Sleep Regression: 4 to 18 month olds

Posted by Tara Mitchell on

Let's Talk About Sleep Regression: from 4 months old through to 18 months

We have all heard of the four month sleep regression but I am am sure many of you have also experienced rough patches around the 8 - 10 month mark and again around 16 - 18 months of age.

Sleep regression happens at milestone ages

There are a few reasons this happens around these ages. The two most common are developmental milestones and dropping of naps (nap transitions).

At 8 - 10 months baby is acquiring new skills which can contribute to sleep regression

Especially around the 8-10 month mark little ones can be acquiring a range of new physical skills. These may include crawling, sitting up independently, pulling up and even walking. All of these skills take time, practice and energy. Sometimes the practice part can happen at the wrong time, like 2am for example. These periods of significant development can make it harder for little ones to wind down and stay in deep sleep. This is made worse for little ones who don’t have the ability to self-settle back off to sleep. I am sure many have noticed that what used to take 2 minutes to get their little one back to sleep now takes much longer because in general they are far more stimulated, aware and CLEVER at keeping you there!

Dropping naps can also lead to sleep regression

The second reason may be a drop in naps which means there may be a period of adjustment leaving your little one a little more tired than usual. Overtired babies experience a larger amount of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. When these come into play it affects your little ones ability to be able to drift between sleep cycles easily during the night, often causing periods of lengthy waking - especially when your little one doesn’t have the ability to put themselves back to sleep. They are also more likely to have lighter sleep states for larger periods of the night rather than getting into deep sleep cycles.
Sleep Regression causes and how to handle it Sleep regression at night might be caused by dropping day time naps.
Work with The Gentle Sleep Specialist

There are many ways to manage these sleep regression periods effectively.

  • When your little one begins to drop their last nap of the day add 30 minutes more awake time to try and keep it a little longer. Never be in a rush to drop naps, dropping them too quickly can backfire dramatically.
  • Offer a walk in the pram or trip in the car in the later afternoon to at least give them time out (passive time) during the lengthy period before bed.
  • Make sure you move dinner and their milk feed forward so they aren’t getting drowsy on the feed. If they use a feed to get to sleep they are far more likely to wake during the night to look for another. Once awake it is much harder to get them back off to sleep.
  • Self-settling is CRUCIAL in my experience avoid regressions all together. A significant majority of my clients wouldn’t experience regressions at the 4, 8 and 18 month mark. Their little one may wake but has the ability to go back off to sleep independently meaning it doesn’t become a lengthy drawn out process.
  • Some little ones sleep well with a dummy (great), others don’t. For those that don’t sleep well with a dummy, waking often or for longer periods of time can be more problematic during these regressions. Dummies can be extremely problematic for keeping little ones in light sleep cycles pair this with an overtired or overstimulated baby and you have a recipe for disaster.
  • Be mindful during these periods of the role you are playing and how long the “regression” is lasting for. As a general observation I find any type of regression normally lasts for 3 weeks maximum. However if during that time you begin to co sleep, rock or play other significant roles that period of rough sleep may subside leaving a habit in place that will last A LOT longer. Try and mix up any role you need to play and keep it to a minimum. Stay true to the normal routines you use.
  • Add some more time awake before the earlier naps. So tease out their awake times, this will mean the time awake before bed isn’t as lengthy.
  • Allow your little one PLENTY of practice time during the day for their new skills, this is vital. If your little one is couped up in the car, sitting play station like an exersaucer or pram for a large portion of the day, they aren’t able to get the practice in they need. They are then far more likely to use opportunities at night time so make sure you offer them play time on the MATT during the day and plenty of it.
  • If sleep does go wayside get back on track ASAP don’t keep putting it off, there really is no reason sleep shouldn’t stay or get back on track.
  • Early bedtimes are extremely important in combating sleep regression and when your little one first drops their naps, I recommend a bedtime as early as 5:30am if necessary.
You may read about a number of regressions, teething, sickness etc as reasons your little one shouldn’t sleep well or excuses not to make it a priority but it doesn’t have to be the case. There is generally a reason for sleep regression and understanding the cause may be part of the cure. Tara - The Gentle Sleep Specialist x

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