Has your baby just turned four months old, but he seems to have lost the ability to sleep well? You first think he has a fever, but once you rule it out, you’re back to thinking about the possible culprit. Well, think no more because your baby is going through sleep regression!
Want to find out more? Keep reading as I cover everything you need to know about this phase and how to handle it.
What Is Sleep Regression?
Sleep regression is a period where your baby’s sleep patterns are irregular. For instance, you’ll often notice that the baby wakes up in the middle of the night but can’t go back to sleep.
However, there’s no need to worry because this period is normal. In fact, it could mean that your baby is developing and going through a new growth spurt.
Here’s why: when your baby starts to learn a new skill like walking, his brain tries to evolve and adapt to this new change. This might take effort from him and, in turn, have an impact on his sleep patterns.
Other causes for sleep regression include:
- Catching the flu or an infection
- Starting a new routine like kindergarten
You’ll notice the biggest change in your baby’s sleep pattern when he turns one year old. That’s because his brain develops rapidly during this age.
Signs of Sleep Regression
To confirm whether your baby is going through a sleep regression or something else, check if he has any of these signs:
- Poor sleep quality (fewer naps, interrupted sleep, etc.)
- Fever from teething
- Poor appetite
When Do Sleep Regressions Occur?
There’s no set rule for when sleep regression can happen, but it usually starts at the four-month mark. Also, there’s no pattern for how often these phases occur. But I’ve delved into the typical cycles of sleep regression below.
You’ll most likely notice the first sleep regression signs at this age because your baby’s brain is developing rapidly. For example, his appetite will increase for new foods and drinks, and he’ll improve his motor skills as well as learn how to support his head and use his hands. You might also notice your baby has a slight fever from teething.
At this age, your baby might try to teach himself how to sit and communicate with you, and he might regularly cry at night.
You shouldn’t start sleep training your baby at this age until his sleep regression period ends, or your efforts will be in vain.
But on a positive note, you can finally get a good night’s sleep because your baby won’t need you to put him to bed anymore.
From ages eight to ten months old, your baby will become curious about experiencing new challenges. He might even learn to crawl and stand up. But unfortunately, he might start to struggle with separation anxiety too.
Since this period is pretty exciting and overwhelming at the same time, he might struggle to sleep at night. You can help your baby manage this period by being next to him whenever he wakes up scared.
This is one of the most beloved periods for you and your baby—at least it was for me! When he turns one year old, he’ll start to blabber words in an attempt to speak with you. And you might even find him standing up without your help. Pretty exciting, right?
But you should keep in mind that the biggest growth spurt happens at this age, so you should mentally prepare for restless nights.
At the age of one and a half years old, your baby should already know how to talk and walk. What’s new is that he’ll become more aware of his feelings. But he won’t manage to cope with them yet.
So, prepare yourself for lots of tantrums and, consequently, nightmares and restless nights. Also, let’s not forget teething, which might worsen sleep regression.
At two years old, your baby will sleep fewer hours than usual—around 10 hours—because he’ll be more interested in playing and exploring the world. So, he might fuss when it’s nap time.
There’ll be significant changes in his growth too. For instance, he’ll be ready for potty training, letting go of his favorite pacifier, and sleeping in his room. As you might’ve guessed, this means more intense nightmares and poorer sleep quality.
How to Manage Sleep Regression
Just because sleep regression starts and ends by itself doesn’t mean that you can’t help your baby manage it. For example, you can teach him to sleep independently and fix his irregular bedtime routine. Here are more tips to make his life (and yours) easier.
Learn Your Baby’s Sleepiness Cues
Babies start to reduce daytime naps around the four-month mark, but they still can’t completely stop them until the age of four years old. So, if you let them have their way, their sleep might become disrupted at night.
You can tackle this issue by noticing cues that indicate your baby is feeling sleepy. Some of these signs include:
- Rubbing his eyes
- Avoiding eye contact
- Rubbing his ears
You should keep in mind that as your baby gets older, his need for naps will lessen. But until then, you can help him get his naps by singing him to sleep or reading him a story.
Acknowledge and Ease Your Baby’s Fears
Ever felt like you couldn’t sleep because of your worries? Babies experience that, too, especially during sleep regression. Here are some worries your baby might have:
- Imaginary ghosts and monsters
- Dark rooms
- Walking or crawling
You can help your baby overcome these fears by reaffirming that he’s safe. For example, if he’s afraid of the dark, make it fun by showing him that nothing happens when you turn the lights on and off several times.
Or, help him visualize an imaginary “shield” that protects him from any “ghosts.” Another suggestion is to assign one of his dolls to become a “bodyguard” for his room.
