All About Baby Sleep Regression

Has your baby started waking up in the middle of the night? They’re probably dealing with sleep regression. Here’s how to get your little one to snooze soundly again.

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You thought your baby was sleep trained, but they suddenly can't snooze for long stretches anymore. What gives? Unfortunately, even babies who have been snoozing blissfully for eight to 12 hours each night can suddenly go through some bad patches. Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night explains that it's very normal for babies who have been sleeping through the night to experience occasional bouts of sleep regressions, which may look like nighttime wake-ups or difficulty going to sleep. We've identified the most common reasons behind this baby sleep regression, and asked experts to offer solutions for each dilemma.

Your Baby Practices New Milestones at Night

Here's one of the biggest disruptions to slumber: Your little one is working hard on mastering a new skill, seemingly all night long. A baby learning to roll onto their tummy may have trouble finding their way back to the original position. When they begin to sit up later, you might find them crying because they haven't figured out how to lie back down. Another biggie is walking: Research shows that a kid can get so excited about this milestone that they literally can't sleep, says Dr. Mindell.

The solution

Spend time practicing the new skill with your kid during the day. "Let your baby move around a lot, and try to avoid excessive stroller or car-seat time," says sleep consultant Jennifer Waldburger, coauthor of The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent's Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep. When your little one wakes up because they're stuck in a new position, help them lie down again but don't linger—you don't want this to become a game.

Your Baby Has Separation Anxiety

Children under the age of 1 don't understand object permanence—the idea that you may go away, but you will always come back. As a result, your baby can feel panicked when they wake during the night and don't see you, especially if you were there when they drifted off. If your infant rouses with a startled cry and then seems playful after you pick them up, they might have just missed you. The worst thing to do is follow their lead and start socializing. "Don't turn the middle of the night into fun time," says Waldburger.

The solution

Teach your baby that you'll never disappear by playing games like peekaboo or hide-and-seek with stuffed animals in the daytime. If they're crying in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, pat them or pick them up to reassure that you're there. Then give your baby a goodnight kiss before saying goodbye and leaving. Trying to sneak out can backfire. "If your child is experiencing separation anxiety it will just make them more panicked and hyper-vigilant," says Waldburger.

Naptime Messes Up Your Baby's Sleep Schedule

As your baby gets older, they're going to need fewer naps. These fluctuations can affect their overnight schedule as well. "If rest periods are too close to bedtime, they may not be sleepy, and if they're too short they may be overtired —either scenario can make your child more likely to wake at night," says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.

The solution

If your baby's routine has changed recently, consider keeping a sleep journal to see whether you need to adjust bedtime or tweak naptimes. One way to gauge if your baby is getting enough quality sleep is to watch them between 4 and 5 p.m. "Many parents write this time off as the 'witching hour'—but it's really the time when poor sleep catches up with a baby," says Dr. Weissbluth. If your little one seems playful and happy, then their sleep schedule is probably okay; if they're clingy and short-fused, they may have given up their nap too soon or need to go to sleep earlier.

The Bedtime Routine Becomes Disrupted

Vacations, teething, illness, or other changes in routine can disrupt your baby's shut-eye schedule. And it's a vicious cycle: Sleep deprivation, even one hour less each night, can add up and make your baby even more likely to wake at night.

The solution

Set aside a few days to get back on track. If your baby continues to wake after three nights post-vacation or illness, do a sleep-training refresher. It's also helpful to keep as much of a routine in place as you can when you're away from home. For example, if it's always bath and book before bed, keep that ritual intact as much as circumstances will allow.

You Don't Know The Reason Behind Baby Sleep Regression

You might have a bad night's sleep now and then, and so will your baby. Maybe they have a tummy ache, or they're too hot or cold. Perhaps they're getting smarter. "When the brain is rewiring itself for a cognitive leap, it can affect sleep," says Waldburger. Most often, the rough patch will pass or the answer will reveal itself over the course of a few days , whether it's a new tooth, a first word, or a growth spurt.

The solution

If you don't know why your child is waking, comfort them with patting, holding, or rocking. Soothe yourself by remembering that you won't create a bad habit in one night, and that you and your baby are simply passing through a stage. "Learning to sleep is like riding a bike. Your child may fall off sometimes but they won't forget," says Waldburger. Feel free to use that as your late-night mantra.

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