Understanding Sleep Regressions: A Useful Guide for Your Baby and Toddler’s Sleep Patterns, 2024

by | Apr 17, 2024 | Top tips


Sleep Regressions in Your Baby’s First Year of Life

Understandably the term ‘sleep regression’ may make you a little cautious! Baby sleep is rarely linear and there will be peaks and troughs throughout their life, especially in the first year.

So are sleep regressions real? Well, there are certain time ‘windows’ where we can expect changes in patterns to how your little one sleeps. However, they don’t happen on exactly the anniversary of a certain date, so please don’t worry about approaching the 4 or 8 month mark!

Understanding the 4-Month Sleep Regression

The 4-month sleep regression typically hits around 3 to 5-months, and for premature babies, it syncs with their adjusted age. Whether your baby’s sleep was previously amazing, or a little bit rocky, this regression can certainly mess with days and nights.

Top tip: My 4 month sleep regression guide can be found here.

Common signs

  • Your baby might start waking more often at night without an apparent reason
  • Becomes more alert during the day, 
  • Struggles to settle in unfamiliar environments.
  • Not falling asleep as easily as before
  • Taking shorter naps
  • Increase in the frequency or duration of night wakes
4 month sleep regression, sleep regressions in the first year

The Science Behind 4-Month Sleep Regressions

Contrary to its name, it isn’t a step backwards; it’s a significant leap forward in your baby’s sleep development. 

In the newborn stage, babies don’t experience distinct sleep cycles like adults. Instead, they drift in and out of sleep without much pattern. Factors like discomfort or hunger often dictate their sleep patterns, resulting in sporadic sleep stretches from 10 minutes to hours!

However, around the 4-month mark, babies begin to adopt more adult-like sleep cycles, lasting around 45 minutes to an hour. These cycles consist of Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stages. At the end of each cycle, they experience a partial waking, much like adults do. If everything is as it was when they fell asleep they fall back to sleep and ‘connect sleep cycles’.

Here’s where things get tricky: if your baby relies on external sleep associations like rocking or feeding to fall asleep, they may start to struggle to settle back at the end of a cycle without the same associations. This can lead to frequent nighttime awakenings and cat naps.

Here are seven tips to help get through the other side of the 4-month sleep regression:

  1. Establish a consistent bedtime routine
  2. Monitor hunger cues
  3. Familiarise them with their sleep space
  4. Optimise their sleep environment
  5. Avoid overtiredness
  6. Use gradual methods to support the transition to more independent settling

Understanding the 8-Month Sleep Regression

For an older baby, sleep regressions typically occurs between 7 and 10 months. You may notice your little one has difficulty getting to sleep and increased night wakings, often lasting for long periods (split nights). During this phase, you may find your 8-month-old is just not sleeping as well as previously, or your normal bedtime routine feels like it’s getting you nowhere!

sleep regressions

Why Does the 8-Month Sleep Regression Happen?

Several factors can contribute:

  1. The 3 to 2 nap transition
  2. Their first bout of separation anxiety
  3. Mastering a bunch of new gross motor skills and new-found independence
  4. Teething (again, it’s always on the list!)

While the 8-month sleep regression may feel overwhelming, particularly if you struggled with the 4 month regression, remember it’s temporary and will often be over in a few weeks.

  1. Offer a third nap when they need it, but an earlier bedtime if it’s a 2 nap day
  2. Practice, practice, practice their new developmental skills in the day
  3. Allow for a longer wind down time at naptime and bedtime if needed
  4. Follow age-appropriate wake windows
  5. Extra cuddles for separation anxiety, but also lots of pop outs and peekaboo to help them trust you always coming back

Other reasons why your baby may be waking at night.

Common Toddler Sleep Regressions

Understanding the 18-Month Sleep Regression

The 18-month sleep regression usually strikes around 15 to 18 months, although it can vary from child to child. Just when you thought you were out of the woods with sleep regressions, here comes another bump in the road! Your once great sleeper might start showing signs of resistance to bedtime, waking up more frequently during the night, or taking shorter naps during the day.

Common Signs:

  1. Increased resistance to bedtime
  2. More frequent night awakenings
  3. Difficulty settling back to sleep independently
  4. Shorter naps or refusal to nap altogether
  5. Restlessness during sleep, such as tossing and turning

Top tip: My full 18 month sleep regression guide can be found here.

