How To Survive Sleep Regression: The Complete Guide For New Parents
Medically reviewed by Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP
Parenting comes with lots of joys as well as difficulties. Sooner or later, sleeping woes are bound to be one of your parenting challenges.
If your little one had a consistent sleep schedule and suddenly has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep during naptime or bedtime, say hello to sleep regression.
No matter when it strikes, surviving a sleep regression is exhausting for everyone. But don’t be discouraged — the good news about sleep regression is that it will pass, and you and your baby will get back to nights of sound sleep.
But that knowledge doesn’t make the sleepless nights and tough days any easier! So, to help you in the meantime, the Newton Baby experts explain what sleep regression is and offer tips for surviving it.
What Is Sleep Regression?
Before we talk about what sleep regression is, let’s talk about what it isn’t! There are a few other reasons your baby might suddenly have trouble sleeping.
If you’re breastfeeding, your baby’s sleep disturbance could even be due to something you ate. And, of course, your little one might have a hard time sleeping when they’re sick.
First, you’ll want to rule out these other causes of poor sleep. Once you have, you can safely assume you’re dealing with sleep regression if your little one was sticking to a good sleep schedule and suddenly has problems falling asleep or staying asleep for naps or nighttime.
Sleep regression usually revolves around developmental milestones when your baby’s body and mind are busy growing and changing!
Exactly when a sleep regression strikes will depend on your particular baby. Generally speaking, little ones can go through a sleep regression at four months, six months, eight to 10 months, one year, 18 months, and two years.
(But don’t let that long list overwhelm you! Your baby probably won’t go through each possible sleep regression.)
Since these regressions are usually associated with developmental milestones, let’s take a closer look at some of the exciting changes your baby will go through that may affect their sleeping habits.
Sleep Regression By Age
4 Months Old
The first sleep regression usually happens at around the four-month mark.
It’s often one of the most challenging events for parents because it comes somewhat unexpectedly. One minute your little one is sleeping happily, taking longer naps, and you feel like you’ve finally got this parenting thing down.
Then, all of a sudden, your baby starts resisting naps they loved before, and you’re barely hanging in there because you’re not getting much sleep yourself.
While it can be frustrating, try to focus on the positives your little one is experiencing — a growth spurt and lots of physical, cognitive, social, and language development.
It’s also important to note that premature babies will experience sleep regressions (and other milestones) a little later than their peers. But typical four-month milestones include:
- The ability to hold a toy when placed in their hands
- Bringing hands to mouth
- Making cooing sounds
- Turning their head toward the sound of your voice
In addition, at around three to four months, babies start producing melatonin, which plays a role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. This means that your little one will start sleeping in similar patterns to that of an adult (i.e., cycling between light and deep sleep).
With all these exciting developments, it’s no wonder your little one is having trouble sleeping!
6 Months Old
At four months, babies may start taking shorter naps during the day and longer ones at night. However, this progress usually hits a snag at around the six-month mark.
At six months old, your little one is experiencing many changes in sleep, activity, and overall development. They are undergoing lots of physical and mental growth and hitting significant milestones.
Six-month milestones include:
- Rolling from tummy to back
- Reaching to grab a toy they want
- Knowing the faces and voices of familiar people
Your little one is becoming more aware of their environment. They’re engaging more with it — hearing, seeing, and touching things. They may also enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror.
Because of this increased awareness, they may be overstimulated or have a fear of missing out, both of which can create a significant change in their sleeping habits.
8-10 Months Old
At around eight, nine, and 10 months of a child’s life, they will hit the following milestones:
- Learning to crawl (for most babies)
- Making vowel and consonant sounds
- Beginning to understand basic words
- Making sounds when talked to (i.e., responding)
Your baby will also most likely cut a few teeth during this period.
They are busy learning and growing so much that they will likely experience shorter naps and, as a result, become more cranky. While shifting schedules and fussy babies can be challenging, remember that this is temporary, and it will soon pass.
12 Months Old
You may find your child wanting fewer naps at around one year, and they may refuse their second nap of the day altogether.
When this occurs, it’s easy to assume that your little one is ready for this big transition. However, continue encouraging them to take two naps per day, as most children aren’t ready for just one nap until they are about 15-18 months old.
Twelve-month milestones include:
- Walking while holding on to furniture
- Waving “bye-bye”
- Calling out “mama” or “dada”
- Picking things up using their thumb and pointer finger
At 12 months, the regression period may also be a little less harsh than the previous ones. Again, the main difference will be resisting the day naps.
15-18 Months Old
A lot of physical, social, language, and cognitive developments occur at this age.
