Sleep Regression: What, Why, Signs & Sanity-Saving Solutions

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 04/12/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Regressions

When you are trying to establish healthy sleep habits and a balanced sleep routine, the most common thing that will upset your best intentions and hard work is encountering a sleep regression.

So let’s break down why sleep regressions happen; when they commonly occur and give you actionable advice to help you get through this tricky time without undoing all of your hard work.

What Is A Sleep Regression?

Signs Of Sleep Regression

Common signs that your child is going through a sleep regression include:

Sleep Regression Ages

A sleep regression can occur at any point during your child’s early years but it will usually coincide with your baby reaching big developmental milestones. Therefore, the common sleep regression ages are:

4-Month Sleep Regression

What is commonly known as the 4-month sleep regression is probably the most difficult to deal with as this is when you will have been working so hard to get establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle and just as your baby is finally waking less at night… You suddenly appear to be back to square one! 

But baby sleep regressions can be resolved just as well as toddler ones, so don’t worry.

6-Month Sleep Regression

A rare sleep regression, but definitely one that can happen… The 6 month sleep regression can be a nightmare for new parents as your baby goes through a growth spurt, so make sure you’re prepared with a solid sleep schedule and bedtime routine.

8 to 10 Month Sleep Regression

The 8-month sleep regression occurs when your baby is going through significant physical and brain developments such as learning to crawl, cruise, and walk as well as taking a leap in language development.

12-Month Sleep Regression

Between 9 to 13 months of age, babies will start standing up and by the 1-year mark, some may even take their first tentative independent steps.

Reaching big milestones can cause temporary sleep problems which in this case can trigger a 12 month sleep regression.

18-Month Sleep Regression

Toddler sleep regressions occur around the 18 month mark and are most commonly attributed to your child’s newfound independence.

It can also be related to teething as the breaking through of your little one’s molars (which can be very painful and uncomfortable) can result in a child who struggles to settle and relax.

Sleep Regression Featured

How Long Do Sleep Regressions Last?

Sleep regressions usually last from 2 to 6 weeks. But depending on the cause of the regression, your child may only have a few sleepless nights.

What Causes A Sleep Regression?

A sleep regression can be caused by:

How To Survive A Sleep Regression

Here are the best tips and tricks to help you get through a sleep regression phase without undoing all the hard work you put in beforehand to create a healthy sleep schedule!

1. Teach Your Child To Self-Settle

If you have not already introduced self-settling then letting your baby spend time alone in their cot whilst awake during the day will help them not to panic if they find themselves awake when you are not around.

Try and introduce self-settling, by putting your baby down for a nap in the daytime when they are not fully asleep, as this will teach them that they do not always need you in order to fall asleep.

Here’s a quick video about self-settling to get you started:

NOTE: Self-settling is not a sleep training method.

2. Have A Consistent Bedtime Routine

A simple bedtime routine will consist of:

The entire bedtime routine should start between 6pm and 7pm, always follow the same sequence of events and take no longer than 45 minutes.

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

3. Try And Avoid Your Child Becoming Overtired

An overtired baby can become extremely distraught and difficult to settle because their body has produced cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline (fight or flight hormone) to deal with the lack of sleep.

Sadly, as a result, these hormones have the opposite effect of keeping your baby awake when you are trying to get them to sleep.

So, watch for sleep cues and adjust their nap schedule and wake windows to ensure your child gets enough daytime sleep and avoids overtiredness.

Age-Appropriate Sleep Requirements

These are the recommended hours of sleep in a 24-hour period that your child should be getting at their age:

Age Appropriate Sleep Recommendations

4. Keep Nighttime Interactions Low Key

If you do go to your baby at night, keep things low-key with little to no talking and make the resettling as quick as possible.

Try not to pick up your child but rather pat their tummy or forehead and gently sing a lullaby, to let them know that you’re by their side.

5. Ensure Your Child’s Room Is Cosy

You wouldn’t want to sleep in a cold, bright room and neither does your little one.

Create strong sleep associations by utilising blackout blinds, white noise machines, night lights and seasonally age-appropriate sleepwear

And keep your child’s sleep environment between 68°F and 72°F (20°C to 22.2°C) to ensure your little one is as comfy and cosy as possible.

Also, ensure that your child has a full tummy before bed so that you limit the possibility of night wakings due to being hungry.

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6. Be Consistent

Being consistent is very important throughout your child’s life.

They will need healthy boundaries everywhere and when it comes to sleep… there is no exception!

Already established routines that you have worked so hard to build and maintain must remain, so you will need to be patient, loving and kind but firm.

7. Offer Acceptable Choices

By providing opportunities for your toddler to feel a sense of independence during the day and at bedtime, you allow them the space to be independent within a controlled situation.

It will also help them accept that your non-negotiation over bedtime as a boundary cannot be shaken.

For example, you can offer your child a choice of two different pyjamas to wear or a choice of 2 bedtime books.

REMEMBER: Do not offer too many choices. Your child can really only manage to choose between 2 items.

8. Have Quiet Times During The Day

Insisting on a quiet time after lunch (even if your child does not want to nap) is a great idea to encourage your little one to slow down and avoid overtiredness.

I personally recommend creating a calm-down corner to accommodate quiet time as this is a dedicated distraction-free and safe space where your child can relax. Using a teepee or bean bag will help to make this corner extra comfortable.

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You should also limit over-stimulating games at the end of the day as this will keep their minds and body active at a time when you want them to slow down.

Sleep Schedules To Help Avoid Sleep Regressions

Having consistent sleep schedules and bedtime routine charts can be very useful tools to help you know when your little one needs sleep and how to prepare them for sleep.

Here are our sleep schedules to get you started:

Looking Ahead From A Sleep Regression

No matter the circumstances under which a sleep regression has occurred, it is important to remember that this is just a phase and not a permanent sleep disruption.

Things will get better!

Follow the advice laid out above and trust your instincts.

Do what is right for you and your child and if you feel the need to rock them to sleep… Then do so.

For now, getting everybody to have enough sleep is your main aim.

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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