everything you need to know about Baby Sleep Regression to get through every single one of them (and not regret having children)
If you’re up googling “baby sleep regression“, it’s probably because you’re desperate. I get it. You have no idea why your baby suddenly stopped sleeping, or stopped napping, or just started sleeping different (and not good different) than he did before – and you’re tired and a little terrified of the future. (A future in which you envision NO sleep for yourself ever again, ever. Never. You’re starting to wonder if you’re doomed.)
I know, because I’ve been there. I googled it with my first, when he was just a few months old… and off an on until he was nearly two. And now my second is nearly 4 months old, I find the term popping up in my life again.
But this time it’s different – this time, I have less panic about my baby’s sleep regressions; I understand what’s happening, and I know what I should do. Baby sleep worry doesn’t control me the way it did once.
Now that we are dealing with the 4 month sleep regression for the second time in our home, (and we have literally JUST come out of an 18 month sleep regression) I feel the need to write about baby sleep regressions in a way that will ACTUALLY HELP PARENTS, and not just pray on your exhaustion and fears to sell you a baby sleep training course (or an attachment parenting book).
Let’s get that out of the way right now – much of the information out there, published online – is published with a marketing bent. One that will convince you that you must sleep train your baby if you want this hell to end… because it’s easy to sell based on fear. And you’re tired, and desperate. You’re basically a sitting duck. (I understand this because I am an online marketer, I do it for a living.)
There is a time and place to decide to sleep train… sure. But let’s not jump to the conclusion that we MUST sleep train based on fear of the future.
Note that I am not a doctor, I am just a sleep obsessed mom.
I am excited to write this post about baby sleep regression. I don’t get excited to write much anymore – sometimes I even hire people to write for me! But I am pretty passionate about baby sleep, just because it was SUCH a hard thing for me in the beginning, and I hope that I can help other moms (and dads) deal with baby sleep regression in a healthy way.
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
First of all, you should know that when I was pregnant with baby # 1, I was ALL FOR SLEEP TRAINING. I was going to sleep train this baby the day it was old enough and we were all going to sleep twelve hours per night every night after that and I would never be one of these exhausted moms. I would be rested!
You should also know this, before you read on:
I did not sleep train, and that was a conscious decision. Not something we “never got around to”. I don’t think you’re terrible if you do choose to sleep train. It’s not for me.
My 21 month old sleeps 11 hours per night, on average, generally not waking – or sometimes waking once. He also naps about 2 hours per day, every day, and he goes down well at nap time AND nighttime. We do not have a “bed time battle” (except during a sleep regression, but that’s jumping ahead. We’ll get there.)
My four month old sleeps with me, and in the first four months of her life I got more sleep than I got in the first 8 months of my son’s life. I firmly believe this is because I knew differently, so I did differently.
OK with all that said –
What is a baby sleep regression?
A baby sleep regression is the end of the world as you know it.
But it can feel that way! And nothing you read on the internet will make you feel any better about it. (Except, hopefully, this article might.) A baby sleep regression is a (pretty predictable) (oh, and also normal) relatively short (but feels long) period of time where your baby’s sleep changes – and generally not for the better.
You can have a 3.5 month old that’s sleeping regular longer stretches, maybe 3 or 4 hours per night, or maybe you’re winning the baby sleep lottery and your 3.5 month old is SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT (and so are you), and then suddenly… it’s over. Now you’re up every 45 minutes and you have no idea why or what you did to deserve this.
From the outside, that’s what a baby sleep regression looks like. It also looks like short naps, or no naps, or long struggles to fall asleep. You might find yourself saying “and now he just WILL NOT SLEEP”.
From the inside, though, something totally different is going on.
Remember, baby sleep regressions are NORMAL. And, if you do some reading up on it, you’ll learn that a sleep “regression” is a sign that baby is PROgressing developmentally.
Sleep regressions tend to coincide with developmental leaps. We certainly found this to be true – if baby is learning to roll (at 4 months, or 5 months) for example – you could also notice a regression. Or learning to walk, or learning to talk. Sometimes the regression seems like it lasts as long as it takes to master the skill – they finally get rolling figured out and the regression goes away!
There are also developmental leaps that happen in their brains – that we can’t see physical signs of on the outside – but their little brains are just so busy that it does affect sleep.
common ages for baby sleep regression
We can semi-predict the common ages for baby sleep regressions because these regressions are usually coinciding with normal developmental leaps, according to Dr T. Berry Brazelton, based in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital sleep regressions may be seen at 6 weeks, 4-5 months, 6 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, 18-20 months and 2 years. (Babies be developing A.L.O.T in the first 2 years. haha.)
