Sleep Regression: Just a Phase?

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  • May 12, 2020
sleep regression

sleep regressionWe’ve all been there. Baby has been peacefully sleeping through the night, and, consequently, so is everyone else. Hooray! Then, out of the blue, your sweet baby is up at all hours, wanting to be soothed, fed, and crying. What happened? Many refer to these short episodes as a sleep regression.

What is a Sleep Regression?

So what is a sleep regression? The term “sleep regression” is used to describe the periods of time when your baby who otherwise slept through the night suddenly begins to have uncharacteristically frequent night wakings, and may even have napping issues.

Sleep regressions usually last anywhere from two to six weeks, and then your baby’s sleep patterns return to normal as suddenly as they changed.

Leading expert T. Berry Brazleton provides the explanation that these night wakings are the result of normal childhood development.

When will a sleep regression occur?

Dutch researchers Vanderijt and Plooij published a book, “The Wonder Weeks,” entirely about these periods of regressions and growth. According to their research, growth spurts occur at weeks 5, 8, 12, 19, 26, 37, 46, and 55. That’s a lot of growth spurts!

Babies may experience sleep regressions starting around 3 to 4 months, again at 8 to 10 months, 12 months, at 18 months, and again at 2 years; the most common sleep regressions occur at 6 weeks, 4 months, and 6 months. It is fairly uncommon for a baby or toddler to have a full-blown sleep regression with every developmental milestone.

From Good Night, Sleep Tight: “I find the most pronounced, although temporary, sleep problems occur as a child is learning to walk. You may also see problems right before your child sits up, crawls, stands, and is potty trained.”

What to Expect

1. Decreased sleep

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it can throw even the most easy-going parents a curveball. Suddenly, your baby is no longer sleeping due to increased night waking, and naps are up in the air.

2. Extreme crankiness

Think about what happens to you when you don’t get enough sleep: you get cranky, fussy, and (probably) short tempered. The same is true of your baby. She’s used to sleeping, and suddenly, she’s having trouble. Of course she’s going to be cranky and irritable.

3. More cuddle time

It’s hard to understand what’s going on with your baby, especially for them! So they need additional reassurance, and will want lots of snuggles during a sleep regression. This clinginess will dissipate with the return of normal sleep patterns.

4. Increased hunger

Growth spurts are a fact of life when you’re a baby, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t taxing. His little body is working overtime, and it’s causing him to be HUNGRY. So naturally he wants to eat. All. The. Time.

How to Survive a Sleep Regression

First, take a deep breath. Sleep regressions are no fun for anyone, especially if you’ve just begun to enjoy a full night’s sleep again, or are in the middle of gentle sleep coaching.

Often, parents do not realize that they are dealing with a sleep regression until after baby takes their first steps, or begins to crawl. It is only in hindsight that we realize a milestone was emerging.

It’s also important to remember that this is just a growth spurt for your baby. Your schedule will normalize again, and you (and your baby) will sleep again.

Most sleep regressions last between two and six weeks, anything longer, and you’re dealing with a separate issue. During these sleepless weeks, try to remember that your baby is just as tired and confused as you. She may be eating (a lot) more, need additional soothing, and will most likely be fighting sleep at every turn.

Figure out how to help soothe her enough so that that she can glean as much sleep as possible.

Try not to create any new sleep crutches or sleep problems if you can. Even if you do create a new sleep crutch during the sleep regression despite your best efforts, you can utilize the Shuffle to undo whatever you created.

You may even be able to go through the Shuffle at a slightly faster pace, depending on your baby.

A few additional tips to help you survive a sleep regression:

  • Be flexible. A sleep regression is temporary, and you may have to adjust your schedule to deal with it.
  • Ask for help. Get your partner involved in the nighttime routine so that you can get a bit of sleep.
  • Accept additional feedings for what they are, temporary. You will get your schedule back, I promise.
  • Help baby to relax with a soothing massage, bath, or story.
  • Take stock of your baby’s sleep environment. Have the seasons changed? Is it warmer? Colder? Is there light earlier in the morning?
  • Try moving your baby’s bedtime a bit earlier. Most babies are ready for sleep between 6 and 8 pm. If you’ve been putting your baby to sleep later than that, introducing an earlier bedtime just might do the trick.
  • Be careful that you do not create a new sleep crutch (or revive an old one). Resist nursing or rocking your child to sleep.

If all else fails, check with your doctor.

There could be something else going on that has caused the sudden change in your baby’s sleep.

Keep Reading…

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photo credit: mahalie via photopin cc

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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