Sleep regressions are the WORST.
You FINALLY think you’ve found your child’s sleeping rhythm and start patting yourself on the back for the extra snoozes you’ve been able to steal.
Then, all of a sudden, your child does a 360. Gone are those “see you in the morning” bedtimes. Now it’s more like “see you in an hour!” until dawn peeks through the curtains and you’re ready to throw an adult-sized temper tantrum.
And you’re just there, clutching your pillow, and walking around like a nuclear holocaust victim. What just happened?
You’ve just been assaulted by a sleep regression, my friend, and it ain’t pretty. Tain’t pretty ah-tall.
Know Thy Enemy: What a Sleep Regression Actually Looks Like
Pop Quiz: What do these things all have in common?
- Navy Seals.
- Sleep Regressions
- A 35th Birthday
I’ll give you a clue. Despite first impressions, it’s not Chuck Norris. (Like a sleep regression would ever mess around with him? Psh.)
They are all things that sneak up on you.
So let’s ask ourselves, WWCND? (What Would Chuck Norris Do?)
I’ll tell you what he’d do. He would prepare himself, mentally and physically, to meet the challenge. Then he would look freakin’ awesome overcoming it.
Let’s DO THIS!
The Most Common Ages for a Sleep Regression
Sleep regressions are tied to massive developmental jumps that your baby’s brain is making. Is your baby entering any of these growth spurts? (Remember these are age estimates.)
- 6 weeks
- 12 weeks
- 20 weeks (when your “newborn” fades into “baby.”)
- 36 weeks
- 52 weeks
- 18 months
- 2 years
Here’s some good news: it’s pretty uncommon for a baby to have a sleep regression for ALL of these growth spurts. Phew!
So although age can be a helpful indicator, you’re going to have to ask a few more questions to make sure these sleep disruptions are regression-related and not the signs of Mr. Habit settling in.
- Have naps suddenly stopped? If naps have always been bad, you may want to take my online class on creating an effective nap plan.
- Did your baby recently learn to roll over, sit up, eat solid foods, crawl, or walk? These are major milestones that can mess with sleep.
- Has your baby been waking to eat more at night? Go ahead and feed him for several days, he needs the extra calories to continue to grow! Breastfeeders, these feedings will trigger your milk glands to produce more for the next stage ahead. If those feedings last more than a week, you will need to use some gentle nighttime weaning techniques to get back to sleeping through the night!
Sleep Regression Tip #1:
This is particularly important for babies who are leaving their habituation ways behind, and are struggling to learn to fall asleep on their own (babies 3+ months old).
Around that dreaded 4-month regression period, your baby’s brain will start to make two hormones: melatonin and cortisol.
Melatonin is the happy sleepy hormone that bathes your baby’s brain with snoozetunes. You have to help your baby’s brain know when it’s time to make that hormone. You do that by having a naptime/bedtime routine and making sure the sleeping-area is nice and dark.
Cortisol is the stress hormone. The moment your baby’s brain gets overtired, his brain switches from making melatonin to making cortisol. This is about the time when everything goes down the crapper:
- It’s a zillion times harder to get him to fall asleep.
- He will cry for no reason and be difficult to soothe.
- She will wake up more at night, for longer periods of time.
- He will often wake up earlier in the morning, before 6am.
How Do You Avoid Letting Him Get Overtired?
The snooty answer to that question is to put him down before his brain starts making cortisol.
That’s easy for some babies, because you can see the Sleep Train coming from a mile away. They are obviously tired and need a nap. The trouble though, is that not all kids are easy to read. Some kids are so outgoing and BUSY, that you don’t know the train is coming until it runs over your toes.
With those kinds of kids (the ones that are above plebeian sleepy cues), your best friend is going to be the clock. You will need use the “Waketime Window” estimations to judge when you need to start that naptime routine.
That window varies on the age of your baby (from 1 hour up), so be sure to download my free Sleep Averages Printable so you can reference it as your baby ages!
Sleep Regression Tip #2:
Practice Some DBA (Drowsy but Awake)
One of the hardest sleeping skills a baby has to learn is the art of putting himself to sleep.
Don’t skim past that last sentence so quickly. Think about it. You know that feeling of your brain shutting down and drifting away into dreamland? Your baby’s brain needs to learn how to do that, without you.
Babies who haven’t learned this skill make it REALLY hard during a sleep regression, because it means that every time they wake up, they need Mom and Dad to do something to help them fall asleep!
Starting with the morning nap (because that’s usually the easiest nap of the day), start putting your baby down sleepy but not asleep. If he protests a few minutes and doesn’t conk out, go ahead and pick him up and try again tomorrow.
Or, if you’d rather not wait, sign up for a Nighttime Session and let a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach help you create an effective sleep plan that fits your baby AND your parenting style.
