What is a sleep regression?
Ahh, sleep regression. Those two words are enough to send intelligent, highly-capable parents running for the hills (and the coffee). By definition, a sleep regression, “generally describes a phase or season in which a baby who normally sleeps well suddenly starts waking more often at night, and refusing naps (or taking very short naps) – for no apparent reason at all.”
In that cute little baby’s defense, I have actually found that many of my children’s sleep regressions also tend to coincide with growth spurts and developmental leaps. Even though it is good to know that your baby isn’t intentionally trying to torture you, knowing this only makes the sleep regression slightly less painful.
Signs of a sleep regression
Sleep regressions tend to occur at fairly certain points, including 4 months, 8 months, 12 months, and 18 months, give or take a few weeks here and there. So how do you know that your baby is going through a sleep regression? Here are some clues:
- Your baby’s sleeping habits seem to abruptly change. Sleep stretches at night get shorter in the absence of illness or teething
- More frequent night waking and shorter naps
- Increased fussiness
- Your baby wants to feed more. Whether it is for comfort or because they are also going through a growth spurt, it feels like you are feeding a football team
I don’t remember the early sleep regressions with my first child too much (I think I blocked them out, to be honest). She wasn’t a great sleeper to begin with though, so sleep regressions were just slightly worse than a normal night for her.
But my second daughter, well, she tricked me. She had me convinced for the first few months that there are babies that can actually be decent sleepers. Her long stretches of sleep had me thinking that maybe she was switched at birth, or that perhaps there was something magical in my milk.
And then we hit the 3 1/2 month mark. Yep, guess she’s an overachiever already, hitting these regressions early and all. Suddenly those long sleep stretches suddenly became shorter and shorter. She became restless during the night, waking several times and having a difficult time settling back down. Once again I found myself googling “my baby won’t sleep,” “does my baby hate me,” and “where can I get an IV of coffee.”
As a parent, when your child’s sleep suddenly becomes “off” for more than a few nights, we are left to wonder, and google, why. Once you can eliminate any kind of illness, it may start to seem more obvious that your precious baby is going through a sleep regression. Personally, I find that having something, anything, to blame it on is better for my mental health than determining that maybe this is just the new normal. Fortunately, sleep regressions tend to pass after a matter of days or weeks.
Tips for surviving a sleep regression
I wish there was a magical answer to getting through your baby’s sleep regression. No such luck, but I will pass along some tips that I have found helpful to surviving these tough periods in your baby’s development.
- The Wonder Weeks app: There are certain weeks where babies go through some pretty major mental leaps in their growth and development. This app allows you to see when these different periods usually occur based on your baby’s due date. It will also give you a chart and information explaining what behaviors to expect during leaps and what kinds of skills your baby may master after each leap. Although different from a sleep regression, these leaps often coincide with them.
- The Baby Sleep Site: Google is both a blessing and a curse; I know you know what I mean. When you type in the words “4-month sleep regression,” there are a plethora of scary/reassuring things that pop up. Luckily, the Baby Sleep Site is one of the first sites to come up, and one you’ll want to click on. It gives you the 411 behind sleep regressions and how to handle them. I feel like half the battle in motherhood is just knowing that what we are experiencing is normal!
- An earlier bedtime. You might think that putting your baby to bed later will make them sleep better and longer, but in my experience, sleep begets sleep. When a baby is overtired, it makes it harder to put them down to sleep and it just becomes a vicious cycle. I have found that understanding my daughter’s optimal wake time and sleep cues are essential for getting her to go down to sleep at the right time.
- A friend that you can call/text/cry to about how tired you are and will listen patiently, bring you coffee, and reassure you that you are not alone in this. Parents of babies who are sleeping great at this point need not apply.
- Coffee. Lots of it. Unless you are nursing and your babies are sensitive to caffeine. Then you just need to rely on sheer willpower to get you through it. And a lot of #4.
- Take care of yourself. Whether this means getting a few minutes of shut-eye while your baby naps, even if it’s brief, going for a pedicure, to the gym, or whatever you need to do to recharge. It is much harder to make sure everyone in your household is getting what they need and all the to-dos are checked off when we are running on empty.
- The famous saying that all parents hear at least 1,236,087 times through their baby’s first few years: “This too shall pass.” It will. I know sometimes hearing that when you are sleep deprived and in the midst of it can make even a level-headed mom see red. But it does. And once you are on the other side of it, most likely your baby will be able to do all sorts of cool new things. Those tough nights will become a distant memory. Until the next regression anyway 🙂