Sometimes sleep regressions seem to go on forever! They can make parents want to hide under a pillow and scream for help
If you are new to them, you may be wondering what they are and what’s so tough about them. Sleep regressions are phases when babies and toddlers go through teething and/or development. Sleep can go down hill, in a hurry! These phases aren’t difficult every time for every child, but they can be quite disruptive at times.
During sleep regressions, sleep problems can pop up out of nowhere. Overnight, your child could go from sleeping for long periods to waking more often or even hourly! If sleep regressions scare you, you’re not alone. They can turn your world upside down!
Little ones can have other sleep disruptions too, such as short naps, fighting sleep, unpredictable schedules, skipping naps, wakeful periods at night, or waking earlier than usual.
Not everybody notices a strong contrast between good and bad sleep. Some babies and toddlers sleep poorly all the time, then sleep worse during sleep regressions. Some parents feel like their children are always in a sleep regression. If your child is like this, my heart goes out to you!
Sensitive babies and toddlers may also behave differently during sleep regressions. They may fuss more than usual or cling to their parents for dear life. Moods may change instantly. Emotions can be intense. Toddlers may act grumpy, defiant, or push boundaries more than usual.
These changes in behavior can affect sleep, daily activities, and your responsibilities. It can be exhausting! Children may ask to be held more often, making it hard to function or get anything done. Some little ones will only sleep when they are held (day or night), or they may scream or cry if you try to lay them down. Parents sometimes spend entire nights sitting in a chair, holding their babies. Sometimes parents start bedsharing to get more sleep.
Even the most independent, strong sleepers can go through challenges like these! Sleep regressions can cause sleep deprivation. They often make parents feel scared and anxious about the future. They can bring some of the toughest challenges that parents have to endure.
Whether you’ve been through a sleep regression or not, you may be wondering what can make them easier on you. May I suggest 10 tips that can do this AND give you strength, patience, motivation, and peace?
What can I do to make sleep regressions easier to manage?
- Recognize that sudden changes with sleep and behavior often mean that a teething or developmental period is beginning (or both). If you are aware of what your child is going through and how they are feeling, you may have more compassion and patience when you need it. It may also help to focus on your child’s progress and growth. Your thoughts make a difference in how you feel and act.
- Observe what’s going on and be in tune so you can figure out what your child is feeling.
- During mental leaps, little ones can feel wired and uncomfortable. Some little ones act like they are in pain in their sleep; they cry or scream.
- During growth spurts, they can be uncomfortable, restless, and experience pain and discomfort.
- During teething periods, they can experience pain and discomfort for several days, weeks, or months!
- When learning new milestones, they can feel restless, wired, and obsessed with practicing and using their skills 24/7!
- Look for safe, natural remedies to help your child sleep better. Choose natural products and ingredients so you can offer them regularly. Work with your doctor to find solutions that will help your child feel calm, soothed, and relaxed.
- Accept that sleep regressions are unavoidable and unsolvable. The sleep disruptions are not your fault, you can’t fix or control them, and your child isn’t acting up. They sleep lightly and act differently because of how they feel.
- Observe your child and recognize when they are seeking comfort and peace (coregulation). Most people are unaware of babies’ and toddlers’ limitations and capacities in this area. They assume that all babies are capable of calming themselves and feeling better on their own, but they can’t. In the middle of the night, when you feel discouraged or frustrated, remind yourself, “my little one needs me right now.”
- Babies and toddlers can range from being very easy-going and hardly ever crying to being very sensitive and easily upset.
- Some have basic coping skills: they can look away when they are tired or overstimulated, suck on a thumb or pacifier or move their body rhythmically to relax. But they still need their parents to comfort them when they don’t feel well.
- Others rely solely on their parents for help with emotional regulation
- They have different reactions and needs, so it’s important not to compare them or worry about what other babies and toddlers are capable of.
- Children start comforting themselves around 4-5 years old because of parental responsiveness, comfort, and support.
- Be flexible with your little ones’ schedule. It can be very frustrating to deal with unpredictability and irregularity. It might seem like your child is fighting their sleep. But, in reality, they are probably feeling wired. Some kids need more physical activity and longer wake windows to fall asleep easier. They may even drop a nap temporarily! Other kids feel wired AND tired; they may take longer to fall asleep no matter what you do. You might worry that these problems are causing more sleep disruptions. This may be true, but it may not be as bad as you think. Babies and toddlers can have restless nights and frequent awakenings with or without schedule problems during sleep regressions. It’s best to let go of the things you can’t control. Try to take things one-minute, one-hour, or one-day at a time. Hang in there!
- Do everything you can to meet your own needs. This is easy to overlook when you are in survival mode, but it’s still important. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel when you put your needs towards the top of your list. (Above the dishes, the laundry, chores, phone-time, other people’s needs, etc.)
- Don’t hesitate or be afraid to ask for help. Tell your partner or spouse what you need and share the responsibilities at night, even though it may seem easier to do it yourself. Ask close family and friends for help and breaks when things are getting worse or you are overwhelmed. You are important!
- Let go of unnecessary tasks, responsibilities, and projects until your child is sleeping better and is easier to care for. (AKA Survival Mode). It can be difficult to see what’s best for yourself when you are barely making it through something like this. But rest assured, no one is rating your performance and you aren’t failing anyway. You are probably the one putting the most pressure on yourself to do “all the things” and keep up appearances. This is something you can work on. If others are adding pressure as well, discuss the situation with them and ask for support. If that doesn’t work, disassociate yourself from them, for now.
- This may sound cliche, but it’s true: remember this is temporary. Even if your child goes through back-to-back regressions, sooner or later your child will sleep better, (Even sooner with a sleep consultant’s help!) Patience will pay off.
Being unprepared and clueless about what’s going on during sleep regressions can make things worse. With no way to get around or escape these phases, consider facing them with courage! Gather insight and do everything you can to empower yourself. (These tips are a great place to start!) You and your child could have a better experience next time.
Meredith Brough is the owner of Sweet Slumber. She helps women return to their well-rested state, feeling connected and at peace, by helping them improve their sleep, fine-tune their intuition, and elevate motherhood.
Meredith is a sleep coach, childcare expert, mentor, podcaster and an instructor. She is also a mother of 5, wife of 26 years and a grandma. She loves being with her family, taking care of her health, being creative, and watching movies.