Of course children don’t develop at exactly the same rate, and you might find that you “skipped” the four month sleep regression, only to start struggling with sleep at 5 months – it’s totally possible that your 4 month sleep regression is happening at 5 months, and that is nothing to worry about at all! (Our 18 month sleep regression with kiddo #1 happened at 20 months!)
The most common regressions are 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months and 18 months.
How long does sleep regression last for?
When you’re in the middle of a baby sleep regression, it can feel like it will last forever.
Ever notice that a journey seems so much farther the first time you’re on it – a drive for example – because you’ve never done it before and you don’t really “know” how long it takes you to get there? (Sure, the GPS says 1.5 hours, but it forgot to account for the bad traffic and the fact that you just happen to hit every. single. red. light on the way.)
Sleep regressions generally last 2-6 weeks, but I believe there are things we can do to help speed them up OR to make them take way longer to resolve.
Regardless, sleep regressions DO end. We recognize them now, in our children, and we have a mantra. “This is just a season. It is a phase that will end, just like all the other ones ended. Be consistent”. (More on this in a minute.)
sleep regression 4 months – what to do
If you read too much about the 4 month sleep regression (and you might, because it’s probably the first one you’re experiencing) you’ll likely feel doomed. You might even determine, after a few sleepless weeks, that you HAVE to sleep train your baby, and you have to start right now – before it’s too late!
You’ll read that the 4 month sleep regression in not a true regression, rather, it’s a change in the fundamental way your baby sleeps. Pre-4 months, your baby is just constantly drowsy and falls asleep everywhere, with lots of deep sleep happening. (Except, this isn’t true for ALL babies! My first couldn’t sleep PRE 4 months either!) Post 4 months, your baby’s sleep cycles become more like adult sleep cycles (going back and forth between light / deep sleep.)
Now, sleep experts will sell their sleep solutions with this scary little phrase – “unlike other regressions, the changes that take place in a baby’s sleep habits at 4 months are permanent”.
Wait – WHAT?!
My baby is going to wake every 45 minutes FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE?!
If I don’t teach him to self-soothe, I’ll have to put him back to sleep every 45 minutes until COLLEGE?
Let’s just step back 6 inches and understand that what is permanent is that your baby will cycle between light and deep sleep for the rest of his life. You can be involved a little while longer because you’re the mommy, but you certainly won’t be involved forever. Did your mom pat you to sleep on your wedding night? Or what about when you were… even 5 years old? Was she still THAT involved?
Let’s not panic, and let’s look at what we can do to practically deal with the four month sleep regression:
The first thing to “do” for this 4 month sleep regression is get your baby on a nap schedule.
This is a really good time to understand (and accept / embrace) that babies NEED a lot of sleep for their entire first two years (if not longer). If your baby isn’t getting enough sleep, that in itself can cause wakefulness. Overtired babies struggle to sleep. MOST babies, especially if mom has much of a day time social life, don’t get enough sleep. Neglecting that your baby need enough DAY TIME sleep is the #1 most common baby sleep mistake. At this age, (4 months) many babies can be awake happily for up to 2 hours, but for some, that is even too long.
Easier said than done during a regression!
At this point (4 months) baby is young enough that if it’s been two days since baby napped well, baby is over tired and things are only going to get worse. Overtired babies can not sleep well.
Do whatever needs doing to get baby rested (driving around, holding him to sleep etc) and then when baby is RESTED you can start trying to get going on a nap schedule.
If baby has a terrible time falling asleep for a nap, try putting baby down SOONER. Watch that clock. For a while, stay home as much as possible, and focus on baby getting in enough day time sleep.
At this age, when baby wakes from a nap far too soon, I try to get them back down right away instead of just assuming the nap is over.
This article is a great starting place for figuring out how much sleep YOUR baby needs, and how long your baby should be awake between naps.
It really helps to start being respectful of “the nap”
This is the age where I no longer just assume baby will have a decent nap in the car seat, I no longer think I should be out at my sisters for coffee (unless it’s long coffee and baby will nap there).
Now we try to be home at nap times so baby can nap in her own bed (well, our bed – but that’s where she sleeps), in the dark ish with her sound machine.
When in doubt, start with more sleep instead of less
Just because I don’t sleep train my kids doesn’t mean I think I all the sleep trainers out there are making stuff up and don’t know anything.
