Why Sleep Regressions Do Not Exist - Emily Kelly Infant Sleep Consultant
Emily Kelly / Snoozy Sleep / June 2020
So, you have your baby, you bring them home, they seem to sleep well for the first few months and then practically overnight everything seems to go right out the window when it comes to sleep. You start frantically Googling things at 3am like “why won’t my baby sleep” or “my baby has stopped sleeping at four months…HELP!”, you start to see tonnes of information on something called a sleep regression, and you begin to panic.
What is a sleep regression? Why did no one warn me about this? It says here it lasts for a year?!
So, I am here to debunk some myths around these so called “sleep regressions” and will give you lots of advice on how you can navigate these time periods of tricky sleep.
What are Sleep Regressions?
To put it simply, they do not exist. That’s right folks, sleep regressions do not exist. There is no scientific evidence or literature that discusses any regressions in sleep, rather just the normal developmental milestones in cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development that can interrupt sleep for certain time periods.
What actually happens is sleep takes a huge leap forward, it progresses and becomes more like an adult’s (a sleep PRO-gression). From newborn to around 16-17 weeks your baby’s sleep is controlled by their neonatal sleep brain; this means they only transition between light and deep sleep and their sleep is not yet dictated by hormones and homeostatic sleep pressure. Then at around 16/17 weeks, your baby’s internal body clock (known as the circadian rhythm) locks into place and they move over into their infant sleep brain; this now means the brain has completely taken over the reigns for sleep and they move through different stages of sleep with quite consistent sleep cycles. The different stages of sleep see your baby in lighter stages of sleep they have not yet experienced, and this can cause more frequent night waking’s and shorter naps.
This is a permanent change in your baby’s development, and it is our job to meet our baby’s new sleep needs. Essentially what was once working before for your baby (their routine, where they sleep, how you settle them etc) may not serve them any longer and some subtle changes to certain elements could help nudge them back in the right direction.
Along with your baby’s sleep changing its processes around four months, they will also go through lots of major developmental milestones which can naturally disrupt sleep as well. Coincidentally, they also fall around the same time further “sleep regressions” are meant to happen: 8, 10, 12, 18 and 24 months. Babbling, clapping, crawling, standing, walking, talking…you name it, there is a strong possibility they can interrupt sleep as our babies love to practice their new skills at night (and it is also when all the new neural pathways are created!). What you might notice during these times:
- They wake more frequently at night
- They start to refuse their later naps
- They struggle to link their sleep cycles and get false starts to their night-time sleep
- Bedtime resistance from older children
- Early waking
- Become more irritable
So, How Do We Get Sleep Back On Track?
Sleep is complex and multi-faceted and there are so many reasons as to why your baby is struggling to sleep, but to start you off, here are some things you can consider:
- Do you need to readjust or change naps?
At 4 months our babies start to be able to stay awake a little longer, so working on nap timings, rather than awake windows, can really help. Below I have given an idea on what time naps could be (please note: these are just for guidance; you will need to find what works best for your baby)
4pm (this will go around 6/7 months)
You may need a few more naps if your baby is not yet sleeping for longer periods
- Look at their sleep environment. You can look at blacking out their room, using white noise, removing any lights/mobiles/toys from their cot, and making sure they are dressed well for the temperature of the sleep space. For more information on how to create a good sleep environment, look at my post here
- Think about whether you can start to gradually move away from how much you do for your little one and their sleep. Do you find yourself excessively rocking, ssshhh’ing, patting, swaying, feeding your little one to sleep? Try putting them down in their cot awake and providing comfort and reassurance that will contribute to them enabling their independent sleep ability.
More help and support to help improve your childs sleep can be found at https://www.snoozysleep.co.uk
Emily Kelly is a Certified Infant Sleep Consultant