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  • Taylor Scott-Wood

How to handle your baby's sleep regressions

As a baby and toddler sleep consultant, it's common for me to hear from parents, “My baby used to sleep so well and now is struggling! Is there a sleep regression at 6 months?”

I get this question frequently, for every age imaginable. Sleep disruptions can be frustrating and confusing, and it often feels a bit better if we can attribute it to a sleep regression.

So, grab your coffee and let's dive into the world of sleep regressions: what they are, how long they last, and at what ages you might expect them.

What is a baby sleep regression?

Imagine this: your baby usually sleeps well. Bedtime is manageable, you know their night waking schedule (or that they sleep through the night), naps are consistent, and your baby is generally well-rested.

Then, suddenly, your baby becomes difficult to settle at bedtime, wakes up frequently at night, they're hard to settle and is protesting naps. They become cranky and tired, and you feel your routines slipping away causing PANIC.

If this sounds familiar, you've likely experienced a sleep regression. These regressions often coincide with developmental milestones your baby is working on. A sleep regression is simply a phase where your baby’s sleep patterns temporarily worsen. This could mean less sleep, taking longer to fall asleep, or both. If your baby suddenly resists sleep, a regression might be to blame.

How long can a sleep regression last for my baby?

The duration of a sleep regression varies. While some babies may be significantly affected, others may hardly notice. Typically, sleep regressions last about 2-4 weeks. However, it can feel longer if your baby develops new sleep habits during the regression and needs re-training to return to their usual sleep routine.

For example, if your baby used to fall asleep on their own but starts needing to be held during a regression, you'll need to re-establish their independent sleep habits once the regression passes. The most important thing to remember in a sleep regression is to avoid starting new habits you don’t wish to continue. Consistency is key during these periods of disrupted sleep.

When should I expect sleep regressions?

Sleep regressions often occur around specific developmental milestones, but every child is different.

Here are some common ages for sleep regressions:

4 months: Often called the “one true sleep regression” due to a permanent change in sleep cycles where they go from having newborn sleep to sleep more similar to adults. I also have a separate blog covering the 4 month regression, check it out here for more information.

Why it happens:

  • Your baby might also be rolling over, needing to be un swaddled

  • "Object permanence" is is being established, realizing that when you put them down for sleep and leave the room, they still know you exist even though they can't see you

  • Ready to transition from 4 to 3 naps

What to do about it:

6 & 9 months: These are often coupled together because the root causes are often very similar, often due to new skills and teething

Why it happens:

  • Increased mobility (crawling, sitting, pulling to stand)

  • Object permanence can disrupt sleep

  • Separation anxiety starting

  • Teeth starting to come in

  • Ready to transition from 3 to 2 naps

What to do about it:

  • Remain consistent with your baby's sleep routine

  • Extra love and attention during awake periods

  • Introducing a lovey for their sleep, can be a stuffed toy or blanket to provide comfort and security when you aren't around

  • If you have a concern that teething is causing pain, ask your pediatrician about pain relief options

  • Practice any new skills while awake, the sooner they master it, the sooner it stops interfering with their sleep

12 months: Often presents as resistance to the second nap which many parents mistake for being ready to drop to 1 nap. Your baby’s increased mobility and language development can make it hard for them to settle down.

Why it happens:

  • Learning to walk

  • Beginning to communicate verbally, use gestures

  • Expressing independence and make their own choices

  • Learning simple instructions such as "pick up a block"

  • Separation anxiety really starts to pick

  • First set of molars coming in

What to do about it:

  • Practice both physical and mental activities that they're learning

  • Let them make simple choices like choosing between two shirts, two books, etc.

  • Allowing them to help with simple tasks light closing a door, putting something in the garbage, etc.

  • If separation anxiety is increasing, lengthen your bedtime routine to allow for a lot of connection time before sleep

  • If you have a concern that teething is causing pain, ask your pediatrician about pain relief options

18 months: Separation anxiety peaks again, and your active toddler may resist sleep. They’re learning to assert independence, which can include protesting at bedtime and naptime. This one can be hard for parents since their toddlers are only having one nap.

Why it happens:

  • Learning to walk, run, climb things, etc.

  • Learning to talk and connect multiple words together as little sentences

  • Emotions and opinions are really being developed, causing tantrums, wanting a lot of attention and more independence

  • Separation anxiety

  • First or second set of molars coming in

What to do about it:

  • If you have a concern that teething is causing pain, ask your pediatrician about pain relief options

  • Allow them to have choices to exercise their independence, choosing between 2 books, 2 pairs of pyjamas, special toy for bedtime

  • Ready to transition to 1 nap

2 years: Testing boundaries becomes common. This can include nap strikes, but it doesn’t mean they’re done napping. Keep offering naptime, often parents think the protesting means they don't need the nap anymore, but most toddlers need their nap until 3-4 years old, Be consistent and patient and they’ll return to it eventually.

Why it happens:

  • Big life changes happen: learning to potty train, moving to a big kid bed, new sibling, starting daycare, etc.

  • Second set of molars coming in

  • Night time fears of things like the dark come as their imagination starts to

  • Separation anxiety really ramps up

What to do about it:

  • Have plenty of one on one intentional time with your toddler, no phones, just spend time really bonding

  • Studies show that when kids also have both parents involved in playtime and showing each other affection and love, it leads to them actually sleeping better

  • If they develop any fears around bedtime, talk through them, often you can find books that really help (if they have a fear of bears, find a book with bears as main characters)

Nap Transitions

Sleep regressions can also coincide with changes in nap schedules causing some confusion to parents, here is a general guide to when nap transitions typically happen:

  • 4 to 3 naps: around 3-5 months

  • 3 to 2 naps: around 6.5-8 months

  • 2 to 1 nap: around 14-18 months

  • 1 to 0 naps: around 3-5 years

If you want a copy of my free Sleep Schedule and Wake Window Guide, grab it here! Being on an age appropriate sleep schedule helps set them up for success and esnures they're getting the right amount of sleep.

Navigating sleep regressions can be challenging, but remember, they are temporary. Stay calm, avoid creating new habits you don’t want to continue, and you’ll get through it.

You've got this, Mama!


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