So you’re (very quietly) celebrating the fact that your baby is sleeping through the night. It feels like the beginning of a new era where you can finally settle into some sort of routine. And then it hits — the first baby sleep regression.
In a flash, the whole perfect pattern has been undone.
We know, mama.
This one’s a challenge.
But know that, as frustrating as it might be now, this is only temporary.
And what if we were to tell you that sleep regressions are actually a good thing?
(We know, we know — bear with us.)
The reasons for these interruptions to regular programming are twofold.
Firstly, they are working out their own circadian rhythm (our body’s 24-hour clock), meaning their bodies are constantly changing as new hormones start to work.
Secondly, they could be hitting a major milestone.
They’re figuring out how to grow a tooth, sit up on their own, or use those limbs to high-speed crawl.
So while this transition may mean that your zzz’s are hard to come by right now, it also means that exciting things are happening in your house.
We’re going to give you the lowdown on baby sleep regression, including what exactly they are, when you might expect them, and how to keep your sanity through them.
In this article: 📝
- What is a sleep regression?
- How do I know if my baby is in sleep regression?
- How do you break a baby’s sleep regression?
- What age do babies have sleep regression?
What is a sleep regression?
A sleep regression is when a baby goes through a change in their sleeping patterns.
They may have seemed to find sleeping rather enjoyable, but now they’re suddenly not so keen on the whole thing.
They might have had no trouble going down before, and now they suddenly have trouble settling.
Or, while they had previously stayed asleep for a good six to eight hours — the holy grail known as sleeping through the night — they start waking up after only an hour or two.
They may have become very anti-nap, and the mere suggestion of rest might bring them to tears.
Sleep regressions are more than just a night or two of bad sleep.
They tend to go on for a few weeks (usually between two and six).
The good news?
They don’t last forever.
Regressions often coincide with growth spurts and developmental milestones — sitting, standing, crawling, walking, teething, potty training, or learning object permanence (the idea that people and objects still exist even when you can’t see or hear them).
And this is likely because they’re so excited about adding a new skill to their repertoire that it’s just that much harder to settle down.
And here’s where we’re about to give you a massive plot twist: Sleep regressions are not really regressions at all.
In fact, top sleep experts believe that regressions have little to do with sleep at all and are more about processing the new adventures of waking times.
That’s why the term “regression” can be a bit misleading.
It’s not as if they’re going backward, and all the sleep routine progress they’ve made so far is for nothing.
When babies are born, they tend to sleep a lot, like eighteen hours of sleep broken up into bite sizes throughout the day and night.
This is believed to be vital as their brains adapt, develop, and learn to process memory.
By the time they get to three months, they need about twelve to fifteen a day.
And it’s not only the amount of sleep they need that changes over time — it’s also how long they’re able to stay asleep.
Newborns sleep in shorter stretches and tend to wake up throughout the day and night.
That’s because their circadian rhythms — our internal clocks that regulate our sleep-wake cycles — are still developing.
So the messages to sleep at night and be awake during the day are not firing at full tilt yet.
Another interesting thing about newborn sleep is that they spend about equal amounts of time in rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM), which is different from adults, who tend to spend a lot more time in NREM.
REM is also known as “active” or “dream” sleep.
It’s literally the stuff that dreams are made of and also plays an important role in memory consolidation.
During REM sleep, your brain waves look a lot more like waking brain waves than in any other phase.
That’s why you may notice your little one making movements and sounds and even crying in their sleep — all usually nothing to worry about.
At about three months, their sleep patterns start mimicking the four adult phases of sleeping, but their brains are still adjusting.
They start to spend less time in REM and more time in the deeper NREM phases.
When they hit their first sleep regression, it’s almost as if they are saying, “hey, this is pretty cool. Let me figure this out.”
So don’t worry!
They’re still developing as they should.
There’s just some excitement in their lives that’s getting in the way of their slumber.
How do I know if my baby is in sleep regression?
