What is Sleep Regression?

By Henry Flores


Sleep regression, or here at Sleepably what we like to call, physical or cognitive progression,  is where a baby or child experiences a period of time where they struggle to go to sleep and stay asleep. This period usually lasts between two and six weeks. Often parents feel as though they have been caught off-guard by this period in their child’s development. 

Sleep regression causes a child to refuse to go to sleep when they have otherwise been a great sleeper or to wake up suddenly from their sleep for no apparent reason. They wake up fussy and often have a hard time getting themselves back to sleep. 

What causes baby sleep regression?

Parents often feel as though they have just established a sleep schedule and then their little one begins to regress for no apparent reason. There are in fact a number of reasons why your child may be experiencing a sleep regression. 

The main culprit in regressions is a progression in your child’s cognitive or physical development. When they begin to roll from side to side, sit up, start solid foods, pull up to standing position, walk, talk, etc., these are all massive milestones that they are repeating constantly in their brains so they can “download” this skill into their brain. This can cause a lot of excitement and a huge desire to practice repeatedly and thus not sleep!  Hence, the sleep regression!

How to tell if your child is struggling with sleep regression:

Every child’s sleep pattern looks different, and as a result signs of sleep regression look different for every kid. Some of the most common signs of sleep regression are:

  • Waking up throughout the night
  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Early morning wake-ups

While the signs of sleep regression vary from child to child, it also varies from age to age. Not every child will go through an obvious regression with sleep, but we typically see the most common regressions at these ages: 

  • 4 months: The four-month sleep regression will most likely be the first obvious sleep regression that your baby will go through.. Sleeping regression at this age is often a result of learning to babble and rolling side to side and front to back.
  • 6 months: The six-month sleep regression is often caused by your little one going through a growth spurt, using hands more and learning to sit up..
  • 9 months: The nine-month sleep regression can be a result of separation anxiety. This separation anxiety may cause your little one to wake up looking for you, and if you’re not there they may become more anxious. Providing them with more comfort and daytime contact and closeness can help to alleviate their anxiety.
  • 12 month: Toddler sleep regression can be caused by the excitement of reaching new milestones such as standing, crawling and walking. At this age children become more independent. This new independence can cause excitement. Allowing them time to practice their new skill during the day over and over can help them be more physically tired at bedtime. t.
  • 18 month: Toddler sleep regression at this age can be caused by fear as well as separation anxiety. It is not uncommon for your little one to start having fear of being alone at this age, which can have an adverse effect on their sleep. Providing them comfort when they wake up can help your little one fall back to sleep more soundly. 

How to help your baby with sleep regression

Sleep regression can make you and your baby feel more irritable because neither of you is getting enough sleep. Though this stage is only temporary it can be hard to navigate. Here are a few tips that can help you:

  • Know your baby’s sleep cues
  • Stick to a sleep routine
  • Practice their new progressions during the day
  • Give your baby a little extra closeness during the day
  • Give yourself grace

If you are continuing to struggle with getting your baby to get the amount of sleep that they need, it may help to try sleep training. 

Can You Prevent Sleep Regression?

Sleep training can help your baby learn how to fall asleep and stay independently. .  There are many evidence-based methods we use to help meet the needs of your individual child and family. Many parents choose to co-sleep, co-room or have an independent space for their child. We will meet you where you are at.

 If you have any questions about sleep for your child, including which methods may work well for your child and family or how to help your child sleep better, please schedule a consultation with a Sleepably child sleep consultant. 

Our experienced sleep consultants will be able to work with you to create a sleep plan that will help your baby sleep through the night. We’re based in Denver, CO, but we work virtually with families across the U.S. and internationally.

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