What “Sleep Regressions” Are and How to Navigate Them

As an experienced baby sleep consultant, I’ve assisted countless families through the highs and lows of baby sleep – the most challenging of which can be sleep regressions. If you’re a new parent, the term “sleep regression” might sound daunting. But don’t worry; while it’s a common part of your baby’s developmental journey, it’s entirely manageable with a bit of knowledge and patience.

So, what is a sleep regression, exactly? It’s a period when a baby who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking up at night and has shortened naps or even skips them altogether. Sounds familiar? Read on to understand more about it.

Understanding Sleep Regressions

Sleep regressions often occur due to developmental milestones that your baby is reaching. Their brain is working hard, leading to changes in their sleep patterns. It’s crucial to remember that these regressions are temporary and are a sign that your little one is growing.

Sleep regressions commonly occur around the ages of 4 months, 8 months, and 11 months. However, every baby is unique, and these periods might not align precisely with your baby’s development.

  • The 4-month sleep regression is often the first and is a permanent change. Before this, newborns usually sleep a lot, without distinguishing between day and night. However, around the fourth month, babies start to develop a more adult-like sleep pattern. They enter sleep cycles, including more light sleep stages, resulting in more frequent awakenings.
  • The 8-month sleep regression aligns with significant milestones in a baby’s physical development. At this stage, babies become more mobile – they learn to crawl, pull themselves up to stand, and may start to cruise. This newfound mobility can interrupt their sleep.
  • The 11-month sleep regression is usually linked to napping. At this age, your baby might resist their second nap, leading to being overtired by bedtime and causing disrupted sleep.

Are Sleep Regressions Real?

The term “sleep regression” is often used in parenting communities to describe periods when a baby or toddler, who was sleeping well, suddenly starts waking more frequently and having difficulty falling asleep. However, it’s important to note that “sleep regression” is not a scientifically validated or recognized term in the medical or scientific community.

That said, there’s a significant body of research showing that babies’ sleep patterns can change considerably during their first few years. These changes often coincide with developmental milestones. For instance, it is well documented that many babies undergo a change in their sleep patterns around 3-4 months of age. This is around the time when babies develop a more adult-like sleep cycle, characterized by distinct stages of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep.

Another example is when babies start to develop new physical skills, such as crawling or walking. These milestones can lead to sleep disruptions, possibly because the baby is mentally and physically “practicing” these new skills even when they’re supposed to be sleeping.

Moreover, external factors can impact a child’s sleep as well, such as teething or illness, which may cause temporary disruptions to a child’s sleep.

It’s important to note that while these disruptions can be challenging for parents and caregivers, they are generally a normal part of a child’s development. Each baby is unique and may experience these changes at different times or in different ways. If a baby’s sleep disruption is prolonged or causing significant distress, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying medical issues.

While the term “sleep regression” is not formally recognized in the scientific community, the changes in sleep patterns it describes are very real and can be linked to developmental milestones and external factors.

Navigating Sleep Regressions

Now that you know what sleep regressions are and when they might occur let’s delve into some strategies to navigate them.

Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Routines provide a sense of security to babies and act as signals that it’s time to sleep.

What to Include

Your routine can comprise several calming activities such as:

  • A warm bath – this can help soothe and relax your baby, preparing them for sleep.
  • Reading a book – this activity not only fosters a love for reading but also establishes a calming environment.
  • Cuddly time – moments of bonding before bed can reassure your baby and ease them into sleep.

Set Age-Appropriate Wake Windows

Avoiding overly long or too short periods of wakefulness can prevent your baby from becoming over-tired or under-tired, both of which can disrupt sleep.

Time Frames

  • At 3 months, babies typically have the capacity to stay awake for about 1-2 hours at a stretch.
  • By the time they reach 11 months, they can handle about 3-4 hours of wakefulness. Adjust these windows as your baby grows and develops.

Foster Independent Sleep Skills

Gradually guiding your baby to self-soothe and fall asleep independently can lead to better sleep patterns in the long run.


  • Introduce a comforting object, like a ‘lovey’: This object can become a source of comfort for your baby when they are going to sleep, particularly during times of separation.
  • Try ‘patting and shushing’ instead of feeding or rocking to sleep: Transitioning to these techniques can help your baby associate them with sleep over time, allowing them to self-soothe effectively.

Remember, consistency is key in helping your baby understand and adapt to these routines and changes. You may need to adjust and experiment to find what works best for your unique baby. With patience and time, these steps can greatly improve your baby’s sleep.

Offer reassurance

Babies undergoing sleep regressions may experience heightened levels of uncertainty and discomfort. Extra comfort can help them navigate through this phase.

  • Help with physical touch – Gentle strokes, patting, or simply holding your baby’s hand can provide a sense of safety.
  • Create a calming environment – Consider using a nightlight with a soft glow or playing soothing white noise. These elements can help signal to your baby that it’s time to rest.

Take care of yourself

Dealing with sleep regressions can be exhausting. 

  • Lean on your support network: If you have friends or family who can help, even for a few hours, don’t hesitate to reach out. A short break can make a significant difference.
  • Prioritize restful activities: If you can’t sleep when your baby naps, engage in quiet, restful activities like reading or meditation to help recharge your energy.
  • Stay Hydrated and Eat Well: Adequate hydration and a balanced diet can help maintain energy levels. Aim to consume plenty of water and nutritious foods.
  • Positive Reminders: Keep in mind that this phase will pass. Each challenge you face in parenthood makes you stronger and more capable.

Sleep regressions can be a challenging part of parenthood, but they’re a sign your baby is developing as they should. With understanding, consistency, and a bit of patience, you’ll both be able to navigate these periods successfully. Keep reminding yourself that these sleep disturbances are a normal part of a baby’s development and that you are doing a fantastic job.

Sleep well, parents!


Henderson, J. M., France, K. G., Owens, J. L., & Blampied, N. M. (2010). Sleeping through the night: the consolidation of self-regulated sleep across the first year of life. Pediatrics, 126(5), e1081–e1087. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2010-0976

Mindell, J. A., Kuhn, B., Lewin, D. S., Meltzer, L. J., Sadeh, A., & American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2006). Behavioral treatment of bedtime problems and night wakings in infants and young children. Sleep, 29(10), 1263–1276.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17068979/

Oskar G. Jenni, Bonnie B. O’Connor; Children’s Sleep: An Interplay Between Culture and Biology. Pediatrics January 2005; 115 (Supplement_1): 204–216. 10.1542/peds.2004-0815B. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2004-0815B

Sadeh, A., Mindell, J., & Rivera, L. (2011). “My child has a sleep problem”: a cross-cultural comparison of parental definitions. Sleep medicine, 12(5), 478–482. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2010.10.008

Mindell, J.A. and Owens, J.A., 2015. A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.https://a.co/d/g4JgiJI

Pantley, E., 2005. The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education

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