The term ‘sleep regression’ has been debated amongst professionals and experts as many claim that these are sleep disturbances caused by numerous factors, rather than regressions. That being said, many parents believe in sleep regressions, particularly the 4-month sleep regression.
Whether they are sleep regressions or sleep disturbances, we will explore the different stages and how your child’s cognitive and developmental growth can coincide with changing sleep patterns. It’s worth noting that if you’re concerned about your infant’s sleeping patterns, you should always seek medical advice or speak with your paediatrician.
Defining Sleep Regression
Sleep regression, often known as the 4-month sleep regression, is a normal occurrence that can happen as your baby’s sleep patterns start to shift. While concrete scientific research is lacking regarding sleep regression, many parents and experts believe that sleep disturbances are common and expected during the first two years.
Despite often being named the 4-month sleep regression, these disturbances can also occur at 6 months, 8 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years. Signs of sleep regression can include increased nighttime awakenings, fussiness and crying around bedtime, shorter sleep duration and restlessness.
Sleep Regression Stages
Sleep regression can occur at various stages throughout the first 2 years of your child’s life. While this can vary depending on the child, generally sleep regressions can be broken up into 5 different stages. Below are some of the common signs of sleep regression from 4 months to 2 years.
- 4 Months: For many, ‘sleep regression’ first occurs during the 4-month mark and can be the most challenging for parents. During this time, babies may experience difficulties falling asleep, more nighttime awakenings and shorter sleep duration. In addition, there may be more fussing and crying around bedtime.
- 6 Months: The reality of the 6-month regression has been debated as many claim it’s short-lived or simply doesn’t exist. However, at 6-months, babies often experience a growth spurt and there may be an increase in disruptions to the normal nighttime routine.
- 8 Months: The 8-month regression can typically range anywhere between 8 and 10 months. This stage often occurs as the child is going through developmental changes and teething. Sleep awakenings are common during this stage, and your child may also experience separation anxiety✓ which could cause them to want your attention during the night.
- 12 Months: At the 1-year mark, your baby is likely to be learning new skills, such as walking and talking. This can lead to more fidgeting, fussiness and nighttime awakenings. You may also witness more irritable behaviour and temper tantrums.
- 18 Months: As your child gains more independence, they may start refusing to go to sleep or take naps. This resistance can be made more challenging as your toddler begins to find their voice and use their new mobility skills.
- 2 Years: The final acknowledged stage of sleep regression comes at the 2-year mark. Coinciding with the ‘terrible twos’, your child may experience more sleep disturbances and further resistance at bedtime. Like the 18 months, increasing independence and new skills can also cause more restlessness.
Did you know?
Research✓ has found that chronic sleep disturbance affects 15% - 35% of children aged 3-5 years old. This can include bed refusal, crying during the night and delayed sleep.
Causes Of Sleep Regression
Sleep regressions and nighttime disturbances can be commonplace during the first two years of a child’s life and can be caused by various factors. Most of these causes are part of normal development, and many children will grow out of it as they get older. Below are some of the leading causes for sleep regressions between 4 months and two years.
- Developmental Changes: During later months, as your child begins to learn to talk and gain independence, they may put up more resistance when going to bed. Additionally, learning to walk can also present challenges as your child may become more restless and fidgety.
- Separation Anxiety: Experiencing separation anxiety is relatively normal for children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. During this time, a growing awareness is formed and babies begin to realise their dependency and security with their caregivers. This can result in increased clinginess and crying when left alone.
- Teething: Most babies start teething✓ around 6 months, although this can vary and some babies are even born with their first teeth. Teething may cause sleep disruptions and regressions as it can sometimes be very uncomfortable and cause pain for the child.
- Nap Schedules: As your baby transitions into a toddler, their schedule may become busier or they may be starting childcare. This could cause a change in nap schedules which could also have a knock-on effect on their sleep patterns.
- Family Changes: There are many changes that could arise alongside having a young child, such as changes in schedules, moving house or preparing for a sibling. Children may pick up on the stress surrounding these changes, which could be be responsible for sleep regressions and disruptions.
- Illness: Sleep disturbances may be a result of illness or infection. Check for any signs of medical causes such as a rash, irratation or coughing. If you are unsure, always seek professional medical help.
How Long Does Sleep Regression Last?
Although sleep regressions can be challenging for both parents and infants, they are typically short-lived and shouldn’t be a major cause for concern. The duration of sleep regression can differ depending on the child; however, they usually last anywhere between 2-6 weeks.
Usually, the duration of the sleep regression can depend on the cause and it may often involve your infant getting over a developmental milestone. If your child is adopting a different nap or sleep schedule, it may also take them some weeks to get used to the new routine.
If sleep regression persists after 6 weeks and is causing distress, it may be worth seeking professional help or advice to help identify the root of the problem.
Dealing With Sleep Regression
Depending on the cause, most sleep regressions will fix themselves, and usually, only last a few weeks. Despite this, sleep regressions can be difficult for parents, so here are some steps you can take to help encourage healthy sleep patterns and minimise stress.
- Feeding: Making sure your baby is fully fed during the day could prevent them from waking up hungry during the night.
- Environment: To aid the internal body clock and help your infant know when to sleep, it’s useful to keep the room dark with minimal noise. In addition, finding the right cot bed mattress can help your child stay comfortable.
- Consistency: Changes in routine and schedules are normal as your child gets older. However, try to minimise changes to sleep routines as much as possible. This can include timings, setting and bedtime routine.
- Cry It Out Method: Leaving your baby to cry, rather than rushing to their side could help the infant to self regulate and not be as dependent. Studies✓ have found that this method was associated with shorter crying duration with no damage to development or parent bonding.
- Routine: Having a solid bedtime routine can help your child relax and prepare to sleep. This could include bathing, reading a book and feeding. Try to keep the stages of the routine in the same order to maintain a calming structure for your infant.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is sleep regression?
Although the validity of the term has been debated; sleep regression can generally occur when your infant experiences signs of sleep and nap disturbances at various stages within their first 2 years.
How long does sleep regression last?
This can depend on the cause of the sleep regression. If your child is experiencing developmental or routine changes, you may have to wait for your infant to get used to or move past it. This can typically take around 2 - 6 weeks.
How long does 4-month sleep regression last?
While every child is different, the 4-month regression usually doesn't last long and is usually over after a couple of weeks. That being said, the duration can differ amongst infants from a few days up to six weeks.