The words "Sleep Regression" are thrown around a lot when talking about sleep. They're blamed for random wake-ups all the time. In my experience, however, there are 'random night wakeups,' 'sleep bumps,' and actual sleep regressions:' all with their unique solutions. It's easy to always blame bad sleep on sleep regressions, but the more informed and aware of what Sleep Regressions really are, when, and why they appear, the easier it is to survive get through them.
These are what I call sleep bumps and only usually affect a few nights of sleep: teething, illness, growth spurt.
These are what I call just random night wake-ups: thirst because of the AC being on, diaper being too tight, PJS being too small, car alarm going off in the distance, lovey falling off the crib, bad dreams... etc
The following are the most common sleep regressions, and at the very bottom of this blog post: what to do when one hits.
Around this time the dreaded 4 month 'sleep regression' hits. I will devote an entire entry to this regression at another point, but for now I'll just give a brief intro. This is a time when baby's brain is growing and changing SO much, SO fast. One of the most important changes is that their sleep cycles become more adult-like, and start being more like REM cycles. They start waking up more because they are transitioning through cycles, and not just because of hunger or random wakings. If a baby doesn't know how to fall asleep on their own, they'll call out every single cycle, which can be anywhere between 45-90 minutes at first. Additionally, 4-month-olds are learning to turn around more, and can no longer be swaddled, and are becoming much more aware that if they cry, mommy comes in with some milk.
6 months is my least favorite age for sleep. In my experience, and seeing as more than 50% of my baby clients are this age, this is a TOUGH time for babies. Their brains are learning about body movement, language, object permanence, solid food, separation anxiety... AND going through a major growth spurt which sometimes adds to some extra hunger. It's common for babies who used to sleep well, or were starting to sleep through the night to start waking up for a long period of time at night or to just randomly cry at 2 am.
This is not a horrible sleep regression, I'd name it mild after the first two actually, but it does affect sleep, especially with babies that are not sleep trained or that do not have their own sleeping space. It happens as they are learning to perfect crawling or to stand up.
This regression is tied to language and walking. Same as the 9/10 one, it's really not too bad if you don't create new habits or if baby has been sleeping through the night. 18 months
This ones pretty bad. In addition to huge language development, walking, running, jumping, etc.... discipline is now in play as well. Toddlers are in a period of learning limits with adults, and so testing is strong. Additionally, many babies are cutting canines, which in my latest experience means early wakeups. Thus creating an ugly cycle of waking up too early and not wanting to go to bed. Ugh 18 month sleep regression *shudder*.
What to do about them
Let's be real, you probably skipped most of my blog to get to this point huh? Well here's a big disappointing truth: you can't do anything about them! You just have to sit in your room and listen to your baby cry--- JUST kidding. I have been eating a lot of candy to make up for being 35 weeks pregnant, please forgive me.
Anyway! What you can do for these regressions is prepare: - Help your baby by sleep training before the regressions start to hit. This means helping them learn to fall asleep without needing your help.
-If they're hitting new milestones, give them A LOT of time to practice during the day. For example, lots of tummy time and rolling practice at 4/5, lots of practice sitting back down by themselves around 9 month, lots of time talking with them and asking them questions once they start to show interest in language, etc...
-Make SURE you have a good bedtime routine. When strange things hit, it is SO comforting for babies and toddlers to have something they know to fall back on and associate with sleep.
- Go in to comfort baby if needed, but know when they need their space. It's ok to go in to help them stop crying, to cuddle them, to rock them and sing when you know they can't do it on their own.... but don't nurse or feed unless you KNOW they need it for hunger (or unless you want them to know they can get milk at any point when they're needing comforting- that's up to you!)
-Set strict rules about sleep. Make sure every adult in the house follows them, so that your baby can have as much consistency as possible. If you have decided baby will NOT sleep in your bed, don't ever break that rule. A quick night solution can turn into long weeks of battling to get baby back in their own space.
So there you go! Some helpful information about Sleep Regressions. If you need help getting through one, please send me a message! I love talking about sleep and getting to know if we're a good fit to work together!