Did your little one go from sleeping like an angel to being awake in the middle of the night? Here’s what you need to learn about sleep regression in babies.
What can you read in this article?
- Stages of sleep regression in babies
- Sleep regression signs to look out for
Every new parent knows how important sleep is. Especially if you have an infant who still wakes up in the wee hours of the night. It gets better, veteran parents say. And it does. And then it happens again.
Your sweet baby who had finally started sleeping through the night is now waking up not once, but a few times a night! You’re tearing your hair out trying to find the cause for fussiness and crankiness every other hour. Colic? Ear pain? Teething?
Now, before you go making appointments with doctors or sprinkling holy water all around your house, relax, for it is likely that your baby is experiencing sleep regression.
What exactly is sleep regression in babies?
Your baby’s sleep regression is likely to leave you insanely exhausted!
In a nutshell, sleep regression is a short period of time, maybe about two to four weeks, when a baby who’s already sleeping well suddenly has trouble settling down for sleep or wakes up and gets fussy in the middle of the night.
It can be considered as a transition phase when an infant’s brain starts to mature, and her sleep patterns increasingly start to resemble that of an adult’s.
There are several factors that can cause discomfort or make a baby anxious or restless, leading to sleep regression. Here are some of them:
- Growth spurt, which can make babies extra-hungry
- Pain caused by teething
- Reaching a new developmental milestone, which keeps baby stimulated
- Disruptions in routines
- Traveling, which inevitably involves sleeping in a new environment
- An illness, such as a cold or an ear infection
A timeline of sleep regression in babies
Sleep regression can happen at any time, since the disruption of your baby’s sleep pattern may happen as she grows. However, most parents notice their infants experiencing this at certain ages and stages:
At 4 months, a lot is happening with your baby’s brain. She is becoming more aware of her surroundings and her sleep patterns are starting to increasingly resemble that of adults.
A newborn usually falls asleep and immediately enters a non-REM (rapid eye movement) type of deep sleep mode. That is why they do not wake up when you place them down in the cot after rocking them to sleep.
However, somewhere around 4 months of age, the baby’s sleep patterns start to resemble that of an adult and she goes between the REM and non-REM sleep mode. When she falls asleep, she is still in the REM mode and takes some time to fully go into the non-REM deep sleep.
As such, when you rock your baby or nurse her to sleep, then put her down, she wakes up crying in a few seconds. You pick her up and rock her back to sleep only to have her wake up again when you place her down. This vicious cycle continues and you end up with an overtired baby and that makes it even harder to sleep.
The 4th month sleep regression makes it harder to get your baby to sleep on the go.
This is also the period when your baby’s sleep pattern matures and night sleep starts to consolidate. Your baby, who used to sleep up to 7 or 8 in the morning starts to wake up earlier, between 6 to 7 am.
This is also the time that your baby is starting to roll, and so using a swaddle becomes increasingly unsafe. Previously, the swaddle helped your baby to go back to sleep when she experienced a startle reflex, but now that privilege is gone as well.
The 4th-month sleep regression is a major phase in your baby’s life as it marks a permanent change in your baby’s sleeping habits. So if you’re wondering if she’ll go back to sleeping like a 3-month old again, there’s a chance of that being slim to none.
While it might seem disconcerting that your child keeps waking up, this is normal. In fact, if your child is going through the 4th- month sleep regression, it’s a good thing for it is pretty much a developmental milestone. It shows that her growth and development are on track, so don’t you worry mama!
Babies often go through another growth spurt at about 6 months old. Also at this age, her motor skills are rapidly developing and so are her communication skills, so compared to the first few months where it’s all about milk and sleep, your little one is now very eager to wake up and have new experiences.
It can also be because baby’s first tooth starts coming at this point, which makes the baby more fussy and can disrupt her sleeping pattern.
Like many other stages in your baby’s life, the 6-month sleep regression should be short-lived, about a week or two. Having a routine for the baby can help her understand that while it’s so exciting to have new-found skills, bedtime (specifically night time) shouldn’t be the time to try them.
