Treating Sleep Regression Stages: (4 Months to 2 Years )
The early days after having a baby are a blur of milk and diapers. Your health care provider probably told you to wake your baby every three hours for a feed, but you may find that you don’t even need to because your baby is the one waking you.
As babies grow, they start to sleep longer stretches between feeds. Night-time becomes a time of quiet rest with a couple of night wakings and then right back to sleep.
Over time, babies' sleep habits will get better. This is especially true if you provide a soothing sleep environment, a consistent bedtime routine, and an age appropriate nap schedule.
But, it is important to understand that baby sleep patterns are not linear. There are hiccups along the way where your little one seems to backtrack. You’ll see more wake ups and fussiness at night. These hiccups are called regressions.
Regressions happen predictably, at certain age ranges. They are often the result of a growth spurt, reaching a new developmental milestone, or a drop in sleep needs. Understanding what is behind your baby’s sleep regression will help you guide them through it in the shortest time possible.
How Much Sleep Does My Toddler Need?
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicines’ (AASM) ‘Recommended Amount of Sleep Time for Pediatric Populations’, babies and toddlers need the following amounts of sleep:
- 4 months to 1 year: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
- 1-2 years: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
Common Baby Sleep Regressions By Age
Sleep regressions are most often seen at 4 months old, 6 months old, 9 months old, 12 months old, 18 months old, and 24 months old.
If you have any concerns about your child’s sleep, always reach out to your pediatrician.
The 4-Month Sleep Regression
Around 3 to 5 months of age, your baby may suddenly start waking several times per night, even though they were down to just one night waking. Some babies might even begin to wake and cry every 45 minutes.
First, let’s talk about why this is happening. Young infants have only one type of sleep—deep sleep. That’s why your newborn can sleep soundly in a busy restaurant or while you vacuum. They drop immediately into deep sleep and generally wake up only when hungry.
At around 4 months old, that all changes. Your baby develops adult sleep cycles. Now, he or she will fall slowly into a lighter sleep that becomes progressively deeper. He or she cycles back into a lighter stage of sleep about every 45 minutes.
As adults, we often sleep right through this light stage. We may wake up a few times in the night and roll over, without even remembering it. Babies who first experience light sleep will wake up completely. Then, since they are still tired, they will want to go back to sleep. But if they don’t know how to do that, they will cry out for an adult to help.
As parents, we often assume that the baby is hungry, because at an earlier age, that is probably the main reason the baby woke up. But at 4 months, it is unlikely that your baby requires more than one feed overnight. Instead, they probably need help getting back to sleep.
You can offer your baby reassuring pats or reposition their pacifier. You may also choose to start by putting your baby to sleep when they are feeling drowsy, and then work towards putting them to bed when they are fully awake.
Sleep training can be a gentle tactic if you feel more comfortable taking this approach. If your little one can settle down to sleep at night without rocking, milk, or other sleep aids, they will simply repeat that settling process when they wake at night. This should solve many sleep problems.
To set your 4-month-old up for success, make sure they are taking a nap roughly every 90 minutes for about 90 minutes. Instead of adhering to a rigid sleep schedule, use time awake since the last sleep to help you know when it’s nap time. A well-rested baby will have lower levels of cortisol - this will make sleeping at night easier.
Also ensure that your baby’s sleep space is completely dark and use white noise if there are noises that could wake your baby.
If your baby is teething, you may experience more wake ups. Using baby teethers during the day and giving them Tylenol at night should help.
Sleep Regression at 6 Months
If you start to experience early wakings, trouble at bedtime, or short naps around the age of 6 months, your nap schedule is most likely the culprit. Before 6 months old, babies do best napping based on their wake time. For example, if your baby’s wake time is 2 hours, you would want to put them down for a nap 2 hours after they woke from their last night, rather than at a set time.
That all changes around 6 to 7 months. At this age, your baby thrives on a set schedule with two naps. Of course, that schedule needs to be both age appropriate and adjusted for your baby’s unique sleep needs. The ‘Standard Two Nap Schedule’ has the baby napping at 9:30am and 2pm.
Standard 2-nap Schedule:
7:00am Morning wake up
9:30am-11am Nap time
2:00pm-3:30pm Nap time
If your baby wakes up early from either of their naps, get them up and encourage them to stay awake until the next sleep time. After about a week of adjustment, your baby should settle nicely into their circadian rhythm and sleep well.
