Just last week you were bragging to your friends and family about what a good sleeper your baby is. All those horror stories about waking up 10 times a night to a cranky, fussy baby don't apply to you anymore. Your 2 or 3 month old is practically sleeping through the night already! Your baby can nap on command!
And then suddenly this week, those nightmares come to haunt you again. Your baby starts waking up frequently during the night, waking up early from naps (or refusing to nap at all) and you have no idea why or how?
In this article, we give you the low-down on everything you need to know about the inevitable:
What is a sleep regression?
A baby sleep regression is a period of time when a baby who was previously sleeping well experiences a temporary setback in sleep patterns. During a regression, your baby will go from sleeping soundly to waking up frequently during the night, is harder to calm or settle before sleep, wakes up early from naps, or fights nap times altogether. In many cases, it’s a combination of all three – which can be extremely exhausting, not to mention frustrating, on the parents!
Definition: sleep regression
A period of time that lasts two to six weeks when a baby experiences poor sleep after a history of sleeping well. Signs may include frequent night awakenings, shorter naps, fighting sleep, and extreme fussiness.
More often than not, sleep regressions seem to come out of nowhere. Parents are usually taken by surprise when their baby goes from sleeping great one night, to barely sleeping at all the next without warning. The most common time frames for sleep regression to occur are when the baby hits 4 months, 9 months, and/or 18 months of age.
What should I expect during a sleep regression?
A decrease in sleep and an increase in fussiness/crankiness are the most common effects of a sleep regression. The decrease in sleep might happen during nap times, night time sleep, or, in some cases, both.
Zen mom zone
Brianna K. wrote: "We knew Noel was in his sleep regression phase when he stopped sleeping through the night after being a perfect sleeper. During the regression, he was extra fussy and skipping naps completely or sleeping a lot less during naps."
It's common for your baby to be much hungrier during a sleep regression. Some parents also report that their babies are more "clingy" than normal, constantly wanting to be snuggled or held. The Zen Swaddle and Zen Sack are gently weighted to provide comfort that can help babies self soothe.
Sweeter Sleep Story
“4 month sleep regression...who knew it could be so awful! After 2 nights of waking up hourly and comfort nursing literally all night and him not wanting to be put down during the day, I broke out our [Zen] sacks. He's been asleep for 3 straight hours so far! I'm a Nested Bean believer!"
- Chelsea W., 1/1/2018
The Zen Sack is gently weighted to help babies self soothe. It helped Chelsea's little one sleep better. It could help your baby, too.
Baby sleep regressions usually coincide with developmental and/or physical milestone(s). So, while you’re probably very proud of your baby for learning to crawl, sit up, or seeing that first tooth pop through, these are most likely the same reasons their sleep is suffering.
What causes sleep regressions?
What specific milestones are affecting your baby’s sleep will depend on their age. Keep in mind, you might not always be able to see these milestones. For example, the 4-month sleep regression occurs when your baby’s sleep cycle starts to change. It’s not a visible change, but a change in how often they shift from light sleep to deep sleep. Whereas the 8 or 9 month regression can be caused by milestones like crawling and pulling up- new tricks that you’ll notice your baby trying to master.
As soon as your baby gets used to these new changes, tricks, or skills their sleeping patterns usually return to normal.
Make sleep regressions more manageable
Sleep regressions can last up to 6 weeks - but there are ways to make them more manageable.
The Zen Swaddle® or Zen Sack™ help many parents cope during sleep regressions by helping their babies calm easier, self soothe, and sleep better.
Some also might notice that, uncoincidentally, the most common sleep regression ages align with common nap transition periods (3 to 2 naps, 2 to 1 nap, etc.). These transitions often play a role in sleep regressions.
Zen mom zone
Mandie G. wrote: "Regressions tend to happen whenever there is a new skill milestone. With our little guy, it has been like clockwork - learned to roll, learned to crawl, learned to walk...any big milestone comes with a sleep regression. And back to normal right after!"
At what ages does sleep regression happen?
The most common sleep regression ages are 4 months, 8 months, and 18 months. The 8 month sleep regression is also sometimes referred to as the 9 month sleep regression, as it can happen anytime between 8 and 10 months old. Typically these ages align with big milestones that cause sleep setbacks.
4 month sleep regression
- The most common sleep regression age - nearly all babies experience a 4 month sleep regression
- Can occur as early as 8 weeks old and as late as 5 months old
- Caused by permanent changes to your baby's sleep cycle
- Read 10 Tips for Surviving the 4 Month Sleep Regression to learn more
Zen Sack™: Make the 4 month sleep
8 Month Sleep Regression
- Can occur as early as 8 months old and as late as 10 months old
- Usually happens during a time of significant brain development (baby is learning to crawl, sit up, pull up, absorb language, etc.)
18 Month Sleep Regression
- Typically occurs between 17 and 18 months old
- Usually attributed to your toddler's newfound independence, separation anxiety, and/or teething
A bit less common is the 12 month sleep regression. This is experienced much less but is similar to the 18 month sleep regression in that it is often associated with separation anxiety. However, the 12 month sleep regression mostly effects naps, as it’s around the age babies start wanting to transition to a single nap per day.
How long does sleep regression last?
Usually sleep regressions (at any age) will only last 3-6 weeks. The most important thing to remember during a sleep regression is the implication of the word itself. A “regression” implies a return to a former state, that it’s not a permanent change! To an exhausted parent, that can seem like forever! Luckily, we'll be sharing some tips that can help you survive. Read along!