Your baby may start crawling at 9 months (although some start sooner and others later) and begin standing at around 10 months, which may add to the reason why they want to be mobile. So aside from not sleeping, they may want to crawl around your bedroom too when they’re awake.
Around this age, babies also start to have separation anxiety (which is common and perfectly normal) which may cause them to wake up looking for reassurance from you during the night.
Sometime between 9 to 12 months, babies already begin standing up. They may take their first step when they hit the one-year mark. Reaching big milestones can cause temporary sleep problems in babies.
Your toddler may still go through sleep regression at around 18 months and 24 months, possibly be caused by nightmares and night terrors, fear of the dark, teething, and separation anxiety.
Signs of sleep regression in babies
Symptoms of sleep regression can vary depending on the cause of your child’s sleep problems. But here are some of the most common signs that you may notice, regardless of which stage your baby’s in.
- Increased fussiness for no apparent reason
- Waking up multiple times at night
- Trouble falling asleep at bedtime
- Reduced naps, or resisting naps
- Changes in appetite
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Tips for managing sleep regression in babies
The truth is that sleep regression may bother the parents more than babies, but the good news is, with patience and a little bit of discipline, something can be done about it. It is highly unlikely that you will spend the next 2 years waking up 5 times a night.
1. Drop the naps, or adjust them.
No, I don’t mean don’t nap at all, but just ensure that your baby isn’t napping any time past 5 pm. Putting the baby to sleep too close to bedtime will interrupt her ability to sleep early and well through the night.
2. Early to bed, early to rise!
Don’t try to outsmart your baby’s sleep cycle by putting her to bed later in hopes that a tired baby will sleep in longer. That will just lead to an overtired baby who finds it even harder to sleep, and in turn, will wake up even earlier. Don’t fight the early to bed, early to rise pattern as it is against the baby’s natural sleep rhythms.
3. Sufficient sleep
Before you eventually start sleep coaching, do remember that no amount of sleep coaching will work on an overtired baby. You need to ensure that your baby sleeps sufficiently during the day, at the right times, and goes to bed at an age-appropriate bedtime.
4. Darkness is good
Sleep in a dark room, preferably with black-out curtains, and do not leave a night lamp on while the baby sleeps. Train your baby to understand that when there’s no light, it’s not time to wake up yet.
5. Use a white noise machine
White noise is comforting to the baby and it signals sleep. This is a useful and effective method of getting the baby to sleep.
It is important to establish a sleep routine with your baby. Bedtime stories are a great idea.
6. Routines are important
Establish a sleep routine. In fact, you can do this as soon as your baby is one or two months old. Start with a bath, lotion, jammies, some melodious music, bedtime stories, or just about whatever works for your family. Babies will soon form an association with this routine and know that it’s time to sleep.
7. Drowsy, but awake
Don’t wait for your baby to be fast asleep before you place her in the cot. Lay her down when she is drowsy, but still awake. In this way, she learns to sleep on her own and will eventually learn to go back to sleep on her own, if she wakes up at night.
8. Limit or remove sleep associations
Sleep associations like nursing, or listening to you sing a song, can be used in the initial stages of setting a bedtime routine or beating the 4th-month sleep regression. However, over time, the goal is for them to be able to sleep on their own without being dependent on any of these. This is so that you don’t have to keep doing these things when they wake up at night.
As for feeding, try to gauge feeding intervals so you know when they are really hungry as opposed to just comfort feeding or latching.
Try to avoid giving in to comfort nursing at night.
9. Let the baby fuss
I know that this may sound cruel, but trust me, it’s not. Sometimes you just have to let the baby fuss for a bit and you’ll be surprised to find that often, they fall asleep eventually. If they are in pain, or need a diaper change, or are hungry, of course you have to attend to them. But if they are just fussing, let them be.
There you go moms, all you need to know about sleep regression in babies and how to get around it. Remember that these solutions are plausible options and take time, patience, and practice in order to be effective.
Also, keep in mind that every child is unique and it all boils down to recognizing your baby’s changing needs and having a flexible schedule that is in sync with your baby’s natural sleep rhythm. If you have any questions about your child’s sleep patterns, don’t hesitate to consult her pediatrician about it.
Additional information from Camille Eusebio