You’d be hard pressed to find a baby sleep professional that doesn’t believe “sleep beget sleep”.
I am all on board with the idea that an over tired baby struggles to sleep well, and that most (all?) kids need A LOT of sleep. Growing is HARD WORK. Most children don’t get nearly enough sleep.
IF you find yourself thinking that your baby is struggling to sleep because she has napped too much in the day, unless her daytime sleep exceeded 6+ hours at 4 months, that is likely NOT the problem. It’s OK if your 4 month old wants to sleep up to 16 hours in a 24 hour period, so that means if baby is getting 11 hours of sleep at night, 5 hours in the day is GREAT!
Sure, if your baby is up ALL NIGHT and then wants to sleep 8 hours in the day, that’s a problem, but it’s a different problem… I’m just saying don’t go chopping naps thinking you will “wear baby out” to get a good night’s sleep.
Here’s a handy chart to help you figure out about how long your baby should be awake between naps – note that times are AVERAGE, and every child is different… my second was pretty close to these averages exactly however!
The next thing to do for the four month sleep regression is not DIScourage self soothing.
While I am far from a proponent of forcing your baby to self sooth, lots of babies have natural instincts to suck their thumbs / fingers. We tend to rush into the room at first peep – when perhaps if given a moment, baby would settle back down.
During the four month regression (or any time, really), if baby wakes 45 minutes after you put her down, just let her be for a moment – unless she’s very upset. I’m not telling you to leave your crying baby alone. The other night my four month old woke after 45 minutes of sleep, and she laid on the bed and continued to call out every few minuets – mahhhh! while sucking her fingers – for over an hour… and then she drifted back to sleep. I gave her the opportunity to self settle – and she took it.
At any point, had she starting actually crying I would have rushed to save her from being alone, and given her a soother, nursed, whatever she needed to fall back to sleep.
IF you haven’t yet, this a great time to begin a bed time routine and start trying to have a bed “time”
A bath, a story (read one of these short bedtime stories for babies), jammies, prayers while baby feeds and into bed. Switch on the white noise machine.
If you do the same things consistently every night before bed, it really helps baby understand that this is bed “time” (and you do want to aim for the same time each night).
The best routines are short and not overly stimulating (obviously).
If baby REALLY struggles to fall asleep at your chosen time, there’s a good chance it’s too late. Try earlier (and if that doesn’t work try later), until you get the right time. But try earlier first – if baby seems fussy in the evening, you should be getting baby ready for bed before that fussiness kicks in.
Which brings us to a final important consideration for the four month sleep regression
You must decide now what you are and what you are not ok with doing for the next 2 months – 2 years.
Are you willing to help your baby sleep on and off – if necessary – for the time being? Or do you want out of the equation? This is the time where a parent can begin to consider sleep training, or can decide that they will be open to helping their child sleep if necessary.
You’re probably looking for someone to TELL you what to do to solve this problem, and the reality is that there is no “problem” and certainly no one size fits all solution. But now is definitely the time to think about what YOU want (and what will be best for your family.)
Because the four month sleep regression is actually a change in the way baby cycles through sleep, anything that you do EVERY TIME baby falls asleep can (likely will) become a sleep association.
Is mom patting me to sleep? I like to be patted to sleep.
Does mom nurse me to sleep? I LOVE nursing to sleep.
Do I have a pacifier? Do I suck my fingers? Does daddy bounce me sometimes?
Contrary to what many sleep experts claim, these are not negative things. We had children (talking about my husband and I now, not the human race as a whole), to raise them, to be involved, to parent. I WANT to help my children sleep if needed, and we are fine with sleep associations.
Also, just because you’re involved like this every 45 minutes right now does NOT mean it will remain this frequent over the coming months.
But, knowing that we will be involved somehow or other pushes us to choose things that are easy for us to do. We lay down on the bed next to our babies, instead of bounce them around the room.
We offer a pacifier KNOWING that we will likely have to help them find it for the next 6-12 months, and therefore we embrace co-sleeping, something we swore we would never do, because we don’t want to wander around the house in the middle of the night. (If you want to use a pacifier but don’t want to co-sleep, I would use a wubanub, because baby can find it themselves from a much younger age!)
During the four month sleep regression it can be tempting to do whatever’s easiest to get baby to sleep – like put them in a swing or have daddy bounce them for half hour… but smarter is probably to practice patience with your chosen method of getting baby to sleep – for me that’s laying on the bed with baby. YES it takes 100 times longer. But I remember that this just a season, and I want to be cool with the long term habits we are creating.