Give Your Baby a Chance to Soothe Himself
Whenever your baby starts to cry at night, don’t immediately run to the room. Instead, give him a couple of minutes because he might be able to soothe himself.
This is because by lifting and rocking your baby at night, he’ll get into the habit of waking up and asking for your attention. And that can guarantee many more sleepless nights and separation anxiety, even after sleep regression is over. So whenever possible, try not to interact with your baby at night.
And if he couldn’t self-soothe, try to sit next to him and caress his skin. If this doesn’t help, too, he could be hungry or need someone to change his diaper.
Cuddle Your Baby
Babies need lots of love and attention as they grow, especially during sleep regression. So, you’ll probably have to shower your baby with lots of rocking and cuddling during the day. By doing this, you give your baby a sense of safety, which might help him get a good night’s sleep.
Set a Bedtime Routine
I can’t emphasize this one enough. I know it’s hard to keep a consistent bedtime routine for your baby when sleep regression is at play—I’ve been there before. And yes, it’ll feel like a constant battle, but it’ll aid in his growth.
Another way to comfort your baby is to let him sleep in your room (not your bed). But only do that if your baby is one year old or younger. This way, you’ll be able to check on him without constantly having to get up and move to another room. That said, if he’s older, skip this tip because he needs to learn to sleep independently.
Make Your Baby’s Environment Relaxing
Sometimes, what keeps your baby up at night is the environment around him, not his worries. For example, if he has siblings, they might be making too much noise for him to be able to sleep.
In this case, you should do what’ll help him sleep in a comfortable environment. Here are some suggestions:
- Keep the room dark. This will help with regulating your baby’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal body clock responsible for the wake-sleep cycle.
- Use blackout curtains because any light can disrupt the baby’s circadian rhythm.
- Play soothing lullabies or white noise.
Keep Your Baby Active During Daytime
If you give your baby lots of room to play in the morning, he’ll be more likely to fall asleep easier at night. Plus, you’ll help him develop faster and experience the world.
So, try to take him and his friends to the park, explore a new area with him, or play with him. And it doesn’t always have to be about playing; you can teach him a new skill to keep him stimulated. For example, he can learn how to pour water into a cup, which will enhance his motor skills.
Conversely, you should avoid any engaging activities at night because it’ll disrupt his bedtime routine.
Try Nap Transitions
As your baby grows older, his naps will become shorter and fewer. For instance, instead of needing three naps at the four-month mark, he might only need two naps when he turns seven months old. This will help improve the quality of his sleep at night, so try to gradually reduce the number of daily naps.
How to Survive Sleep Regression
Sleep regression can be a dreadful period for the entire family, but I wish somebody had told me that it doesn’t have to be the case!
You can get through sleep regression without feeling exhausted. Trust me; you won’t be able to help your baby overcome his worries if you’re too tired to function properly. Here are some tips that might help you survive this period.
Ask for Help
It’s okay to ask for help when all else fails and your baby can’t seem to cope with sleep regression.
So, try to take turns with your partner over who’s going to put the baby to sleep. This way, both of you will get to take a break. You can also ask a trusted friend or family member to take care of the baby for a while until you and your partner recharge. And, of course, don’t reject help if someone offers it!
Practice Self Care
It might be tempting to do your household chores when your baby finally falls asleep, but I don’t recommend this because it’ll drain you in the long run. Instead, try to rest and sleep.
Your chores can be done anytime, but you won’t always have the chance to take a break. Also, try to recharge by doing something you love, like watching your favorite TV series.
Sleep When the Baby Sleeps
You probably heard this sentence a thousand times before, but it’s more effective than you think. Since you might get many sleepless nights during your baby’s sleep regression, it’s important that you get some sleep anytime he’s napping, even if it’s in the middle of the day.
This way, you’ll be more refreshed and ready to deal with the crying tantrums at night.
How Long Does Sleep Regression Last?
Sleep regression usually lasts for two to four weeks. But it can also last for a few days or a whole month, and its duration can vary as your baby grows older.
Can I Stop My Baby From Having Sleep Regression?
Unfortunately, no. Sleep regression is a normal stage for babies, so it’s unavoidable.
Should I Call a Doctor When My Baby Has Sleep Issues?
If your baby can’t sleep because of sleep regression, there’s no need for a doctor. But if his temperature becomes high (>101° F in six-month-old babies or younger), you should contact a doctor.
By now, you should know the what, why, and how of sleep regression. But to quickly recap, sleep regression is when your baby starts to struggle with sleeping at night. And it’s a pretty normal part of his development.
It’s often a result of growth spurts that “stress out” your baby’s brain and disrupt his sleep. You can help him during this period by providing him with safety and keeping him engaged and active in the morning.
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