If you suspect your little one is going through a sleep regression, you’re probably right. 🙂
- Fighting sleep, either at nap or bedtime
- Taking longer to fall asleep
- Waking up more frequently at night
- Taking shorter naps or wanting to skip naps
- Fussiness and crankiness
Basically, if they appear to be less into sleep, it’s likely that sleep regressions are kicking in.
There’s also a chance that they are not sleeping because of a medical issue, like an infection.
Babies tend to dehydrate very quickly, so it’s important to stay in touch with your doctor and let them know if you’re concerned at all.
Also, when checking with your pediatrician at the regular milestone visits, make sure to tell your doctor if they’re not feeding well or gaining weight or if you notice any changes to their breathing.
How do you break a baby’s sleep regression?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but there’s no quick fix to baby sleep regression.
Because nothing is actually broken!
These tricky periods usually come to a natural end (thank goodness) after a couple of weeks once your baby has traveled through the portal of their latest development.
Luckily, they do tend to get farther apart as your baby gets older.
But that doesn’t mean you just have to suffer through them.
There are some useful tips to follow that may mean that you don’t have to spend as much time awake in the wee hours of the morning.
Follow the “drowsy but not quite asleep” rule.
That way, they learn to take themselves from sleepy to asleep, a valuable lesson that can help them figure out how to self-soothe.
Wait a moment before checking on them
If they wake up in the middle of the night, give them a minute.
They might be getting better and better at this self-soothing thing and put themselves back to sleep without your help.
Learn their sleepy cues
Do they start to look a little grumpy and rub their eyes?
That could be baby-speak for “I’m ready to go to bed now.”
Have fun during the day
Start to associate daytime with adventure and play and nighttime with rest.
Expose your baby to sunlight during the day and darkness at night.
This helps their inner clock adjust.
Start putting a sleep routine in place
Putting them down in a dark, quiet space with few distractions after a good feed can help them associate healthy sleeping environments with drifting off.
A cuddle or gentle rock before bedtime can start to establish your bedtime routine.
Follow the safe sleep guidelines
For about the first year, put your baby to sleep on their back on a firm, flat sleep surface without any loose bedding or toys at a comfortable temperature.
Avoid Stimulating Devices
These may feel like a good idea to lull your baby into sleep, but they have a tendency to throw their clocks off kilter.
Important: Don’t forget to look after yourself through all this.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by dealing with your baby’s sleep, talk to your healthcare provider.
Now’s the time to lean on your community, call in that favor, or take that sick day if you need it.
Prioritizing your own physical and mental health is vital. We’ve got practical self-care tips for mothers here.
And if you need a safe space to vent, cry, and commiserate, your Peanut community is here for you.
The stress of new motherhood can be incredibly isolating — you don’t have to do this alone.
What age do babies have sleep regression?
The reality is, sleep regressions can happen at any time (Sorry!).
But common ages for babies to go through them are four months, six months, eight months, twelve months, eighteen months, and 24 months.
We’ll take you through what you can expect at each stage — but know that there’s no one-size-fits-all here.
Your baby might not go through a sleep regression at a particular time, or they might go through one earlier or later.
Again, if you’re at all concerned, check in with your doctor.
Four-month sleep regression
At about three months old, your baby may have just started sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours). 🎉
Then, in a cruel twist of fate, at four months old, they decide to change things up.
And you realize that the road to regular sleep is not a straight one.
Yep, this is the 4-month-old sleep regression.
There are so many reasons why it’s common to experience sleep disruptions at this point.
One is that your baby is figuring out four stages of sleep now (the way we adults sleep).
They’re learning to stay asleep for longer stretches and spend more of their total sleep time in a deeper sleep.
This is called sleep consolidation.
At this point, they’re also developing and growing at a serious rate, and they’ve reached some pretty awesome milestones.
By now, they can probably hold a rattle and lift their head up high.
And those precious smiles (and chuckles) are winning us over.
They’re also taking in the sights and sounds of the world around them — all of which can be a little overwhelming at times (just imagine seeing all of this for the first time!).
And it’s not an exact science.
