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Baby sleep

Sleep Regression Ages: What to Expect

Is it time for your baby to have a sleep regression? Here's what you need to know.

Sleep Regression Ages: What to Expect

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One of the more challenging aspects of parenthood is getting your child to sleep, especially when they are babies. But at some point, you finally get into a routine; you know your baby's wake window times, and they have consistent sleep patterns.

Then, all of a sudden, something changes. Baby is having sleep problems, such as waking up in the middle of the night. Perhaps an hour or two later, they wake up again. Then, it happens night after night.

You realize your child is having a sleep regression.

Sleep regressions can happen at several stages. The good news is that they don't last forever, but knowing how to handle them is crucial. Should you try sleep training? Here's what you need to know about sleep regression ages, signs of sleep regressions, and how to get your baby to fall and stay asleep.

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What is a sleep regression?

According to Carolynne J. Harvey, Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Founder of Dream Baby Sleep, "A sleep regression occurs whenever a baby or child who was previously sleeping well has a period of poor or interrupted sleep, usually linked to a major developmental leap."

So, while it's a physical and mental challenge for the whole family, a sleep regression is a good thing and a clear sign your baby is moving forward developmentally. Dr. Harvey Karp, founder of Happiest Baby, Pediatrician, and author, tells me sleep regressions are a normal part of childhood development: "A lot of times, this type of sleep disruption coincides with big jumps they're making in terms of motor or mental advances."

How do I know if my baby is having a sleep regression?

Do you notice sleep is changing? But is it just a few bad nights or an actual sleep regression? "It's pretty easy to tell when a child's sleep is regressing: they go from waking zero to one waking per night to more than two times," explains Dr. Karp.

He also tells me that sleep generally improves over the first couple of years of life. "It's not that they sleep more and more hours, but that they start to have longer periods of unbroken sleep and less frequent night wakings."

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What are common sleep regression ages?

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If your child isn't getting the same nighttime sleep they used to or has difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, you might wonder if it's their age and if they're at a natural point for a sleep regression. Dr. Karp tells me sleep regressions typically occur around four months, between eight and nine months, 12 months, and between 18 months and 24 months.

If your child's sleep suddenly changes between these ages and despite your best efforts, things aren't getting any better—you may want to discuss this with your pediatrician. That way, you can determine the best action plan for your baby and family.

No matter the baby's age or when the sleep regression occurs, Harvey tells me parents must have a consistent bedtime routine. "Keep your nighttime routine the same, and don't rely on sleep crutches. You will weather the storm!"

Four months

The early months of age can be exhausting for parents, and a four-month sleep regression makes things even more stressful. According to Dr. Karp, this regression occurs because your baby is suddenly awake to the world and craving your attention.

At this age, babies can also get into slight waking, which is not uncommon. Dr. Karp tells me this can happen three to four times at night. "Instead of diving back into sleep, they lift their heads and cry out for the company of their favorite person."

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This can be a sign of separation anxiety, and your child might want mommy or daddy.

Eight months

Eight months is another expected time for sleep regressions because your baby can have new skills to show off, such as crawling or pulling to stand. While this is exciting on various levels, it can disrupt sleep, explains Dr. Karp. "They're excited to practice—again, and again, and again, in the middle of the night!"

Teething or illness, such as a cold, can cause sleep regressions or disrupt healthy sleep habits at eight months. "Or as they get into light sleep, their nose may be a little congested, or their gums may throb from teething, which can throw a temporary wrench in their good sleep habits," explains Dr. Karp.

12 months

Dr. Karp tells me, "The 12-month sleep regression often strikes when your young toddler is going through a developmental milestone, like teething or learning a big new skill, like pulling to stand or walking. Your energetic tot may suddenly resist bedtime because they don't want to stop moving, learning, and exploring." While this is thrilling, the toddler's newfound independence can lead to stubborn behavior, especially at bedtime.

If this happens, Dr. Karp recommends putting extra effort into helping your toddler feel safe, secure and loved around bedtime. "After you've dimmed the lights, turn on the low and rumbly white noise and read some stories. That will ensure that the last fifteen minutes before lights out is predictable."

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The Doctor also recommends snuggling together in bed (with lights low and the white noise on) and having a little "bedtime sweet talk." In a soft, understated tone, he says to recount some of the fun activities and acts of kindness that your child experienced during the day that just passed.

"Also, talk a little about the next day and a few things that might be fun or good deeds that may be done. Bedtime sweet talk is a huge confidence boost that helps your baby to settle in feeling warm and fuzzy—and wake up the next morning ready for anything. Plus, it makes bedtime something your toddler looks forward to—instead of something they fight"

mother cuddling sleeping baby son on sofa LWA/Dann Tardif/ Getty Images

FAQs

What is the best way to handle sleep regressions?

There are ways to set yourself up for success through sleep regressions. One example Dr. Karp recommends is keeping your baby's room dark with the thermostat between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. So, go ahead. Close the shutters and use the blackout curtains.

The Doctor tells me that white noise can also be helpful. "The proper white noise can work wonders at covering up external sleep disturbances (like loud traffic) and internal disturbances (like sore gums or a tiny bit of hunger), which helps babies get more ZZZs. Begin playing white noise 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime as part of your night-night routine (this helps your little one know that sleep is near) and leave it playing during their sleep to help keep them from waking."

Lastly, consider using a pacifier or a small cuddly or silkie lovey for infants past 9 to 12 months. "It must be small enough to not cover the face and cause suffocation."

When should you stop swaddling?

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Dr. Karps advises parents to stop swaddling when baby can roll. "Unfortunately, that means you have to stop the soothing snugness of swaddling right before around 2 to 3 months, which is right when many babies need it the most."

When you're done with newborn and infant swaddles, consider upgrading to cozy baby sleep sacks which are typically available for babies three to 24 months old. After that, little ones move into toddler sleep sacks or regular pajamas.

Gear to consider

No matter which age your child's sleep regression occurs, be sure to fully prepare by creating a warm, welcoming sleep environment. A breathable crib mattress and one of the best baby cribs are good places to start, but you may also want to add a soft glow nightlight with white noise.

white noise machine, 4 month sleep regression Merchant

We like the MomCozy soft glow nightlight and white noise machine because it can easily be controlled from anywhere—even if parents are out of the room.

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Experts

  • Carolynne J. Harvey, Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Founder of Dream Baby Sleep,
  •  Dr. Harvey Karp, founder of Happiest Baby, Pediatrician, and author

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