What are Sleep regressions?

If you are a parent or you work with children, you have most likely heard about sleep regressions.

In this article, I will try to explain what is going on.

Developmental changes

Children are constantly changing, growing, adapting and learning. Each child reaches their milestones at different rate e.g. not every baby sits up at the same age.

When children are learning, their brain is processing a lot of new information.

Research has shown when a baby has spent time in the day practicing a new skill e.g. maybe crawling, their brain is still active when they go to bed. This is maybe why your child finds it difficult to settle at night while they ponder their new found super power and even practice it in their cot! The part of the brain they have been using the most, in this case gross motor skills, is still firing & lighting up like a firework show even after they go to sleep.

Amazing, right!?

What will happen during a sleep regression

I don’t really like term regression, and in fact, there is no scientific evidence to back up sleep regressions!

There is plenty of evidence about development, and also about how a baby’s sleep matures and evolves.

What parents usually notice is that their baby’s sleep suddenly changes. They might notice any of the following

  • Refusal to nap
  • Waking soon after falling asleep
  • Resistance to fall asleep at bedtime
  • More night waking
  • Waking up early in the morning
  • Waking up seeming tired still

It’s often a combination of all these things. As frustrating and worrying as it is, I can assure you that your baby hasn’t lost the ability to sleep, it’s just sleep isn’t a priority for your little one during this developmental leap.

When do ‘regressions’ typically occur?

Sleep distributions can occur at any time of developmental change. There are, of course, some well-known times around 4-5 months and 8 months.

4-5 month ‘regression’

As a newborn, your baby transitioned from awake to asleep via REM (dreaming) sleep. The brain activity during REM sleep is very similar to the activity during wakefulness, and babies often fall asleep easily – whether in your arms, during a feed, or with a little bit of movement.

Their sleep cycle is also quite short, and they simply alternate between REM sleep and deep sleep. As their sleep cycle matures, they transition from awake to asleep via a completely new state of sleep that they have not experienced before – light sleep. It’s a type of non-REM sleep, and may well feel quite unfamiliar to your baby. For this reason, it seems that many babies suddenly struggle to ‘switch off’ and go to sleep.

4-5 month old babies are often distractible, stimulated by their environment, eager to interact and learn, and find new experiences, places and people exciting. At this age babies are learning a huge amount, cooing, smiling more and perhaps rolling.

Also they are starting to be able to stay awake between naps for longer now, typically having 4 naps per day.

During any phase of development, babies may seem unsettled, and will need more support to enable them to sleep. In truth all of us have times we cant sleep due to studying, stress or excitement. These different emotional states can have us all laying in bed for hours waiting for our minds to switch off. However, it’s only a phase in our life, and your little ones too. We don’t lose the ability to sleep and helping them with good sleeping habits now will help them to cope with all of these states throughout life.

8 month regression

At this age, babies are babbling, probably learning to stand with some help, crawl, clapping hands, waving and lots of other new tricks.

If your 7-9 month old baby has suddenly become fretful when you leave to go to the bathroom, or answer the doorbell, chances are separation anxiety is to blame.

Around this time You may need to drop the last nap of the day this typically occurs around 8-9months.

Remember to make the lunchtime nap a bit longer and the bedtime a bit earlier, or you’ll end up with an overtired baby by bedtime, and you may get sleep resistance due to excessive tiredness.

How to help your baby during sleep regressions

Focus on the things you can help you baby with, it’s easy to feel out of control at this time.

  • Keep calm. Babies pick up on our vibes! It’s understandable that you’d find bedtime and nap times stressful if they have suddenly become a challenge. Remember it’s temporary.
  • Re-evaluate your naps. Does your little one need to drop a nap? Watch your baby’s individual tired cues and try to be responsive to them.
  • Maintain your predictable, positive and calming routines. Stick with whatever worked before… don’t switch things up.
  • If naps have shortened, stay close to your baby so you can help them transition between sleep cycles. You could lay a hand on them as they stir and guide them back to sleep.
  • You could consider using white noise with babies under 6 months, and pink noise with babies over 6 months. Studies have shown pink noise promotes deep sleep.

How long do sleep regressions last?

Sleep regressions last between 7-10 days, on average.

During this stressful time parents contact me after trying numerous methods, to settle their baby. Because what they did before has no soothing effect anymore. My advise during this unsettled time is to stay consistent in your response.

Studies have shown it can take 2-3 weeks to form a habit, so try not to switch things up.

Stick to what your baby knows, weather that’s rocking or patting them to sleep.

Then once the developmental leap has ended they will fall back into their sleeping patterns more quickly.

Sleep regressions can cause parents a lot of stress. But sometimes the fear of one can be worse than the experience. Try to stay calm, and remember that all phases eventually come to an end.

