Last updated on April 4th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Sleep Regression: When, Why, and How to Start Sleeping Again

We’ve all been there. Your baby has been peacefully sleeping through the night, and, consequently, so is everyone else. 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. Sleep regressions can have many causes relating to normal child development, but they are also frustrating and tiring. Learn how to recognize your baby or child’s sleep patterns and when they stray from their regular schedule, how to help them gently fall asleep again:

  • What is a sleep regression?
  • How long does it last?
  • When do sleep regressions happen?
  • How will I know it’s a sleep regression?
  • How do I deal with 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.

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How Long Does a Sleep Regression Last?

If your baby has been sleeping, but suddenly stops with their normal patterns, it can be frustrating. The good news is, 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.

Is your four-month-old having a sleep regression?
Read more, here: 4 Month Sleep Regression – Tips to Soothe your Baby

When Will a Sleep Regression Happen?

Sleep changes often happen when your baby is reaching a developmental milestone. 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!

Sleep changes often happen when your baby is reaching a developmental milestone

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 regression ages are 6 weeks, 4 months, and 6 months. The excellent news for you, is that it is fairly uncommon for a baby or toddler to have a full-blown sleep regression with every developmental milestone.

Are you in the middle of the 18-month sleep regression?
Help is here: 18 Month Sleep Regression: How to Get Your Toddler Back to Sleep

How Will I Know it’s a Sleep Regression?

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. Of course the decreased sleep makes for MORE of the same, so this alone can be very disruptive.

2. Extreme Crankiness

Think about what happens to you when you don’t get enough sleep: you get cranky, fussy, and 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. Even a baby who is normally calm and can self-soothe might not be themself for awhile.

Even a baby who is normally calm and can self-soothe might not be themself for awhile

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. Until then, it’s ok to indulge a bit, especially with a newborn or young baby.

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. During the regression, your baby may demand more volume, feeding more often, and seemingly never be full. This will also even out when the regression is over.

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How to Survive a Sleep Regression

1. Recognize You’re Dealing with a Sleep Regression

First, take a deep breath. Interruptions in sleep 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.

2. Remind Yourself This WILL End

It’s 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 probably 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.

3. Soothe Your Baby

Figure out how to help soothe her enough so that that she can glean as much sleep as possible. If you have a calming bedtime routine, continue with that effort — the more normal everything else is, the more familiar their world will be.

4. Avoid New Sleep Crutches

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 use 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.

Do you have a child with special needs who is having a sleep regression?
Read more: It’s Never Too Late: Get Bedtime Back on Track for Your Child with Special Needs

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.

Want to know how to re-start The Shuffle after a regression?
Read here: Re-Starting The Sleep Lady Shuffle After a Regression

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.

Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!