Fifteen to 18-month milestones include:
- Walking by themselves
- Trying to use a spoon
- Pointing at something interesting
- Copying a parent or guardian while they do chores (e.g., sweeping)
As we mentioned previously, it’s common for 15-month-olds to transition to just one nap per day. However, if your little one is struggling to get adequate rest, you may want to introduce a sleep routine (if you haven’t already) to help with consistency.
At around 18 months old, your child will probably start throwing tantrums and talking (i.e., babbling) a lot. Teething can also affect their mood as they cut molars.
With so much going on in their tiny bodies, sleep regressions are more likely to occur!
2 Years Old
At this stage, your toddler’s awake time during the day may be longer as they are likely just taking one nap, which can disrupt their previous sleep pattern.
Two-year milestones include:
- Kicking a ball
- Saying at least two words together (i.e., please mommy)
- Playing with more than one toy at a time
There are also other exciting developments happening, like transitioning to a bigger bed, learning to use the potty, and learning to feed themselves.
All of this growth means that your little one is developing into their own unique person! But with each new phase, they are likely to experience sleep regressions throughout the process.
Now that you understand what sleep regression is and how the different developmental milestones may affect your child’s sleeping patterns, let’s discuss some signs to watch for.
Signs Your Baby Is Experiencing A Sleep Regression
1) Less Sleep
This first sign is the most common indication of a sleep regression: less sleep! It may seem like a no-brainer, but when you aren’t expecting it, you may not put all the pieces together.
If you notice your child is sleeping less at nap time and bedtime, they have likely hit a sleep regression. Sometimes, children struggle to stay asleep longer than 20 minutes during these stages.
As we noted above, if this lasts for more than a few weeks, consult your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions as well.
2) Increased Hunger
When your little one experiences growth spurts, this means that lots of physical, mental, language, and emotional developments occur. They are likely to be extra hungry as a result.
Your little one may want more food much more often and seem like they are never full.
3) Increased Crankiness
This point on our list shouldn’t come as a surprise. No one’s ever in a good mood when they haven’t had enough sleep!
Crankiness and overall irritability are common signs of sleep regression because anyone running on low sleep is likely dealing with a lot of emotions.
Surviving a sleep regression means you and your little one getting the rest you both need by helping them learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own.
Here are our best tips for making it through your baby’s sleep regression.
7 Tips For Surviving Sleep Regression
1) Maintain Healthy Sleeping Habits
There are a few steps you can take to promote sound sleep. If you’re already doing these things, continue during a sleep regression. If you aren’t, now is a good time to start.
- Make the room dark at bedtime. Dim the lights or hang blackout curtains if necessary.
- Keep their room cool.
- Dress your baby in temperature-appropriate pajamas.
- Be quiet while your little one is sleeping! Try using white noise in their nursery to drown out other noises.
2) Practice Safe Sleep
A night of sound slumbering is important, but sound and safe sleep is even more important!
In addition to the healthy sleep habits listed above, make sure that you’re doing everything you can to promote safe sleep.
Choose A Firm Crib Mattress
For safe sleep, your baby’s mattress should be firm, not soft and fluffy. But firm doesn’t have to mean rock hard and uncomfortable.
Newton Baby’s Crib Mattress is the perfect combination of comfy and safe — comfortable enough to allow your little one to “sleep like a baby” but firm enough for safe sleep.
Check The Fit Of The Mattress
Whether you have a mini crib or a standard-sized crib, double-check to make sure the mattress fits correctly inside the crib. The fit should be snug with no big gaps between the edge of the mattress and the inside of the crib. A large gap can pose a safety risk for your baby.
As a rule, when the mattress is inside the crib, you should not be able to place more than two fingers between it and the crib frame.
Share Your Room, Not Your Bed
It’s safest for your baby to share your room (but not your bed!) for the first six months or year of their life.
Instead of letting your baby snooze in bed with you, put their bassinet or cradle in your room so they’re close enough for you to check on them and feed them easily.
Put Your Baby To Sleep On Their Back
Your baby will need tummy time during the day to develop their muscles and grow big and strong! But when it’s time to lay them down to sleep, the safest position is on their back, not on their side or their stomach.
Use A Breathable Mattress
Bonus: It also helps regulate your baby's body temperature and reduces dust mites and allergens!
If you already have a crib mattress, consider using Newton Baby’s mattress pad on top of it to add a layer of waterproof, hypoallergenic, and breathable protection.
Keep Blankets, Pillows, And Toys Out Of The Crib
This sleep safety tip might be especially important if you’re thinking about giving your child a comfort object during a sleep regression.
