Why isn’t my baby sleeping – again!

Ask any tired mom or dad, and they’ll tell you that their baby’s sleep regressions can be tough for everyone. There are many regressions and some babies and toddlers might experience one or two instances of poorer sleep as they grow and, very rarely, some children experience all phases of sleep regression. Sleep regression also varies in the duration and severity of the experience.

What is a sleep regression?

Sleep regression is a period where your baby/toddler sleeps worse than normal. This regression might entail struggling to fall asleep or waking up more than usual at night. It might also mean being awake for extended periods at bedtime or throughout the night. How long it lasts depends on your child’s age.

Why do sleep regressions happen?

Sleep regressions are caused by development. Either mental, physical or emotional development are factors that depend on the age of baby/toddler. When your baby/toddler is growing (which is most of the time), this consequent development can disrupt their sleep for various reasons.

What are the most common sleep regressions?

Please take note that because regressions are due to development and all children develop at different rates, the actual age can be a month or two earlier or later, depending on your child’s development.

  • Four-month-old sleep regression

From a sleep perspective, this is the most significant regression. Very important mental development happens. Between 12 and 16 weeks, sleep cycles start forming, which means that memory starts forming. This, in turn, means that sleep associations that previously assisted with sleep (feeding to sleep/rocking to sleep, etc.) may now have a negative effect on sleep. Suddenly, your sleep angel that woke once for a feed now starts waking multiple times either for a feed (or for whatever sleep association they need to link their sleep cycles).

How long does it last?

Unfortunately, if changes are NOT made this could be permanent regression.

How to survive four-month-old sleep regression

This is the time to look for opportunities to put your baby down when they’re awake and start removing negative sleep associations. Remember that this should always be attempted in combination with things like implementing a bedtime routine, keeping an eye on awake times, and making sure that the environment is optimal for sleeping.

  • Six-month-old sleep regression

Physical development is the main reason for this regression. It is often associated with rolling or sitting up. Your baby may have rolled onto their stomach or into an uncomfortable position. Or your baby might be able to sit but then struggles to lie down again.

Another reason for this regression could be that your baby needs to stay awake a bit longer (two-and-a-half hours to two hours and 45 minutes) and move on to two naps, but they don’t quite cope with the lengthier stretch to bedtime.

Introduction to solids can also cause sleep disruptions. The new food can cause some digestive issues that wake babies at night. It is also often tricky to find the right milk/solid balance.

How long does it last?

Luckily this regression often does not last too long, and their bodies adjust quickly to the changes within two days to two weeks.

How to survive the six-month-old sleep regression

When it comes to development, your baby just needs time to learn their new skills. Help your child to practise rolling over from back to front and from front to back during wake times. Your child might struggle with the new routine of only two naps, but consistency will achieve a new rhythm soon. Try to extend naps and don’t be afraid to make bedtime earlier if necessary.

  • Nine-month-old sleep regression

During this time there is much mental development (separation anxiety) and physical development (starting to crawl or even stand up) that takes place. Active babies especially manage to get into quite uncomfortable positions. Once again, when they start standing up early, they could struggle to go sit back down.

How long does it last?

This can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

How to survive the nine-month-old sleep regression

If it is associated with separation anxiety, it is very important to remain consistent. During this time it will give them security and confidence if you remain as normal and loving as you have been. Take some extra time during the bedtime routine for one-on-one moments. With physical development, it is helpful to practise their skills during awake time and help them to sit down.

  • 12-month-old sleep regression

This is the least common sleep regression and is mainly due to naps. Some toddlers might simply refuse to have two naps and often parents might think it is time to move to one nap a day.

How long does 12-month-old regression last?

This can last between two and six weeks.

How to survive the 12-month-old sleep regression

Here it might be helpful to cap the first nap so that it does not go on too late to ensure that you still fit in the second nap comfortably. Also, if your little one does skip the second nap, it is wise to make bedtime earlier. If your night-time sleep is not affected, it is not something to worry about too much as your little one is coping with less sleep. Try not to move to one nap too quickly.

  • 18-month-old sleep regression 

This sleep regression can be one of the most challenging sleep regressions as discipline starts to play a major role. Teething, emotional development (separation anxiety) and a growing sense of independence are the main culprits.

How long does 18-month-old regression last?

This can last between three and six weeks.

How to survive the 18-month-old sleep regression

This is the time to start setting boundaries and display firm discipline. This consistency will help your toddler with a sense of independence and security. They do not need any more milk at night just as you wouldn’t give your child sweets in the middle of the night. Any milk provided at night can do more harm than good.

Even though sleep regressions can cause sleep disruptions, the important thing to remember is that if you remain consistent it should only be a phase. If your little one slept well before a regression, they should go back into it after the phase and the regression should not be a reason to start negative associations.

SOURCEJolandi Becker – MD Good Night. References available on request.
As BabyYumYum’s exclusive sleep experts, Good Night specialises in all things sleep when it comes to babies and young children. Their sleep consultants are trained professionals who undergo strict screening and education processes. They believe in creating a start-to-finish solution for families. Good Night is associated with international associations and accredited by the South African Sleep Association.