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Navigating Baby Sleep Regressions: Understanding the Ages, Developmental Milestones, & Helpful Tips


Baby sleep experiencing sleep regressions being soothed

Parenthood is an incredible adventure, filled with a mix of joyous moments as well as some hurdles.


Among these challenges are the sleep regressions that many parents face.


Regression is a scary word, and while that exact Google search led you to this page, I want to reframe your view of “sleep regressions.”



Your little one is learning and growing constantly, so let’s give them some credit and grace when their sleep needs some modifications instead of assuming these blips are taking us completely backward.


In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the typical ages when sleep regressions occur, shed light on the developmental milestones happening during these phases, and provide practical tips to help parents navigate through these trying times.


Signs of a Sleep Regression:


Common signs of a sleep regression in your little one may include increased night awakenings, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, shorter or disrupted naps, increased fussiness or irritability, changes in appetite, and a general disruption of their established sleep routine. Their little brains and bodies are evolving at warp speed.


For better or for worse, all of this development can have a pretty significant impact on their sleep. These signs often occur alongside specific developmental milestones, such as increased mobility, teething, separation anxiety, or cognitive advancements.


Remember, baby sleep changes ALL OF THE TIME. Once you’ve figured out your groove with your schedule, your little one will probably throw you a curveball and need a new schedule. Essentially, their sleep develops and evolves and quickly as their tiny brains and bodies.


Sleep Regressions by Age:


The 4-Month Sleep PROgression:


Around the age of four months, when sleep is seemingly worse than it was before, this is a sign that your baby’s body is making a change or a progression. Their brain is on overdrive and they are working rapidly to pick up some type of new skill.


These developmental leaps can affect their sleep as their brains are actively processing and consolidating new skills and experiences.



Developmental Milestones:


  • At 4 months, our baby’s circadian rhythms have completely developed. This means that they now are functioning on a biological clock similar to that of an adult. This 24-hour clock regulates many functions in our body, most notably sleep.


  • Their sensory perception improves, and they become more curious about the world around them. Most babies this age experience serious FOMO and want to take in EVERYTHING about the world around them, making on the go naps very challenging.


  • Lastly, Rolling, tracking, smiling, babbling, etc. are all new skills they are rapidly acquiring and practicing, making sleep really uninteresting for your previously sleepy baby.


Head to my 4 month sleep regression blog for schedule tips and more suggestions on how to survive this time.



The 8 to 10-Month Sleep Regression, NO PROgression:


So why do I prefer to view them as “progressions.”


A change in your little one’s sleep, specifically around 4 and 8/10 months of age, is a good sign that they are growing and developing right on time and that their sleep needs are growing and developing with them.


Remember, your baby still has limited ability to communicate their quickly-evolving needs, so a change in sleep needs is likely to be communicated through just that….a sleep change!



Developmental Milestones:


  • At this stage, babies are often undergoing significant emotional and cognitive developments. They are building a stronger bond with their primary caregivers and developing a sense of object permanence, knowing that something or somebody exists even if they are not in the room or close by.


  • Separation anxiety may peak during this period, leading to increased clinginess and a strong desire for parental presence.


  • Babies during this stage will begin to start crawling and pulling to stand, exploring the world around them while resisting sleep.



Nap and Bedtime Woes Around 8 Months:


  • Refusing the last nap of the day.


  • Taking too short of the first or second nap of the day or taking longer to fall asleep on time for those naps.


  • If naps are thrown off, this will surely wreak havoc on your blissful bedtime routine. Whether it’s being pushed back too late (past 8:00 p.m.) or your baby can’t keep their eyes open past 6:00 p.m., it’s a recipe for disaster.


  • The icing on top of a messy nap day and off-kilter bedtime is recurring night wakings! If your baby has been sleeping through the night, this may look like 1 or 2 wakings. If your baby has been fed at night time, this may look like additional night wakings that are not due to hunger.


