There will barely be a parent on the planet who hasn’t experienced some form of “sleep regression” in their baby. The one everyone knows about and talks about is the four month regression, but this isn’t the only one. Regressions are also often reported around 8, 12, 18 and 24 months. They can coincide with developmental progress and the acquisition of new skills, and can also be caused by teething, illness or other temporary disruption to your baby’s usual rhythm.
On the Holistic Sleep Coaching course, students are encouraged to re-frame sleep regressions into “progressions” because of the fact they tend to occur around the time of rapid development. The re-framing of the term can help families place a developmental regression in the wider, more positive context of whatever else is going on in their baby’s life. Where the regression seems linked to the baby’s acquisition of a new skill, the good news is that often once the skill has been mastered, sleep will settle back down again. But how can families tackle things in the meantime?
Provide opportunities to practise new skills
When your baby or toddler’s sleep has deteriorated at a time they are learning a new skill (such as rolling, standing, walking, or talking), it might be that the new skill is a huge preoccupation for them and they want to spend as much time as possible practising it. Providing plenty of opportunities to master the new skill during the day can help speed things up a little and might lead to more settled sleep.
Review your baby’s daytime sleep
Some common regressions (such as around 8 months and 18 months) can coincide with a nap being dropped. Where that is the case, consider whether you need to bring bedtime forward slightly in order to compensate for the reduced daytime sleep, until your little one adjusts.
Keep things as consistent as possible…
Even if sleep has become a bit of a nightmare, this isn’t the time to ditch the bedtime routine. Keep the routine as calm and consistent as you can, focusing on winding your little one down and preparing them for sleep.
…but don’t be afraid to flex where your baby needs it
If your baby is unsettled at bedtime, don’t be afraid to flex your normal routine in order to provide any additional comfort your baby is seeking. A baby who is feeling unsettled or under the weather is understandably going to want to be closer to you and it is sensible to give some thought to what elements of sleep you can keep the same, and what you might need to adapt temporarily. This doesn’t mean undoing hard work you’ve previously put in to introduce a sleep change, but it does mean using your parental instincts to listen to what your baby is telling you. For example, say you’ve recently moved your baby into their own room and it has been going well until a current bout of illness or teething. Rather than move them back in with you to ride it out, could you camp out on your baby’s floor for a short time?
Don’t be afraid to press the pause button on longer term sleep goals
Linked to the point above, lots of families will be working on long term sleep goals when a regression hits. Powering on through during a period of regression is only going to make life more difficult for everyone. Don’t be afraid to hit the pause button, ride the regression out and then pick things up again once things have settled down.
Consider your own self-care
Being up all night during a sleep regression takes its toll on parents. Consider your own sleep and self-care during a turbulent period. For example, if your baby is managing a few hours of consolidated sleep at the start of the night but is then up hourly after your bedtime, try bringing your bedtime forward. Bring your co-parent or a supportive friend/family member on board if possible for some additional support so you can rest in the day. Try to take care of yourself as well as your little one.
For holistic, practical and family focused sleep support, please do contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or online via the website contact form.