Why Does the 18-Month Sleep Regression Happen?

The 18-month sleep regression can be attributed to a variety of developmental milestones and changes in your toddler’s life:

  1. Language explosion: Around 18 months, toddlers experience a significant surge in language development, which can lead to increased cognitive stimulation and excitement, making it harder for them to wind down for sleep.
  2. Independence and autonomy: Toddlers at this age are becoming more independent and assertive, which may manifest in bedtime battles and resistance to bedtime routines.
  3. Teething: Although teething can occur at various stages throughout infancy and toddlerhood, some toddlers may experience discomfort from teething around 18 months, disrupting their sleep patterns.
  4. Separation anxiety: Separation anxiety may resurface around 18 months as toddlers become more aware of their surroundings and develop stronger attachments to caregivers, leading to clinginess and reluctance to be alone, especially at bedtime.

Tips for Managing the 18-Month Sleep Regression:

  1. Maintain a consistent bedtime routine to provide predictability and comfort for your toddler.
  2. Offer reassurance and comfort during night awakenings, but continue to support your toddler to fall back asleep independently.
  3. Create a soothing sleep environment conducive to restful sleep, such as a dark, quiet room with a comfortable sleep surface.
  4. Address any potential discomfort from teething by offering calpol and comfort as needed.
  5. Be patient and understanding with your toddler’s emerging independence and emotions, providing support and encouragement as they navigate this developmental stage.

Understanding the 2-Year-Old Sleep Regression

Top tip: My full guide on the 2 year old sleep regression can be found here.

The 2-year-old sleep regression, typically occurs around 18 to 24 months but can vary from child to child. As your toddler approaches their second birthday, you may notice disruptions in their sleep patterns, including resistance to bedtime, frequent night awakenings, and shorter naps.

sleep regressions
Visual cues can help

Common signs

  1. Increased bedtime resistance, including tantrums or protests at bedtime
  2. More frequent night awakenings, sometimes accompanied by crying or calling out for parents
  3. Difficulty settling back to sleep independently after night awakenings
  4. Nap strikes or shorter naps during the day
  5. Changes in sleep schedule or routine, such as earlier wake-ups or later bedtimes

Why Does the 2-Year-Old Sleep Regression Happen?

The 2-year-old sleep regression can be attributed to a combination of factors related to your toddler’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development:

  1. Assertion of independence: As toddlers assert their independence and autonomy, they may resist parental authority and attempt to exert control over bedtime routines and sleep patterns.
  2. Emotional development: Toddlers experience a wide range of emotions as they navigate the transition from infancy to childhood, which can manifest in bedtime battles, separation anxiety, and nighttime fears.
  3. Language development: Continued language development at age 2 can lead to increased communication skills and a greater ability to express wants, needs, and fears, which may disrupt sleep patterns.
  4. Cognitive milestones: Advancements in cognitive abilities, such as imagination and problem-solving skills, may lead to an active mind at bedtime, making it difficult for toddlers to settle down and fall asleep.

Tips for Managing:

  1. Establish and maintain a consistent bedtime routine to provide structure and predictability for your toddler.
  2. Set clear boundaries and expectations around sleep, gently reinforcing the importance of bedtime and the need for restful sleep.
  3. Offer comfort and reassurance during night awakenings, but encourage independence by allowing your toddler to self-soothe and settle back to sleep.
  4. Create a calming sleep environment free from distractions or stimuli that may interfere with sleep, such as screens or loud noises.
  5. Be patient and empathetic with your toddler’s emotions and struggles, providing support and understanding as they navigate this challenging stage of development.
  6. You can start using visual cues about what comes next in the bedtime routine. Try my flashcards!

You can also check out my Bedtime Battles Course! Priced at just £47 ($59), the 2 hour course guides you through everything needed to restore bedtimes.

bedtime battles masterclass for the 2 year old sleep regression

Get in touch!

If you are experiencing difficulties with sleep – whether a regression or something else, please get in touch, follow me on instagram, or read my other blogs.

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Hi, I’m Gemma, your sleep consultant

I am a certified baby and child sleep specialist who works with families all over the world.

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