Does your baby or toddler’s sleep feel tricky? Or maybe sleep seemed predictable and easy last week, and now it just feels off? You might be seeing a sleep regression. Let’s talk about what sleep regressions look like and how to handle them.
What is a sleep regression?
You may have noticed that your little one is now waking more in the night, taking shorter naps, or fighting bedtime. We call this a sleep regression.
Sleep regressions are a sign of developmental progression. They often happen when your baby’s brain and body are busy learning new skills. When their brain is focusing on physical, mental, social, or emotional growth…sleep can be impacted.
What are common sleep regression ages?
Sleep regressions are most commonly seen around 4 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months.
Some parents also notice sleep changes around 6 months or 14-15 months. Since all babies develop at a different pace, it’s possible to see a sleep regression at any age.
What are signs of a sleep regression?
Every baby experiences sleep regressions differently. Here are some signs you may notice if your baby is going through a sleep regression:
Your baby is now fussy all the time and won’t sleep unless you hold them.
Your little one, who was a pro-napper before, simply won’t nap anymore.
Your child starts crying every time you head to the nursery.
Your baby is standing and crying in their crib at naptime.
Your little one is waking multiple times in the middle of the night when they were previously sleeping well.
Your baby, who used to nap well, now has short naps.
Your toddler begins to wake at 4:00 am when this wasn’t an issue before.
Your baby’s behavior surrounding sleep just feels different, and you’re unsure why.
Is it teething or a sleep regression?
The only sure sign of teething is seeing a tooth. Prior to that tooth popping through the gums, you may notice swollen gums or a white nub. The 24-72 hours before a tooth erupts is typically the time of the most discomfort. If your sleep struggles are lasting for weeks instead of days, this is rarely associated with teething.
If your little one is struggling with pain, do what needs to be done to help soothe them. It’s always okay to comfort your baby while they're in pain. Rest assured that providing comfort for a few nights won’t derail a solid sleep foundation. Once that tooth pops through the gums, go right back to your approach to sleep, and sleep will return to normal quickly.
Important Note: If you’re seeing sudden changes in your baby’s sleep with periods of intense crying, let’s check for signs of an illness or other physical discomfort.
Text version of Signs of Teething vs Signs of a Sleep Regression table
|Signs of Teething||Signs of a Regression|
|+ Swollen gums with white nubs||+ Protesting naps or bedtime|
|+ Irritability||+ Waking in the night|
|+ Less interested in solids||+ Early morning wakings|
|+ Chewing on fingers and toys||+ Short naps|
|+ Increased drooling||+ Increased separation anxiety|
How long do sleep regressions last?
When you maintain healthy sleep habits and have a plan to get back on track, sleep regressions typically last for a week or two. On the other hand, inconsistency or throwing healthy sleep routines out the window can cause a sleep regression to turn into a long-term struggle. Be sure to check out my best tips for how to get your baby’s sleep regression to pass more quickly.
Do all babies have sleep regressions?
While all babies do experience developmental progressions, these progressions do not always impact sleep. That means, not all babies will experience EVERY regression. Many babies who already have a healthy sleep foundation experience fewer sleep interruptions and move through sleep regressions more quickly.
How do I handle a sleep regression?
Here are my tips for helping your baby during a regression:
1. Pay attention to changing sleep needs.
As babies get older, their wake windows change (They may even be ready to drop a nap!). Make sure that your little one has appropriate wake windows for their age. This will help them have enough sleep pressure - not too much and not too little - to fall asleep and stay asleep.
2. Practice new skills during awake time.
Practice new skills during the day. Working on new physical and cognitive skills during awake time makes them less exciting when it’s time to sleep.
3. Plan for active awake time.
Babies and toddlers need active awake time. Fill their wake windows with activities that allow them to use their brains and bodies. Getting that physical and mental activity during the day will help your baby sleep better for both nights and naps.
4. Keep bedtime in the sweet spot.
Most babies and toddlers do best with a bedtime between 7:00-8:00 pm. This time is typically when little ones fall asleep the easiest and stay asleep the longest.
5. Understand the changes happening in your baby’s brain.
Sleep regressions are a result of developmental progressions. Understanding what is happening developmentally for your baby will help you support them during awake time, which will make sleep easier.
6. Maintain healthy sleep habits.
Being consistent with your approach to sleep helps to move through a sleep regression more quickly. Sleep regressions can last 1-2 weeks, but letting go of healthy sleep habits during this time can lead to ongoing struggles.
7. Start with a great little sleeper.
A healthy sleep foundation can reduce the impact and length of a sleep regression. If you’re struggling with your child’s sleep, I can help! Whether you have a newborn, infant, or toddler, my classes will help you create a holistic plan to achieve more consistent and restful sleep for everyone in your family, even during regressions.