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Everything you need to know about sleep regressions




If you’re a modern day parent, I’m sure you’ve heard all about sleep regressions. Unfortunately, the term sleep regression can instill fear and anxiety in parents- hey, I’ve been there too! But today I want to break down some barriers and help you understand sleep regressions better. Knowledge is power and preparation can calm our anxiety so let’s dive in and answer those burning questions about sleep regressions.


In this blog post, I’ll share: 


  • What the one true sleep regression is

  • What ages and developmental stages sleep regressions can occur

  • How to adjust our perspective when it comes to sleep regressions

  • How to know if you’ve hit a sleep regression

  • How long sleep regressions can last



What is the one true sleep regression?


Did I get your attention with this first question? Did you realize that there’s really only ONE true sleep regression that occurs? It happens right around 4 months (give or take a little) and it is the only regression that happens as a result of your child’s sleep patterns actually changing.


When your baby hits the 4 month sleep regression, their sleep cycles change from that of a newborn to that of an adult. The only difference now between your baby’s sleep cycles and your sleep cycles is length of time- an adult sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long whereas a baby sleep cycle is about 45 minutes long. This is a huge change that takes place and it’s most often marked by an increase in night wakings, shorter naps, difficulty falling asleep initially, and naps on the go becoming less effective.


As for all the other regressions you’ll hear about, those are actually just due to developmental changes and schedule adjustments.


What ages and developmental stages can sleep regressions occur?


So what are these other regressions? When should you expect to see them pop up? It’s important to remember that every baby is different and not all babies will hit certain milestones at the same time. Therefore the ages I’ll walk you through below are average ages that may not match your baby exactly- and that’s okay!


According to Kids Physio, the following developmental milestones are ones that all little ones will go through at some point:


3-4 months: Your baby will start bringing hands to midline, they will begin to reach and bring toys to their mouth, as well as having increased head and neck control.


4-6 months: Around this age, you will often find your baby with their hands reaching to their feet, working on rolling (both tummy to back and back to tummy), and beginning to sit without support for short periods.


Sleep tip- This is also the age that many babies drop from 4 naps to 3 naps.


6-10 months: By this age range, you’ll start to see your baby in a 4-point position (on their hands and knees) and they may begin crawling, independently sitting & learning how to transition in and out of sitting or pulling to stand.


Sleep tip- This is also the age that many babies drop from 3 naps to 2 naps.

Feeding tip- Typically, babies are getting into solids at this age range as well, which can lead to some constipation and pooping schedule changes too!


9-17 months: It’s typical at this age to see your baby master crawling on the floor, crawling up stairs, cruising around on their feet while holding onto furniture, eventually standing independently, and walking or squatting while playing.


18-24 months: Your toddler will hone their skill of going upstairs using 2 feet per step with a handrail, you’ll start to see throwing and kicking emerging, and they’ll learn how to roll a ball forwards too.


Sleep tip- By this age, most babies have successfully dropped down to just 1 afternoon nap a day.


2 years: Around this age, your toddler can go up the stairs using 1 foot per step, they can go down the stairs using 2 feet per step with a handrail, they will be able to balance on one leg for 1-2 seconds, and jump with 2 feet.


Brain tip- At this age, your toddler is learning to test boundaries in order to figure out how the world works. You may start hearing a lot of “No’s” from your little one moving forward.


3 years: It’s typical at this age for your child to go up and down stairs using one foot per step, balance on one leg for 3-5 seconds, be able to trap a ball against their body, throw overhand and underhand, and master hopping on one spot.


Sleep tip- Your child may be ready to drop their nap anytime between now and 4 years.


As you can see, from a physical and skill development perspective, there’s a lot going on for your child in the first 3 years of life. All of this change can lead to disrupted sleep. Working on these new skills may cause your baby to become overtired or overstimulated. They may want to practice these new skills in their crib when it’s actually time to be sleeping. And they may just have a hard time settling their brain and body down at sleep time. All of these are normal sleep disruptions that we see as your child goes through these adjustments.


How can I adjust my perspective when it comes to sleep regressions?


While I know sleep regressions can be extremely frustrating, it’s important to remember that what is happening under the surface is actually a really GOOD thing! You want your child to grow and develop and learn new skills. Disrupted sleep is a small drawback of those hard-won changes but the rest of it is all good news! So next time you start to feel down about your baby’s sleep regression, remind yourself of what they are learning and how far they’ve come. Oftentimes, understanding the why behind each sleep regression can help get you through to the other side. Try to keep a positive attitude as best as you can.


How do I know if I’ve hit a sleep regression?


Sleep regressions are simply disruptions in your child’s sleep. Here are some of the signs you might notice in your child when going through a sleep regression:


  • Unusual night wakings

  • Early morning wakings

  • Difficulty falling asleep for naps

  • Shorter naps than usual

  • Nap resistance or refusal

  • Difficulty falling asleep for bedtime

  • Playing and babbling awake in the crib instead of sleeping

  • Seeming more tired and crabby throughout the day


Of course, these things can randomly happen on off days as well. So instead of just seeing a sign here or there, look for a pattern of these signs before stressing that you’re in the midst of a sleep regression. 


How long do sleep regressions last?


The length of your baby’s sleep regression will partially be dependent on how that regression is handled. Typically, 1-2 weeks is a normal amount of time for your little one’s sleep to be disrupted by changing schedules or new developmental milestones. However, when I see parents falling into a pattern of over-helping at sleep time, then we tend to see the regression last longer. That doesn’t mean it’s bad to assist your child to sleep during a sleep regression though. It just means that you’ll want to understand you may be prolonging the regression and that you will have to go through a period of resetting your sleep expectations and boundaries. Very few babies will magically go from being helped to sleep back to falling asleep independently without you guiding the way. So it will take some work to get back to your usual sleep habits.


And this leads me to the biggest tip I have for handling sleep regressions: Start in the way you wish to continue.


If you don’t want to get sucked back into having to nurse your child or rock your child or replace the pacifier or stay in the room every time it’s sleep time, then don’t offer those as options when your child is struggling. Instead, feel free to offer comfort, reassurance, and understanding BUT always try to leave the room while your child is still awake. They may have a hard time with this and let you know how they feel about it.  But remember, it is often kinder to be clear about your boundaries from the beginning (even if that results in big feelings) than to give in initially only to turn around and take it away again in the future. Inconsistency leads to confusion but to be clear is kind. 


What if I need more help for this current sleep regression?


You may find yourself in a couple of different positions right now with your little one’s sleep. But no matter where you are, I would love to help make this process easier for you.


  1.  Maybe you’re in the midst of a sleep regression but you also know you haven’t yet mastered healthy sleep habits with your baby. If you feel ready to tackle sleep training, schedule a free sleep evaluation call with me and we can talk through your options.

  2. Maybe you’ve just gotten through a sleep regression but now you feel stuck with sleep habits that you didn’t mean to introduce. You want to get back to your independent sleeper but you need some support to get there. Schedule a 30 minute support call with me by sending an email my way: alyssa@yoursleepstory.ca



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