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In today's episode, we're talking about what sleep regression is and when they commonly happen. So, let's get to it.
A sleep regression is when there is a consistent, noticeable change in sleep patterns during nighttime sleep, naps, or both -
waking more often,
having a hard time falling asleep and/or getting back to sleep,
or complete nap refusals.
For babies, sleep regressions commonly occur around developmental milestones - around four months old, six months old, nine months old, 12 months old, and 18 months old.
That sounds like a lot, and it is, but not every child shows regression in sleep for every single one or shows the same sort of sleepiness or lack thereof.
Sleep regressions can also happen during sickness, travel, or any other events that cause a disturbance to sleep. But typically, when you're hearing a sleep consultant talk about sleep regression, or anybody else saying the words sleep regression together, they’re typically talking about the regressions that coincide with the developmental milestones.
Since sleep regressions are linked to developmental growth, they're considered normal and it's great. It's a reassurance that your child is maturing as they should. So there's the positive.
When sleep regressions hit, they last only… only… two to six weeks. I know that sounds like a lot, but if there are still sleep struggles after six weeks, there are likely other things going on, some sleep habits that have been picked up, that need to be addressed.
Let’s briefly going to go through each sleep regression, and talk about what makes them unique.
I have a whole special episode for the four-month sleep regression because it is a doozy. But, a brief overview of the four-month sleep regression can be one of the hardest progressions because it's the first and as with many of the regressions, it might seem like it comes out of nowhere, causing the parents to feel like they've lost their great sleepers. All of a sudden, so but unlike the other regressions, the four-month sleep regression brings with it some permanence because the major thing developing at this stage has to do with their sleep patterns, the sleep architecture. Their minds have grown and changed from sleeping like a newborn to sleeping more like an adult.
During this time, they're also learning object permanence which means that they know that things still exist even if they can't see them. So no longer the out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality. This could be hard for them knowing that you're still in existence, but not right there with them.
Their physical development is also growing at this stage. A lot of times they're learning to roll, which can be a major sleep disrupter because they want to be rolling and practicing their new skills instead of sleeping. So like I said, I'll talk more about this one in a further episode because there are a lot of fun details about this one.
Moving on to the six-month, we'll also lump in the nine-month, sleep regression at the same time. The major thing that coincides with this growth development is there's also a need to drop a nap in this timeframe. So the regression may be a sign that it’s time to drop a nap. This happens anywhere between six and eight months old.
Around six months old is when teeth are starting to show up can cause a little bit of pain. There's a lot of developmental progression happening here, rolling from front to back back to front setting up on their own.
And then at nine months, then big milestones here becoming even more mobile learning to crawl potentially cruising the furniture, pulling up to stand, and so of course, these new skills are super exciting for them causing difficulty to fall asleep. Oftentimes they would rather be practicing than sleeping.
Mentally they're also growing exponentially. In the first few years of life, we grow at a higher rate than any other time in our lives. Their minds are like little sponges absorbing all this new information because literally, everything is brand new to them. So it makes it hard for them to sleep sometimes.
The twelve-month-old sleep regression and the 18 months regression tend to be the most noted with naps because, at this age, they're starting to realize that there is some sort of fun happening without them when they're sleeping. (But we all know that the fun that's happening is folding laundry, but anything that's sleeping seems fun.) So they would rather bypass their naps, but it can definitely these progressions can definitely affect night's sleep as well.
And at this age, your baby is growing into a toddler becoming more independent in mind and mobility. But not only are you dealing with physical growth and development but also their vocabulary and cognitive skills are exploding. So a growing mind can also disturb sleep and even though they're becoming more independent, separation anxiety tends to kick in in a big way around this time causing some stress around sleep times too. They can also be getting their first set of molars, which can be painful and sleep disturbance.
The 18-month regression has more to do so with the fact that they’re really no longer a baby or even really a toddler, they’re an older toddler now. They want to assert their independence and their autonomy and they think they’re able to determine when they should sleep. And if they should even sleep. They're walking, talking, babbling, opinionated. They want to decide all the things, including their sleep.
At two years old, there's a lot going on around them. Typically at this age, it's common for there to be a new sibling, some little ones are starting to potty train, more molars coming in. So much happening.
They're also at an age where they can have nightmares. Nightmares can kick in anywhere around two to three years old. Sometimes the fear of the dark comes in and separation anxiety.
So that is a brief overview of all of the many sleep regressions that we face. Or I say that we face when we were babies and now we are faced with our babies. So like I said, not necessarily every child is going to show signs of a sleep regression at every single age noted and it's not always going to be at that exact four months six months, nine months, 12 months… sometimes it's three months or seven months, eight months. You know, it's just a general age group every baby's different. A frustrating piece of advice, but when your child is in that general age bracket, within a month or two of the sleep regression age, that is typically what you can chalk it up to a sleep regression.