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

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 08/22/22 •  8 min read  •  Baby » Baby Sleep

When you are trying to establish a healthy and 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 the best and most actionable advice to help you get through this tricky time without undoing all of your hard work.

What Is A Sleep Regression?

What Are The Signs Of A Sleep Regression

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

When Do Sleep Regressions Happen?

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 around the ages of: 

4 Months

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 a healthy sleep schedule going and just as your baby is finally waking less at night…

You suddenly appear to be back to square one! 

6 Months

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 Months

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

12 Months

Between 9 to 13 months, babies will start standing up and around the one-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 Months

An 18 month sleep regression in toddlers is most commonly attributed to your toddler’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 disrupted sleep for a few days.

No matter how desperate you may feel during a sleep regression, remember that it is just a phase and that if your baby or child has been sleeping well and had healthy sleep patterns before, they can again!

What Causes A Sleep Regression?

A sleep regression is commonly 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:

2. Have A Consistent Bedtime Routine

A simple bedtime routine will consist of:

The entire bedtime routine should start between 6pm and 7pm and take no longer than 30 minutes.

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 to help avoid your baby becoming overtired.

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 try to make the resettling as quick as possible.

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

REMEMBER: If you do have to pick up your child… try to put them back down before they are fast asleep to reinforce their self-settling skills.

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.

Keep your child’s room between 68°F and 72°F (20°C to 22.2°C) and utilise blackout blinds, white noise machines, night lights and seasonally age-appropriate sleepwear to keep your little one as comfy and cosy as possible.

Also, ensure that your child has a full tummy before bed so that you limit the possibility of them waking up during the night with a hungry tummy.

Our Pick
Toddler Night Light Lamp By LICKLIP

There are a lot of night lights out there but I love this one. The perfect bedside lamp is easy to use and projects onto the ceiling. It comes in a range of colours, soft lighting and a timer.

Buy Now
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

6. Be Consistent

Being consistent is very important at this age. 

Your child will need healthy boundaries in all aspects of their life 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 independent during the day and at bedtime, you allow them the ability to test out their newfound independence in 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 to 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.

Tiny Land Large Kids Teepee Tent with Padded Mat, Light String & Carry Case

All children love a little house and a teepee is a versatile set up that you can use both indoors and out. This is an item tha will grow with your child's imagination and provide hours of fun for you and them. The perfect setting for nursery tea parties and a cosy snuggle spot for hanging out and reading together or alone.

Buy Now
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

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.

REMEMBER: Limit screens before bed too. Ideally, your child should not be looking at a screen at least 1 hour BEFORE the bedtime routine.

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 prepare your little one 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.

It 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 our main aim!

Need More Parenting Help?

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

Keep Reading