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Sleep Regression Stages: Everything you need to know to survive!

A mother putting her baby to sleep during a sleep regression stage

In the first two years of your little one's life, you can expect them to go through five different sleep regressions. They'll all need a slightly different touch. They'll all ask for you to practice consistency, patience, and persistence (and believe me – at times, it feels like you're getting a LOT of practice!), and – best of all – they'll all pass after about 2-4 weeks if you're consistent with your approach.

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    What is a sleep regression?

    A sleep regression occurs when your baby or toddler experiences a new milestone. They are technically a (progression). These are often linked to physical, cognitive and emotional development.

    How long does a sleep regression last?

    2-4 weeks, and we believe that this is largely influenced by your baby or toddler’s previous sleep foundations. A baby or toddler who has a poor sleep history will struggle with new development as they don’t have a strong foundation to fall back on. Therefore you won't really know when the “regression” has ended and if this is part of their normal unsettled sleeping patterns. Babies and toddlers who have strong sleep foundations will typically feel these as a minor speed bump, and their great sleeping patterns return quickly.

    How do I know if my baby is in a sleep regression?

    Often, the common telltale signs include:

    • Fighting naps or bedtime.
    • Difficulty falling asleep.
    • Taking shorter naps or skipping naps.
    • Frequently waking at night.
    • Fussing and crying.

    What is the hardest sleep regression?

    The 4-month sleep regression is the most difficult sleep regression due to the permanent neurological change in sleeping patterns. This is a maturation of sleep cycles from up to 6-8 hours down to 2-4 hours. Night waking in humans is completely normal. We all surface between sleep cycles overnight, but if your baby or toddler is relying on a lot of external support to initially fall asleep, then they are likely to seek this to be reinstated between sleep cycles.

    This becomes harder in the second half of the night as the sleep pressure is reduced and they enter lighter phases of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which makes returning to sleep after these arousals harder when we rely on external assistance.

    By gently working on healthy sleep foundations at this age, you will also minimise the impacts of the subsequent regressions as you will have laid the groundwork for healthy sleep foundations from a young age.

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    Let's take a look at the sleep regression stages

    4-month sleep regression

    The 4-month sleep regression is the most difficult sleep regression due to the permanent neurological change in sleeping patterns. This is a maturation of sleep cycles from up to 6-8 hours down to 2-4 hours. Night waking in humans is completely normal. We all surface between sleep cycles overnight, but if your baby or toddler is relying on a lot of external support to initially fall asleep, then they are likely to seek this to be reinstated between sleep cycles.

    This becomes harder in the second half of the night as the sleep pressure is reduced and they enter lighter phases of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which makes returning to sleep after these arousals harder when we rely on external assistance.

    By gently working on healthy sleep foundations at this age, you will also minimise the impacts of the subsequent regressions as you will have laid the groundwork for healthy sleep foundations from a young age.

    6-month sleep regression

    The regression is referred to as a 4-6 month regression as it can occur anywhere in this timeframe.  It is not a 2-month regression or second regression and is part of the neurological changes which occur.  We will often see it on the later side with preemie babies.  As it is a permanent change, often if sleep has taken a turn for the worst and there is no improving, it will require us to take a proactive step to support the development of healthy sleep foundations as whilst they will technically grow out of frequent night waking, the answer is similar to “how long is a piece of string”.

    10-month sleep regression

    Your little one's second sleep regression will occur at around 8-10 months of age. If you haven't already heard the term ‘separation anxiety', it will become a popular phrase at this point. 

    At this age, your little one starts to realise that they are a separate person from you. They begin to understand that you – and the objects around them – can come and go, which can make sleep quite a challenge. As is the case with every sleep regression your little one will go through, how you approach the separation anxiety stage will determine how quickly you progress back to regular sleeping patterns.

    Hint: Help your little one with the concept of object permanence by playing games of peek-a-boo. This will show them what is gone is not gone forever.

    Further disruption to sleep around this time can be linked to new physical milestones, like learning how to sit up, crawl, and pull themselves up to standing. I mean, why should they just lay there and sleep when they can move themselves around like this now?! Fortunately, this, too, should all pass within a short period of time and with lots of practice during the day to help build muscle memory.

    Throughout this sleep regression, remain consistent in your settling approach. Don't introduce any new sleep props to your little one that you do not want them to keep long-term.

    12-month sleep regression

    When they're close to celebrating their first birthday, your little one will go through their 12-month sleep regression. This really isn't surprising because there's quite a lot going on for them at this time, from crawling to taking their first steps and learning how to communicate with those around them!

    Often the 12-month sleep regression presents itself as your little one refusing to go down for their second nap, but don't be fooled! Most babies aren't ready to drop their second nap until they're around 15-18 months old, so you'll need to push through this.

    If you're dealing with a little one going through this sleep regression stage, check out my 3 top tips to surviving your child's 12-month sleep regression – you'll find my favourite gems in there on how to handle this stage.

    18-month and 2 year sleep regressions

    Your little one will experience additional sleep regressions at around 18 months and 2 years of age.

    Both stages are caused by rises in their cognitive development, which is exciting because it means they're learning and absorbing so many new things in their world!

    You can commonly experience a second wave of separation anxiety, nap refusal (check out for more information, early rising. Be patient and consistent, as always. nap transitions

    As you've now learned through your little one's previous sleep regression stages, these final stages are:

    • something every child experiences
    • completely normal
    • best handled with consistency and patience.

    Key takeways & summary

    Our top takeaways to consider when entering a sleep regression: 

    1) Review your little one’s awake window.
    Have their sleep needs changed? Depending on your baby or toddler’s age, their sleep needs can frequently change in the first 2 years.  Are they ready for more awake time? Is it time to drop a nap?  Look at their overall daily rhythms and see if it needs a tweak.  Remember only to make one change every 3-5 days as the Circadian Rhythm needs time to catch up and see the impact - positive or negative on their sleep.

    2) Is new development playing a role? 
    New skill development such as physical, cognitive and emotional milestones often means their brain and body are working overtime to master a new skill.  In adult terms, it’s almost like starting a new job every day!  Physical milestones can include: Rolling, crawling, pulling to stand, walking and running.  Cognitive and emotional milestones include object permanence, AKA separation anxiety and their rapid vocabulary expansion.

    3) Be patient and consistent.
    Sleep regressions are short-term and typically last 2-4 weeks.  Don’t panic and introduce/reintroduce lots of new ways of settling that you either haven’t needed before or have worked hard to remove.  It is always ok to meet your baby where they are at developmentally, but have your exit strategy to reduce this external support, so it doesn’t become part of their new expectation for sleep if it’s not sustainable long-term.

    Summary
    You've come this far, Mumma – keep doing what you've been doing and be confident; your little one is just going through yet another change in their development, and, just like you did every other time, you've got this.

    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

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