Sleep Regression in Babies: Causes and Solutions
Sleep is a basic need for the physical and mental well-being of everyone, including babies. However, sometimes babies' sleep can be altered by different factors, such as changes in their development, illnesses, moving, etc. These regressions are very stressful for parents, who see how their quality of life deteriorates and how their baby becomes more irritable and uncomfortable. But what are sleep regressions? At what age do they occur? What can be done to overcome them? Below we will tell you everything about this phenomenon and give you some practical tips to help you and your baby sleep better.
What is sleep regression?
Sleep regression is a change in a baby's sleep pattern that usually lasts a few weeks or months. During this time, the baby may have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently, or sleep less than usual.
They are common in babies of all ages, but usually occur around the following developmental milestones:
- 4-7 month old baby
- 8-10 months
- 12-18 months
Causes of sleep regressions in babies
These episodes of sleep regression are usually related to the baby's physical, cognitive and emotional intelligence in children development, which causes more restlessness, curiosity, fear or stress. The most commonly found causes behind a sleep regression are:
- Gum pain from teething.
- A cold or viral illness.
- Fever or pain (for example, due to ear infection).
- Upset stomach or mild gastroenteritis.
- Accelerated growth, a growth spurt.
- Learning new motor skills, such as crawling, sitting or standing. Read about when do babies start crawling
- The development of language, consciousness and personality.
- Separation anxiety.
- The change in daily routine, such as a vacation, a move, or the arrival of a baby sibling.
It must be remembered that these causes can vary depending on the age of the baby, and that not everyone experiences the same regressions.
When does sleep regression begin in babies?
As we have said, not all babies experience the same regressions or at the same ages, but there are some typical moments in which they do tend to occur. These are:
At 4 months
Known as the "4-month sleep regression."
- Changes in sleep architecture, with cycles more similar to those of adults.
- Greater propensity to wake up at night and have difficulty sleeping continuously.
At 8-10 months
- Possibly associated with developmental milestones, such as learning to crawl or stand.
- Excitement and curiosity about new skills can affect sleep quality.
Around 18 months
- It coincides with the development of language stimulation in children and the acquisition of social skills.
- Changes in communication can influence sleep patterns.
How long does sleep regression last?
The duration of sleep regression depends on several factors, such as the age of the baby, the cause of the regression, the sleep routine followed, and the way the problem is dealt with. There is no single or exact answer, but it is estimated that a sleep regression usually lasts between two and six weeks.
It is important to keep in mind that sleep regression is not a disease or disorder, but rather a normal and temporary stage of baby development. Therefore, there is no need to be alarmed or obsessed with the issue, but rather try to adapt to the baby's needs and help him overcome the process with patience and affection.
How do I know if my baby has a sleep regression?
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish whether the baby is having a sleep regression or if there is another reason that is preventing him from sleeping well. To know if your baby is indeed experiencing a sleep regression, you should pay attention to the following signs:
- He wakes up more often at night, every hour or two, and has trouble falling back asleep.
- He has more difficulty falling asleep, both at night and during naps, and needs more help to calm down (songs, lulling, rocking, etc.).
- He is more irritable, weepier and more demanding during the day, due to accumulated fatigue.
- It shows a change in your appetite, mood or activity, which may be more or less intense depending on the case.
- This coincides with one of the typical ages at which sleep regressions occur, such as 6 weeks, 4 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, or 2 years.
What to do when my baby has sleep regression?
When the baby has a sleep regression, the most important thing is to remain calm and patient, and not lose confidence in their abilities or your own. Sleep regression is a normal and temporary stage, which indicates that the baby is growing and maturing, and will soon return to sleeping well.
There is no magic or unique solution to facing a regression, but each family must find the way that best suits their needs and preferences. However, there are some general guidelines that usually help you get through the process more easily:
- Maintain a consistent and predictable sleep routine, which includes a regular schedule, a quiet, dark environment, and relaxing rituals before going to bed. An example of a ritual that could help you would be to cover your eyes with a mask or even a pair of glasses, in case you don't have the primer on hand. I recommend the baby sunglasses from Kiddus are best baby sunglasses.
- Avoid overstimulation in babies during the day and especially before bed, limiting lights, noises, screens and exciting activities.
- Respect your baby's sleep cues, such as yawning, rubbing his eyes, losing interest, or being quieter, and put him to bed when he shows them, without waiting until he is too tired.
- Offer the baby a transitional object, such as a stuffed animal, a blanket or a pacifier, to help him feel more secure attachment in children and fall asleep alone.
- Accompany the baby with love and patience when he wakes up at night, but without intervening too much, leaving him time to try to fall asleep on his own.
- Do not radically change the baby's sleeping habits, such as going from crib to bed, from own room to shared room, or from breastfeeding to bottle feeding, as this can cause more stress and confusion for the baby.
Tips to prevent or control sleep regression
It must be understood that sleep regressions are inevitable and are part of the baby's development, but there are some measures that can be taken to prevent or control sleep regression, or at least to minimize its negative effects. Here are some tips:
- Promote the baby's autonomy to sleep, avoiding negative or dependent associations, such as sleeping with the light on, with the television on, or with the constant presence of the parents.
- Follow a balanced and healthy diet, both for the baby and for the parents, that promotes digestion and sleep, and avoids foods that may cause gas, reflux or allergies.
- Practice optimal sleep hygiene, including avoiding excessively long or late naps, large meals, drinks with caffeine or sugar, or using screens or electronic devices before bed.
- Take care of the baby's physical and emotional well-being, offering him/her lots of love, attention, security, play, stimulation and fun, and protecting him/her from possible sources of stress, anxiety or fear.
- Also take care of your own physical and emotional well-being, seeking support from your partner, family or friends, sharing tasks and responsibilities, getting enough rest and practicing activities that relax you and make you feel good.
When should I seek professional help?
Most of the time, sleep regression resolves on its own, without the need for medical or psychological intervention. However, there are some cases in which it may be advisable to seek professional help, such as:
- When sleep regression lasts more than six weeks and there is no improvement or apparent cause.
- If the baby shows signs of suffering from a health problem, such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, bleeding, difficulty breathing, etc.
- When the baby shows abnormal or worrying behavior, such as apathy, aggression, withdrawal, excessive fear, etc.
- If the baby has very irregular or very little sleep, which affects his growth, development or well-being.
- When parents feel overwhelmed, distressed, depressed or guilty about the situation, and cannot face it normally.
In these cases, it is advisable to consult with the pediatrician, who can evaluate the baby's condition, rule out possible health problems, advise on the measures to follow or refer to other specialists if necessary. You can also turn to other professionals, such as psychologists, educators, therapists or sleep consultants, who can offer support, advice and counselling.
In conclusion, sleep regressions are a normal and inevitable stage in a baby's development. Therefore, it is important for parents to know how to handle this situation in the best way possible, both to help their babies overcome this stage and to take care of their own well-being. Getting informed is the first step to being able to have positive upbringing and care loaded with tools. With patience, understanding and love, any parent can help their baby sleep better and be healthy.