Anytime you hear “sleep regression,” I want you to think about PROgress. Your baby is progressing and growing. This progress and growth may be happening mentally or physically, and that is distracting her from sleep. Many people refer to this as a “sleep regression.”
What do you need to fall asleep? The right physical conditions - a quiet, dark, cool room and the ability to relax yourself into sleep. Your simple routine of cues that tell your brain it’s sleeping time, finding your favorite position, and then shutting down your brain.
Distractions Lead to Disruptions in Sleep (a.k.a Sleep Regressions)
When your baby is growing physically she might be getting teeth or she might be gaining core strength and learning to roll over. These are two things that can distract your kiddo from relaxing into sleep. Her brain is busy! This will often manifest as a “sleep regression” . . . shorter naps, taking longer to fall asleep, sometimes more night waking and 5 a.m. wake ups.
The 4-Month Sleep Regression
The biggest sleep regression happens between 3.5 and 4 months of age and it is the most pronounced sleep regression. Your LO is exiting the “4th Trimester” and literally waking up to the world around her. She’s also progressing mentally, learning “object permanence.” This is the term for the fact that you exist even though she can’t see you. I often speak with parents whose 3-month-old was sleeping 6-8 hour stretches and is now waking up every 3 hours in the night. Often 1-2 hour naps are becoming only 45 minutes in length during this regression. In addition, there are parents like me who never really felt the 4 month sleep regression. I was up every 2 hours nursing my son back to sleep anyways. With my daughter, who I taught to be an independent sleeper from day 1, we felt the 4-month sleep regression ever so slightly because she had the skills to put herself back to sleep in the night.
Does 4-Month Sleep Regression End?
For some people, the night wakings can recede and for some people they stick around until they decide to make changes in the way their little one falls asleep. This is also known as “sleep training” or “sleep teaching,” as I like to call it.
5-8 Month Sleep Regressions
Over the years, I’ve seen people starting to ask about the 6-month sleep regression or the 7-month sleep regression or the 8-month sleep regression. Nine years ago when I was going through this with my son, no one ever talked about these regressions - they didn’t exist. Now with the popularity of The Wonder Weeks and the concept of mental leaps, we are talking more and more about how leaps can affect sleep. There’s no empirical evidence to prove the Wonder Weeks is accurate, but anecdotally it has a place in the life of a mom. Often there are immense changes in mobility through this stage from rolling, to hovering on all fours, to pulling up, to standing in the crib. Sleep regressions related to motor development often manifest as being awake but content in the night in the crib. If you have an independent sleeper, a kiddo who can put herself to sleep from awake at bedtime, then during this stage you can grab a pillow and put it over your head and catch some sleep. If your baby is dependent on you to fall asleep, this stage is painful as you are lying awake waiting for her to decide she is ready to go back to sleep.
Now you know anytime you hear “sleep regression” to think PROgress. Your baby is growing mentally or physically, so this should all make sense to you now. Any changes or growth that can distract your child from relaxing into sleep could be called a “sleep regression.” And since no child develops at exactly the same pace, you can see how your baby’s 8-month-old sleep regression could be my 7-month-old baby’s sleep regression if my baby was getting teeth or pulling up on all fours earlier than yours.
9-Month Sleep Regression
There is often a bedtime resistance that rears its head around 9 months of age. Many parents often report their babies are more clingy to them around this age as well. I recall having my babies wanting to be with me more around this age. This 9-month sleep regression is associated with separation anxiety. What can you do if your baby is more clingy? You can give her more attention, take deep breaths and be more patient. If your baby relies on you to fall asleep, you may have a longer time getting her down as she protests you leaving and often what used to work getting her to fall asleep starts to become less effective.
First Year Molars
First year molars appear anytime after 12 months of age but teething varies wildly from child to child. For those children who get molars right around the 1 year mark, this is known as the 12 month sleep regression. Common signs are napping fine during the day but one finger in the mouth at bedtime and bed resistance. Some parents also see some night waking where previously there was none.
The 14-18 Month Sleep Regression
Again I use the age 14 and 18 months a little loosely as there is some change happening for toddlers around this time. There is often bedtime resistance or more night waking as kiddos have fear of missing out and wanting to test boundaries. In addition, toddlers are generally impulsive. They want what they want because they want it! Who can blame them? It’s our job to respond to our little person’s feelings with compassion and acknowledgement but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they get to nap in our arms because they feel like it when they’ve been napping fabulously in the crib. Expect there to be some resistance to missing out on activity to take a nap. This is normal.
Around this time many kiddos go through a language burst where they are able to express themselves more. Often a sleep regression at this stage manifests as your baby being awake but content in the middle of the night, babbling to themselves. It can also manifest as resistance to go to sleep.
Second Year Molars
Distracted by discomfort in the gums, this sleep regression manifests as a finger in the mouth at bedtime and 5 a.m. wake ups.
2.5-Year-Old Nap Resistance
Nap resistance can be present here when a kiddo does not want to miss out on the world. Many parents take this as a sign that it’s time to drop a nap, but don’t be fooled! Most kiddos need to nap until 3 to 3.5 years of age. This too shall pass. You can read more on the 2 year old sleep regression here.
I hope the discussion of different sleep stages didn’t overwhelm you. Our kiddos are changing so much during these first few years, so it is normal that sleep will ebb and flow. Often parents report two weeks of amazing sleep before hitting a blip here or there, taking a week or so to get back on track and then another couple weeks of great sleep.
In my class and my private consultations, it’s my goal to teach you the parenting skills you need to get sleep on track and to be able to adapt to all the changes that will come your way.
Parents often wonder “when should my baby sleep through the night?” And a very generous answer is that by 12 months of age most kiddos are sleeping 11+ hours without eating. Many kids achieve this at 8-9 months of age if they are exclusively breastfeed kiddos.
You can be loving, attached and well rested.
It's challenging for tired parents to know when to put their baby down for naps and evening bedtime. You might be wondering if your baby is sleeping enough or if your baby is sleeping too much. This easy-to-read sleep summary chart will help you figure out if your bedtime is age-appropriate and if your baby is sleeping enough during the day.