Infant sleep patterns can be one of the most challenging things for parents to deal with, and sleep training is something that many find an arduous and exhausting process. It’s difficult and requires a lot of perseverance - and then your baby suddenly seems to go backwards, just when you thought you were getting somewhere.
This may leave you feeling worn out and despairing, but it’s something that a lot of parents go through, so you aren’t alone if you’re facing it!
This guide is going to help you cope and give you the tools you need to move forward.
What is a Sleep Regression?
Sleep regression is something that almost all parents and their babies experience at some point. It’s a frustrating period during which all the work you have done seems to go out the window, and suddenly your infant won’t sleep, and wants to be fed, cuddled, soothed, held, and loved at all hours of the night. They may even struggle to nap during the day.
Common Causes of Sleep Regression
Sleep regression can occur with very little warning, often leaving baffled and tired parents frantically trying to figure out what they have done wrong. The causes can vary, but they are often related to the following areas:
- Circadian rhythm control: your baby is starting to regulate their circadian rhythms, and this is affecting their sleep patterns
- Developmental milestones: oftentimes, a sleep regression occurs at the same time as some other important infant milestone, even if you aren’t aware of the milestone
- Changes in schedule: any changes you have made to your daily schedule can affect your infant’s ability to drop off, as these may make your child more anxious, or less tired
- Growth spurt: this can result in disrupted sleep because it is often associated with increased hunger and the need to eat more often
- Teething: painful teeth will keep your child awake or cause them to wake up
- Sickness: being unwell may cause your child to wake more at night
- Routine disruption: noise, light, and other things may wake your baby up
Note that some people don’t count sickness and routine disruption as sleep regression, because they are triggered by unusual factors, rather than standard growth.
How Long Will a Sleep Regression Last?
This can vary enormously depending on your individual baby, how old they are, and what has caused the sleep regression. However, most only last for 3 to 6 weeks, which many parents will be relieved to hear.
Is Sleep Regression Something to Be Worried About?
Although it can be challenging to get through and concerning to experience, sleep regression is completely normal and almost all parents see it at some stage during their baby’s development.
It’s not a fun experience and at times it can seem concerning, but it’s rare for sleep disruptions to require outside help from medical professionals.
It’s important to remember this and to reassure yourself if you are concerned about sleep regression with your little one. It’s almost certainly nothing to be alarmed by!
How Do You Know if It’s Sleep Regression?
Of course, you can only feel reassured if you know that what your little one is going through is actually a sleep regression, and not something more sinister.
The main symptoms of sleep regression tend to be:
- Increased crying
- Reduced overall sleep time
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Resistance to sleep
- Fussiness when waking up
- Waking up more frequently
You may also observe signs like increased hunger, clinginess, and grumpiness. Sleep regressions usually come on very suddenly, and won’t be accompanied by typical signs of illness, like fever, congestion, etc. If you are concerned, consult your pediatrician.
Most Common Sleep Regression Ages
Sleep regressions happen throughout a baby’s first couple of years of life, although not every baby experiences every stage of sleep regression.
Some will experience them a little earlier or later, depending on their individual development. Some won’t experience them at all. Don’t assume your baby will hit these regressions like clockwork; the below information is just a guide.
6-Week Sleep Regression
Sleep regression at 6 weeks usually happens due to a growth spurt, and it often results in a demanding, hungry, and fussy baby. Your child will be starting to explore and think about the world in more detail, and this can make them particularly clingy. They might want to feed more at night.
This sleep regression can be particularly tough, as your child may already have only been sleeping for 2-4 hour stretches – and might now drop down to 2-hour stretches. You may find that they demand very frequent feeding, as well as near-constant reassurance. Make sure you provide as much love and affection as you can and swap duties with your partner or a family member where possible to make sure you are also getting some rest.
4-Month Sleep Regression
There are a lot of baby milestones around the 4-month mark, and this generally leads to another regression, at least for many infants. Your baby may be teething, growing, and learning new skills. They are also starting to regulate their circadian rhythm, and swap between light and deep sleep more frequently - which leads to them waking more often.
This can be one of the hardest regressions to get through, because it’s often a sharp change, as most babies have started sleeping better up to this point.
You can sometimes reduce 4-month sleep regression by making sure your baby falls asleep in their sleeping space so that things haven’t changed when they wake up. They are more likely to go back to sleep if the environment is the same because they feel secure. If they fall asleep in your arms, they are more likely to want a cuddle when they wake up, because things have changed and this makes them more fully awake.
