Dr. Sarah Mitchell
About Author

Dealing with Sleep Regressions for 1-3 Month Olds

As a parent of a young baby, you've likely experienced the utter exhaustion from sleep regressions or have you?   The new parent experience in the first 3 months can be wildly different from parent to parent.  Some people are in dire straights and don't know it, and others are exhausted but have best case scenario when it comes to baby sleep. Others experience better than expected sleep until about 3.5 months when the first major sleep regression arises, the 4 month sleep regression.  Regardless of age, these periods of disrupted sleep can seriously impact your sanity! This comprehensive guide will explain what infant sleep regressions are, what causes them, signs to look for, and most importantly provide tips to handle the frequent night wakings, fighting naps, and other sleep issues that arise.

What is a Sleep Regression?

A sleep regression refers to when a baby's normal sleep schedule suddenly shifts.  I highlighted normal because as a first time parent it's often hard to know what normal looks like.  This regression results in frequent night awakenings, trouble self-soothing, decreased nap duration, and fighting sleep altogether. It's a temporary disruption in a child's sleep patterns that can last several weeks or even months.  Note, if you feel that you've never had good sleep this likely isn't a regression but a bigger issue at play. 

Biggest takeaway:  A sleep regression means growth and distraction.  

Your child is growing physically by having teeth erupt, which tends to be on average around 5 months of age, OR they are growing neurologically by learning new cognitive or developmental skills such as object permanence, discovering hand movements, rolling, walking, etc.  There tends to be average times that babies experience sleep regressions but they vary immensely from child to child, except for... the 4 Month Sleep Regression.  This is related to object permanence and you can read more about this 4 Month regression here.  

What Causes Sleep Regressions?

There is limited research on the causes of sleep regressions.  This  1995 article by Dr. Marc Weissbluth titled "Sleep-loss stress and temperamental difficultness: Psychobiological processes and practitioner principles, " supports the perspective that sleep regressions are linked to major physical and cognitive milestones in development. Understanding the common ages and stage-related causes can help parents cope through periods of disruption. 

What Are the Signs of a Sleep Regression? 

  1. More frequent night wakings and trouble self-soothing
  2. Waking up crying in the middle of the night
  3. Fighting sleep at bedtime or taking short naps
  4. Needing to sleep being held or only while feeding
  5. Waking up very early in the morning
  6. Sleeping in shorter chunks than usual
  7. Needing extra comforting and contact to fall asleep
  8. If you notice these sleep disruptions lasting more than a few nights, it likely signals a regression rather than just an occasional off night.

Key Points Relevant to Causes of Infant Sleep Regressions:

  1. Sleep regressions occur commonly at ages 6 weeks, 4 months, and 8 months old
  2. 6 week regression is tied to normal light-sleep cycling, not an indication of problems
  3. 4 month regression coincides with maturational changes in sleep patterns and REM sleep and the concept of object permanence
  4. 8 month regression is linked to separation anxiety and beginning of motor development
  5. Regressions happen due to a mismatch between child's maturing sleep cycles and their skill level
  6. When new skills like rolling over or sitting up emerge, disruption occurs before mastery
  7. Regressions are temporary disruptions as child adjusts to new physical or psychological developments
  8. Environmental factors like illness or travel can also trigger short-term regressions

Less Sleep Regressions Than You Thought? 

You might notice that the above list may seem like fewer sleep regressions than you've heard about from friends or on the internet.  There are two reasons for this:

1.  The timing of teething can vary immensely from child to child, so your 5 month "sleep regression" that has disrupted sleep because of teeth coming through, could be your friend's 8 month sleep regression when her baby's first teeth erupt. 

2.  Content content content.  Sadly, us bloggers, we want to be found and will write about what people are searching for.  Most parents will at one point google their child's age and "sleep regression" and so online you can find content about every age and a sleep regression. 

How Long Do Sleep Regressions Last? 

Sleep regressions can vary in length, but typically last:

  1. 2-6 weeks - It's common for sleep regressions to last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks as babies work through physical and mental developmental leaps.
  2. Up to 3-4 months - While most regressions are on the shorter side, some can persist for up to 3-4 months. The 4-month sleep regression tends to last 1-2 months on average but we often work with parents who found it never got better - that's because they have a sleep association issue. 
  3. For babies over 4 months, you can read why most babies continue to wake up at night in this post. 
  4. 6+ weeks for major milestones - Regressions linked to big milestones like rolling over, sitting up, crawling can disrupt sleep for 6 weeks or longer.
  5. 1-2 weeks for minor leaps - Smaller cognitive, growth or perceptual leaps may only impact sleep for 1-2 weeks before patterns improve.
  6. Through duration of challenges - Issues like teething pain, sleep associations or separation anxiety can prolong regressions for the duration of the underlying cause.
  7. Off and on over months - Disruptions may come and go over months as new skills emerge. Periods of good sleep can alternate with frequent waking.

What about 1 to 3 month olds!?

