As tempting as it may be, everyone will sleep better in the end if you avoid these pitfalls during a sleep regression
Kids go through stages. Some phases are more difficult to move through than others, like that constant drooling phase or the non-stop sock-throwing period. But there is one phase that can cause a lot of sleepless nights for parents—the sleep regression stage.
If your little one was a powerful power napper and great at sleeping through the night, but suddenly can only sleep in short bursts, don’t panic. Sleep regression is a totally normal and, well…sleepy event that occurs when your infant or toddler is going through a new developmental phase. Sleep regressions happen because big-time emotional and cognitive milestones are taking place. During the popular (and sleep depriving) 4-month sleep regression, changes like babies gripping toys (or chunks of your hair) and holding their heads up begin. In the 18-month non-sleeping phase, separation anxiety can play a part. Throughout any regression, a busy brain during the day can cause this sensory overload to continue into the night and disrupt your child’s normal sleep patterns.
What is Sleep Regression?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs your child is experiencing sleep regression can include:
- waking up more at night
- increased fussiness
- limited naps
- taking longer to fall asleep.
The good news is this phase won’t go on until your kiddo goes to college, as sleep regressions usually last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. So, grab your cup of coffee, because here’s a list of some of the biggest no-no’s when it comes to supporting your little one through their latest stage.
1. Don’t adjust your bedtime routine. Babies and toddlers love a good schedule, and research shows maintaining a bedtime routine can help your little one sleep better and with fewer wake-ups during the night. Improved sleep during a sleep regression stage is a welcome surprise which is why sticking with your normal bedtime routine is so important. Moving through your usual bath, book, and cuddle time allows your child to understand that this is what happens before bedtime—all of the time. That stability allows your baby to read the cues you’ve set (along with their bedtime book) and know it’s time to settle in for a good night’s sleep.
2. Don’t put your kid in your bed. When your child isn’t sleeping, this means you’re not sleeping either. That’s when all the ways to catch more z’s trudge through your tired brain. One that invariably pops up is sharing your bed with your child.
While bed-sharing might seem like a quick fix, it can create other sleep issues like confusing bedtime rituals and creating a sleep crutch. A sleep crutch like this can become a problem over time when your child can’t fall asleep without you and your big bed—until high school. Plus, when it comes to bed sharing with a baby, another big reason to skip this one is that The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clearly warns against it due to safety concerns.
3. Don’t put your baby to sleep awake. It’s common for babies to go through more than just nighttime sleep changes during this 4-month phase. Has your baby been taking longer naps because he’s getting less sleep at night? Or is your little one shortening all her day and night sleep times? These changes can influence how awake or drowsy your baby is for bed. Putting your baby in their safe sleeping space awake can make it harder for them to fall asleep. So, look for the sleepy time cues. The Mayo Clinic says signs your baby is drowsy are: drooping eyelids, rubbing of the eyes, and fussiness. Laying your baby in their sleepy space drowsy versus awake can ease them into a more restful night of sleep.
4. Don’t push back bedtime. While in a sleep regression phase, sleep patterns are disrupted and that can throw all your sleep schedule dreams out of whack. During the day, babies (and napping toddlers) may sleep more or less than they normally have, but in order to compensate, this doesn’t mean you need to adjust bedtimes. Continually making bedtime later can confuse sleep habits and contribute to shorter naps during the day. Maintaining your sleep schedule as best you can is a way to support your child through this phase and get you back on track faster when it’s over.
5. Don’t lie down with your child. During any sleep regression stage, your child can become super clingy. It’s possible they’re not a fan of sleeping without you close by and this can prove problematic as your need to soothe (and sleep) is strong. Lying down with your child can once again develop a sleep crutch where you find yourself in your kid’s room staring at the ceiling long after the sleep regression is over. And remember, lying down with your infant can prove unsafe. The AAP emphasizes the safest place for your baby to sleep on their backs on flat non-inclined surfaces without soft bedding.
6. Don’t leave on all the lights. Infants have spent most of their lives in darkness and lights from open curtains, or even a small bedside table lamp, can be stimulating, signaling to baby’s brain that it’s wake-up time. The darker the room, the better to help your baby sleep deeper all through the night.
For toddlers, leaving on all the lights won’t aid in deep sleep, but during this phase a small nightlight might offer comfort. Childhood fears like monsters in the dark or giant mice eating big slices of cheese in shadowy corners become a thing around 2 years of age. A nightlight can provide comfort and aid in your child’s nighttime sleep.
7. Don’t limit bottle feeds. For parents reading this at 3:46 a.m. during your baby’s 4-month sleep regression, you might’ve noticed there are big milestones happening, like vision improving and rolling over. With this increased activity may come an increased appetite. Feeding your baby during the day can help them feel fuller at night. It’s possible this can keep them from waking up for a midnight snack. At this age, babies usually take 4 to 6 ounces per feeding. And as always, remember to check in with your pediatrician if you have questions.
8. Don’t do this alone. Parenting during a sleep regression phase asks a lot mentally and physically, so be sure to reach out to your partner, family member, or trusted friend and ask for support. Getting in that extra nap and practicing some self-care helps lower stress and increase your energy, so you’ll be ready (and awake) to take care of your little bundle during all the phases to come.