Head to my 8-10 month sleep regression blog for schedule tips and more suggestions on how to help get your baby the rest they need during this time.



The 12-Month Sleep Regression:


Around the first year mark, babies may experience another sleep regression. This regression is often associated with cognitive and physical milestones, as well as potential changes in their nap schedule. Babies may resist going to bed or have trouble settling down during this period.


This could simply mean they need a slightly larger wake time rather than presumptively dropping down to a one-nap schedule. *Some* kids drop to one nap by 12 months, but most drop to one nap between 15 and 18.



Developmental Milestones:


  • At twelve months, babies are advancing in their language skills, motor development, and problem-solving abilities.


  • They may be taking their first steps, saying their first words, and exploring their environment with newfound independence. These exciting changes can create overstimulation or an eagerness to practice new skills, leading to disrupted sleep routines.


  • Teething, YIKES! Those one year molars are coming in and causing major discomfort.


  • Waking overnight or waking earlier in the morning.


My biggest takeaway from the first 12 months with my daughters was that the second I felt like I had it figured out, things changed.


This used to drive me bonkers, but in moments of temporary insanity, I would try to appreciate all of the growing and developing their little bodies were doing.


If you’ve always struggled with their sleep and the 12-month sleep regression has only made things worse, this is the perfect time to reach out for some help!


The 15-18 Month Sleep Regression:


Between fifteen and eighteen months, toddlers may go through what is commonly referred to as the "toddler sleep regression."


This regression is characterized by increased nighttime awakenings, resistance to bedtime, and occasional night terrors.



Developmental Milestones:


  • Toddlers are becoming more assertive, developing a stronger sense of self, and refining their language skills.


  • Their imaginations are flourishing, but along with that comes the potential for nightmares and an active dream life.


  • An increased desire for autonomy can disrupt sleep patterns temporarily.


If your child is around 15 months or older and you notice signs like resisting naps, waking up unusually early, or having bedtime battles consistently over a period of 1-2 weeks, these are cues that it might be time to consider transitioning away from one of their naps.


During this transition, it's important to offer an earlier bedtime to make up for any lost sleep.


If you are struggling with nap refusals with your toddler, head over to my nap refusal blog to get more tips to help supplement their sleep during these regressions.



Providing Support:


During sleep regressions, it is essential for parents to understand that these phases are a normal part of a baby's development. Here are some tips to support your baby during sleep regressions:


  1. Stick to a consistent bedtime routine to provide a sense of security and comfort.

  2. Create a sleep-friendly environment. The room should be cave-like dark, a comfortable temperature, and white noise to block out household noises.

  3. Offer soothing techniques such as singing, rubbing their cheeks, patting their belly, etc, so they begin to learn to put themselves to sleep in their crib from an awake state.

  4. Adjust daytime routines to ensure adequate naps and manage overtiredness.


What Not to Do During Sleep Regressions


During a sleep regression, it is important to avoid certain actions that can potentially exacerbate the situation.


Firstly, it is crucial not to establish new sleep habits that may be difficult to break once the regression passes. Introducing sleep crutches, such as excessive rocking or feeding to sleep, can create dependencies that hinder a baby's ability to self-soothe.


It's also advisable to avoid sudden changes to the sleep environment or routine, as consistency and familiarity provide comfort during regressions. Additionally, resist the temptation to implement drastic sleep training methods during this time, as babies are experiencing temporary disruptions due to developmental changes.


Instead, focus on providing comfort, and reassurance, and maintaining a nurturing environment to help your baby through this phase.

 

Raising a baby is a whole lot of work.


These little ones fill us with so much joy, despite the lack of sleep we experience while helping them grow and develop. Children go through so many phases and transitions during the early years.


This stage will pass, I promise. As soon as you feel like you have a handle on things, they switch it up. I hope these general guidelines will help keep naps on track!


Rest Well


-Sarah

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