Sleep regression is something I didn't know about until our first round of it. While it sounds absolutely horrifying, let me put a little spin on it for you! It's really not that bad if you know how to work it and what to do before and when it happens. Pictured here is 3 nights in to our 2 year regression. I remember her hugging Cookie goodnight, snapping this photo and praying that she would sleep through the night! It didn't happen but you'll hear more about that later.
Sleep regression is when your baby or toddler suddenly stops sleeping or starts waking often throughout the night for no apparent reason. You've made sure they are changed, fed, swaddled, cuddled and nothing else is wrong yet they still won't sleep all of a sudden. For me, it happened every time I thought I had the sleep thing down! We must understand that our babes are learning to navigate the world. They are adjusting to new things and learning all about living outside of the womb. Sleep can be hard for them and when it's hard for them it's so much harder for us. At least it seems this way! Sleep regression happens at 4 months, 8 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years. Now always remember that every baby is different so you could skip these ages or regression may come sooner for some.
Let's start with the 4 month sleep regression! Two things to remember are that this regression is permanent and your baby's growth and development are right on track! So if you're thinking it will end, it won't. It will take some adjusting but remember that this is normal and a healthy occurrence. During this stage, your baby is cycling out of deep sleep and into light sleep more often. They are developing sleep habits much like ours and no longer have that deep newborn sleep that you are used to. It's okay!!! I'm sure you have heard of the term "sleep training" and this is when this typically happens. Honestly, I wish I knew all of this information beforehand.
A 4 month old baby needs 12 to 17 hours of sleep for every 24 hour period. This information will help you better adjust your baby's nap times vs. their bedtime. It can help you get through this regression easier when you can adjust times accordingly. At this age your baby is probably taking about 4 naps a day. Everyone's schedule is different so adjusting their nap times will be unique for you. Here is an example of a 4 month old's sleep schedule:
Wake time: 7 am
First nap: 8:15 am to 9:45 am
Second nap: 11:15 am to 12:45 pm
Third nap: 2:15 pm to 3:15 pm
Fourth nap: 4:30 pm to 5 pm
Bedtime: 7:30 pm
Now, you'll see how baby's naps get shorter throughout the day and awake times are longer. This creates a more sleepy baby when it comes time for bedtime. Obviously, the change from a sleeping newborn to a now sleeping 4 month old doesn't happen over night. Something that worked pretty well for me when I was going through this with Johanna was adjusting her sleep times in 10 minute increments everyday/night until we got it down. Her bedtime was about 9:30 pm for a few months. When she started daycare at 8 months, this was not working for us. She was completely miserable and I knew it's because she needed more sleep at night rather than in the day. I began adjusting her bedtime in 10 minute to 20 minute increments every night until her bedtime was between 7 and 7:30p m. I know you are going to be exhausted but remember that it typically takes 2 weeks for a baby to adjust to something new. Give yourself some grace but don't give up!
Next, the 8 month sleep regression. At this age, there is a lot going on for your baby. They are learning so many new things on a daily basis and their brain is developing like crazy. Typically, sleep regression at this age only lasts for 2 to 3 weeks. At this age, your baby will be down to 2 or 3 naps a day and a total of about 12 to 15 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Their naps should be a bit longer but limited to 3 at the most. If baby is regressing for nap time, don't worry. You can adjust or just put baby in your wrap and do what you need to do!
At this age, your baby may need some help falling back asleep but it is a good idea to start teaching them some self-soothing habits. I remember I used to play with Johanna's ears to get her back to sleep. Now, at 2 years old she rubs her own ears when she is tired. Other soothing techniques you can teach or give them include a pacifier, a dark room, a sound machine, an object like a small stuffed animal or lots of lavender! Also, a good steady routine will help them be able to soothe themselves back to sleep. If they know it's not time to get up and play, their brains will be able to recognize that it is still time to sleep. I remember standing with my hand on Johanna's back for what seemed like forever until she fell back asleep. Oh, if I only knew!
For me, the 12 month sleep regression was the easiest to get through. When your baby starts waking up constantly throughout the night, it's time to transition them for 2 to 3 naps to just one. I have heard that this can start at 11 months also so keep your ears and eyes open. Just remember, there is NOTHING wrong with your baby. This regression is completely normal and healthy for their development!
Next is the 18 month sleep regression and I apologize to you now but this one is not so much fun. This one is the "Mama, you do what you have to do" regression. When I say this I mean if you need to put baby in bed with you to get them back to sleep, do it! If you need to sleep on their floor because you have to work in the morning, do it! The 18 month sleep regression is typically caused by teething or separation anxiety. They are learning independence at this stage and while you'd think they would be great with it, most are not. It's super hard for us to watch our baby's grow into toddlers but it's also hard for them. They still want you there as much as you were when they were newborns. When they start to realize that they can do things without you, they may have a bit of a hard time with it. Or they may be just the opposite and ready to party! Baby may want you there all the time and whatever you have to do to keep your sanity, just do it! You will not ruin your baby, spoil them, etc.
Another thing to note at this age just so you are aware is that an 18 month old is learning that they actually have a "say so" in things. This is the age they'll likely start throwing temper tantrums, telling you "no," or developing a strong will. This is the age where "parenting" starts and spoiling stops if you know what I mean. It's likely that your 18 month old might be thinking, "ha! I don't have to sleep if I don't want to." Mama's, parenting is harder when you're sleep deprived. I know you've worked so hard at that sleep routine and getting them sleeping longer and maybe even in their own room or crib but it's okay to change it up! I used to think that letting Johanna sleep with me would completely ruin her. I would sleep on her floor with my hand in her crib. If I had to work the next day, I didn't even try. Her little butt was in my bed and it did not ruin her! Again, do what you have to do!
The last regression is the 2 year regression and this one is very similar to the 12 month. At 2 years old, there can be a lot going on for your tot. Maybe you're potty training, have just transitioned them to a toddler bed or your toddler just started experiencing dreams or worries. All of these things can disrupt sleep. But again, it takes two weeks to develop a habit. Once they adjust to the fact that they are learning to use the potty on the toilet, they have a new bed or they can actually experience dreams when they are sleeping, it will pass. During this regression, Johanna slept with me for 9 nights in a row because I was working. She adjusted back to her crib just fine! While I dreaded putting her to sleep because I knew she'd wake up (like my thoughts while taking the picture above), I already had it planned that when she woke up she was getting in my bed. I work very early in the morning and I really don't have time to sit there until she goes back to sleep. The thing here is that I continued our routine every night of bath, milk, book, cuddle, bed. I put her to bed in her crib and only brought her to my bed if she woke up. This regression lasted about 9 days for us. All 9 days, she went to sleep in her crib and woke up the next morning in my bed! After those 9 days, she was back to sleeping through the night.
Listen, all baby's and kid's are different! Everything I just said may not apply to your baby at all! But if you're experiencing anything like the above mentioned don't beat yourself up! It's completely normal for your baby or toddler to be doing these things! Try new things and don't give up! You've got this Mama!