It could be that your little one opts for the five-month sleep regression instead.
Or they might not have one at all.
This is around the time when you might want to start sleep training.
Six-month sleep regression
By six months, your little one is getting better and better at fitting into a more adult sleeping pattern, figuring out how to sleep for longer periods and understanding that nighttime is for slumber.
But they’re also hitting a host of developmental milestones at this point.
One of the most notorious ones?
And cutting those teeth can come with some sleep disruptions.
Not to mention they may be starting on solid foods, which is very exciting for babies.
But their digestive system may need some to catch up, which may interfere with sleep.
They’re also learning a whole lot of other tricks.
Sitting, rolling over, and babbling are some of the acts that have been added to their repertoire.
And those little brains are processing all sorts of information about the world around them.
With all that activity going on, it’s no surprise that sleep can be affected.
Again, it could be a five or seven-month sleep regression — babies tend to stick to their own timelines.
Eight-month sleep regression
Your little one may very well be on the move by this point.
And with crawling comes a whole new perspective of the world.
Normally around six months, your baby develops stranger anxiety.
This is just part of figuring things out, and you don’t need to worry about it, although it’s bound to make your life that much more complicated.
So when you leave, they might cry or become quite clingy.
Of course, this can be exhausting when you have to go to work, run errands, or even get them to sleep at night.
They might also wake up in the middle of the night wondering where you are.
Some things that can help?
- Try parting with your baby when they’re calm
- Be as consistent as possible with routines: That might mean doing daycare pick-ups and drop-offs at the same time every day and/or keeping to a specific bedtime routine.
- Create a little goodbye ritual: Whether they’re off to sleep or you’re leaving them in someone else’s care, it can help to establish a routine. Big hugs, comforting words, and even a song can all work well.
- Don’t disappear without saying goodbye: And when you return, make it a joyful reunion! (We know — that can be a tough order if you’re surviving on no sleep.
Do what you can.)
Twelve-month sleep regression
For baby’s first birthday, they get drumroll a sleep regression!
This one can be particularly frustrating if you were feeling pretty confident that you had a sleep schedule in place — but such are the twists and turns of mamahood.
The sleep recommendation for kids between one and two is eleven to fourteen hours a day. Ideally, that’s a good stretch at night and a nap or two during the day.
But your toddler may have other ideas.
Again, there’s the issue of developmental excitement.
Their brains and bodies are growing, and they’re likely having more social interaction than before.
Sticking to your bedtime routines and making sure your baby’s sleep spaces are as free from distraction as possible can go a long way.
At this age, it’s OK to put a light blanket or small toy in their bed, which can be soothing for them.
Eighteen-month sleep regression
Any changes to their environment, like moving to a new house, can cause some disruption.
Also, they start learning to be independent, which can come with its own mix of disruptions.
Another thing to be aware of as they get older is nightmares and night terrors.
Night terrors have been reported in kids as young as 18 months.
Unlike nightmares that happen during REM sleep, night terrors take place in deep sleep.
They might suddenly sit up and scream, break out into a sweat, and have fast breathing and a rapid heartbeat.
Interestingly, they often don’t even remember that this has happened and usually just calm down and go back to sleep.
Luckily, this is quite rare — particularly in babies so young — and these terrors don’t tend to cause harm to kids.
But if you’re worried about your child’s sleep at all, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider.
Otherwise, keep up with those sleep routines and practices, and you should be out of this in a few weeks.
Twenty-four-month sleep regression
Your little adventurer may or may not hit a sleep regression at two years old.
Teething could be to blame here — this is when they get their first molars.
Or they could be adapting to new routines.
Starting daycare, having a new baby in the house, and potty training can all disrupt the patterns you’ve put into place.
If they’ve been introduced to screens, it’s important to turn off their devices at least an hour before bedtime.
(The recommendation is that babies younger than 18 months should avoid screen time — other than video chats with loved ones.)
Keep to that bedtime routine.
Stories, songs, and cuddles go a long way.
And remember to check in with your Peanut community when you need support. 💗