If your baby was once sleeping through the night with no problems, and now is waking up all throughout the night - you might be experiencing a sleep regression. Learn about what causes a sleep regression and helpful tips on how to help your baby as they adjust to the new sleep cycle.
What is Sleep Regression?
If your baby used to have no problem sleeping through most of the night, and now seems to be waking up multiple times a night, you may be experiencing a sleep regression. A sleep regression is a period of time when your baby or toddler wakes up in the night, begins to take shorter naps, or takes less frequent naps. You should expect a sleep regression to happen as early as 4 months old, but they can happen at any age during your child's development. This period of time can last anywhere between 2-4 weeks. Although you cannot prevent a sleep regression from happening, you can be prepared for when it does!
Sleep regressions can be frustrating and exhausting for parents, but it is a sign that your baby's brain is maturing and developing. Around this time, you may start to notice that your baby is beginning to learn how to roll-over, starting to recognize faces, and absorbing more language. So while it is called a sleep regression, you can think of it as a progression to your baby's overall developmental process!
At around 4 months, your baby is going to experience many milestones in their development. From the Mayo Clinic, here are things you should expect your baby to begin doing at this age include:
- Evolving motor skills: kicking their legs, wiggling their arms, raising their head when lying down, and rolling over
- Improving hand-eye coordination: grasping your finger, or other nearby objects.
- Babbling and other new sounds: responding to sounds and able to recognize tones
What Causes a Sleep Regression?
Newborn babies will only go through two sleep cycles per night. However, at around 4 months, your child will begin to experience all four sleep cycles, just like adults do. This means that your baby is spending more time in a lighter, non-REM sleep cycle which is the reason they go through a 2-4 week period of adjusting to the new experience.
There is no way to prevent a sleep regression from happening as it is caused by inevitable changes that your baby will go through. However, you can prepare for it by creating positive sleep associations and breaking any negative sleep associations before they are 4 months old.
While not all babies will go through a sleep regression at 4 months, this is the most common age for it to happen. Every baby is unique! It is also not uncommon for babies to go through another sleep regression at 8, 10, 12, or 18-months which are typical ages for other developmental changes that might have an affect on your baby’s sleep cycle.
How do I know my baby is in a sleep regression?
If your baby is around 4 months old and is having trouble staying asleep throughout the night, it is likely that you are experiencing a sleep regression. Other signs of a sleep regression include:
- Waking up multiple times a night
- Increased fussiness
- Less frequent naps
- Change in appetite
Once you realize your baby is experiencing a sleep regression, you should expect it to last for about 2-4 weeks. However, you can help your baby adjust to their new sleep cycles with a few of our "Survival Guide" tips and tricks below.
You should also check to make sure that your baby is not sick, as the signs of a sleep regression can also be caused by your baby having a fever or cold.
How to survive your baby’s sleep regression
Break any negative sleep associations
One of the most effective ways to support your baby through their sleep regression is by breaking any "negative" sleep associations. A sleep association is any behavior that helps you fall asleep. For adults, this may be the position you fall asleep in or the way your pillow is situated. When you wake up in the middle of the night, you can help yourself fall back asleep by returning to this sleep association (moving back to the original position, readjusting your pillow.) Just like adults, babies will associate certain activities with sleeping and can begin to rely on these actions to help fall asleep.
Not all sleep associations are bad. The "negative" sleep associations are ones that your baby cannot do on their own to help them fall asleep. For example, rocking, feeding a bottle, or replacing a pacifier all require help from Mom or Dad. When your baby wakes up during the night, they will not be able to perform this action and will have a hard time falling back to sleep.
By breaking any "negative" sleep associations and creating positive associations, your baby will be able to fall asleep or put themselves back to sleep with no assistance. Some examples of positive associations you can create for your baby include, playing light white noise or using the same, familiar sleepwear set every night.
Give your baby practice during the day
As sleep regressions are caused by your baby's brain rapidly developing, it is important to allow your baby to have extra time practicing their new skills. Having your baby practice rolling over and doing "tummy time" during the day can help to keep your baby asleep during the night. Your baby might be waking up because they are mistaking their nap time or sleep time for practice time!
Use lightly-weighted sleepwear
A little extra comfort can go a long way for your baby's sleep regression. By using a lightly-weighted swaddle (if they are not yet rolling over,) or a sleeping bag can help provide comfort during the night and keep them calm as they sleep.
Feed as much as needed
You may notice that your baby's appetite has grown significantly during their sleep regression. This is completely normal as your baby is going through many developmental changes and a big growth spurt. You should feed your baby as much as they need in order to avoid them waking up during the middle of the night hungry.
If your baby does continue to wake up during the night hungry, you can try "dreamfeeding." This is a technique where you feed your baby while they are still asleep. If your baby does wake up during the feeding, simply soothe them back to sleep as you normally would.
At this age, your baby is at a stage where they begin to observe the world around them and will become more curious and distracted easily. When you are feeding your baby, try to remove any possible distractions that could interrupt the feeding and make them not want to finish the full bottle. This way, you can make sure your baby is feeling full before going to bed and will not wake up hungry in the middle of the night.
For more information on dreamfeeding, or tips on how to overcome bottle refusal, visit our article here.
Make the room dark
Babies are very responsive to light since it is a signal to them of being awake and active. Make sure that you keep your baby's room as dark as possible. One way to do this, is to put up blackout curtains on the windows and avoid turning on the light for any middle of the night feedings or diaper changes. When your baby wakes up in the morning, you should open all of the curtains to let as much light into the room as possible. This way, you can help create an association for your baby between light and dark, and being awake versus sleeping.
Put them down ‘drowsy,’ but awake.
One of the positive outcomes that can happen because of a sleep regression is having your baby be able to fall asleep, or go back to sleep, on their own. To help support this, you should try to put your baby down when they are drowsy, but still awake. This will help to break any pre-existing negative sleep associations, while also teaching them how to fall asleep without any outside support.
Establish a Routine
When you have an established bedtime routine, do your best to try to be as consistent as possible with sticking to this routine. Activities such as taking a bath, changing into PJs, reading a bedtime story, all will indicate to your baby that it is time to start winding down. As your baby gets older, you may have to change the timing of the bedtime routine. However, you should still try to stick to the same patterns and activities to help reinforce the connection.
Try to be as quick as possible if you end up needing to do a diaper change, feeding, or any other activity during the night. Avoid using any light or noises (such as talking,) to help your baby stay calm and easily fall back to sleep after you are done. The goal is always to continue to reinforce the connection between nighttime and sleep to your baby.
Adjust your baby’s sleep schedule
During your baby's sleep regression, it is common for them to want to take less naps during the day. If you notice your baby will not go down for a nap, try moving their bedtime up by one hour. Your baby might become overly tired and fussy during the day because of their new sleep cycle, so by making their bedtime earlier, you can help make sure they are getting the rest they need.
Learn more tips for how to get your baby to sleep more consistently from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
One Day at a Time!
We understand how exhausting surviving a sleep regression can be. Be patient with yourself and your baby as they will adjust to their new sleep cycle within a few weeks. Rely on the support of your friends and family and ask for help when you need it.
Your baby is experiencing exciting changes and developments in their growth during this time. As recommended by the recently updated USDA Dietary Guideline Report, allergen introduction to foods such as peanuts and eggs, can begin as early as 4 months old. We recommend looking into starting Ready. Set. Food!, around this time to make allergen introduction easy for you and your baby.
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