When you first brought your newborn home, you waited for the day you and your baby would get a restful night sleep. You slowly conquered the “Party like it’s 1999, my baby is sleeping” mission then BAM - the party's over. Your restful night sleep is gone because your baby can’t seem to fall asleep and constantly wakes up during the night again. Most parents wonder what on earth is happening and if they’re doing something wrong. First off, you are not doing anything wrong and you are not alone. What your baby is going through is normal and it’s called a sleep regression.

What Is a Sleep Regression?

Sleep regressions occur when your baby seems to be sleeping well and out of nowhere they start having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. They occur during times of big milestones and leaps in development. Sleep regressions are perfectly normal but can be very challenging!

The 4 Month Sleep Regression

The first time your baby will go through a sleep regression is at 4 months. The fourth month of your baby’s life is filled with many milestones such as smiling spontaneously, babbling and copying sounds they hear and perhaps rolling.  

Your baby’s sleep also changes significantly at 4 months from that of a newborn to be more adult like.  Adults fall into a light sleep and then go into a deep sleep soon after. Newborns fall into deep sleep almost immediately. This is why they can sleep just about anywhere without anything bothering them. Now, they are entering light sleep first so when you are done rocking or feeding and it seems as if your baby is fast asleep, they are not. You go to lay them down and their little eyes snap open, wondering why you are putting them down. These cycles between light and deep sleep occur throughout the night too meaning your baby wakes briefly multiple times. If they find it difficult or impossible to go back to sleep by themselves this is the reason why you will need to be up multiple times a night. So, not only is your baby experiencing all kinds of milestones; they are experiencing big sleep changes too.

And There Are More???

Yes, there are more. Sleep regressions occur around 4, 10 and 18 months of age. Just like the fourth month, these months are filled with new exciting milestones that your baby is compelled to practice over and over, even during sleep time. At 9th months, your baby will be going through huge physical and language development and likely also teething like crazy. At 18 months, your baby is more independent and may not want to go to bed just because you say so and separation anxiety will come into play along with more teeth (molars!).

So, what to do?

What’s the Best Way to Cope?

Sleep regressions are challenging times! Here are a few tips to get you and your baby through with (relative!) ease.

4 month Regression

Just get through it! The changes to the cycles of your baby’s sleep are permanent but just focus on surviving this one until the worst is over. Offer extra feeds and comfort short term. Accept whatever help you can from friends and family if things get really tough. Once the worst of it is over you may need to look at your baby’s sleep associations and consider sleep training. As mentioned above, if bub isn't able to fall back to sleep by themselves then they will continue to need you multiple times a night. The methods that may have worked beautifully for settling your newborn to sleep eg rocking, feeding to sleep, may no longer be best suited.  Remember, sleep training doesn't have to mean “cry it out”. There are a lot of different approaches to suit both yours and your baby’s temperaments. It’s important to note that if you are comfortable with getting up to your baby or the settling methods you are using then there is no need to change them.

For all sleep regressions, the following can help:

Earlier Bedtime

Your baby is losing sleep and is at risk of becoming over tired which will lead to even more sleep issues. Vicious cycle! One way to combat that is to offer an earlier bedtime.  

Prioritise Nap and Bedtime

It can be difficult to work around baby’s schedule but as they go through sleep regressions it’s helpful to give them the best chance of sleeping. If your bub is unlikely to have a decent nap when you are out and about then try to be home for most of their naps. This is also a good time to stick even more closely to your bedtime routine if you have one, or consider implementing one if you don’t.  

Offer extra comfort... but with some caution

During sleep regressions you are almost certainly going to need to offer more comfort than usual to your baby to help them go to sleep or back to sleep. This can be kisses, cuddles and some extra day or night feedings. The only word of caution is to be aware of creating new habits around falling asleep or going back to old habits you may have weaned. If bub has been able to fall asleep by themselves and is then rocked to sleep they may want to be rocked even after the regression.

There is no denying it - sleep regressions are tough! Like all phases of your baby’s development though, they do pass. Follow our handy tips and both you and bub will soon be through it and ready for the next exciting phase.