In their little lives, babies will have periods of disrupted sleep whether it be from sickness, tiredness, mental or physical developmental milestones or any number of things. How physical and developmental milestones affect sleep are hot topics I see discussed a lot.
On Facebook mom’s groups and bandied about the Internet I often see these changes labeled as regressions. Anyone heard of the 4-month regression? What a lot of people term a regression is generally a period of disrupted sleep that is more to do with developmental changes in the way a baby sleeps than a regression.
As soon as a sleep-deprived mom mentions disrupted sleep for their little 4-month-old; well meaning parents will often advise that it will pass in a week or two. While this is, of course, possible, the disrupted sleep parents are seeing is generally because they have missed making the changes required in their baby’s sleep and their baby has become overtired. This over tiredness is caused by their current sleep schedule not working for them.
At 4 months old babies have developed their circadian rhythm and sleep waves. This means that they now need their sleep to be more scheduled. This developmental milestone will affect sleep when parents miss that change to their babies sleep. Parents need to put them down when they are about to hit their natural sleep waves so that they can have long restorative naps. Sleeping outside of these times leads to less restorative sleep and babies wake up feeling less rested.
The next regression that tends to come up is the 8 to 10 month sleep regression. This is a time of nap transitions (from 3 naps to 2) but also a time of big developmental changes, which can also disrupt sleep. Babies will start to crawl, pull up on things to stand and also cruise around furniture. Often when babies start learning a new skill they feel inclined to practice even in bed at night. To avoid as much night practice get your baby practicing as often as possible during the day to help with mastery and just generally making them feel less inclined to try at night. It is also important to ensure the bedroom environment is conducive to sleep and not so stimulating. Even put on a sleep sack to make it more difficult to practice.
As you can see by the two examples discussed sleep regressions, in general, tend to happen at the same time as nap changes and transitions. There is also the often talked about 18 month sleep regression; which is when babies transition from 2 naps to 1. If a baby’s sleep needs change and this is missed or a parent does not know how best to handle it a baby can become overtired. Overtiredness can present with night wakings, difficulty falling asleep and early wake-ups.
As your baby goes through the periods of developmental changes make sure that your baby’s sleep needs are being met. Where possible try not to start rocking, patting or any other interventions that largely involve you getting your baby to sleep (especially if your baby was an independent sleeper prior to the sleep regression). This will likely cause a sleep crutch you want to get rid of later down the track when their sleep regression has passed.