It’s also a good idea to work on reducing stimuli that they are dependent on for dozing off (such as rocking) before they reach the 4-month mark if you can.
6-Month Sleep Regression
This sleep regression is slightly less common, although many babies do still experience it. It’s often due to teething, developmental milestones, or a growth spurt. Many infants have started to eat solid foods at this stage, and that change can result in more restless sleep.
Having an established bedtime routine can help with sleep regression at any age, but it may be particularly helpful for the 6-month sleep regression. By this age, you may have done some sleep training, such as fading. This kind of training gives them the skills to self-soothe when they wake up.
This increases the chances that they will go back to sleep at least some of the time when they wake up, although you may still experience problems at times.
8-Month Sleep Regression
The 8-month sleep regression is often driven by separation anxiety (although teething, brain development, and other milestones can trigger it too). Your baby is starting to become aware that you are sometimes absent, and this can make them nervous. If your baby has also started to resist a third daytime nap, this can leave them overtired and less likely to sleep well at night.
Try to maintain the third nap, at least every few days, encourage them to wind down instead of playing, and remember to offer lots of physical comfort and reassurance if they seem anxious. You should maintain sleep training techniques, but be present and loving as much as possible.
Their brain is doing a lot more at this age, too, so make sure they are getting enough mental stimulation during the daytime. Talk to them, encourage them to be active, and engage in lots of play.
9-Month Sleep Regression
First, it’s important to note that the 8-month, 9-month, and 10-month sleep regressions tend to be the same thing, and infants just experience this somewhere within that period.
If your baby experiences sleep regression at 9 months instead, the advice remains similar. Adjust but don’t drop the third nap (if possible). At 9 months, your baby still needs 11-12 hours of sleep at night, plus 2-3 hours of napping during the day.
Keep providing security and comfort, but encourage your child to fall asleep independently if they can.
10-Month Sleep Regression
Like the other two in this category, the 10-month sleep regression can be triggered by separation anxiety, teething, developmental milestones, etc. You can use similar techniques to deal with this with a particular focus on minimizing play at bedtime by using calming techniques and a good routine.
You should also make sure that nighttime interactions are kept short, with a focus on resuming sleep, rather than talking, playing, or prolonged cuddling. Encourage your child to settle back down and self-soothe, and don’t encourage wakefulness with interactions.
12-Month-Old Sleep Regression
By 12 months old, your baby will probably have naturally dropped one of their naps (going down to 2, instead of 3), and they will be learning a lot of new skills, which often leads to restlessness at night. This problem can be increased by separation anxiety.
Your child may also hit certain milestones, such as first words and first steps, which can make them less restful at night, as they want to try out new skills. Not all babies go through a 12-month regression, but it’s fairly common.
You can reduce it by making sure your child is active and stimulated throughout the day, and has a good bedtime routine. The bedtime routine serves several purposes; it calms your child down, helps them to feel sleepy, and provides the reassurance that can reduce separation anxiety. Include cuddling, stories, songs, and other reassuring activities, and you may find your child sleeps better.
Try to make sure they keep at least 2 naps at this stage, so they don’t end up overtired by bedtime.
2-Year-Old Sleep Regression
2-year-old sleep regression is not uncommon and can affect napping and nighttime sleep. It’s sometimes triggered by things like fear of the dark or a sense of independence. Further teething can be an issue, as can nightmares. Big life changes such as potty training and natural sleep schedule changes can also contribute to sleeping problems.
To address this regression, you may want to adjust your child’s nap time and bedtime, potentially removing 1 nap and bringing their bedtime forward. Make sure they aren’t overtired by the time bedtime comes around and consider adjusting your bedtime routine so they are making decisions (e.g. what pajamas, what story). This can increase their cooperation.
Make sure you also limit distractions in the bedroom to prevent bedtime from becoming playtime.
Handling a Sleep Regression: 5 Top Tips From Experts
For most parents, sleep regression is just part of raising children. It’s not a fun part and a lot of parents struggle with it, but with the right tools and with perseverance, you will get through it.
1. Stick to a Routine
A bedtime routine helps even a young baby recognize when it is time to sleep and encourages them to drop off reliably. Create bedtime rituals that will signal to your child’s body that it’s time to rest. Things like stories, feeding, and singing can all help. Some parents also like to incorporate bathtime.
Remember that your child should be put down before they are actually asleep to ensure they learn self-soothing techniques, but a routine is a great way to calm down an excited child and bring the day to an end. This will help your child to feel sleepy even if they are struggling with a regression.