You might be frustrated right now if you have a 1 to 3 month old who is waking frequently in the night, more than 1-2x, and you're looking to solve your sleep problems, since so far.. there's not been much about "sleep regressions" for younger babies in this article.   The reality is that in the first month of life, your baby likely isn't sleeping more than a 4 hour stretch at night, and that's okay.  It should elongate by the 2nd month. You can read more about "When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night" in this blog post

Think about how much your newborn is changing from week to week.  They are growing exponentially until 5 months when they will have doubled their birth weight.  That's incredible growth. Your baby's sleep patterns will change many times between now and then. You'll experience at least one growth spurt, long naps, then shorter naps, at least one nap transition. Your baby's brain will experience big change. Now you've learned that sleep regressions are related to motor and developmental leaps. This 1 to 3 month period is like a series of little sleep regressions stitched together. I

If your baby is 1 month or older and you feel your baby's sleep is not improving, in that you have to spend immense amounts of time getting your baby to sleep and getting short stretches of sleep less than 4 hours at night or 1 hour in the daytime, you're struggling more than the average person.  You need to be thinking about great troubleshooting and your daily flow.  This is what we teach inside our coaching packages and our best selling Amazon book.  It's possible there's more going on for you than the average weakly regulated newborn sleep system.    You might be someone who has a baby who only sleeps when held.  You can read more about that here. 

Coping with Sleep Regressions 

Here are some additional tips for coping with infant sleep regressions 

  1. Handling sleep regressions takes patience and consistency. Remember that disruptions to sleep are temporary even though the sleepless nights seem endless.
  2. Routines are helpful cues that sleep is coming and are overall good habits.  
  3. A calming routine like a feeding, bath, massage, pajamas, and stories or a song lets them know it's time wind down.
  4. With major milestones like rolling over, sitting up, and new cognitive skills, your baby's sleep needs may change. Allowing more awake time and adjusting nap routines can help prevent overtiredness during these transitions.
  5. Around 4 months, babies go through permanent changes to their sleep cycle, transitioning to more adult-like REM sleep. This 4-month sleep regression can mean more trouble self-soothing after night wakings as sleep is deeper. Stay consistent with soothing techniques and offer extra comfort.
  6. Provide the right sleep environment to set your baby up for success. Ideal room temperature around 70 degrees F, white noise machine and blackout curtains can be helpful to block out distractions that can disrupt sleep. 
  7. Work on putting baby down awake rather than drowsy.  This helps develop self-soothing skills to get back to sleep independently when regressions disrupt sleep cycles.
  8. On the cover of our book, we have a sticker that says "Why Drowsy But Awake Is Setting You Up to Fail." 
  9. Regressions can last weeks or months. Avoid quick fixes but persist with good sleep habits. Remember, this too shall pass! Staying consistent, even during temporary regressions, leads to better long-term sleep.
  10. Try and avoid your baby becoming overtired because of night time waking and allow them to recoup lost sleep with naps in the daytime.  
  11. Follow age-appropriate wake windows during the day. Watch for tired signs like eye rubbing and put baby down at first signs of sleepiness for quality naps. Keeping nap routines consistent regulates body clocks.  Grab our sleep summary for nap timing here. 
  12. Watch for tired signs like yawning, fussiness, or face rubbing. Naps may need to be adjusted during regressions. Try different nap timing and locations to encourage quality daytime sleep.
  13. Create positive sleep associations. Use white noise, swaddling, pacifiers and dark rooms to help soothe your baby to sleep instead of relying on your physical presence. This allows them to self-soothe when disruptions occur.
  14. Allow some fussing before responding at night. When your baby stirs or fusses at night, give them a chance to settle themselves back to sleep before immediately intervening. This builds self-soothing skills and can't prevent you from waking them when they were in REM sleep and not really awake!  This is called "The Pause."  3 to 5 minutes is a good timeline. 
  15. When you do respond to night wakings, keep lighting low, avoid stimulating play, and put baby back down drowsy so sleep is established as the norm.
  16. Focus on daytime feeding and play. Ensuring baby gets enough calories and stimulation during day helps promote longer, deeper sleep at night.
  17. In The Helping Babies Sleep Method, we refer to this as "full feedings" and avoiding the "snacking cycle" where your LO takes short frequent feeds in the daytime and then needs to do the same in the night time.
  18. Communicate with your partner about sleep regression challenges. Agree on a plan and divide night duties to allow each parent uninterrupted sleep in shifts. Surviving regressions takes teamwork!
  19. Every baby goes through sleep changes in their first year. Regressions are frustrating but joining parent support groups helps you feel less alone. With solidarity and rest for yourself, you’ll make it through!

While every child progresses at their own pace, most infants begin sleeping better by 4-6 months old as they master skills and develop self-soothing abilities. However, that doesn't mean you have to wait to work on sleep and feeding habits.  Working these in the first 3 months is entirely possible.  We teach you how in The Helping Babies Sleep Method, and also have 1:1 coaching parents for tired professional parents who want the best for their baby but also have careers to get back to. 

More Posts

You Might Also Like

Read More

Colic in Babies: Baby Massage and Other Tactics for Quick Relief

Colic by definition is more than three hours of crying per day, for more than three days a week, for more than three weeks. Researchers actually don't know the root cause however there are many working theories. Find more about Colic in Babies and its remedies.
May 2, 2022
Dr. Sarah Mitchell
Read More
Sleep Teaching

What is Cry It Out Sleep Training Method: Does It Work?

People have wildly different definitions of what cry it out means to them. For some people, cry it out means tears of any kind. But the true definition of cry it out, cried out, means extinction.
Apr 10, 2022
Dr. Sarah Mitchell
Read More

Nursing Baby To Sleep: Is It Good or Bad?

Nursing to sleep: is it bad? or For some people, they can nurse to sleep and have these beautiful, long stretches of nighttime sleep. Why is that?
Apr 9, 2022