Nobody said that having a baby is easy.
But you’ve figured most things out, you’ve got a good healthy routine going, the baby is now sleeping mostly through the night – and you’re starting to catch up on all of your lost sleep as well.
And then it happens. Sleep regression comes in and disturbs the whole routine. Your star sleeper is now up and crying in the middle of the night out of nowhere.
So why does this happen, and at what age do babies have sleep regression?
What is sleep regression?
Sleep regression may sound concerning, but it’s a common process that infants often go through as they get older.
Sleep regression is basically a period of time where a baby’s normal sleep routine is disturbed and will have trouble settling down for sleep or staying asleep through the night. It normally lasts between 2-4 weeks and can happen several times over a baby’s life.
At what age do babies have sleep regression?
Sleep regression can, unfortunately, happen at any point. However, there are a few common ages that babies will suffer from sleep regression.
3 to 4 months old
At this ages, babies will usually have their first, and often toughest, sleep regression.
The reasons for this sleep regression can include factors like:
- Teething pain from their first teeth coming through;
- Hunger and a change in appetite;
- Growth spurts;
- And, quite adorably, the excitement of rolling over for the first time. Progress in development usually means some sleepless nights for the baby.
Although this one is often regarded as the worst, it’s no more severe than other sleep regressions that your baby will encounter. This is just harder because it’s the first. But once you’ve got through this one, you’ll have tools and techniques down to help you through the others.
6 months old
6 months is another big milestone for the baby (and for the parent!). Which means, usually, another sleep regression. This one is caused by another growth spurt as the baby gets stronger and starts preparing to crawl and (eventually) walk.
At 6 months old, most babies are capable of sleeping through the night without waking up to feed. So, during this regression, it might be good to start implementing sleep training methods to help them get through the night without waking up for a cry or a cuddle.
8 to 10 months old
Around this age, the baby is usually learning how to crawl and stand. Those are massive development achievements for babies, which means that it can have a big impact on their sleep.
At this age, babies also can develop separation anxiety as they start to become more independent. This can also cause them to wake up often in the night needing reassurance, or not wanting to go to sleep without having you next to them in bed.
12 months old
At one year old, babies really start hitting huge milestones, and getting more independent, with both walking and talking. As you look back at the past year and look at how much they’ve grown, learnt and developed, take a moment to think about the impact it’s had on them.
Having a consistent sleeping pattern through all that growth is hard work. So as more and more milestones are hit, temporary sleep regressions can become common.
18 – 24 months
As your baby becomes a toddler, their sleep will eventually settle down. However, sleep regressions can still happen between 18-24 months old, as your little human might go through:
- Nightmares or night terrors;
- Fear of the dark;
- Pain and discomfort through toddler teething;
- Separation anxiety, particularly if starting nursery or daycare or if the parent has gone back to work.
Any big life change to your little one can cause temporary sleep regressions. So if they’re about to start something new, or even if you welcome a new baby into the world, it’s best to anticipate a few nights of disturbed sleep.
What causes sleep regression?
Sleep regression can be caused by a variety of life events, including:
- Growth spurts or changes in appetite;
- Teething pain;
- Pain or discomfort;
- Sickness or infections;
- Reaching new development milestones, such as walking, talking, rolling over and crawling;
- Disruptions to routines, such as travelling, a parent returning to work, starting daycare.
Ever been unable to sleep because of stress? Or because you have racing thoughts and can’t settle? Or because pain or illness has stopped you from getting comfortable?
I’m betting the answer is yes. And by experiencing these things, you’re one step closer to understanding sleep regression. Now, babies aren’t going to be lying awake thinking about the chores they have to complete or deadlines they have to hit, but big changes in their life can cause anxiety or stress that can prevent them from sleeping.
Sleep regression might be difficult, but it’s not bad. It’s usually caused by your baby hitting big milestones, so think of it as progression, rather than regression.
What are the symptoms of sleep regression?
Not sure if your little one has hit a sleep regression? These are the common signs that they could be experiencing sleep regression:
- Frequent waking up in the night;
- Trouble falling asleep at bedtime or settling as normal;
- Increased clinginess or attachment, particularly at night time;
- Increased fussiness or crankiness usually caused a lack of sleep;
- Resisting naps or purposefully trying to stay awake.
Because sleep regressions are usually triggered by life events, you should also keep an eye out for any growth spurts or recent milestones they may have hit.
Top tips to help deal with sleep regression
If your baby is going through a sleep regression, there are a few tips that you can follow to help ease your baby into a better, more consistent routine.
1. Recognise your baby’s sleep cues
Babies act differently when they’re tired. They might rub their eyes, or play with their ears, or want to settle in for a cuddle.
Whatever they do, your child will have a telltale sign that they’re tired. This is called their sleep cue. It’s like having a tell at poker, except this one just means they’re ready for a nap.