We continue to nurse to sleep knowing that we co-sleep and nursing to sleep is great! We will deal with the “problem” of night weaning when it’s time. (It never was a problem with my first. I just went away for three nights and when I came back it was over.)
You don’t have to make tough decisions TONIGHT. These are just things to think about during the four month sleep regression, so you can decide how to move forward.
sleep regression 6 months – what to do
Here’s the good news and the bad news from here on out with all sleep regressions:
There’s nothing else earth shattering – REALLY – to DO.
They will END on their own – provided that you don’t create a bunch of really bad habits while trying to cope.
The most important actions to take for any regression from here on out are taking care of babies needs, consistency, and patience.
Similarly to the four month sleep regression, the 6 month regression lines up with all kinds of exciting developments, but some of these can be REALLY hard to sleep through, like cutting teeth or starting solids (especially if this causes constipation), and learning to get up on all fours.
My baby would sit on the bed rocking on all fours like he was trying to crawl! And he would do this on and off for HOURS!! Like he just had to practice his new found “skill”.
The good news is that if you were even slightly on track before this regression (if baby was sleeping through or only waking once etc) you should be on your way back there shortly.
Deal with constipation, teething pain etc
You can’t sleep well if you’re in pain, and it’s ridiculous to think a baby could. Introduce solids slowly and make sure they’re still drinking loads to help keep things moving.
If baby is teething, consider using an amber teething anklet (just seems safer than a necklace to me, both my kids used the anklet, and it worked great!) There are also homeopathic teething medicines that do help, and in our house we also used both Tylenol and Advil by 6 months.
Be sure if you are using Advil you are NOT giving it on a empty stomach.
You can also go a size up with diapers if you think being overly wet by morning is disturbing baby’s sleep.
Recognize that you’re not the only one who’s tired and frustrated
Baby is more aware now than ever, and while it’s true that you’re exhausted – and let’s face it – frightened, that you might never sleep again, this is tough for baby too.
Particularly as the regression goes on and they begin to lack their needed sleep. It might SEEM like they’re just having a 3 am party, but really, they probably want to be sleeping. They also want to be crawling, or pulling up on things, and they feel the need to practice this stuff – but no one will let them, mom and dad just want them to sleep!
Believe me, if baby could just lay down and sleep, baby would. Screaming “I said GO TO SLEEP” at your 6 month old will NOT solve the problem, and not win you any parenting awards either.
Above all, be consistent and have patience
This is just a season. It is a phase that will end. Be consistent.
If mommy and daddy have to take turns with baby in the night, so be it.
One night soon, it will just get better – as long as you’re consistent and don’t create new bad habits.
sleep regression 9 months + 12 months – what to do
Be consistent and have patience, of course!
You can also:
Reassess baby’s nap schedule
Baby is likely ready to shift from three naps to two, if he hasn’t already (by 9 months).
If bed time goes much easier after 2 naps than 3, it’s time!
Baby still needs plenty of day time sleep, however. One nap is probably not the answer, unless it’s one very loonngg (3 hour) nap.
(Reassess again around the 12 month regression – some babies do drop to one nap per day as early as 12 months. Babies at 12 months STILL ABSOLUTELY NEED A NAP, however.)
be grateful for your time with your baby
It was during our 12 month sleep regression that I had this epiphany.
Baby is only this little for such a short time. Soon I won’t have him to snuggle, and one day he will be 27 and I will be lucky if he calls me on Sunday to say hi. Tired and emotional as you may be, remember that. I wrote a lot more about this sleep regression and that realization here.
but seriously, be consistent and have patience during the 9 month + 12 month sleep regressions
For us, the 9 month (and 12 month) sleep regressions looked like lonnnnnnnng awake stretches in the middle of the night. We sat in the rocking chair and cuddled.
It seemed like months on end that he was up from midnight till 3 – but really it was only a few weeks each time. My husband and I took turns, switching out to get some sleep.
And then it ended, and baby started sleeping through the night.
sleep regression 18 months – what to do
Whoa, the 18th month sleep regression is a doozy.
Mostly because now your baby is a tiny little PERSONALITY.
He wants water. He wants food. He wants a DIFFERENT pacifier. He wants to party.
We just came out of a 5 week long 18th month sleep regression (though for us it happened at 20 months) and has coincided with a bunch of new words. Little man is TALKING (oh, my heart….).
