Baby Sleep Regression: Understanding the Signs, Symptoms, and Effective Tips

Posted by Jesse Cameron on

Sleep regression can be a challenging phase for parents during their baby's first year. Suddenly, the once peaceful sleeper starts struggling to settle down or waking up frequently during the night, leaving parents exhausted and frustrated. In this article, we will explore the signs and symptoms of baby sleep regression and provide helpful tips to navigate through this temporary phase.

What is Baby Sleep Regression?

Baby sleep regression refers to a temporary disruption in a baby's sleep patterns. It typically occurs at specific developmental stages, such as around 4 months, 8-10 months, and 18 months. During these periods, babies may experience changes in their sleep routines, leading to difficulties in falling asleep, staying asleep, or both.

Signs and Symptoms of Baby Sleep Regression:

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of sleep regression can help parents understand what their baby is going through. Here are some common indicators:

  • Frequent Night Wakings: Your baby, who previously slept through the night, starts waking up multiple times during the night and has difficulty settling back to sleep.
  • Shortened Naps: Nap times become shorter and more irregular. Your baby may have trouble staying asleep for the usual duration.
  • Increased Fussiness: During the day, your baby may become more irritable, cranky, or clingy due to insufficient sleep.
  • Changes in Appetite: Sleep regression can affect your baby's feeding patterns. They may show less interest in eating or experience changes in their appetite.
  • Restless Sleep: Your baby may exhibit restlessness during sleep, such as tossing and turning, frequent wake-ups, or difficulty staying in a deep sleep.

Tips to Manage Baby Sleep Regression:

  • Maintain a Consistent Bedtime Routine: Establish a soothing bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it's time to wind down. Consistency is key, so follow the same routine every night to help them relax and prepare for sleep.
  • Create a Calm Sleep Environment: Ensure the sleep environment is conducive to restful sleep. Dim the lights, use white noise or a gentle lullaby to create a soothing atmosphere, and maintain a comfortable room temperature.
  • Practice Positive Sleep Associations: Encourage positive sleep associations, such as using a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, playing soft music, or using a pacifier if appropriate for your baby.
  • Offer Comfort and Soothing: If your baby wakes up during the night, provide comfort and reassurance without immediately resorting to feeding or picking them up. Try gentle patting, shushing sounds, or a comforting touch to help them settle back to sleep.
  • Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule: Establish a consistent sleep schedule, including wake-up times, nap times, and bedtime. A predictable routine can help regulate your baby's internal sleep clock and promote better sleep.
  • Avoid Overstimulation Before Bed: Minimize stimulating activities before bedtime, such as loud play or screen time. Engage in calming activities, such as reading a book or giving a gentle massage, to help your baby relax.
  • Be Mindful of Hunger Signals: While sleep regression can disrupt feeding patterns, ensure your baby is adequately fed during the day. If they show hunger cues during the night, offer a small feed but avoid relying solely on feeding to soothe them back to sleep.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to a pediatrician or a sleep consultant if the sleep regression persists or becomes overwhelming. They can provide personalized guidance and strategies to address your specific situation.
  • Remember, Sleep Regression is Temporary: It's important to remember that sleep regression is a temporary phase that most babies go through as part of their development. By implementing consistent sleep practices, being patient, and understanding that everyone is learning will make the world of difference. 

The Benefit of Sleep Training

Sleep when you have a newborn can often be non-existent . The good news is that this is temporary, and both you and your baby will eventually sleep through the night as they get older and learn how to soothe themselves. While the weeks may feel like they drag on, and you're only hanging on from one coffee to the next, give yourself and your family some grace as you navigate one of the most challenging times of parenting.

Nights, especially, can feel long, frustrating, and emotional. To help you survive the sleep deprivation, we have compiled a quick guide with ages and stages, as well as tips and strategies to help you get some much-needed shut-eye.

The first thing to acknowledge is that you will be up several times a night, especially in the first few months, and achieving a full night's sleep is not realistic in the immediate future. However, implementing sleep techniques right from the start will help your baby settle into a routine sooner and hopefully sleep for longer periods at night.

