We've all heard the phrase "slept like a baby." This saying implies that you got a good night's rest. The parents of kids ages two and under might question the validity of this age-old adage. Baby sleep regressions are a new parent's worst nightmare - and they seem to be never-ending. Why do these changes in your baby's sleep patterns occur? And how can you get them back on track? Don't lose sleep over this problem. We have simple solutions to your infant-induced insomnia issues!
What Is a Sleep Regression?
Throughout a baby's first two years of life, they will experience shifts in their sleeping habits. Deemed "sleep regressions," these are periods where your baby will go from sleeping soundly through the night to waking at weird hours and even having trouble getting to sleep. These sleep regressions in babies changes normally last between two and four weeks, which can seem like an eternity to already tired parents.
Why Babies Have Sleep Regressions
Why do these alterations in your baby's regular sleeping patterns occur? Your baby is learning and growing! All of those big developmental milestones that are making their way onto your Instagram and Facebook pages are to blame for these sleepless nights. When you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. When you have a lot on your mind after a busy day, it's hard to get some shut-eye. The same goes for your baby! They are learning to sit, stand, and crawl. Their vision and hand-eye coordination are improving. They are trying new foods and learning to talk. That's a lot for a little mind to handle.
Other factors that can impact your baby's sleep are teething pain, illnesses, growth spurts, and their changing sleep requirements. It's important to remember that a typical newborn will sleep up to 17 hours a day, but by six months they will only require 14 hours. These changes in their daytime sleep schedules can play a big role in how they sleep at night.
Typical Sleep Regression Ages
Although exactly when babies have sleep regressions vary in the individual child, there will generally be six periods of sleep regressions within your baby's first two years of life. These typically occur around the four, six, eight, and 12 month marks as well as when your baby turns 18 months and two years old. Between birth and their first birthday, baby sleep regressions are primarily related to teething, growth spurts, the need for additional feedings, and the meeting of milestones.
In contrast, the last two regressions are many times tied to your toddler's newly discovered self-awareness. This can bring about separation anxiety, nightmares, and temper tantrums, all of which can hinder sleep. However, these are also time frames when toddlers learn to talk, start attending Parent's Day Out and early preschool programs, and begin mimicking adult behaviors. These milestones can also cause sleep regressions.
Tips for Surviving Baby Sleep Regressions
While it's completely normal for these baby sleep regressions to occur, there are ways to keep them more manageable. Try these techniques to help everyone drift back off to dreamland!
1. Stick to a Schedule
One of the best ways to battle baby sleep regressions is to establish a routine. Make sure that you are putting your baby down for naptimes and bedtimes at the same times each day. Feedings should also be consistent. Also consider a regular bath time, if your child's skin can handle this nighttime ritual. If not, then engage in infant massage with a relaxing scented lotion. Remember that deviating from the schedule can have long-term impacts, so try to stick to your routine even on the weekends, over the holidays, and when on vacation.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This method is most effective after a baby turns six months of age and natural sleep patterns start to emerge.
2. Create a Calming Environment
Another effective way to get your baby to go to sleep and stay asleep is to keep their room dark and quiet. If outside noise is an issue, consider investing in a noise machine, HEPA filter, or humidifier to help block out sounds from the rest of the house.
3. Watch for Sleep Cues
It's also important to pay attention to your baby! If they are rubbing their eyes, pulling at their ears, yawning, sucking on their hands and fingers, or if they are looking for snuggles, put them to bed. Other less obvious sleep cues include attention-seeking behaviors like temper tantrums and clumsiness.
4. Stop Rocking Your Baby to Sleep
Just like your baby needs to learn to sit and stand, they also need to learn how to go to sleep on their own. What this means is that you need to put them to bed drowsy. This allows them to drift off to dreamland without the help of movement. This is also important for preparing your baby to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.
5. Let Your Baby Cry it Out
While the automatic inclination for most parents is to scoop your baby up every time they begin to cry, there comes a time when you have to let your baby learn to self soothe. While this can be a heartbreaking task, it's amazing how quickly they calm down once you give them the chance to work it out themselves. However, parents should not use the cry it out method with babies younger than four months old.
Also, whether or not you are sleep training, always do a mental check first - is your baby fed, dry, and warm? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then this method will not be effective, and the problem needs to be addressed. If the answer is yes, then let them fuss for a few minutes to see if they can get back to sleep by themselves.
6. Get Your Baby Moving
It's common knowledge that exercise improves sleep habits. Just because your baby can't stand or walk doesn't mean that you can't give them a mini workout! Tummy time is crucial for strengthening your baby's head, neck, arms, and abdominal muscles. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents start this activity the moment they bring their bundle of joy home.
You can also have them do situps, while supporting their head, and help them do bicycle kicks. Once they can support their head, neck, and torso, then transition to helping them stand and walk. This will not only help your baby reach key motor skill milestones, but it will also wear them out! Try doing some of these exercises right before your baby's last feeding and bedtime.
7. Feed Them Late
When your baby is going through a growth spurt, their body is in overdrive. That means they need to consume more calories! If your baby has stopped sleeping through the night and might be going through a growth spurt, consider adding in a late night feeding or snack right before bed. Just remember to brush their teeth afterwards, if they have them.
8. Adjust Bedtimes as Naps Decrease
As your toddler gets older, they will need less sleep during the day. When this happens, you need to shift their bedtime to an earlier hour to help them adjust during this transition period.
9. Unplug Devices an Hour Before Bed
Research shows that blue-light exposure before bedtime will suppress your child's melatonin production, therefore making it harder for them to get to sleep. In other words, turn off the television and any devices an hour before your baby or toddler is set to go to bed. This can help them get sleepy!
10. Remember That Fear of Missing Out Is Real
If your little one has a case of FOMO, consider creating the illusion that everyone is going to bed at the same time. This means turning out the lights, making the house quiet, putting your pajamas on when your toddler does, and mimicking tired cues like yawning and rubbing your eyes. This signals to your child that they are not alone in going to bed and won't be missing out on anything!
Other Factors That Interrupt Sleep
Sleep regressions are a normal part of your child's development. However, there are certain health conditions that can disrupt sleep and mimic these natural sleep alterations. Conditions like eczema, for example, are downright uncomfortable and can cause your little one to wake up in the night. Without treatment, it is likely that they will continue to wake at random times. Also, just like adults, stress can play a big role in your child's sleep cycle. If there have been big life changes like the addition of a new sibling or a death in the family, it can disrupt their sleep. Even frequent travel at the holidays can mess up their circadian rhythm. Look at the big picture and consider whether there are other reasons contributing to your child's sleep difficulties. Recognizing the issue could be the first step to getting a good night's sleep again, for you and your child.