Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Sick of hearing conflicting, confusing advice on sleep regressions and want to hear the truth? Read on...
Most parents will be familiar with the term ‘sleep regression’. It is mostly used to describe a time of disrupted sleep, including naps and night-times, early rising, waking not long after falling asleep, and fussiness that may not have been there before, or has gotten worse suddenly. I prefer to think of these phases as progression because there is so much progress occurring during these times that are necessary and positive.
This is actually not a scientific term and brings on worries in advance to parents that may never see any negative changes to sleep. It is a bit of a negative description for a time where there are important developmental changes to sleep patterns and development. As I have said before, sleep is a biological process and is not learned, so cannot be un-learned.
We generally hear of these phases cropping up around 3-5 months, 8-9 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years. - click for more info
The Wonder Weeks can also be a helpful tool for determining when and why these leaps occur.
Developmental milestones occur at certain times throughout your child's life, and they are somewhat variable, which means they occur at varied times for each child and do not occur at the exact same time for all children.
During these phases of development, sleep really can take a back seat when your baby or child is developing skills like rolling over, walking, processing. This is why we sometimes see sleep hugely affected quite suddenly, during these phases.
The hugely talked about 4 month sleep regression
At around 3 to 4 months, babies sleep cycles change to be more like our own, this can make it harder for your little sleeper to transition through cycles and make it a little harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. This is a developmental stage and is a stage where lots of other development is happening too so this will affect sleep and it will pass.
If we remember that our babies need our support and love through these confusing stages so connection and comfort is the best way to help them through it. Always be responsive when your baby needs you and there will be many changes in the first year in how best to support and comfort your baby, you are the expert on your baby!
The first sleep cycle maturation occurs around 3 – 4 months old and our babies transition to sleep through a light sleep phase that is unfamiliar to them. Dreaming sleep is easy to transition into sleep during feeds or during activity. New-born's go from dreaming sleep to deep sleep, but when this maturation happens, they add in a new, unfamiliar light sleep, which can make it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep.
It is worth remembering that developmental changes happen regularly in the early years of life and when your baby or toddler goes through big physical or developmental changes, sleep can be affected. At this age range, babies are very curious, easily distracted and are really starting to take an interest in what is going on around them, which can also affect sleep.
Your baby may need some adjustments to timings of their sleeps around this stage because their day-time sleep needs tend to decrease around this age. For example in a 4 month old, you may need to cut down to 3 naps and spread out their awake windows, in an 8 month old you may need to cut down to 2 naps. Nap timings and the time your child spends and can tolerate awake between them will need to be adjusted at different stages of development. These changes should always be approached gradually, follow your baby’s lead to determine the best awake windows to suit your baby. In general, by around 3-4 months, babies tend to need less daytime sleep, around 4 naps which are spread evenly, then most will reduce to 3 naps by 5 to 6 months, then 2 from around 8 months.
If your 3-5 month old baby is waking after 10-20 minutes of sleep at bedtime or during naps, it may be helpful to get to them before this wake and gently do what you normally do to get them to sleep or gently sooth them when they stir, this may help them transition to the next cycle more smoothly, therefore the nap may be longer as a result.
Changing what you do can also sometimes help for them to progress through these developmental transitions, walk in buggy, instead of napping in cot, contact naps, again you will know what works, always be open to try new things and change when you need to.
Adjust nap times and if you slowly reduce naps and increase time awake, don't be afraid of an earlier bed-time to compensate.
Stick to positive routines, maintain predictability, stay calm and reassuring.