To provide your little one with the safest possible rest, you’ll need to keep all toys, pillows, blankets, and crib bumpers out of the crib until your baby is a year old! You’ll also want to make sure the bedding is not too loose.
Give Your Baby A Pacifier At Bedtime
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, allowing your baby to use a pacifier while they snooze is another way to promote safe sleep. Just be sure the paci doesn’t have a strap attached, which could be a safety hazard.
If you’re breastfeeding, wait until your newborn has gotten the hang of nursing (around a month) to offer a bedtime binky. Giving your infant a pacifier too soon could lead to nipple confusion.
3) Stick To Your Routine
It’s never too early (or too late!) to create a pre-naptime and pre-bedtime routine. If you already have one, keep it up during a sleep regression.
This consistency will help your baby realize that it’s time to wind down and sleep.
If you don’t have a sleepy-time routine, decide what works for your family and stick to it. It may be a bath, putting pajamas on, reading a book, singing a song, and then giving them a bedtime kiss.
4) Respond To Your Baby’s Sleep Cues
Don’t wait until your little one is overtired and crying to put them to bed! A baby who is too tired will probably have more trouble falling asleep.
Instead, respond to the signs they give that show they’re ready for bed — they may yawn, move more slowly, stare off into space, lose interest, rub their eyes, or become fussy.
It will also help to learn your baby’s sleep schedule (which may be changing during a sleep regression!). Their ideal sleep schedule has less to do with an exact time and more to do with a certain number of hours since they last woke up.
5) Lay Your Baby Down When They’re Sleepy
As hard as it can be during a sleep regression, don’t wait until your snuggly baby is completely asleep to put them in bed. Instead, lay them down when they’re relaxed and drowsy so they fall asleep by themselves.
This is important because it allows your little one to learn how to fall asleep and put themselves back to sleep without help from you.
6) Try Sleep Training
Speaking of falling asleep by themselves, that’s exactly what sleep training is about. Teaching your baby how to soothe themselves can be especially helpful when you’re in the throes of a sleep regression!
Sleep training isn’t right for every family, but there are several different techniques you can try until you find one that works for you and your little one.
7) Take Care Of Yourself
Your baby isn’t the only one whose sleep is disturbed during a sleep regression. You’re probably tired and groggy, too!
Part of surviving a sleep regression is taking care of yourself. Ask for help from family and friends so you can grab a few minutes (or hours!) of shut-eye.
FAQs About Baby Sleep Regressions
If you’re a first-time parent, you probably have many questions about sleep regressions. Below are some of the most common questions and our answers.
1) How Long Will This Period Last?
On average, sleep regressions will last for a two to six-week period. Every baby is unique, so there are instances when the regression period might be shorter or slightly longer.
The reason for the regression is one of the main contributing factors to how long it lasts. As highlighted above, your little one may be teething, learning essential language skills, attempting to roll over, or starting to crawl.
While your child is going through these periods, try to stick to your regular routine. And, if you want to sleep train, consider a method that takes regressions into account.
Most importantly, while it may be a challenging time, remember that sleep regressions do pass!
2) Is It Possible To Prevent Sleep Regression?
Getting enough sleep is an essential part of being a happy, healthy, functioning human being. A lack of sleep can negatively impact both you and your baby.
It’s natural for parents to search for ways to prevent sleep regression. Maybe there’s a special sleep position or a natural herb that might make this challenge disappear. How about an ointment or cream to help your little one doze off?
You may search far and wide, but, unfortunately, sleep regression is something that can’t be avoided. You can’t go around it or even delay it. You simply have to go through it.
While following the above tips can help you manage some of the challenges that come with this period, it’s also important to just hang in there and love on your little one.
3) How Do I Know When It’s Time To Call The Doctor?
As we’ve discussed, sleep regression is a natural part of the growth and development of a baby. However, if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or healthcare provider.
If you reach out to your doctor, they may find that your little one’s sleep trouble is due to a fever, earache, or swollen glands, which they may need to prescribe a specific medication for.
Also, if your little one hasn’t been sleeping well for more than just a few weeks and whatever you’re trying isn’t working, your baby’s doctor may also be in an excellent position to give you advice on how to best move forward.
Survive And Thrive During Sleep Regression
In the end, sleep regression is just another parenting hurdle that you will get past!
Give your sweet baby extra love when they’re cranky, and keep them safe while they sleep with a breathable Crib Mattress. Plus, don’t forget to show your tired self some TLC.
Follow our tips for surviving this difficult time and soon sleep regression will be a thing of your past!