Once you know your child’s sleep cues, look out for them. When they start to get tired, get them ready for bed or a nap to prevent them getting overtired, and let them catch up on some much needed lost sleep. While they’re at it, you might want to get yourself some extra Z’s as well.
2. Create a bedtime routine
Having a bedtime routine helps your baby understand that it’s time for bed. This means doing the same activities before bed that help calm your baby down and wind down the day for them.
This could be things like:
- Reading a book;
- Tidying up toys;
- Singing a lullaby.
And more. When establishing a bedtime routine, you want to pick calming tasks that will help you wind down, rather than stimulating or exciting activities that can wake them back up again.
As well as creating a routine for the baby, you might want to think about creating one for yourself as well. Having a good routine is great sleep hygiene and can improve the quality of your own sleep.
So, why not incorporate getting the baby down as the start of your own sleep hygiene routine to make sure that you’re getting in your recommended hours of sleep at the same time?
3. Give them extra love during the day
Sleep regression is tough for babies too, especially if it’s caused by separation anxiety. To help reassure your baby and calm their anxiety, try giving them extra love and cuddles through the day, especially at night time.
This could help them stop waking up so often during the night for your attention.
4. Give them space to self soothe
When your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, give them a few minutes to try self-soothing before you jump in. If they can’t settle, go and see to them, but be as fast as possible.
If they need feeding or changing, keep them as quick and quiet as possible. Keep the lights low and avoid talking or playing to them, as you want them to get used to comforting themselves in the middle of the night.
If they’re struggling, whisper some reassuring words and comfort them a little, before putting them back down to sleep and trying to exit the room.
5. Give them space to practice in the day
Sleep regressions are often caused by important development milestones. They’re learning new skills, like rolling over and walking, which they might want to practice in the night, keeping them awake.
To help combat this, give them lots of time and space to practice all their new skills in the day.
Do babies go back to normal after sleep regression?
Yes, sleep regression is a temporary state. As much as you may be thinking the night-time waking will never end, it eventually will.
Most sleep regressions last between two to four weeks. Once over, your baby will settle down into a new sleep routine and start making it through the night again.
In some cases, your baby might not go back to the exact routine they had before. As they get older, the way that they sleep changes. From taking a lot of naps or short periods of sleep, they’ll gradually shift to sleep longer through the night and take fewer naps during the day.
Do all babies have sleep regression?
All babies are different. Some take to sleeping well, and some babies will have their parents running about for months before they settle down.
But no matter what type of sleeper they are, all babies will go through some form of sleep regression. Most tend to have regressions around these ages:
- 3-4 months;
- 6 months;
- 8-10 months;
- 12 months;
- 18 months.
However, these aren’t guaranteed. Sleep regressions are linked to babies reaching development milestones, experiencing life changes or catching a sickness or infection.
Do I need to see a doctor about sleep regression?
Sleep regression is a natural process that many children will go through in their lives, usually more than once. It tends to last between two to four weeks and will naturally ease off after that time, meaning you don’t need to see a doctor if your child experiences sleep regression.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule.
If your baby seems to be experiencing prolonged sleep regression, your doctor will be able to give you further advice and tips on how to help settle them back into a normal routine.
In addition, if their sleep regression is caused by chronic nightmares or an illness that’s not clearing up, it’s a good idea to talk to them to get help treating the underlying condition.
If your own sleep is disturbed by your baby’s changed routine, and you feel unable to complete your day-to-day tasks, you may also want to talk to your doctor about what you can do to help recover your own sleep.
How much sleep do babies need?
- Newborns between 0-3 months need 14-17 hours of sleep. This is often broken up into lots of little sleeps between feeds.
- 4-11-month-olds will need 12-15 hours of sleep. This will include a longer stretch of sleep at night, with 3-4 hours of naps in the day.
- Toddlers, between 1-2 years old need 11-14 hours of sleep. This is made up of one long sleep at night, with 1-3 hours of naps in the day.
What is the best sleeping temperature for babies at night?
Sometimes sleep regressions can happen as the temperatures change outside, as babies can’t regulate their temperature by themselves. That means if it gets too hot, they can’t cool themselves down, which will wake them up in the night.
Worried that your baby can’t sleep properly because of the temperature? The best sleeping temperature for babies is a room temperature between 16-20°C.
You can get gadgets or thermometers to check the temperature of the baby’s room for you if you are concerned.
Or, you can check in with them to make sure that they’re not too hot or cold. Generally, If they feel hot, sweaty or look flushed, they’re too hot. If they feel cool or have blue hands or feet, they’re too cold.
Need some sleep tips?
Sleep regressions are hard. But to get through it, you need to make sure that both you, and baby, are getting enough sleep.
The above guide gives you information on what causes sleep regressions and answers questions like what age do babies have sleep regressions to help give you some preparation to help deal with it.
Need more sleep tips for you? Make sure you’re getting your 8 hours with our range of sleep advice here.