*useful tools The Wonder Weeks App*

I am a Maternity nurse and Holistic Sleep Coach, offering home consultations, as well as Skype or telephone consultations helping families throughout the uk and overseas.

Thank you Diane!

“Our 18 months old girl kept waking up a few times at night for a feed. It also took us at least an hour to put her to sleep. Diane recommended just a phone consultation. Our daughter sleeps through the night now and her bed plus nap times aren’t struggle any more! Thank you Diane!”
Magdalena Dry, July 2015

Gave us tips that we hadn’t heard of before

“We have struggled with my 4 year old daughter since birth to try and get her into a sleep routine. We spoke with drs, health visitors as well as numerous Google hits for tips. Lotti is our fourth child so we are experienced parents but had never dealt with this before. Typically it would take my daughter 2-2.5 hours to get her to sleep, her routine was to fall asleep cuddling us in our bed watching a film then when she was asleep we would move her to her bed, she got up throughout the night and got back in bed with us. We couldn’t continue like this so we called Diane.

She gave us tips that we hadn’t heard of before and gave us tasks for bedtime and gave support for a week. We started the week leaving lotti at 9pm and within 7 days she now goes to sleep in her bed at 8pm, if she gets up in the night she returns to her bed and sleeps there. We are amazed at how quickly the new routine worked and Lotti seems very receptive to it. We have finally got a life back in the evenings, we don’t know what to do with ourselves! Thank You Diane for your help and support x”

Sarah Barham, May 2015

Amazing results! Worth every penny!

“Absolutely fantastic! Our 12 month old son had never slept completely through the night but then at 12 months started waking every 2/3 hours and had been doing so every night for a few weeks, we got in touch with Diane for some help. Just a few simple tweaks to his routine and a few new techniques learnt and we have a much happier little boy who has slept through the night for the last week – amazing results! Worth every penny!”
Emily Carter, May 2015

We just wish we’d done it sooner

“We would highly recommend Diane. After 9 months of waking every hour to comfort our twin boys and replace dummies they are now sleeping through the night and so are we! Diane spent time with us understanding our family, made a couple of changes to our daily routine and feeds and tailored a sleep training plan for our 9 month old twins. Diane’s support throughout the process was incredible and she was always available to answer a question. Not only are the boys sleeping through the night but they are now also having a morning and afternoon nap in their cots! I no longer have to take them for walks for hours and hours every day to get them to have a nap! Its wonderful and so is Diane. We couldn’t have done it without her, we just wish we’d done it sooner”
Gemma Phillips, April 2015

Diane has been amazing

“Diane has been amazing. A wonderful support for me when I really needed it and full of very sensible advice that really works. Her approach was gentle and made sense for our family. Our daughter is now having restorative sleeps in the day and at night, and we feel much better equipped to deal with bumps in the road like teething, illness and in our case lots of travel and moving house! Thank you so much xx”
Lizzie Mandeno, April 2015

Sleeping from 7 to 7. Simply Perfect!

“I would highly recommend Diane if like me & my husband were experiencing our LO was waking up every 2hrs wanting a feed, at 6 months I was becoming absolutely worn out. With Diane’s support, knowledge and guidance within a week we had moved from waking up every 2hrs to not waking at all! Sleeping from 7 to 7. Simply Perfect! Diane will also help with the daytime routine which had helped me plan my day better and know when I need to be doing what and when. It’s a definite game changer! Outcome is one happy family! ❤️x”
Kate Reynolds, April 2015

It’s been amazing to see the change

“Diane was an amazing help and very supportive. I feel like I’m starting to regain some sanity after having some much needed sleep. Thank you so much for all your help it’s been amazing to see the change and know that he can sleep through the night. It’s going to make a massive difference xx”
Hanna Lines, April 2015

This has literally been life changing for us

“What a difference a week can make! If someone had told me a few days ago that our 8 month old son would be sleeping through the night and having daytime naps in his cot without protest, I would not have believed you…! I contacted Diane (through recommendation) when I was at the end of my tether. Our lovely boy had never been a great sleeper and I had found myself in an exhausting, relentless rut. I was feeding him to sleep at night which was becoming increasingly difficult as he would wake as soon as I transferred him to his cot, and during the day required me to walk, take a car journey or carry him in a sling to get him to drift off – he just couldn’t be put down. My whole day revolved around getting him to sleep and bedtime would be fraught for the whole family.

I’m pleased to say, with Diane’s help, this is now no longer the case and the improvement has far exceeded my expectations. Diane came to our home, listened to our many problems and formulated a plan for us to stick to. Her phone calls, texts and emails throughout that week was just the support I needed, offering reassurance, advice and motivation. This has literally been life changing for us – after 8 months I now have my evenings back and time to myself during the day, resulting in a happy mummy and baby! AMAZING! I would advise anyone who is thinking about hiring Diane to simply go for it – a good night’s sleep is just around the corner!”

Laura Hill, March, 2015