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Sleep Regression in Babies – A Parent’s Guide to Getting Back to Sleep

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You’ve spent multiple sleepless nights trying to get your baby to calm down and get some rest, and through trial-and-error, you’ve found a routine that seems to work. Your baby has begun to fall asleep in a predictable pattern for the last few weeks, and you’ve been getting the best rest since your family grew by one.

You think the restless nights of the last couple months are finally behind you. Suddenly, your baby starts to wake up more than a couple times at night. You can’t seem to get your baby to settle down for bedtime, and your baby begins to take shorter naps as well. What happened to the cute little baby who was sleeping well just a week ago?

No, you aren’t doing anything wrong, and no, your baby isn’t here to rob you of sleep forever. A sleep regression is a normal thing for babies to go through in a couple of developmental stages. Sleep regressions are characterized by a baby having difficulty settling down at bedtime, as well as waking up more than normal in the middle of the night. Let’s take a look at what causes sleep regressions, how long sleep regressions last, signs of a sleep regression rolling around the corner, as well as ways to prepare for and deal with sleep regressions.

What causes babies to have sleep regressions?

There are a few culprits that cause babies to have sleep regressions. Some of these factors are actually related to your baby’s development, and indicate healthy infant growth. This can include things like a growth spurt – growth spurts can cause your baby to act up like a hungry customer at an all-you-can-eat buffet; in doing so, they’ll be waking up more often, demanding to be fed. Your baby may also be feeling the effects of teething – some babies may have no issues as their first teeth settle in, while other babies may have to go through a couple of months of pain and sensitivity.

Changes in day and/or night routines can also cause babies to have poorer quality sleep. Babies who are beginning to phase a nap out of their sleeping schedule will have an adjustment period, causing irritability and sporadic sleeping patterns throughout the night. New experiences and stimuli from events like starting daycare can also contribute to a baby having sleep regressions. Being introduced to new environments from travelling or moving will also affect the way a baby sleeps as they get used to new surroundings.

How long does a sleep regression period last?

Sleep regressions may feel like an eternity for an exhausted parent, but rest (no pun intended) assured that they generally pass over in 2 to 4 week periods. Sleep regressions can last shorter or longer than this range, depending on what may be causing the sleep regression. The number of changes to your baby’s routine within a certain time period will also have an effect on the amount of time it takes for your baby to get comfortable – a consistent sleep schedule is a huge help in shortening these sleep regressions.

What are some signs that my baby may be having a sleep regression?

The sleep regression signs that your baby exhibits are partly based on the cause of the sleep regression. If your baby is dealing with developmental changes, you may begin to notice changes in your baby’s appetite. Sleep regressions can also be kicked off by illnesses, and so any symptoms you notice from your child being sick can also be signs of an incoming period of sleep problems.

The main indicator of a sleep regression is a sudden change in your baby’s sleeping patterns and routines. This change is generally marked by fussiness, difficulty falling asleep at the routine bedtime, waking up and crying multiple times in the night and being less willing to take naps. With all of this in mind, parents will also notice their baby getting less sleep than usual.

Parents may want to be prepared and on the look out for these signs specifically at the 3-4 months, 8-9 months and 18 month old marks. Sleep regression is most likely to occur during these ages, mostly due to the milestones babies are typically reach at these stages. Of course, every case is unique – not every baby goes through sleep regressions at each of these time periods, and some babies may only be mildly affected.

How can I help my baby during sleep regressions?

First off, make sure your baby isn’t sick! Sleep regressions can be caused by illnesses like colds or ear infections, so speak to a KixCare pediatrician if you are noticing any symptoms of illnesses. We’ll help your baby recover quickly and get better rest. Aside from dealing with any potential illnesses, there are a number of ways that you can manage your baby’s sleep regression and help them sleep better. The foundation for sleep regression management starts with consistent sleep patterns and routines. Sticking with the same pattern of activities before bed (a warm bath, lullabies, etc.) will help your baby recognize when they should be regularly winding down. Don’t be tempted to throw away a good sleeping schedule because your baby doesn’t seem to be responding well to it during a sleep regression – sticking with your routines will help your baby sleep better in the long run.

You may feel like it’s a good idea to tire out your child before bedtime during a sleep regression. However, there is such a thing as an “overtired” baby. An overtired baby will find it even harder to fall asleep at night, meaning more sleep problems. Your baby may be even more fussy and irritable, and may wake up even more sporadically. Carefully observe your baby’s “tired out” cues – yawning, droopy eyes, looking away – and get your baby tucked in and in bed as soon as you notice these cues.

What do you do during those dreaded middle of the night disturbances? In some cases it is a good idea to try the “cry-it-out” method: this is a sleep training technique that allows the baby to “cry it out”, in hopes that the baby is able to relax on their own and fall asleep. When done correctly, parents often find their child falling asleep faster as a few weeks past. Eventually, some babies can fall asleep on their own after just a few minutes of fussing. If the “cry-it-out” method isn’t effective, parents should enter their baby’s room and check to make sure everything is ok – sometimes, a reassuring presence is all a baby needs to get back to sleep. Cuddling and feeding your baby can be effective, but they can also lead to your baby waking up more often, looking for attention – if needed, do this in moderation. Speaking of attention, some babies may have separation anxiety. Giving your baby more attention in the daytime can help with this, as your baby may feel more secure at bedtime. Sleep regression won’t last forever – it’s a normal part of your baby’s development. KixCare is here to make sure you and your baby aren’t the worse for it. Along with these tips, KixCare’s team of kid-focused pediatricians and pediatric specialists are available to help your baby out 7 days a week. We’re ready to answer any questions about your baby’s sleeping patterns, help develop a bedtime routine, and more! Visit the main page to see how KixCare can get you and your child on the path to better rest.

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