Has your toddler started sleeping like a newborn again? Here's why

The ugly 21st-century truth.
The ugly 21st-century truth.

From the moment you conceived up to when your bundle arrived, you may have received an onslaught of unsolicited advice regarding just how little time you'll be spending asleep. 

And just when you thought you had a sleep routine down, your baby seems to have backtracked to those frustrating sleeping patterns of their first few weeks. Jolandi Becker, a Certified sleep consultant, says this is called sleep regression. 

From why and when this happens to what to expect at each phase starting from the 4-month mark up to 18 months, see Becker's guide on sleep regression below.  

Also read: Dad spends 104 days knitting baby's sleep patterns into a blanket

What is a sleep regression? 

Sleep regression is a period where your baby/toddler sleeps worse than normal. The worse sleep 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 the age of your child. 

Why does sleep regression happen? 

Sleep regressions are caused by either mental, physical or emotional development, factors that go hand in hand with your child's age. Thus, when your baby or 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?

Here's Becker provides the ins and outs on which regressions are most common at each age. 

Common sleep regression in 4-month-olds

From a sleep perspective, this is the most significant regression as key mental developments occurs during this time. Between 12 and 16 weeks, sleep cycles start forming, which consequently means that memory starts forming.

This, in turn, means that sleep associations that previously assisted with sleep (feeding to sleep/rocking to sleep, etc.) can begin to have a negative effect on sleep. This means that suddenly your sleep angel that woke once for a feed now starts waking multiple times.                

How long does it last?           

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

How to survive sleep regression at the 4-month mark?

This is the time to look for opportunities to put your baby down 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 their environment is optimal for sleeping. 

Common sleep regression in 6-month-olds

Physical development is the main reason for causing regression at this age. It is often associated with rolling or sitting up.

You could be woken by your baby having 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 because your baby needs to stay awake a bit longer and move on to 2 naps, but they don't quite cope with the longer stretch to bedtime. 

Tip: 2 hours, 30 minutes - 2 hours, 45 minutes awake time between sleep sessions is recommended. 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 2 days to 2 weeks.               

How to survive sleep regression at the 6-month mark?               

When it comes to development, your baby just needs time to learn their new skills. Help your child to practice rolling over from back to front and from front to back during wake times. 

Tip: Your child might struggle with the new routine of only two naps, but consistency will achieve a new rhythm soon. Try to extend naps. Don't be afraid to make bedtime earlier if required. 

Common sleep regression in 9-month-olds

During this time, a lot of mental (separation anxiety) and physical development (starting to crawl or even stand up) takes place.

Active babies especially manage to get into quite uncomfortable positions. Once again, when they start standing up early, they could struggle to 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 sleep regression at the 9-month mark?

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 time.With physical development, it is helpful to practice their skills during awake time and help them to sit down. 

Common sleep regression in 12-month-olds

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 it last?               

This can last between 2 and 6 weeks.                 

How to survive sleep regression at the 12-month mark?

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 nighttime sleep is not affected, it is also not something to worry about too much as your little one is clearly coping with less sleep.

Try not to move to one nap too quickly. 

Common sleep regression in 18-month-olds 

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

How long does it last?               

This can last between 3 and 6 weeks.                 

How to survive sleep regression at the 18-month mark?

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 as this is similar to giving your child sweets in the middle of the night; any milk provided at night can do more harm than good. 

NB: Because regressions are due to development and all children develop at different rates, the actual age can be month or two earlier or later, depending on your individual child's development.  

Ultimately, Becker says that while sleep regressions at any level are challenging, remaining consistent is key. 

"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 regression, they should go back into it after the phase."

Compiled for Parent24 by Jolandi Becker, a certified sleep consultant and owner of Good Night, a child and baby sleep consultancy.

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Read more:

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