Navigating Sleep Regression: Dos And Don’ts For Each StageHas your little one started waking in the night or struggling to get to sleep? It could be that your baby or toddler is having a sleep regression phase.
The good news is that this is usually simply a phase, and even though we’re calling it a “regression”, it’s actually a perfectly normal part of their development.
We take a closer look at sleep regression stages from babies through to older children.
What causes sleep regressions?
There are lots of causes of sleep regression. It could be something as simple and easy to spot as teething, or your baby could be more wakeful due to their neurological development stage. Key milestones like weaning, walking and starting nursery can all lead to a change in sleep patterns.
Sleep regression is a normal part of infant and toddler development, and these phases (painful as they are for tired parents!) don’t tend to last long. It can happen at any age; however, we’ll outline some of the most common sleep regression stages.
Baby sleep regression
Newborns have no real sleep pattern, so it’s hard to tell if they’re having a sleep disturbance phase. The first real sleep regression usually happens at around four months. This is because there’s a lot of neurological development going on at this point, including developing more “grown up” sleeping patterns.
Very young babies have two main states: asleep and awake. As they reach about four months, they begin to cycle through different sleep stages, just like we adults do. Sometimes, babies need to learn how to move through the sleep stages without becoming unsettled.
The next potential infant sleep regression stage happens at around six months, when baby is ready for weaning or has started being weaned. This could be because they’re hungry, excited, or simply digesting new foods.
Again, the movement milestones between 9 and 12 months can cause a bit of a hiccup, with your little one feeling far too excited to fall asleep. Babies also start to experience separation anxiety at this stage, which can make them struggle to settle.
How can you help a young baby get back to sleep? The best sleep regression solution is to stick to the sleep routine that works for your family. Keep up with the sleepy rituals like bedtime baths and stories, so your baby picks up on the time-for-sleep signals. Keep the bedroom at a pleasant temperature (about 18 degrees C), with the lighting low. Blackout curtains can prevent the confusion caused by lighter nights.
Do stick to your usual comforting rituals.
Don’t worry too much. These are all natural developmental stages, and the sleep regression stage will pass soon. However, don't dismiss potential symptoms. If they’re awake but distressed, they might be feeling poorly.
Toddler sleep regression
There’s a lot going on in the life (and the mind) of a busy toddler, and this can often cause a return to disrupted sleep. Developmental milestones like walking, teething and finishing breastfeeding can all affect your little one’s patterns, and separation anxiety can also disrupt toddler sleep.
Again, stick to a soothing, sleepy-making routine: the more normal the better, so if your little one is struggling with separation anxiety, they have the comfort of knowing that every night follows the same pattern. If extra cuddles, stories or milk is needed, go with it if it makes things easier for you all: after all, this is just a blip.
Do keep up the sleepy routines, but introduce extra soothing things if that helps.
Don’t introduce strict new measures. You don’t want to be locking horns with a determined toddler at one in the morning. Keep things as relaxed and comforting as possible.
Preschool sleep regressionLife is changing rapidly now. Nursery, toilet training, playdates… that’s all in a day’s work for a growing preschooler. Dropping the afternoon nap is another major influencer in how your preschooler sleeps. On the plus side, their busy lives can make them more physically tired - unless, of course, they’re overstimulated…
At this age, children often move out of their cot and into their Big Kids’ Bed. This is very exciting, but expect a few disturbed nights at first (not least because it’s easier to get out of a toddler bed than a cot, even with a guard rail).
One of the lovely things about a toddler or single bed is that you can sit on the floor next to them, and be right up close to them as you read a story or have a night-night cuddle. This helps them fall asleep feeling really reassured.
Do make moving into their new bed a lovely experience. They can help choose the duvet cover, and line up their favourite fluffy friends.
Don’t try to reintroduce an afternoon nap if your preschooler has dropped it. They’ll eventually settle into a healthy sleep cycle, with just a nighttime sleep.
Emotional sleep regression
We’ve looked at developmental sleep regression at all ages and how this is perfectly normal for growing babies and toddlers. However, do children experience sleep disturbance if something’s different or worrying them, in the same way as we adults do?
The answer is yes: stressors such as moving house or bedroom, and family changes like a new sibling, can really affect children’s sleep patterns. Starting nursery or school, a different carer or even a new pet are all huge changes for your little one. Anyone who’s taken young children on holiday will be very familiar with this!
Do keep as many familiar rituals as you can, like a bath with the same scented bath products, or their favourite blanket. Also, do be kind to yourself, especially if the emotional upheaval affects you too (such as moving house, divorce or a new baby). Try to catch up on your own sleep when you can, and ask friends and family for support with this.
Don’t feel too anxious about this, as with love and reassurance from you (and maybe an extra story or two at bedtime), this will pass.
We hope this has been a helpful introduction to sleep regression. Just remember: this is a phase, and it will pass! You can look forward to all enjoying a good night’s sleep again soon.
If you have any concerns about your little one’s health and wellbeing, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed with tiredness (completely understandable), please speak with your GP or health visitor.