The greatest thing in the world for a new parents is when your baby starts sleeping through the night; the worst is when that cycle stops. If you’re new to parenting, you should know right now that the odds are very high that this will happen three times during the first year of your baby’s life. The truth hurts.
These lapses in sleep are called sleep regressions and they are 100% normal. Unfortunately, they can be very taxing on parents. Below is a nice little guide to put your mind at ease, walk you through the three different sleep regressions and give you tips and tricks for getting your baby back to sleep. You would be wise, too, to check out this great course on quickly calming your baby and helping him or her sleep more.
What Are Sleep Regressions?
First of all, let’s get the dates out of the way so that you know when you’re about to go insane from sleep depravity: 4 months, 8 months and 12 months are the three most common times for baby’s to experience sleep regressions (although it would be completely natural for these to vary by a month or two, especially in the later two periods).
These sleep regressions generally coincide with major developmental progress; for example, when your baby starts rolling, sitting, crawling, etc. While these developments appear to be physical, they can actually be attributed to the light-speed development of cognitive abilities; in other word, it is a growing brain that is giving your baby more dexterity. But you can get free tips on baby sleep training with this blog post on getting a better night’s rest.
In short, these “growth” spurts are what cause sleep regressions. The baby’s mind is heavily focused on learning its new skills. As evolution would have it, the baby’s survival depends upon it. So these skills are practiced, both physically and mentally, until they are mastered. During this period of learning, your baby will be incredibly frustrated; it’s would be like trying to learn something that at first seems borderline impossible. Naturally, sleeping is not going to come easily. However, it is usually when the baby becomes proficient at his or her new skill that the sleep regressions ends.
The 3 Regressions
- Regression At 4 Months
Because it is the first, the 4 month sleep regression is often the most difficult to deal with. Plan way ahead of time with this parents’ guide to preparing your home for a baby. It is also your baby’s first experience with struggle. While the regression can start in months 3-5, it shouldn’t last more than 2-6 weeks (and often only half that).
- Regression At 8 Months
Most people refer to this as the 9 months regression, but it can happen anywhere in the 8-10 months range. While your baby is going through perhaps more significant development than in the 4 month regression, your baby is also more mature and better able to handle the associated stress. Similarly, this regression should not last as long as the 4 month regression. The 8 month regression generally coincides with your baby learning to scoot and crawl and also attempting to learn language.
- Regression At 12 Months
By this time, the regressions are less severe. It’s really the 4 month regression that is absolute hell going through. But around the 1-year mark, your baby may start resisting falling asleep for several weeks, especially for naps. Many people attribute this to the baby’s preparation and practice for learning how to walk.
How To Know If You’re In The Thick Of It
As many new parents already know, your baby will go through more phases than you can ever hope to remember. Pretty much anytime something developmental happens – learning to roll, sit, crawl, scoot, grab, kick, etc. – a phase will accompany it. So how do you know if you’re in a phase or sleep regression?
There’s no fool-proof blood test for this, but there are a few things that can help you distinguish between the two. Unfortunately, the best one is time, so you’ll have to withstand some sleep deprivation to know for sure. If sleep troubles last longer than two weeks and they coincide with the time frames above, then you are very likely in a sleep regression.
It’s important to know when enough is enough; often sleep regressions can turn into habits, which is not good. If your baby is waking 8-12 times a night, that’s an awful lot. Your baby should also not be completely worn out during the day; this, too, would be a sign of bad habits getting worse. So if you’re experiencing excessively long troubles or if your baby is worn out to the point of being unhealthy, your sleep regression has either lingered too long or turned into a habit. Now let’s discuss what to do about both.
Tips To Survive
1. First Things First
The first thing you should do, which is probably obvious enough, is make sure your child isn’t sick. You don’t want to assume that it’s a sleep regression just because your baby is exactly four months old. If, in the past, you haven’t had to enter the room, or only rarely so, then it might be a good time to start checking in. As we will discuss soon, you don’t want to foster habits or have your baby get used to – and then want/need to – seeing you every time he or she cries. But first and foremost, ensure that your child is healthy.
2. A Routine Of Comfort
Preferably you will already have established a bedtime routine; stick to it. Like I said above, developing new bad habits is the last thing you want to do. So stick to the routine you have (at least, if it’s been working). Obviously you will have to refine your techniques (this is a sleep regression, after all), but you should try to keep this to a minimum. Drastic changes will only increase your baby’s confusion.
On a similar note, comforting your baby is more important than ever. Your baby will feel strange, uncomfortable, frustrated, etc. Give your baby all of your love, as this will help calm and settle the frustration. This article on how to get your baby to sleep (so you can too!) is full of excellent advice.
3. Less Crying
Ideally, you will not let your baby cry incessantly during sleep regressions. Don’t get me wrong, this will be difficult. But you need to answer her cries. Again, love, comfort, distractions and reassurances are what your baby needs. While this may disrupt your routine, and may go counter to what you’re used to doing, you also need to understand that your baby is going through a very difficult time; being left alone is not what anyone would want. You don’t just want to emerge from a sleep regression barely having survived; ideally, your baby will have achieved an entirely new level of mental and physical aptitude, even if they aren’t clearly visible to the naked eye.
4. More Tricks
At a certain point, you’re going to have to do whatever it takes to alleviate the crying and discomfort. The old bag of tricks is a good place to turn to. Items of comfort are always good choices, but really anything that will put your baby at enough ease to sleep is what matters. Get some great advice from these head-to-toe baby massage techniques for relaxation and comfort.
One of the best things you can do is play music, especially before bed or during the first phase of sleep. This will help calm their racing brains. And a habit of listening to music is about the best habit there is, so don’t worry about over-doing it (unless you’re playing loud music all night; not good).
5. Outlet For Release
Your baby is going through this regression because he or she is developing. It is only natural, then, that your baby should be given ample opportunity to develop these new skills. Just to be clear, the nighttime is not the time to do this, no matter how bad it gets. You want to give your baby chances to practice during the day. If it’s rolling, let ’em roll; if it’s crawling, let em’ crawl; if it’s talking, let ’em scream. And by all means, lend a helping hand as you see fit (but don’t make it easy on them or they won’t learn).
6. Wait It Out
All you can do is do the best you can, and sometimes that isn’t enough to make a sleep regression pleasant. Do your best, sleep as much as you can, stick to the plan and know it won’t last forever. You will survive!
Of course, you will get a lot of advice from your pediatrician (and every other mother you meet) during this time, too. Sleep regressions might not be fun, but every parent experiences them. If you want to get a head start, check out this gentle sleep success workshop taught by pediatric sleep consultant, Irene Gouge.