Sleep Regression Tip #3:
Keep a Predictable Rhythm
Remember that melatonin thing I mentioned earlier? Well, remember one of the things that helps your baby’s brain know when to start up the Melatonin factory is a predictable rhythm.
That’s why my free Sleep Averages Printable is so handy-dandy. It gives you the bare bones skeleton daily schedule. (“According to the waketime window, he needs to nap again at 11am…”)
The key with your daily routine is to stay predictable. This DOESN’T mean that you’re a slave to the clock. (7:05! You’re five minutes late for bedtime!) I just means that you try hard to do the same things around the same time of day.
Nothing messes a child’s internal schedule up like having a 7pm bedtime one night, a 11pm bedtime the next night, and then a 9pm bedtime the next night. Create a routine to the day, and then try to keep roughly to it.
Sleep Regression Tip #4:
Add a Few Extra Cuddles
Since your child is normally a bit more sleep-deprived during these growth spurts, it makes sense that he’s going to be a bit needier than normal.
- Amp your “Patience Scale” up to 11, sister. You’re going to need it!
- Be willing to set aside that to-do list faster than normal, and just cuddle on the couch.
- Add some more playtime together with your baby to off-set any separation anxiety that could set in.
- Give everyone in the house an extra measure of grace by lowering your expectations. These sleep regressions are a speed-bump to life, and trying to plow ahead as if they don’t exist is just going to make things feel a whole lot worse!
Here’s some good news for you: Sleep regressions don’t last forever.
For some reason, I feel like that should be embroidered on a nursery pillow.
Go ahead. Read it again, and let that good feeling trickle down to your toes: Sleep regressions don’t last forever.
They are TEMPORARY disturbances caused by massive mental growth and development. So give your little man or tiny princess a few extra cuddles, knowing this isn’t going to be your life forever.
“Sleeping Through the Night” is a relative term. It’s definitely possible to keep a feeding or two at night, even if your doctor says he doesn’t need it, just because you like those cuddles and want to keep your milk supply up! We can help you create a Nighttime Sleep Plan that preserves the feedings you want to keep, while weaning away the ones you don’t!
What To Do When Mr. Habit Moves In
If your “sleep regression” is into its third week, you’ve officially moved on to something else. You’ve sidled up to a new partner: The Haughty Habit.
It’s haughty because it will try to convince you that it should be there (when it shouldn’t).
It’s a habit because (assuming the doctor agrees) there’s no physical reason for your baby to be throwing Anti-Sleeping Rallies now that the growth spurt is over. These disruptions should have left weeks ago, but is still sticking around because he can.
Like most unwelcome guests in the home, you’ll need to gently, consistently, relocate Mr. Habit back where he belongs with a solid sleep plan that’s designed for your baby’s unique personality and your preferred parenting style.
Your First Parenting Hiccup
Sleep regressions are the first hiccup of parenting. They are unexpected, jolting, and pretty annoying.
Fortunately, though, they are temporary. Use these 4 tips to stay ahead of the curve, and show those regressions that you mean business and you’ll be back in the snoozing sack faster than you think.
- Don’t let him get overtired. Put him down for naps before his Waketime Window slams shut.
- Practice Drowsy-But-Awake at least once a day, to help him learn how to fall asleep without needing mom and dad to PUT him to sleep.
- Establish naptime and bedtime routines, and then follow them. Don’t be dogmatic, but do be reasonably consistent!
- Provide lots of extra cuddles. His life is changing, and that can be scary for some kids!
When it comes to overcoming this totally sucky regression, let me leave you with this note of encouragement: Chuck Norris has NOTHING on you, my friend.
You’re a mother. And that daily challenge is WAY harder than doing the splits in between two jets at 20,000 feet. Psh. Compared to the way you are managing to muddle through life with 4 hours sleep…that’s easy.
Have You Read These Yet?
Why You Need to Make Sure Your Baby Sleep Coach is Certified
Why pay for a hobbyist when you can get a professional’s help instead?
The 7 Worst Baby Sleep Training Mistakes You Can Make
Turn this nightmare sleep-deprived roller coaster into the Tunnel of Love.
Sleeping Beauty’s Top 10 Best Books for Babies at Bedtime
If anyone knows which books are guaranteed to end in snoozes, it’s Sleeping Beauty.
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Heather is the Chief Encouragement Officer here at MightyMoms.club and has been writing and encouraging parents online since 2007. She’s a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, has been a featured parenting expert writer on blogs like DaveRamsey.com, SimpleKids.net, Cafe Mom, and others. If it’s 2am and you’re desperate to read SOMETHING, check out her deepest darkest secrets, including why she really shouldn’t be allowed to blog.