2. Learn to Recognise Sleep Cues
Your child will have lots of cues that signal they are ready to sleep. Things like yawning, drooping eyelids, fussing, rubbing the eyes, etc., show that it’s time for your child to go to bed. They may also have more individual cues you can learn to watch out for.
An overtired baby is a lot less likely to sleep. If you can catch them before they are grumpy and restless, they will be less resistant to going to bed, and much more likely to settle down.
3. Practice Self-Soothing…
If your baby is dependent on you to go to sleep, you will have to get up every single time they wake. If they can lull themselves back to sleep, their sleep regression is less likely to be disruptive, both for you and for them. They may wake, but will be more likely to settle down and drop back off.
Encourage your baby to fall asleep without your input as soon as they reach 4-6 months, and they should be able to get through the following sleep regressions with more ease.
4. …But Offer Comfort When Needed
Although self-soothing is important, your baby still needs your love and reassurance. If they are uncomfortable and frightened, they aren’t going to sleep. You should be available to them and make sure they have plenty of reassurance and affection before they settle down for the night. This can lead to a more restful sleep because your child will feel safer.
It’s also important to make sure their sleeping environment is comfortable. Consider smooth sheets and a Merino wool sleeping bag for restful sleep. They’re far more likely to drop back off if the environment feels pleasant.
Studies have shown that babies sleeping in merino settle more quickly, cry less, sleep longer, feed better, and gain weight faster. - LEARN MORE
5. Make Sure You Have Help and Support
Many parents seriously struggle when they face sleep regression - regardless of what stage they are in. An infant that previously slept well is suddenly not sleeping at all, and this generally means that the parents get far less sleep, which can lead to frustration, illness, depression, and other kinds of negativity.
You can’t stop your infant from waking up every few hours, but you can make sure you have the support you need to get through this.
Ask for help from your partner, family members, or even friends if appropriate. Let them step in so you can get some longer rest. A lot of parents feel guilty about this, but it will let you be a better parent to your child because you won’t be worn out and at the end of your tether.
If it’s just you and your partner, try to make sure you are sharing the load so that you are both still getting some unbroken sleep each night.
Make sure your baby’s needs are all being met before bedtime. That means they should be clean, warm, fed, and comfortable. Consider using devices like white noise machines, and remember that it’s okay to adjust the advice given here to suit your child. Different babies have different sleep rhythms and different needs.
Being flexible and acknowledging that your child is a unique person can make bedtime significantly easier. Adjust things like when you feed them, bathe them, and play with them until you find a routine that works for you.
Create Healthier Sleeping Habits With Woolino
Sleep regressions are tough for everyone; they are hard on you and they are hard on your baby. They can occur at almost any stage of your child’s development, but the most common phases are 6 weeks, 4 months, 6 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, and 2 years.
Children need a lot of sleep, and one of the things you can do as a parent is to make the environment as comfortable and secure as possible for your child.
A Woolino merino wool sleeping bag can help to prevent your child from getting too hot or cold, and may make them feel safer - helping them to settle themselves back down if they do wake up during the sleep regression phases.
"Wow! My 4-month-old just spent her first night in the Woolino sleep bag and slept 11 hours straight!!! I was nervous that she wouldn't sleep well because she is going through a regression and has been waking up every 2-3 hours the last week! I gave it a shot, put her to bed at 7:30pm, she woke up 30 minutes later BUT I waited 20 Minutes and let her adjust to it and put herself back to sleep. She didn't wake again until 6:45am!!! I have to say this is a WINNER!!!" - Woolino Customer
How do I know if my baby is going through a sleep regression?
Your baby is likely going through a sleep regression if they have suddenly stopped sleeping well, with no warning and no particularly obvious cause. This may line up with the ages mentioned above or may be a little out. It isn’t usually triggered by external factors.
What age do sleep regressions end?
Some toddlers do experience sleep regression at 3 years old, but this is the last one. Many infants won’t have this. Their sleep regressions will usually stop at 2 years or earlier.
What triggers sleep regression?
Sleep regression can be caused by quite a few different things. Teething, developmental milestones, separation anxiety, increased activity, and changes to the circadian rhythm may be responsible. You won’t always be able to tell what has caused a regression.
How do you fix sleep regression?
There is no simple fix for sleep regression. You can reduce the impact on yourself and your child by having a routine, encouraging them to self-soothe, and making sure their sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible.