Has your baby suddenly gone from sleeping through the night to waking frequently, refusing naps, difficulty falling asleep on their own or trouble staying asleep?
Sometimes this can be caused by illness or teething. But if you have ruled these things out and its lasting more than a few days (unlike a growth spurt) along with your child suddenly being extra cranky, clingy and crying more than usual…. this could be a sleep regression.
WHEN DO SLEEP REGRESSIONS HAPPEN?
The most common sleep regressions occur around 4-6 months, 8-10 months and 11-13 months. Typically, around the stages a baby learns to roll, crawl and walk. It is a really exciting time as your baby is going through tremendous cognitive development. But like all skills they need practice and this means your baby is likely to be practicing these skills again and again both physically and mentally until they have been mastered.
WHY DO SLEEP REGRESSIONS IMPACT SLEEP?
Quite simply because your little ones brain is so busy practicing these new skills and it’s hard to simply switch off. Imagine how you feel when you are really excited about something or really nervous about a big event. You cannot turn off your thoughts which often keep you awake at night. During these phases for a baby, the brain is in overdrive and similarly, they cannot shut it off and find it really hard to get to sleep. This results in a tired and cranky baby the next day or a baby who simply refuses to nap or sleep!
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP YOUR BABY THROUGH THE REGRESSION?
Firstly, remember that this will not last forever and with some consistency you will be able to get things back on track quite quickly.
Most importantly stick to your routine especially at bedtime. Having the same steps in the same order every night will help to cue your baby that sleep is coming. It also okay to offer them a little more reassurance than usual, just don’t overcompensate by reintroducing old sleep crutches you may have moved away from as this is where the real danger lies –don’t reintroduce crutches like cuddling to sleep, rocking, co sleeping etc in desperation to provide a temporary fix. Your little one will most likely expect you to continue with these things post regression.
During the day, encourage your little one to help them master their new skill with lots of practice.
OTHER REASONS FOR SLEEP REGRESSIONS
A baby’s sleep may also take a regression as a result of a change. Have you gone on holiday? Has your routine changed? Has your baby been unwell? All these things can cause a temporary sleep setback. The important thing is to have a plan in advance for how to respond to your baby during these times so you are not desperately clutching at straws in the middle of the night. It’s okay to offer extra reassurance during these times but be mindful of not overcompensating. For example you might want to sit next to them using lots of touch and shushing instead of bringing them into your bed if this is not something you would normally do.
SELF SETTLING AND SLEEP REGRESSIONS:
Sometimes a sleep regression will highlight the lack of a sleep skill. Perhaps your baby is unable to settle to sleep in the first place, relying on your help to do it for them. If this is the case then you need to create a plan asap to slowly move away from doing all the work and encouraging your baby to do more of the falling asleep for themselves. Teaching your little one to master self settling will help to navigate this regression much faster. But along with consistency, be patient…as it may take until the regression has passed before baby shows you that they can do it, so hang in there.
DEVELOPEMENTAL LEAPS AND WONDER WEEKS
The Wonder Weeks (by Hetty van de Rijit & Frans Plooij) explores a baby’s mental development during the first 20 months. Its based on lots of research and neurological studies that show significant changes in a baby’s brain at around more or less the same time for every child. In fact studies show that with the wonder weeks you can predict mental developmental leaps to within a week or two! In theory a parent is then able to rationalise a particularly fussy phase as down to a wonder week!
A developmental leap refers to physical development which unlike mental development these timings can vary and be harder to pinpoint for example walking (children can walk as early as 10 months or later at 18 months). A developmental leap is usually preceded by a fussy phase and not knowing when to expect these can leave parents confused, confidence knocked and a bewildered baby.
Whilst this is a useful guide, I don’t like to get hung up on exact times to expect these phases. You could experience a fussy phase due to mental development followed by a fussy phase due to physical development. The result of all this development can then cause disruption to the routine which in turn causes yet another fussy phase and inevitably illness and teething get thrown into the mix as well. It might feel like they come along one after the other and life seems to be one big fussy phase!
If you blame everything on a wonder week, developmental leap, or growth spurt and just ride out the sleep implications, your child will never truly learn the sleep skills they really long for. So be aware of these phases and help your child through them but do not expect miracles on the other side if your baby was already lacking in the ability to sleep independently. On the plus side if your child is already a skilled sleeper then these phases will pass and things will get back to normal quickly.
Not sure where to start with teaching your child to self settle? Why not book in for a free sleep evaluation call with Leigh – just click on her profile at the top of the page.