Sleep regressions. They’re like the parental boogie man, always lurking just around the corner, waiting to snatch your hard-won shut-eye… or are they?
We asked our baby & toddler sleep expert Natalie Willes to give us the 411 on sleep regressions, and she had a surprising answer.
Truth is… most sleep regressions aren’t real.
“Yes, there are a handful of true sleep regressions, times where your baby is making a leap in their development and that leap is temporarily disrupting their sleep, causing sleep problems like middle of the night wakings,” says Natalie. “Because they’re making these leaps, I actually like to think of them as progressions instead of regressions. And while not fun for a tired parent, these sleep progressions happen at fairly predictable times.” More specifically, there is the 4 month sleep regression, the 10-12 month sleep regression, and the 2 year sleep regression. Why do sleep regressions happen at these times?
At 4 months, babies are not only starting to become more social, smiling and even laughing with their caregivers, but their sleep patterns are also shifting and becoming more adult-like. By 10-12 months, you see babies learning new skills like crawling, pulling to stand, walking, or maybe even starting to say a first word. And around 2 years, your baby has officially become a full-blown toddler, capable of expressing their wants and their desire to be independent. You can expect each of these regressions to last a short period of time, usually about a week or two.
So… why is your baby having so much trouble sleeping?
On top of these 3 sleep regressions, Natalie says most children also experience what she calls sleep disruptions. “These can happen every 4-8 weeks for a variety of reasons, anything from teething to separation anxiety to illness. Or maybe there’s no discernible cause at all, and your baby is just having an off night. But generally, that’s how long sleep disruptions last -- just a night or two.”
What if these sleep “regressions” or “disruptions” seem to drag on for weeks or even months? If your baby was sleeping through the night and napping well, and now all of a sudden they are waking up throughout the night and taking short naps, Natalie actually offers a different perspective.
“When most parents talk about these prolonged sleep regressions, what has actually happened more often than not is that a sleep disruption or developmental leap has been handled in such a way that it has turned a temporary issue into an ongoing one.”
And the two main two culprits, according to Natalie, are feeding and rocking.
“While I know it’s tempting to feed or rock your baby to sleep so you can get back to sleep yourself, what you are actually doing is introducing a sleep prop. You are making your baby dependent on you to fall asleep or go back to sleep when they wake in the middle of the night,” Natalie says.
So what do you do if you are caught in one of these endless “regressions?” Teach your baby the skill of independent sleep.
“Independent sleep means you can put your baby down in their crib, 100% awake and with zero sleep props, and they can fall asleep all on their own,” says Natalie. “Once they know how to do that, these unavoidable sleep disruptions simply become blips on the sleep radar.”
Are you worried a temporary sleep disruption has turned into a prolonged sleep issue? Tinyhood’s Sleep 101 course (taught by Natalie) will show you how to end the cycle and teach your baby the skill of independent sleep. You’ll get a step-by-step guide for implementing this proven method, which will help your baby start sleeping 10-12 hours at night and taking longer, more predictable naps. You’ll also get tips and tricks for managing all kinds of sleep issues, from early wakings to travel to nap transitions, so you can handle whatever comes your way for years to come.
About our Expert
Natalie Willes is a certified baby & toddler sleep expert who has helped 10,000 families worldwide. She roots her method in safety & science to help empower children & bring families the rest they all deserve.