The truth about sleep regression

“It’s the dreaded 4 month sleep regression”! A phrase I hear so often from so many sleep deprived parents. So many of my clients come to me when their baby’s sleep has suddenly changed; awake every 2 hours, refusing to nap and struggling to settle to sleep. Often blamed for these sudden changes, these so called ‘regressions’ are reported to happen at several intervals from 4 months to 2 years. Many parents ask friends or take to the internet to try and understand why their sleep has changed and what can be done. The answer they get is; “It’s the sleep regression, this phase will pass, wait it out”. So they do. And nothing changes. In fact in order to improve their child’s sleep a lot of parents resort to co-sleeping, feeding to sleep, rocking and cuddling. But the phase doesn’t pass. The sleep doesn’t improve and parents are left with a baby that now has developed some strong sleep dependencies.
Well I’m here to tell you that Sleep regression isn’t a regression at all, in fact it is a positive change that signals important changes in your child’s sleep pattern, sleep needs and development. The bad news is that if it is not handled correctly these changes can lead to sleep disturbances. The good news is there IS something you can do to improve your child’s sleep.

Here are the facts about the sleep changes and what you can do about it:

1. Sleep change number 1: 12-16 weeks.
At this point you have just about adjusted to having a tiny little human in your world; the 4am feedings, the constant nappy changes. You spend hours cuddling a beautiful sleeping baby. Then suddenly, awake. Awake every 2 hours through the day and through the night, without warning and it seems that you can’t do anything about it.
This so called 4 month sleep regression is not a regression at all, it is an important sleep development milestone. Up until now your baby’s sleep patterns have been long, deep sleep cycles that happen at close intervals through the day and night, interspersed with feeds. During this change, your baby’s sleep cycles change to that of an older child and adult; distinct phases of light and deep sleep cycles that run between 45-60 minutes. At the end of these deep sleep phases a baby comes into light sleep, most shuffle, stretch and transition to the next cycle but if your baby has become accustomed to being fed, rocked, cuddled to sleep then they are unable to transition between cycles, instead waking more regularly looking for help.
So what can you do about it?
While those newborn snuggles are lovely the best way to approach this sleep change is to help your baby learn to settle and resettle to sleep independently. And before some of you jump in NO this does not mean leaving them to cry; there are lots of ways to help your baby learn this important skill that doesn’t involve a single tear.

2. Sleep change number 2: 8/9/10 months.
At this age, a baby usually goes through another sleep change, this one the result of developmental milestones. This is a controversial one for me, there is little evidence to suggest that developmental milestones and sleep disturbances are linked. It is certainly one of the potential causes however this phase often coincides with a period of separation anxiety and teething.
So what can you do about it?
As this phase can often be accompanied by so many changes; developmental, separation anxiety and teething it can be quite difficult to find the root cause of the wakefulness. However during these periods of developmental changes; both physical and emotional, babies can quickly become overtired and overstimulated. Regular naps at appropriate intervals are so important to combat this resulting overtiredness and overstimulation.

3. Sleep change number 3 and 4: 12 months and 18 months.
I’ve grouped them together because these sleep disturbances are the result of changing sleep needs. As a baby grows their needs change, particularly their sleep needs; needing less, less often and are capable of staying awake for longer periods of time. Sleep disturbances at this age are often the result of parents failing to adapt their baby’s nap schedule inline with these needs. As a baby grows they need less sleep, less often over fewer naps, not moving with your baby’s changing sleep needs may result in issues settling at naptime, bedtime battles, night waking and early morning waking.
So what can you do about it?
At around 12 months babies often need to drop from 2 naps to 1, cutting the total amount of daytime sleep down. Again at around 18months – 2 years, children need to make the transition from one nap to no naps (my condolences)! It’s important to constantly review and change your baby’s routine so that you keep up with their sleep needs.

Baby sleep can be a minefield! Your baby’s needs are ever-changing and ensuring that you are following an age appropriate routine can be the best way to do it. Every day we help parents implement these age appropriate nap schedules to solve sleep issues and prevent future issues. If you need help with any aspect of your child’s sleep then get in touch today to find out how we can help you!

Gemma at Baby Tech Support

7th March 2018

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