regressions'. Suddenly your baby goes from sleeping peacefully and easily at night, to fighting sleep until exhausted, and waking often through the night.
They may be fussy and clingy through the day, fall out of normal routines, and get up much earlier than usual. The good news is this is a normal part of a child's development and will pass. The bad news is you'll be set for a hard few weeks and sleepless nights.
So what are sleep regressions and what can you do to help you and your child deal with them?
Why Sleep Regressions Happen
As babies grow and learn they go through various developmental milestones. These may be sitting up, crawling, walking, talking, etc. And as a baby goes through these stages their little brains become focused, as they replay what they have learned over and over and assimilate it into their knowledge of the world.
This carries over into sleep. It's not uncommon for a baby, for example, after learning to sit up, to do it over and over in their sleep, often not even waking up in the process!
My daughter went through a terrifying stage of standing up in her sleep soon after she had mastered the skill. I woke many times with her standing over me.
Consequently sleep regressions often follow the pattern of a baby's mastery of skills. These are some common ages for sleep regressions:
4 months – As a baby's sleep cycles begin to change to match those of an adult. This regression typically lasts about 2-3 weeks.
9 months – As a baby learns skills such as crawling and cruising. This regression can last 4-6 weeks, with lots of night waking and even fits of crying in the night. Parents often report this regression is the hardest and longest.
12/13 months – Typically characterised by a refusal of naps and difficulty dropping to sleep. This regression can vary greatly in length, from a few days to weeks. Babies may refuse to nap, especially in the afternoons, and be very grumpy in the evenings.
18 months – As babies grow into toddlerhood, mastering language and motor skills, again sleep can be disrupted. This is again characeterised by a refusal to nap and fussiness through the day.
24 months – Toddlers typically fight sleep during this regression, and may try many tactics to attempt to ward-off sleep. This may include waking in the night and taking hours to go back down.
What To Do About Sleep Regressions:
- Firstly, become informed and prepared. Knowing what to expect takes the surprise away if it happens. Have some strategies in mind for when the time comes.
- If you don't already co-sleep, it may be necessary to bring your baby to bed with you on the bad nights, just to settle them for the short period.
- Try to stick to your routines as much as possible, especially around bed-time. It might be necessary to tweak nap-times and be flexible in the times for bed, dependent on what time your baby napped.
- Consider increasing the number and duration of day-time naps, if possible. The more sleep your baby can get through the day, the less grumpy they will be if they're awake through the night.
- Try to be patient and provide lots of cuddles through the day during times your baby is fussy or clingy.
- Remember this is a phase and will pass. It may be tough, but sometimes all strategies may fail and you just have to ride out the storm.
We recommend the No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.