Sleep regression ages, what to expect, and how to survive the exhaustion when your baby doesn’t sleep.
Sleep Regression in Babies and How to Cope
My little one is approaching two, and her sleep sucks. This morning she got us up at a little after 4.30am, and it pains me to say that this is not abnormal for us. When the clocks recently changed to BST, everything got way worse. We had blackout blinds installed – and it achieved nada. So today I though I’d talk to you about sleep patterns with a sleep regression guide in case it’s helpful. I’m focussing on the big ones: the 4 month sleep regression, 6 months, 8 month sleep regression, all the way through to toddler sleep regression.
For what it’s worth, as a mother of two, neither of whom have been great sleepers and one of whom is among the worst I’ve ever come across (my mum concedes she’s as bad as my brother was as a baby, and trust me, she wouldn’t concede that lightly) – I’m also including a bit at the end of this post, sharing my own personal view on sleep, sleep consultants, and how to survive sleep deprivation.
What is Sleep Regression?
Sleep regression is when your relatively settled baby suddenly has unexplained sleep issues where there have previously been none. If you find yourself going from patting your self on the back for having achieved a broadly successful routine of naps and nighttimes, to suddenly tearing out your hair with no obvious reason – congratulations, you’re probably experiencing a sleep regression.
Sleep Regression Ages
As mentioned above, there are specific ages at which you can expect to see sleep regression take place. That said, these recognised markers of baby sleep regression may differ slightly between infants, and it’s possible you may see disturbances in your own child’s sleep routine a little before or after the anticipated weeks or months.
For example, the 8 month sleep regression is sometimes referred to as the 9 or 10 month sleep regression.
Remember that comparison is the thief of joy, so don’t measure your own baby’s sleep against that of a friend’s or relative’s; all babies are different and the bottom line is that babies are not designed to sleep for long periods of time. If you know a young baby who is sleeping through the night, bear in mind that they’ll be the exception and not the rule.
Besides which, it’s highly unlikely to last – their parent is (probably) enjoying a false sense of security right before they encounter a sleep regression of their own…
4 Month Sleep Regression
Is It Real?
In a word – yes. While many sleep regressions are temporary disruptions to your infant’s sleep, the 4 month sleep regression is unique in that it incorporates a fundamental change to your little one’s sleeping patterns.
What’s It Like?
Gone is your sleepy newborn, replaced with a baby who has sleep cycles more like those of an adult. You’ll probably notice more frequent night waking and shortened naps. Instead of a drowsy infant, you’ll likely become aware of your baby experiencing distinct sleep cycles, lasting around 45 minutes.
This is when you’ll quickly develop the reactions of a ninja to bridge the gap between cycles in a single nap with rocking and shushing.
Is 4 Month Sleep Regression Permanent?
Uh-huh. It marks a permanent transition in your baby’s sleep pattern, from newborn sleepiness, to light and deep sleep, in cycles lasting around 45 minutes.
6 Month Sleep Regression
Is It Real?
The 6 month sleep regression is genuine – although it’s less common than other baby sleep regression.
How Can You Identify It?
Just as you begin to settle back into a routine following the dreaded 4 month sleep regression, you may its 6 month cousin. This one occurs around the same time as your baby hitting important developmental milestones, such as becoming more mobile, signing or showing interest in language, and weaning onto solids.
Although sleep regressions affect children differently, noticeable signs that point to a regression include shorter naps than usual, complete refusal to nap, difficulty falling asleep at nighttime, and frequent night wakings. While sleep retrogressions are technically an indication that your little one is doing well – they can really take their toll on the whole family.
How Long Does the 6 Month Sleep Regression Last?
Contrary to the 4 months sleep regression which is permanent, most sleep regressions usually last around two to six weeks.
Of course, that’s long enough for routines to be disrupted and need to be reinforced or even reinstated.
8 Month Sleep Regression (Often Referred to as 9 or 10 Month Sleep Regression)
Is the 8 Month Sleep Regression Real?
It sure is! Most babies will experience disrupted sleep and naps between 8 and 10 months of age.
What Does It Look Like?
Once again, more of those wonderful developmental milestones are responsible. Your baby is physically and mentally flourishing, absorbing the world around them and putting that knowledge into action. They’ll be practicing and refining their speech and learning to crawl/cruise/walk. To their little minds, every minute sleeping is a minute wasted for making improvements, and it’s very normal for little ones of this age to resist sleep. *Yawn*
When Does It End?
Usually around a few weeks after it begins. It might be when some of their more problematic teeth have cut, or when they’ve mastered a skill they’re currently working on.
Toddler Sleep Regression
Some parents notice yet another sleep regression around a year or so, though it seems to be less common than other ages.
The 11 or 12 month sleep regression is likely to do with naps, specifically when second naps are refused. However, most toddlers are not developmentally ready to drop their nap until around 15 months; if your child tries to make this transition too soon then it may negatively impact their sleep. If you can ride out their resistance to take their second nap and reinstate it for a few more months they would likely benefit.
18 Month Sleep Regression
Is It Real?
Oh yep – you’re unlikely to swerve this one.
What Does It Look Like?
The 18 month sleep regression is thanks to more of those milestones being hit – hurrah! Granted, it probably doesn’t feel like it, but your baby is becoming a little person in their own right and this is the result.
In addition to developing a sense of self and becoming fiercely independent (I get it – I’ve had two), your little one may also be cutting painful molars and experiencing separation anxiety. Good luck…
When Does the 18 Month Sleep Regression End?
As before, it will probably last around two to six weeks, or when a current skill has been satisfactorily perfected.
How to Cope With Sleep Regression
Since sleep regression is so often linked to developmental milestones and your child desperately making attempts to master skills, it’s critical to provide plenty of time for them to play and practice.
Proper sleep is vital for child development, and adults need enough sleep to ensure proper cognitive functioning and mood regulation. If you’re particularly sleep deprived during a period of sleep regression, be sure to reach out for help.
And now here’s my final word on sleep regression…
Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, it sucks big time. BUT – save your money for treats that will make you feel better rather than wasting it on ‘experts’. This is a short time and there are no guarantees. If you’re determined to sleep train (not my bag, but hey, I’m not judging a desperate parent), you don’t need a professional to tell you what to do – trust your gut and do what feels right.
How to Get More Rest When Your Baby Doesn’t Sleep
The only thing you really need to do is keep a relaxing routine at bedtime, be consistent, and respond to your child’s needs. Everything else will come – naturally. Almost like an instinct, almost like we were designed to know best where our babies are concerned! Yes, that’s sarcasm in case you’re too tired to be sure.
With my babies I developed and employed a gentle sleep solution sleep for when they just weren’t playing ball. I couldn’t personally do controlled crying, so this was the next best thing. And it worked with them both, in as much as it helped me to survive that period.
So, co-sleep if you need to, or follow my tip above for getting more zzz’s, just do what you have to to survive.
But please, please, please don’t be sucked in to spending your money on sleep consultants for something which ultimately can’t be fixed – because it is not broken!
Babies are designed to wake frequently. It’s hard, but it passes. And nearly five years in – I swear, you adapt and it gets easier.