Sleep Routine for a Newborn

During the first six weeks, your baby will be adjusting to life outside the womb. Day and night are often confused, and frequent feedings can feel relentless. The awake window during this period is typically 45-60 minutes, which can be a little tight to fit in feeding, burping, a nappy change, and a short awake time before settling for a nap that lasts 2-3 hours. Being overtired is the most common reason for a restless sleeper, so as you get to know your little one, you will start to recognize their tired cues.

While cuddling with a sleeping newborn is delightful, it is important for their long-term sleep habits that they learn to sleep on their own. With this in mind, most of their naps should be taken in their bassinet, and self-settling is a key part of this. Make sure to put your baby down in their bassinet or crib before they are fully asleep, gently stroking their back, head, or face if needed until they drift off. This will help them associate the crib with going to sleep. When lowering your baby into bed, gently place their bottom down first and pause, placing your hand on their tummy for reassurance that you are still there. Then, lower the rest of their body down while keeping a hand on their tummy for a moment or two once they are fully in their crib. Taking it slow and steady is key; take your time withdrawing your hand, as a few extra moments here may prevent your baby from waking and a longer settling process. If they grizzle or cry, try soothing them without picking them up for a few minutes to see if they will settle.

You might be tempted to keep things quiet and dark for your newborn to nap well, but it could prolong the day/night confusion that almost all newborns experience. Day/night confusion can last up to six weeks, so keep the days bright and upbeat, and the nights dark and calm.

A hush or white noise machine can be an effective tool in your baby's sleep routine. A hush machine is a small portable device that creates a continuous soothing sound, providing a comforting and consistent environment for sleep. The benefits include:

  • Associating the noise with sleep time.
  • Masking disruptive noises to promote longer, more restful sleep cycles.
  • Creating comfort and familiarity when sleeping in new environments, such as when traveling or in unfamiliar sleep environments.

Some babies fall asleep faster when they are swaddled. Swaddling involves wrapping them in a blanket or a swaddling sleep sack. It can also protect your baby from their natural startle reflex, which can wake them (and you) up.

Sleep Routine for a Six to Fourteen-Week-Old Baby

Around this time, a sleep pattern may start to emerge, with babies beginning to recognize day from night. While still sleeping between 14-17 hours a day, their awake window will gradually extend to 1-2 hours. During this period, you'll have more time for feeding, burping, diaper changes, and longer wake times. Additionally, babies should start experiencing longer sleep periods at night. Woohoo!

Now is a great opportunity to introduce the bath/feed/burp/book/bed routine to encourage familiarity and promote longer sleep periods at night. Don't worry too much if bedtime isn't the same time every night; what matters most is putting the baby to bed when they are ready to sleep. This way, they won't associate the cot with being awake and crying. Put them to sleep when they are drowsy but not fully asleep, allowing them to settle themselves to sleep. You can provide a light pat, stroke, or rock to assist, but avoid excessive help. If they wake up during the light phase of their sleep cycle, they are more likely to be able to resettle without your intervention. During the night, don't rush to respond immediately when they wake up; give them a few minutes to determine if they need a feed or if they are simply in the light phase and can settle back to sleep.

A pacifier can be a useful tool for self-settling, as it can help babies fall asleep more quickly and sleep for longer periods. A hush or white noise machine is an ongoing effective tool for promoting longer sleep periods as well.

Around 2-3 months, it is advised to stop swaddling due to the baby's ability to roll, which makes swaddling unsafe beyond this point.

Sleep Routine for a Six to Twelve-Month-Old Baby

From 6 months onward, babies typically do the majority of their sleeping at night. However, it's not uncommon for babies to occasionally revert to an erratic sleep schedule. These sleep regressions are a normal and often temporary part of healthy infancy. They can occur due to factors such as teething, illness, growth spurts, changes in nap times, or when babies are learning new skills like rolling over and sitting up unaided.

Parents may choose to utilize specific sleep training strategies such as the Babywise method or the Ferber method, or they may seek assistance from a sleep consultant for additional support if their little ones are not yet sleeping through the night at this stage.

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