There are many things parents discover only after having a baby. For many people, sleep regressions are one of those things. This term refers to instances when your baby — who once had a consistent sleep schedule — is suddenly having trouble falling and/or staying asleep during nap time or bedtime.
Today, we’ll cover everything you need to know about your baby’s sleep-wake cycle. Keep reading to learn how to manage sleep regressions, as well as some healthy sleep habits for babies.
What Are Sleep Regressions?
Sleep regression is a period of time when your baby’s sleep patterns shift—usually during significant developmental milestones. Your baby starts having night wakings and might have difficulty falling back asleep, and the duration can vary from weeks to months.
Sleep regressions are similar to wake windows, which are a newly popular concept in the realm of baby and toddler sleep. Wake windows are intervals occurring between naps (aka periods of time when your baby is awake), and sleep regressions are their nocturnal counterparts.
Is it common for babies to have sleep regressions?
If your little one is experiencing sleep regressions, you might wonder if they are the only ones. And to put it frankly, they’re not. Sleep regressions and other sleep problems are incredibly common during the first three years of life. According to the NIH, about 10% of children reported having sleep problems during their early childhood.
When Sleep Regression Occurs, A Timeline
While there’s no specific age for sleep regressions, they’re usually associated with developmental milestones occurring during the first year of life. Because of this association with growth, some people lovingly call them ‘sleep progressions.’
Typically, sleep regressions coincide with significant growth spurts or brain development:
The 4-Month Sleep Regression
When babies are about three or four years old, they begin to produce their own melatonin (aka the hormone responsible for our sleep-wake cycle). For the first time, their sleep cycles are controlled by their own circadian rhythms, and they begin to sleep in patterns similar to that of adults. However, once a baby starts sleeping in cycles of light and deep sleep, they experience a brief wake window (aka a sleep regression) after each cycle.
Note: If your baby was premature, the four-month sleep regression might occur after their four-month mark–and that’s totally normal.
The 6-Month Sleep Regression
At six months of age, your baby is experiencing many changes in sleep, activity levels, and overall development. Not only do they start recognizing familiar faces (yours included), but they begin to react to your emotions. And as your baby starts to explore the world around them, they become more and more stimulated. As you can probably imagine, this impacts their ability to settle down and sleep soundly.
The 8-Month Sleep Regression
Your eight-month-old is busy–they’re exploring, moving around, and engaging in more sophisticated interactions and play. Their communication abilities are expanding significantly, and they start to improve their gross motor skills, which can be tiring work for them!
Additionally, your eight-month-old baby will transition to taking short naps and experiencing longer wake windows. And those shifting schedules make it harder to sleep at night. Additionally, separation anxiety is common around this age, and it prompts increased agitation around bedtime.
The 12-Month Sleep Regression
When your little one is about 12 months of age, they are making tremendous progress in their development. Not only have they started crawling, but your baby is probably working on their first words–and these developmental milestones are sometimes too stimulating to sleep. Additionally, teething is a huge aspect of their first year of life, and the pain/discomfort prevents some babies from sleeping.
Causes of Sleep Regression
A 2002 case report indicated that sleep repressions may happen alongside significant developmental changes. However, there may still be numerous reasons why babies experience sleep regressions, and each depends on your baby’s age:
Causes of a 4-Month Sleep Regression
As we mentioned, the four-month-sleep regression typically occurs when your baby transitions away from newborn sleep patterns. And as you can probably guess, that transition isn’t always smooth sailing. Additionally, there are numerous developmental milestones that affect a four-month-old’s sleep:
- Your baby is learning how to flip or rollover. In their eagerness to achieve this milestone, your baby might frequently wake throughout the night. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for them to resist settling down for a nap or bedtime.
- Your baby is becoming more aware of the environment around them. As you can imagine, it’s tough to sleep soundly when you’re starting to notice all the cool and unusual things surrounding you!
Causes of a 6-Month Sleep Regression
At six months, sleep regressions are usually short-lived. The potential causes are varied, though they might include:
- Rolling over. Many babies learn how to flip over around five or six months of age.
- Babbling. Your baby’s newfound ability to goo-goo-gah-gah might be keeping them awake in the crib.
- Creeping and crawling. Six-month-olds are starting to motor around – a lot. And this new development becomes incredibly entertaining at night.
- Sitting. Some babies push themselves into a seated position between six and seven months. Believe it or not, this might surprise your little one and cause them to become agitated.
- Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety sometimes rears its head around your baby’s six-month mark. Naturally, this makes them more irritable around bedtime.
- Teething. Most infant teeth emerge between six and 12 months of age, and the pain/discomfort potentially disrupts your baby’s sleep.
Causes of an 8-Month Sleep Regression
An eight-month sleep regression might be caused by the following developmental changes:
- Crawling. An eight-months-old’s physical skills improve every day, and it’s not uncommon for them to practice at night.
- Talking. When your baby is eight months old, they’re probably babbling up a storm. And while hearing “mama” or “dada” cooing from the crib might be exciting, ignoring it might encourage them to drift back to sleep.
- Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is in full swing around the eight-month mark. Therefore, don’t be surprised if your little one starts crying when you leave the room at bedtime.
Causes of a 12-Month Sleep Regression
Upon your baby’s first birthday, there are many developmental changes happening in their physical and emotional life that might keep them up at night:
- Walking. A toddler’s first birthday is typically the time when they take their first wobbly steps. And because walking is uber-exciting, it could leave them wanting more at night.
- Talking. It doesn’t matter how old you are, talking is fun! And your baby will likely want to practice their baby talk well into the wee hours.
- Night fright. Some 12-month-olds might experience nightmares or terrors that keep them up at night. (You can thank their newly expanding imagination for this.)
- Resistance. If your 12-month-old is experiencing a bit of newfound independence, they might start resisting traditional rituals (unfortunately, that includes bedtime).
- Changes in daytime sleep. Some babies wean themselves off their morning nap around their first birthday. However, they might not necessarily be ready for this massive shift, causing it to affect their nighttime sleep.
Signs of Sleep Regression
Your baby’s age determines what signs to look for when it comes to sleep regression. Here is a quick overview:
Signs of a 4-Month Sleep Regression
As we mentioned, there are huge developmental changes happening around four months of age and some babies show signs of worsening sleep as a result. Here’s what to look out for:
- More frequent night wakings
- Notably reduced total sleep time
- Having difficulty falling (or staying) asleep
- Fussing and crying around bedtime or waking
- Taking shorter naps or none at all
Signs of a 6-Month Sleep Regression
The six-month mark kicks off a multitude of changes in development, activity, and sleep. Sometimes, this developmental progress leads to sleeping difficulties, though they rarely last long.
Below are some indicators that your baby might be having a six-month sleep regression:
- Having trouble falling asleep
- More crying and/or agitation upon waking
- Longer naps during the day
- Greater number of night wakings and trouble falling back asleep
Signs of an 8-Month Sleep Regression
It’s not at all uncommon for eight-month-olds to wake frequently during the night. Babies’ sleeping patterns vary greatly, and at 8 months, many are still forming their sleeping habits.
Therefore, don’t be surprised if your baby displays signs of an eight-month sleep regression:
- More nighttime wakings
- Longer daytime naps and less nighttime sleep
- Heightened fussiness or crying around bedtime or during waking
- Having difficulty falling back asleep – or trouble falling asleep in the first place
Signs of a 12-Month Sleep Regression
One study found that 72% of 12-month-olds sleep for six or more consecutive hours per night. However, sleep fluctuations are a very normal aspect of development. It’s not unusual for an 11-month-old to be sleeping well, but then have a sleep regression around their first birthday.
If you have a 12-month-old at home, here are some signs they might be having a sleep regression:
- Frequently waking up at night
- Taking long naps during the day
- Showing agitation or resisting sleep at bedtime
- Being fussy and unable to calm down after night wakings
Tips for Coping with Sleep Regressions
Sleep regressions are completely normal for your baby during their development (fortunately, they are not permanent.) However, there’s no reason parents shouldn’t deny a bit of help along the way.
Here are some tips regarding how to manage sleep regressions:
- Establish a regular bedtime routine. A consistent pre-naptime and pre-bedtime routine lets your baby know that it’s time to wind down. While every parent’s routine is their own, yours might include taking a bath, having quiet time, reading a bedtime story, or singing a lullaby.
- Respond to your baby’s sleeping cues. Trust us–you don’t want to wait until your baby is overtired and cranky to put them to bed. Instead, take note of their sleeping cues (yawns, losing interest, staring off into space, etc.) and put them down accordingly.
- Keep the room dark. Just like their parents, keeping the room dark helps babies fall (and stay) asleep and if your little one wakes up a bit too soon, the darkness usually lulls them back to sleep.
- Fully feed your baby during the day. Make sure you’re fully feeding your baby during the day to prevent hunger pangs from waking them at night. Then, once your baby starts sleeping through the night, try not to feed them whenever they cry–this breaks that positive feedback loop.
- Hire a sleep consultant. While the exact duration of a sleep regression varies, we recommend hiring a professional sleep consultant if symptoms persist for several weeks. Of course, you might also consider hiring one if you’re having a hard time coping.
When To Consult a Sleep Consultant
Even though night wakings are part of your baby’s development, managing sleep regressions can be difficult and if that sounds familiar, we hope that today’s blog post offered some relief.
Because sleep regressions are short-lived and completely normal, most parents never need to hire a baby sleep consultant. However, if your little one’s symptoms persist for several weeks—or if you are in need of some extra assistance—hiring an infant sleep consultant might be the ideal solution.
The Bottom Line
In most cases, sleep regressions are only temporary, and experts agree that they’ll be gone in a matter of two to six weeks. By implementing these tips, however, you’ll be on your way to managing your baby’s sleep regression in no time.
Want more mom hacks and insider info? Keep checking back in with the mooh blog for more tips, advice, and how-tos.