Children’s developing brains affect their mood and behavior. One area where this becomes most evident is how they sleep. A newborn’s sleep cycle consists of active and quiet sleep. Active sleep takes about half of babies’ sleep time. This is when babies are more likely to wake up. Quiet sleep is deeper, and it’s more difficult to wake them up during this phase.
Sleep patterns change a lot during the first year of life. Usually, when a baby is around four months old, sleep stages become more similar to those of adults.
Similar to a spurt in their physical growth, babies’ brain development also increases after a few months. Because this growth disturbs their sleep, babies may become more clingy and fussy.
Baby sleep regression describes the sleep disturbances that often occur as a result of babies’ development. Your baby may be sleeping fine throughout the night and also napping quite well during the day. But then suddenly, they start waking up more than normal, and it becomes more difficult to put them down for naps. Baby sleep regression is a normal part of development for your baby, and it doesn’t mean that they are regressing themselves.
Baby sleep regression can happen at different times — when your baby is 4 months old, 8 months old, 11 months old, 18 months old, and 2 years old. Baby sleep regression is very common in six-month-old babies. Baby sleep regression often occurs around a growth spurt or when your baby is achieving a developmental milestone. For instance, they may have some disrupted sleep while learning how to sit, pull up, crawl, or flip. Your baby might become restless as they feel the pressure to practice a new skill that seems exciting to them. Not every baby develops sleep regression during these stages, but these are the typical ages when it usually occurs.
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Four-month sleep regression
You might initially observe a change in your baby’s sleep pattern when they are about four months old. It’s not uncommon for it to occur as early as three months or as late as five months.
Sleep regression at four months occurs because of the development of your baby’s brain. Their sleeping pattern might start to become more similar to their parents’. This is probably the first time your child will experience sleep regression.
Baby sleep regression at six months
Children often start rolling over when they are around six months old. Because of their increased strength, your baby may start crawling. Some babies start crawling by the time they are five or six months old. Others start a little later.
Whenever crawling starts, it may start disrupting your baby’s sleep. It’s an exciting new skill, and you might find them in the crib on all fours, moving backwards and forwards and getting in some practice time.
Physical growth may also occur in some babies at six months, which can increase their hunger. Waking up more often because of hunger can also be one of the causes of sleep regression at six months.
Baby sleep regression at eight months
Eight months old is another common age when babies’ typical sleep routine changes. Sleep regression at eight months can happen because of your baby’s continued cognitive development. Your baby is probably going through a lot of developmental milestones and physical changes.
They may start crawling, cruising, and even begin some first tries at communicating. Some babies begin teething at eight months. All of these changes can affect your child’s sleep. Sleep regression at eight months can also occur because of separation anxiety, which some babies start developing at this age.
The anxiety of being apart from their parent and/or caregiver can make bedtime and naps difficult for everyone.
Even if your baby has started sleeping longer through the night, during a four-month sleep regression, they may start waking up more often and sleeping less during naps. They may be more prone to waking up every two to three hours.
Some four-month sleep regression signs include:
- Changes in appetite
- Increased night waking
- Increased fussiness and crying
- Shorter naps and/or missed naps
Although sleep regression is temporary, the regression at four months usually signals a permanent change in your baby’s sleeping pattern. At four months, your baby’s brain matures to an extent that sleep becomes more like adults’. They cycle between light sleep and deep sleep.
So the changes in sleep patterns that occur at four months don’t disappear. The sleep pattern changes that happen at 6, 8, 9, or 10 months are temporary and don’t last long. Once your baby acclimates to their newfound mobility, their sleeping patterns also return to normal (at least until the next milestone!).
Some four-month sleep regression tips include:
- Maintain a consistent naptime and bedtime routine.
- Continue to help your child fall asleep the way they have been falling asleep until now. If you have been feeding them to put them to sleep, keep it up. You can hold them or rock them asleep. Although these sleep routine habits — known as sleep associations — may ultimately make it difficult for your baby to sleep, you can always wean them off these habits later. You can also wean them off the habit of breastfeeding or bottle feeding later. For now, your top priority is getting them to sleep.
- Use a pacifier to calm your baby. You can also try swaddling.
- You can try the “dream feed” technique to help your baby sleep longer through the night. In this technique, you put your baby down to sleep at the normal time. Later, around 11 p.m., take your child gently out of their crib and breast- or bottle-feed them while they are still sleeping.
- Create a safe and comfortable environment for your baby. As much as possible, try to be at home when your baby is going to sleep. Especially if they’re experiencing separation anxiety, your presence in the house can help them feel more at ease.
Baby sleep regression is when a child who has been sleeping fine until now starts waking up more than they usually do. Sleep regression can occur at different times, most commonly at 4 months, 6 months, 11 months, 18 months, and 2 years. These changes in sleeping patterns often coincide with developmental changes.
To manage the four-month sleep regression, try to maintain a consistent naptime and bedtime routine. You can feed your child to make them fall asleep. You can also try the dream feed technique to make them sleep longer through the night.