Although sleep regressions shouldn’t last more than 6 weeks, it’s important to keep any bad habits that may form during regressions from lingering. During sleep regressions, it’s easy to revert to old habits you’ve already broken with your baby or even form new habits like rocking to sleep, feeding to sleep, picking up to sleep, etc. Yes, you should do what you have to do, to make sure your baby (and you!) are getting the right amount of sleep during a regression – but be sure these methods don’t become habits, or else you’re in for a whole new set of sleep challenges after the regression ends! Our tips for surviving sleep regressions will help prevent this.
Do all babies go through the 4 month sleep regression?
The 4 month sleep regression is by far the most common baby sleep regression. While most babies will experience this regression (since it's due to a developmental change that occurs in all babies) at some level, not all babies will go through it. Some babies might only regress for a night or two, some might experience sleep setbacks for over a month, while some might not experience it at all.
If your baby does experience the 4 month sleep regression, it doesn't necessarily mean that they will go through the 9 month sleep regression or the 18 month sleep regression. They may experience a sleep regression at multiple different ages, or they might avoid a sleep regression altogether - no matter their age!
Learn how to survive the 4 month sleep regression.
How do I know if it’s a sleep regression or if it’s something else?
What’s the difference between the start of a sleep regression and a few nights of uncharacteristic sleeping for your baby? Here's the signs of sleep regression:
If you’re experiencing a sudden (sometimes literally overnight) change in your baby’s sleep accompanied with some illness or a tooth pop that follow in 1-3 days it may not be a sleep regression, there is a chance that it could be something other than a sleep regression. However, such a shift in sleep, with no other symptoms, could signal a sleep regression. Use your intuition – you know when something’s up with your baby!
Surviving Sleep Regression
Our number one advice for surviving sleep regressions is simple: take a deep breath and hold on to the fact that it won’t last forever.
Sleep regressions aren’t fun for anyone – you or your baby! It’s a confusing time for her, and a frustrating one for you. Since there’s not much you can do to “stop” or “avoid” sleep regressions, just remember to focus on it being temporary.
Here’s 9 tips and pieces of advice that will help you survive sleep regressions:
1. Be flexible. Sleep regressions will more than likely put a stop to your normal nap and bed time schedules. For the time being, you’ll need to adjust. It’s temporary…remember!
2. Try to Keep Routines Consistent. Even though sleep regressions are bound to mess up your usual schedule, you should try to keep up with performing your soothing bedtime routine before sleep. It may not happen when it normally does, but in a time where your baby is experiencing and learning new things, it helps to keep some things familiar. This will also help settle them before putting them down for the night.
3. Keep a calming routine and environment. Try adding in a soothing massage, bath, swaddling, or story time to your routine to keep your baby relaxed. Also make sure their environment is soothing – the room should be dark and at a comfortable temperature. Maybe even try adding a white noise machine to help calm them during sleep.
4. Comfort them but avoid creating bad habits. It’s okay to give those extra snuggles and spend a few extra minutes rocking your baby to help soothe them! Do what you can to offer comfort but try to limit this contact and place them in their sleep environment again. Tar=ke care not to revert back to habits you’ve already broken and don't create new habits! Avoid regularly rocking or nursing your baby to sleep to be sure they don’t form any sleep associations.
5. Try the Zen Swaddle or Zen Sack. The Zen Swaddle’s and Zen Sack’s lightly weighted parts can be very effective in helping calm fussy, overtired babies. Try using the Zen Swaddle or Zen Sack during a regression and you may find the added pressure helps baby to relax and self-soothe.
Zen Sleepwear™: Helping parents survive
6. Alter your sleep schedule. Sleep regressions usually mean less sleep than normal, which leads to an overtired baby, which leads to crying and fussiness, which leads to less sleep, which leads to…you get the idea. It’s a vicious cycle! Try to avoid an exhausted baby by altering daytime sleep schedules and trying an earlier bedtime to make up for sleep lost at night.
7. Give them the fuel they need. Don’t be afraid to give your baby those extra feedings if they are asking for them. The developmental changes and growth spurts that your baby often experiences during a sleep regression will usually increase their appetite.
8. Ask for and accept help. While you do your best to take care of your baby during sleep regressions, remember to take care of yourself too. Sleep regression for baby often leads to sleep deprivation for parents. If you’re able to, take shifts with your partner. Call on friends and family to take over for a bit so you can get some rest. And when someone offers to give you a hand, do yourself a favor and take it!
9. Lastly, lean on other moms for help and guidance. Talk to a mom who’s been through it before – create a support group. It helps to know others have gone through them and there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you don’t know another mom who’s been through a sleep regression, take some advice from some of our customers in the Zen Mom Zone!
Zen mom zone
“She may be on the verge on a milestone. My little guy is getting over a regression caused by learning to walk. Make sure that during the day she gets plenty of time to work on her new skill." - Mandie G., 1/30/18
"Just keep thinking it'll pass, load up on coffee or tea, try to trade out night duty with a partner every few days if possible. And to help the baby, use white noise or a calming classical music CD on repeat throughout the night." - Jessica M., 2/25/18
"Consistency is key! We tried the best we could to stay on our schedules and the regression eventually passed. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to ask for help." - Brianna K., 1/30/18
"Keep your sanity by letting people help you if they can, even for a little bit it's amazing what some 'me' time can do for you." - Eileen R., 1/30/18
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