As a new parent, your infant's sleep will be one of your main focuses and concerns. And just as your new addition begins to show signs of getting into a regular sleeping pattern, it can all change overnight. But don’t worry, this apparent step backwards is all part of growing up. Read on for the what, when and how of sleep regression along with some handy tips to help both you and your child cope.

  • What is sleep regression? 
  • Signs of sleep regression 
  • Can sleep regression be prevented?
  • How can it be managed?
  • Takeaways: Sleep schedule for your baby's first year

  • What is sleep regression?

    Sleep regression was defined as "a term used to describe a time where an infant who was previously sleeping for long stretches suddenly struggles to fall or stay asleep and/or has more prolonged waking periods in the middle of the night."

    What causes sleep regression?

    Although there is little research, the main causes are thought to be changes in development or lifestyle changes. At a time when your baby's brain is forging new neural pathways, every milestone is a time of intense learning and change. Learning to crawl, sit, walk, teething or separation anxiety, and adapting to new sleep requirements, can all cause periods of sleep regression. When it comes to lifestyle, factors such as travel, illness, potty training, night terrors or other schedule changes come into play.

    When does sleep regression happen?

    The causes listed above lead us to a varied timescale for when regression periods may occur. The most common are at 4 months, 8 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years. However, these are only guidelines and sleep regression can occur at any time and last for anything from a few days to weeks. While it will be a frustrating time for you and your child, remember it's an important time; social, physical and mental developmental milestones are being met and these regressions are a physical reflection of their achievements. Try to remain calm and remember, it is perfectly normal and will pass.

    What are the signs of sleep regression?

    Signs vary but examples include:
    • Difficulty falling asleep
    • Waking more frequently at nighttime
    • Noticeably reduced overall sleep time
    • Increased fussiness or crying upon waking or falling asleep

    How can sleep regression be managed?

    Sleep is an important part of our lives, and getting less than the recommended quota per night can quickly lead to mental and physical changes. For this reason, it's important that you actively manage any regression episodes to keep disruption to a minimum for you and your child.
    We recommend that you: 
    • Keep to established routines
    • Avoid creating new crutches (feeding at different times or more frequently, soothing or picking up more frequently than normal)
    • Rule out other reasons such as teething or illness
    • Keep your baby active during the day (at the right times!)
    • Look for signs of sleepiness and be ready to start the bedtime routine accordingly

    In the later regressions, lifestyle changes are more likely to be the underlying cause, and there are separate ways these can be dealt with. For example, deal with one life change at a time (concentrate on only one of either potty training and crib-to-bed change at a time) to reduce stress and try to increase the gap between nap and sleep time.

    Can sleep regression be prevented?

    While it can't be prevented completely, as it is a natural reaction to growth and development, the symptoms can be reduced if you get both yourself and your baby into a healthy sleep routine from birth.

    • Avoid screens. Blue light is said to stimulate the brain and thus cause sleeping issues. Keep screentime to a minimum for both of you and avoid any screen time within a few hours of bed.
    • Establish a soothing ritual. Take a bath, enjoy a cuddle or a lullaby - do whatever relaxes you both to ensure a calm and peaceful bedtime.
    • Seasonal changes. Remember that clothing and bedding and environmental requirements will change throughout the year. If you are feeling the heat or the cold, the chances are your baby is too.
    • Go back to basics. In a period of sleep deprivation, it can be easy to overlook the basics in an effort to solve the problems. Make sure you put a clean, fed and changed baby to bed and don't forget the same for yourself.

    Will a sleep schedule help?

    Establishing a sleep schedule with your baby is believed by many to be the key to a healthy relationship with sleep throughout their life.  
    A sleep schedule will instill good sleep habits early on. This will not only provide a better quality of sleep but also give you a good benchmark to identify regression periods or other sleep issues later in life. However, experts believe that you should wait until at least two months to allow your child's internal clock to settle and become a little predictable.  

    After this time, bedtime, nap time and wake times will tend to happen around the same time each day and you'll be able to predict and react to the onset of tiredness, an important life skill as they become more independent. 
    Bear in mind, each baby is different, just as each adult is, and while some parents are blessed with late sleepers, some are 'blessed' with early risers.
    The following is a guide to the generally recommended sleep schedule for your baby's first year, but remember it is only a guide, and your instinct should dictate your timings.

    Baby sleep schedule
    Age/ Naps Duration / Awake Time / Nighttime Stretch / Total
    2 months / 3-5 30-3hr 1-1.5 possibly 6 14-17
    4 months 2-4 1-2hr 1.5-2.5 6-8hr 12-16
    6 months 2-3 1-2hr 2-2.5 10-11sometimes 12-16
    12 months 1-2hr 3-6 10-12 usually 12-16
    18 months 1-2 2hr  4-6 11-12 usually 13-14
    2 years 1-2 2hr / 4-6 11-12 normally 13-14

    Any new parent will understand how hard it is to deal with any aspect of life when you are sleep deprived, and sleep regression is something that doesn't just affect baby, it affects all caregivers. Getting enough sleep yourself will aid you in dealing with these periods. 

    Whatever you have read, if the only way to get a few minutes of shuteye is when the baby is asleep, go for it. And don't be afraid to ask for help from friends and family - they've probably been here and come out the other side - and if you think something is not right, don't be scared to ask the opinion of a doctor or other health professional.

    Certified Wellness Consultant &
    Co-founder of Hush Home

    About Stephanie

    As a certified health and wellness consultant, Stephanie is on a mission to inspire everyone to live a fuller life by sleeping better.

    Stephanie designs and leads Hush Home's sleep workshops for Fortune Global 500 Companies such as Citibank, Manulife, and Standard Chartered to boost their employee performance and productivity with sleep science.

    When Stephanie is not getting her 8 hours of snooze in, or reading and writing about sleep & wellness, she’s probably somewhere hiking with her little pomeranian, Dookie!