The truth about sleep regressions
It finally happened: Your baby is sleeping through the night, taking naps and exhaustion is no longer your reality. No doubt there were moments when you thought you might never sleep again. Yet, here you are—on the other, much more rested side. How glorious it feels to be able to form full sentances again and get through the day without stress-crying.
As a certified infant and toddler sleep specialist, I’ll be the first to admit a good night of zzzs is a wonderful thing. So I totally don't blame you if the very thought of having another wakeful night is enough to bring on some major angst. But it’s hard to avoid this nagging term that seems to float around in the sleep world. It describes a period of time where—out of nowhere—midnight wakeup calls from baby seem to pop-up again: sleep regression.
To be honest, sleep regressions are probably the reasons I have as many clients as I do. Parents in the middle of it and those trying to prevent it—they all come to me with the same conerns and just can't fathom not sleeping again. As a parent myself, let me just say I get it.
But, unlike the many methods, steps and practices that accompany sleep challenges, there is only ONE thing I want you to know about sleep regressions: They aren’t real.
Let me clarify. Your baby suddenly not sleeping through the night or the abrupt change in her positive sleep habits? That’s real. Your baby who decides to start protesting naps? That’s also real.
But, let's for a moment break down the very definition of this term: regression is “the act of going back to a previous place or state, return or reversion.” While it might seem that your baby is returning to previous sleep habits that were less than stellar, it is important to know that she is also going through huge developmental milestones for the first few years of life—all of which can and most likely will affect sleep.
Wait, you think. I’ve heard this word over and over, read about it in books and even talked with professionals. So surely sleep regression must be a thing, right?
If you haven't already, go ahead and Google it. I remember doing this for the first time and wanting to cry. On second thought, maybe don't do this and just let me summarize. Basically, you will find a list of sleep regressions that could occur every four months for the first year of your child's life.
What I realized after years of studying this term is that there are many stages in your child's life when sleep patterns may shift. Somewhere along the way, these changes were coined as “regressions.”
Here's what is really happening...
Your baby is growing and developing quickly and experiencing many exciting firsts. In just one year she will likely go from crawling to walking, rolling over, developing her own sleep cycle, laughing, responding to words and sounds, sitting without support, eating more foods and the list goes on and on.
That is a lot of action for a little human and certainly enough for her sleep habits to shift a little (or a lot). And guess what? That is totally OK!
Even though these phases sometimes come with less sleep, they are important to your baby's emotional and physical development. In other words, they need to happen.
And while you may be happy to welcome these transitions, you are probably still wondering how to handle them. I got you, mama.
Here's what you can do...
First, ditch the term regression. Doesn't it just sound yucky? Instead of regression, I like to call these transitions.
Transitions can bring challenges at any point in your life and, trust me, they will never stop happening. But rather than resist them, you can embrace them. #perspective
If your 4-month-old suddenly goes from sleeping six straight hours per night to waking up every hour—congratulations! She is moving out of the newborn sleep cycle and starting to develop her own unique cycle.
Maybe your 8-month-old is suddenly refusing naps, meaning she could be in the middle of transtioning to a two-nap schedule. Or her nighttime sleep could be causing earlier wake-ups than normal. You can help her by trying to provide as much consistancy as possible. (This isn't a great time to move or adopt a puppy.)
Providing extra comfort and soothing through this transition is perfectly OK. Just keep it simple and try not to introduce any major changes in sleep habits, such as starting to co-sleep.
Part of the beauty of parenting is watching your baby experience the world, one stage at a time. And I know first-hand it is a lot more fun with a full night's rest. But try not to worry. Before you know it, you will be exiting one phase and entering another.
Along the way, sleep WILL fall into place for you and your little one—promise.