The most well-known sleep regression is the four month regression, and now that we know what it is and why it happens, you might be wondering about all of the other regressions you’ve heard about!
First of all, what is a sleep regression? A sleep regression can be characterized by a change happening in your child’s usual sleep patterns that lasts beyond one or two sleeps. If you have a child who is happy in his own bed and used to seamlessly fall asleep and stay asleep, yet is now partying in his crib before falling asleep at night, or suddenly waking in the night, he may be experiencing a sleep regression.
So how long do sleep regressions last? My general rule of thumb is that sleep regressions can last up to two weeks. If a “regression” seems to go beyond two weeks, there are likely bigger changes that need to be made around sleep. This could be as simple as a change in awake windows, or more complicated like dropping a nap. (We just went through this with Olivia, trying to figure out if she was going through a regression or if she was ready to drop her final nap.)
Aside from the four month regression, I really don’t “promise” any age-specific regressions, because all babies are different. However, regressions will very likely come, and you’ll find they’re almost always connected to a developmental milestone. Here are some general windows you might notice your baby’s sleep regressing and why:
8-9 Months Old
Many babies at this age are learning to crawl, making their little bodies process a lot more than they’re used to. And some babies are so excited to crawl that they use time in bed to practice their newfound mobility, therefore taking longer to fall asleep. And that’s okay! Make sure you are giving your baby lots of extra time to practice crawling during the day, and remain consistent with your usual bedtime routine and middle of the night responses, if applicable, and his sleep will soon go back to normal.
Learn from our mistakes: I don’t remember crawling being a milestone that affected Olivia’s sleep, but we used baby sign language with her, and it was around this age she really started catching on and signing for “milk.” So as we would move toward a nap or bedtime, she’d start signing for milk over and over again (hello, developmental milestone)! I didn’t think she should be hungry, but she was asking to nurse and I wanted to reward her for signing, plus she clearly knew what she needed, right? Nope, she was just practicing her skills and then quickly learned that whenever she signed for milk I would give it to her. Who knew such a tiny babe could start stalling bedtime and cajoling mom into nursing her to sleep?! She wasn’t an independent sleeper at that age, and it only deepened her nursing-to-sleep prop.
12-14 Months Old
There is often an explosion of development happening here! Babies are becoming mini-toddlers and they’re often learning to pull up, maybe take a few steps, and some might even be walking, running, or jumping. Similar to crawling, you may find your little one using crib time to practice. Unless you perceive your baby to be stuck, let him practice! It will take longer, but he will fall asleep. If he doesn’t yet know how to sit from standing, you should pop in to help him lay back down and then walk out again (just be careful that this doesn’t become a game!).
This is also the age when we aim to transition from bottles to sippy cups, as well as pull milk out of the bedtime routine, and many babies are ready to transition down to just one nap during this time…talk about many changes in such a short amount of time for our littles!
Learn from our mistakes: Olivia was sleep trained at this point, however we didn’t follow a specific method and therefore had no framework for what to do when something changed; so when anything went awry, we were winging it. As she gained mobility, she would stand in the corner of her pack ‘n play closest to the door, push the door open as much as she could (she was in our closet), and jump up and down in protest. Because she had been a good sleeper for a couple of months now, we thought surely she needed something! She must be standing because she needs one last hug, she’s still hungry, or is scared of something. So we’d go in, try to calm her, hug her, even pick her up for a bit thinking it would do the trick, nurse her, then put her back down and leave. Wroooooong move, she got so much more upset, and we made things way worse. We should have just let this milestone take its course and remain consistent with staying out, but we didn’t know anything differently and ended up having to give her a crash course in sleep all over again.
2-2.5 Years Old
I have worked with several families of toddlers who were great sleepers as babies, and then something all of a sudden changed around this time, and everything went haywire. Most toddlers go through a huge language boom around this age and their little brains have to process it all! Some kiddos will simply chat to themselves and take extra long to fall asleep, whereas others will start making “requests” or trying their hand at bedtime excuses; I’ve had some toddlers who start asking mom and dad to stay in the room, which introduces a whole new sleep prop!
Learn from our mistakes: Olivia went through this regression before I became a sleep consultant, and I clearly remember not knowing what to do with our great sleeper now turned great protester. We would lay her down and she’d immediately stand up and call out for “Mama” or “Dada”; talk about tugging on our heart strings! We thought she must need us, and wanted her to know we’d respond when she called for us, but it made it way worse to go back in. So we quickly caught on and stopped responding. Then she upped her game and would call out for water. Clearly she must be thirsty, give the girl some water! Nope, she’d throw it right out of her bed; she was just practicing her new language skills! (Side note: She actually went through this verbal regression earlier than 2 years old, as she’s always been more verbal. See why I don’t like pinning a specific age with these regressions? Every child is different!)
Are you catching a pattern here?? I HAVE BEEN IN YOUR SHOES. Which makes me love my job all the more. I’ve also come out on the other side, and am now able to do it all over again with Avery, this time having the knowledge of what to do when a regression comes. So although regressions aren’t really avoidable, we can navigate them with confidence and sleep skills can remain in tact!
I should also note that sleep regressions happen to babies and children who have independent sleep skills as well as those who rely on outside help to fall and stay asleep. If your child is an independent sleeper and you suspect he’s going through a sleep regression, remain consistent! If he’s in the middle of a physical milestone (i.e. pulling up to stand), give him lots of time to practice during the day. I’ve noticed that regressions are much less of a “thing” with independent sleepers and they’re able to more quickly jump back to normal.
If your child is not yet an independent sleeper, it’s not too late! Some people hit “rock bottom” with their child’s sleep during a regression and think they have to wait it out, but did you know you can still start sleep training while your child is going through a regression? It’s actually a great time to sleep train, and he’ll come out of the regression even more well-rested than before. If you’d like to hear more about what it would look like to work together, I’d love to chat with you! Book a free call and let’s get you all sleeping.