9-Month Sleep Regression
At around 8 to 10 months of age, you might see night wakings rear their ugly head again. Most likely, this is related to a developmental milestone: learning to crawl.
The best thing you can do is be consistent in the way you react to night wakings. It’s completely fine to reassure your baby in whatever way you feel comfortable. But, you should aim to lie them back down while they are still awake each time. This will help this regression pass when the milestone is met, rather than dragging on and becoming something you have to sleep train your baby out of.
During the day, provide opportunities for your baby to practice crawling or pre-crawling skills. Place them on their tummy and put a toy just out of reach. Once they can crawl a little, a rolling drum will help encourage them to practice.
Teething may also be an issue at this age. Giving Motrin tends to work better than Tylenol. Baby Motrin can be given after age 6 months.
12 Month Sleep Regression
You may also see a regression when your baby is reaching the developmental milestone of learning to walk. Some babies wake up at night and practice walking. Others stand up and can’t get back down, so they cry. Either way, this milestone is major and it can cause major sleep issues!
Be consistent in the comfort and care you give, as well as in the limits you set. If your baby’s sleep is just so off that it can’t get back on track, holding them through their naps for a few days until things get back into a routine can help. But then, you want to get back to business.
Have the baby sleep where and how you would like them to going forward. Expect a few rough nights and know that it will pass.
Allow opportunities for them to practice walking during the day. This does not mean holding them up and ‘walking them’ around or putting them in a baby walker. Neither will help your baby walk. What they need is free time to move and explore their bodies.
Do not make the mistake of trying to go to one nap at this age. Your baby is not likely ready for at least another month, and maybe even
When Will My Baby Go to 1 Nap?
Babies will go to one nap around 13 to 18 months old. But do not go to one nap while they are learning to walk. This developmental milestone takes a lot of mental energy and they need that rest.
After they begin to walk well, you will notice either early wakings, trouble at bedtime, night wakings, or short naps. You might notice more than one of these. These are signs it is time to drop the morning nap.
You can move the morning nap forward slowly until it reaches 12:30. You can also shorten it and move the afternoon nap slowly up until it reaches 12:30. Make sure to give your little one an extra-early bedtime during this transition. They need no more than 4 and a half hours awake before bedtime.
A toddler who takes one nap should nap immediately after lunch time for 1 and half to 3 hours.
18 Month Sleep Regression
At 18 months, you may see trouble at bedtime. This has to do with separation anxiety and with your toddler’s developing will. They realize that they miss you when you are gone while at the same time they are learning that they can control their experiences with their actions.
First, make sure your toddler is taking one nap. If not, see above for how to do this transition.
Next, decide upon your expectations and stick with them. Your toddler is testing limits and the best, healthiest response as a parent is to show them what the limits are. For example, cuddling is perfectly fine, but you can decide that it happens during the bedtime routine and again in the morning, but not in the middle of the night. Lovingly enforcing boundaries makes your toddler feel safe and secure. It will also help you get through this regression.
Toddlers can understand short explanations at this age, so you can tell them that it’s their bedtime but Mommy and Daddy are still in the house and they are safe. Hugging a beloved stuffed animal may help as well.
2-Year Sleep Regression
When your toddler becomes a 2 year old, sleep problems may crop up again. This is likely due to a drop in sleep needs.
But, don’t be tempted to drop the nap. Toddlers still need their nap until they are at least 2-and-a-half, and some will nap until Kindergarten. Instead, extend bedtime a little later, maybe by about half an hour. You can cap the nap, but make sure it’s at least an hour and half long.
If your child is not falling asleep during their nap, push it later. You will also need to extend bedtime if you do this, to make sure there’s enough time between waking from the nap and bedtime. It’s OK if the total night sleep gets cut, but make sure it’s at least 10 full hours.
Visual Clocks for Early Wakings
If your child is waking up too early in the morning, they may be able to understand a visual wake up clock at this age. These clocks change colors to indicate when it’s ok for your toddler to get up. If the light is red, for example, your little one knows that they need to stay in bed. And when it’s green, they know they can get out of bed.
Don’t get into a power struggle. You can’t make your child sleep, but you can teach them to stay in bed. If they need more rest, they will most likely fall asleep after a little while.