My Baby Won’t Sleep: Understanding Sleep Regression in Babies and Toddlers

My Baby Won’t Sleep: Understanding Sleep Regression in Babies and Toddlers

You’ve read all the books and experimented on certain strategies–and eventually landed on a sweet spot. Your baby is sleeping through the night, you’re well rested, and it seems like this situation is for the better. Fast forward to a couple of weeks: Your baby is waking up again every hour, prompting you to rock, nurse, and do everything within your power to put them back to sleep. Looking back, you wonder, “What gives?”


Understanding Sleep Regression

Aside from teething pains and growth spurts, one of the main reasons why babies and toddlers have disrupted rest is due to the sleep regressions.

As babies grow, their sleeping patterns also change. They either have shorter or less frequent daytime naps, consolidating their night time sleep, or shifting to a different bed time. During these periods of transition, you can expect that babies and toddlers to:

  • Have difficulties falling asleep: Children will fight to stay awake, yet become grumpy throughout the day.
  • Challenges in staying asleep: They may sleep on the same schedule but end up waking up every 40 minutes or a couple of hours.
  • Erratic sleep schedule: Babies and toddlers at regression stages may have unusual sleep times even if you maintained their routines.


What Are Sleep Regression Stages?

Although sleep regressions vary, there are also common timelines within the first to second year. These are what we call sleep regression stages. Below is a list of the common months to expect disturbances.

  • 4 months: Increased environmental awareness, achieving better deep sleep
  • 8-10 months: Transition from 3-2 naps, motor development
  • 12 months: Walking, standing, object permanence
  • 18 months: Verbal language development

Now that we understood the signs and stages of sleep regression, it is also essential to know why these changes happen.


Why Does Sleep Regression Happen?

The main reason why regression occurs is simply because babies and toddlers continuously grow. Obviously, they can’t remain having 3 naps during the day as they approach 24 months–thus, their body makes appropriate adjustments through these regressions. These changes also facilitate learning new skills, such as motor and language development.

Even if it seems like a troublesome period both for parents and babies, having these regressions is a sign of normal growth.


The difference between poor sleep habits and regression

Having said that sleep regressions are typical points in development, it is also important to distinguish between them and poor sleep habits. Some signs of poor sleep habits are:

  • Relying on negative sleep associations for more than 6 weeks: The good thing about regressions is that they are temporary. If poor sleep occurs for more than 6 weeks, and your baby is relying on sleep associations such as nursing, bottle feeding, rocking, or putting back a pacifier when they wake up prematurely, it may be poor sleep habits.
  • Lack of self-soothing behaviors: The goal of sleep training is to help babies and toddlers realize that they are able to soothe themselves back to sleep. Some children even learn to self-soothe without training. When babies and toddlers fuss and look for mommy and daddy without having any effort to put themselves to sleep, this indicates poor sleep habits as well.
  • Erratic sleep schedules for more than 6 weeks: Irregular nap times and sleep hours are a result of not establishing a sleep routine and not being able to calculate appropriate wake windows.


If these signs are present in your child’s sleep habits, it is possible that you’re going through more than just a regression. In this case, you may try to implement better sleep routines for your child.

However, if the changes seem sudden and coincide at the stages previously mentioned, here are some ways to ease the transition, or at the very least–power through the regression phases.


How To Get Baby To Sleep During Sleep Regressions

Keep your routine consistent.

Quoting from the famous line, “It’s not you, it’s the regression!”. Thus, if the baby is sleeping previously with the sleep time schedules you had prior to the regression stages, there is no need to change your pre-nap or final bedtime routines.

Keeping your routine consistent will help establish the positive sleep associations you still want them to have even if the regression ends.


Provide extra feedings.

You may give more than the usual milk or solids that your baby needs during these times. Sleep regressions often occur alongside developmental milestones that require a lot of energy, thus it may be necessary to give more feedings when you notice your baby or toddler being fussy during these phases.


Set up a comfortable sleeping environment.

Sleep regressions are also sensitive periods. Your child may be more environmentally aware or even emotionally sensitive than usual.

If you’re wondering how to get baby to sleep at these stages, you can improve your chances by having a more comfortable sleeping environment. Baby is used to sleeping with the lights on but seems bothered lately? Try dimming the lights. Temperature too warm? Make it a little cooler inside your toddler’s bedroom. Avoid watching TV or having extra noises when putting your baby to sleep.

These are some simple tips to implement to help you wing it out during the rough weeks of regression. Remember that this is only temporary. As you extend your patience during this times, you are closer to better nights of sleep for you and your little one.


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