Sleep Series :: Surviving Sleep Regressions

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This post is part of our Sleep Series.  Fellow moms trying to help you rest easy!

My son just turned two. He is energetic, funny, and adorable. And he’s decided that he doesn’t want to sleep. Naps? Who needs ‘em! Waking up his parents at 3:45 A.M. and refusing to go back to sleep? So much fun! As a mom with two kids, I’m no stranger to interrupted sleep, nap strikes, and overtired babies who just won’t go to bed. My four-year-old daughter was The World’s Worst Sleeper as a baby and toddler, and it often felt like two years of sleep regressions strung together. I’m happy to say that now she is a great sleeper and hurricanes couldn’t wake her. But my second-born has followed a much more typical pattern when it comes to sleep, and we have experienced most, if not all, of the usual sleep regressions.

Sleep regressions are periods when a baby or toddler fights or refuses to nap altogether, wakes more frequently in the night, and generally isn’t sleeping well. They tend to occur around 3-4 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 2 years. They’re normal and while it may seem like it at the time, they don’t last forever. 

Be informed.

Most infant sleep regressions are in conjunction with growth spurts. Knowing what is happening with your child at that point in their development can help you understand what may be causing the inconsistent sleep. She may need more frequent feedings to fuel all the growing she’s doing. If it’s an older baby or toddler, he may have a hard time transitioning to sleep after a lot of fun and exciting activities during the day. Learning to walk, talk, and other huge leaps in physical and cognitive skills tend to impact sleep for a little while.

  • 4 months: Aside from a lot of physical growth, your baby is transitioning from infant sleep patterns to more adult-like ones. This means more frequent waking as she learns to self-soothe. She may also need more nursing/bottle sessions to fuel all the growing she is doing during this period.
  • 8-10 months: This regression can happen at any point in this three-month span. Your baby is experiencing a lot of developmental milestones and a ton of language development. I imagine this regression to be similar to those nights where I can’t go to sleep because my brain won’t turn off. Teething can also be a factor. Consistency is key here, as well as a firmly established bedtime routine.
  • 12 months: This regression, if your child experiences it at all, usually only affects naps. He may take longer to go to sleep or fight naps altogether. This is the age when toddlers tend to drop the second nap, so moving to one earlier nap tends to solve the issue.
  • 18 months: At this point, toddlers are energetic balls of opinions with a lot of newly-acquired independence. They may be testing this independence, in which case it’s important to set bedtime boundaries. They may also be experiencing separation anxiety or even teething (those painful molars tend to appear around this time). Most importantly, don’t give up on the nap, even if it seems like your toddler has!
  • 2 years: The simple fact of the matter is that two-year-olds need less sleep and that shift causes disruptions as their little brains and bodies adjust to this change (think falling asleep later, waking up earlier, etc.). This age can also be a time of big transitions, whether it’s moving from a crib to a toddler bed, potty training, or getting a new sibling. She may be experiencing separation anxiety or feel like she’s missing out on a lot of fun while she’s asleep. Children can also begin experiencing night terrors at this age. Earlier, shorter naps can help ease the transition, as well as maintaining the familiar as much as possible.

Be consistent.

It’s tempting to do whatever it takes to get your child to sleep during regressions, but try not to create unsustainable sleep habits out of desperation. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve slept on the floor beside the crib many a night, but this only led to my kids thinking that I needed to be in their rooms for them to fall asleep. Of course, you may need to make small adjustments over time such as ditching the swaddle as your baby grows and learns to roll over. But be as consistent as possible with your child’s sleep habits and schedule, especially during a regression. Establish a bedtime routine early on. Keep naptime(s) and bedtime the same, or even a little bit sooner if your little one is especially tired. Eventually he will be napping and sleeping through the night again.

Be patient.

Like all transitions, sleep regressions don’t last. Remember that this too shall pass. And while your child might not sleep exactly as she did before the regression, you’ll both find your new normal within a few weeks. Your child is growing and changing; her sleep patterns need to change too. 

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