While all sleep regressions can look a little different, for us, it meant that naps were hard – taking up to an hour to fall asleep, and bed time was hard – sometimes taking up to 3.5 hours to fall asleep even though we had changed NOTHING, and he had been falling asleep in 15 minutes for months.
We handled it the way everyone handles a sleep regression. We mourned, we cried, we wondered what we had done wrong. We posted on FB (and I was shocked at the number of people who suggested dropping his nap all together. Ummmm NO! Not only do I not want to deal with an over tired melty-downy toddler, mommy need her afternoons!) And then we realized it was a sleep regression, and we brought out our mantra:
This is just a season. It is a phase that will end, just like all the other ones ended. Be consistent. Be patient. Be firm.
That means that even though we knew bed time could take 3 hours during a baby sleep regression, we still did bed time at bed time, with the whole routine. (We did start bed time a little earlier, to make up for lost sleep time.)
We also did NOT start new bad habits. No getting out of bed to snuggle on the couch just because we can’t sleep. No 6 glasses of water (though we always do allow one glass).
No skipping nap, even though it is super tempting when you have other kids who need your attention. If I had to spend half hour getting him down, I did. If nap ended up being an hour late, so be it. He napped.
And now, 5 weeks later, we have a kid that goes to sleep in 15 minutes, naps for two hours on time every day, and says WORDS.
A few other things to consider if the regression is particularly bad or long lasting at 18-20 months:
Limit sugar / consider dietary intolerances:
It’s soooooo easy to become a little careless with diet by a year and a half, not to mention almost all the standard toddler snacks are poor diet choices. Studies have found that too much sugar is causing sleep disorders in children as young as three – and if that’s the case, why not also in younger children, who are even more sensitive to these things?
If the 18 month sleep regression seems more like “scary dreams” and “night time tears” it COULD be something else –
At this point in baby’s life, awareness of surroundings and night time fears can become a reality.
If baby is woken by a bad dream, comfort, reassure, but don’t ask for details of the dream (this reinforces it as it’s played out again), and be mindful of what your child sees on TV.
Baby Sleep regressions are a normal part of development
You don’t have to “do” much for any of them beyond respect healthy sleep habits. You just have to wait them out, and not create bad habits. I know that’s hard to believe, because we are wired to be action takers, problem solvers, and most of all, we’re super self-centered and hate to be tired.
A Baby sleep regression is a difficult period because life is hard when you are really tired. If you have to go back to work, or if you have postpartum depression, or other health issues that require you get a lot of sleep, you might consider sleep training. (Note that regressions still happen in sleep trained kids and sometimes kids require re-training after a regression.)
Will baby learn to sleep without training?
Your baby WILL learn to sleep without sleep training. You do not HAVE to sleep train your baby. You can CHOOSE to sleep train your baby, and for some families that will be what’s best for the family as a whole. (If mom needs to go back to work and a regression has gone on far past 6 weeks and you’re losing your mind, for instance, perhaps you want to choose sleep training.) If you feel you must sleep train your baby, I met a sleep trainer through my work online who actually respected my terms of no cry it out, and gave me helpful advice that I was comfortable with. She writes about gentle no-cry sleep training here.
We have chosen NOT to sleep train our babies, and my first baby sleeps great now. (And he was THE WORST sleeper – that is not an exaggeration. There were nights when he woke up 6-8 times per night. I remember thinking he would NEVER learn to sleep.)
Deciding to sleep train is a hard choice for a reason – it can feel really unnatural and painful! (At least for me it does.) Deciding NOT to sleep train can feel scary and exhausting.
I particularly love this quote from Pinky Mckay:
‘Self-settling’ has become the holy grail of sleep training. One of the main reasons, apart from the sheer convenience of having a baby who falls asleep without help, is that once your baby can ‘self-settle’, she will put herself back to sleep without disturbing you if she wakes during the night. This is rubbish – apart from the fact that you are growing a little person, not simply managing an inconvenience – many babies who happily fall asleep after being put into bed wide awake will call for help or reassurance if they wake during the night. They don’t have the brain structures to physiologically ‘self soothe’ yet, and they won’t develop these for several years. – Read the whole article here (it is FILLED with good info!)
Once we decided not to sleep train, the easiest fastest way we found to end a regression was to co-sleep.
Baby wakes up, finds you there, baby goes back to sleep. baby sleep regression over. lol.
Related: The Best Baby Sleep Tips Ever
How do you deal with baby sleep regression?