My guess is, if you're reading this right now, is you have a baby or a toddler who WAS a pretty good sleeper but now seemingly out of nowhere their former sleep habits have disappeared and they're now waking a few times over night, or the 2 brief wake ups overnight have become 5 to 6 wake ups overnight, you’re clueless as to why. They're not teething, they haven't been ill and Sleep and night feeding has been upside down for too long for it to be a growth spurt.
So what the eff is going on?
Well it's possible your little one is experiencing A SLEEP REGRESSION which is both a blessing and a curse.
A sleep regression is really a developmental PROgression. An advancement in your baby's physical growth and/or intellectual development that has impacted on the way your baby is sleeping. Parents tend to really notice Sleep regressions when your previously very happy little sleeper is waking much more often and usual methods of getting them back to sleep don't seem to work.
Usually what happens is your lovely little sleeper begins waking more overnight, seems much harder to settle and get back to sleep and can also appear to be more fussy, fractious and clingy than normal too when they are awake. Then around 1-3 weeks after this unexplained fussiness and sleeplessness a new skill emerges , either they learn to roll over, or the way they change sleeps ( 4 month sleep regression where sleep cycles get longer and baby falls into a deeper sleep first rather than remaining in active or rem sleep as they did previously), they may begin to pull himself to standing or start speaking a few words depending on their age of course.
Sleep regressions tend to occur right before a developmental milestone is reached. And things should calm down and settle sleep wise after the milestone is reached or the new skill emerges.
The advance in their development is what causes the sleep struggles, it’s like the brain is gearing up and processing all this new information ready for your baby's body or brain to accommodate this new skill, all the extra brain activity going on is what causes the sleep struggles, it's a perfectly normal part of your baby's growth and development.
The downside to sleep regressions is that they are unavoidable , if your baby isn’t the best at sleeping it's unlikely you will notice much of a difference however if your baby was a sound sleeper before you may be more aware of changes to how they sleep. And if you’re not expecting them or are unaware of these approaching changes they can completely throw parents for a loop.Their seemingly angelic and sleepy little one has all of a sudden become this grouchy sleepless restless individual AND what used to work to get them sleeping no longer seem work or work as quickly!!
So what can we do about them?
Well firstly knowledge is power and sleep regressions tend to occur just before major development milestones in your little one. So around 4 month, 9 months, 12 month, 18 months and even around 2 years old. So a few weeks before these times if you notice your little one becomes more fussy or restless or clingy of you these could be signs of an imminent sleep regression.
Know that they can’t help it, these changes and disruption to their sleep is beyond their control and may be a little scary for them too ( new skills and new ways of thinking even new feelings will be emerging) You're their safe place and they need you to help them get through these changes.
It's temporary and will pass around the time the new skill emerges
During a regression maintain your routines and positive habits and know that your little one may need more of your time and attention to get to sleep or get back to sleep whilst these internal changes are happening.
Practice your little one’s new skills during the day as new exciting skills often get ‘practised’ overnight when coming into brief awakenings and then can wake them completely up
Once the regression is over ( it should only last a few weeks prior to emerging skills ) get back to your usual way of doing things i.e. bedtime routines, habits &ways of helping them settle
If this sleep regression is lasting longer than a few weeks or your still ex[eriencing difficulties afer new skills have emerged then some habits have been formed that you may need to consider breaking/replacing.
I livestreamed on the topic today too catch the replay here
You can learn about sleep regressions, how to get through them and so much more in The Soundly Sleeping Club. Learn how to help your little one become an amazing sleeper, how to solve sleep struggles and do so with the support of a night nanny and sleep coach and other sleep deprived parents just like you.
Charmaine Walters is a mum, night nanny, infant sleep coach and the creator of The Soundly Sleeping Club. Her online resource and members club for sleep deprived parents. To learn more about The Soundly Sleeping Club and how joining can help you not only get more sleep but help you better understand why your little one can struggle with sleep at times (and what you can do about it!) click here