What is a sleep regression and when does it happen? (2024)

If your baby's suddenly waking more often or refusing to nap, you might be wondering: is this the dreaded sleep regression? Here's everything you need to know about sleep regression in babies, including the signs to look out for, how long they typically last, and what you can do during these tricky times.

What is sleep regression in babies?

Sometimes your baby’s sleep patterns can change. Where they once slept well, they may start to sleep less, wake more often or find it harder to settle during the night. This is sometimes called a "sleep regression" (CC 2022, Healthline 2020, MNT 2021), although changes in sleep are part of your baby’s normal development (NHS 2021).

These periods of change can be ongoing. But they usually last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, although it may feel like longer if you’re a new and exhausted parent!

What are the signs of sleep regression?

The main signs of sleep regression to look out for in your baby are:

  • waking more often at night (CC 2022, Healthline 2020, MNT 2021, SF 2003),
  • having fewer or shorter naps (CC 2022, MNT 2021),
  • taking longer to get to sleep (CC 2022, Healthline 2020, MNT 2021, SF 2003),

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As a result of the above, you may also find that your baby is more fussy and irritable (CC 2022, Healthline 2020, MNT 2021, SF 2003). Aren't we all when we don't get enough sleep?

What are the most common ages for sleep regression

Many parents say they notice changes in their baby’s sleep at particular stages in the first year.

The most common ages that parents report sleep regression are:

  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 8 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years
    (Healthline 2020, MNT 2021)

However, there's no research to suggest that all babies go through sleep regression at exactly these times (Healthline 2020, MNT 2021).

According to the NHS, all babies have their own unique sleep pattern (NHS 2021). So you may find that the so-called four month sleep regression actually happens at closer to three months or five months for your baby – or doesn't happen at all.

The important thing is just to know that it's normal for babies to have the occasional restless period, and that it won't last for ever.

Here's more information about some of the most common periods of sleep regression in baby's first year:

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The first common time for sleep regression is around four months. This may be because your baby’s sleeping patterns are starting to become more like yours (MNT 2021). When very young babies fall asleep, they go straight into active sleep or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Starting from about three months onwards, the REM sleep begins to move to later in the night (LLLI 2018, SF 2022). If your baby hasn’t yet learned to settle themselves back to sleep, they may wake more often as they move between these stages of sleep.

The next common phase of sleep regression comes at around six months. This is an exciting time for you and your baby, as you begin weaning them onto solid foods (NHS 2022). It's also a common time for teething troubles (MNT 2021). Some experts actually question whether sleep disturbances actually count as a full sleep regression, or if babies at this age are just more likely to wake up due to hunger or pain from emerging teeth (MNT 2021). However, the tips below should still help if your baby's having trouble sleeping at this time.

It’s also common for babies around eight or nine months old to wake up more frequently. That’s because it’s around this time that your baby may start to feel their first pangs of separation anxiety, which can disrupt their sleep. Learning new skills, such as crawling, playing before bedtime, and late afternoon naps can also disturb your baby’s sleep patterns (MNT 2021).

How can I deal with sleep regression?

If your baby was sleeping well and has suddenly started to wake at night, you may be worried that something’s wrong. So it’s good to know that it’s normal for your baby to experience times of poor sleep, even after a period of sleeping through the night (CC 2022, Healthline 2020, MNT 2021, NHS 2021).

It can be hard coping with sleep deprivation though, especially if you’ve been used to getting a reasonable amount of sleep. It may feel as though you’re up all night, and you may be tired and irritable during the day. Here are some things you can try to help your baby sleep well:

  • Have a calm, quiet and consistent bedtime routine. This will help your baby know that it’s nearly time for sleep. Stick to the same routine as much as you can, even if their sleep patterns have changed (Healthline 2020). You could give them a warm bath, read a story together and have a cuddle.
  • Make sure your baby’s comfortable. Check the temperature of the room and add or take off layers of bedding as needed.
  • Help your baby tell the difference between night and day. When you’re settling them during the night, ensure lights are dim, talk to them as little as possible and keep things quiet and calm (NHS 2021). Many parents also swear by white noise machines to help their little ones drift off (CC 2022).
  • Check your baby's getting enough feeds. As your baby grows, they’ll probably want more or their regular milk, during the day (NHS 2019), plus solid foods from about six months (NHS 2022). So make sure they’re getting enough feeds before bed, so they doesn't wake up more often from hunger (CC 2022).
  • Avoid screen time before bed. The light from phones, tablets and TVs can disrupt your baby's sleep rhythms and make it harder for them to drop off (CC 2022, Healthline 2020).

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Many babies find it hard to soothe themselves back to sleep if they wake up at night. If your baby is six months old, you could try teaching them to settle themselves back to sleep. This is called sleep training. There are a number of approaches you can try and many do not involve letting your baby cry by themself. Having said this, do not feel under pressure to try sleep training. Sleep training isn’t for all parents. If you feel you’re able to continue comforting your baby at night, then that’s fine too.

Be sure to look after yourself. If possible, see if your partner, friends or family can help to look after your baby at night from time to time, to give you a break and help you catch up with sleep (NHS 2021). Nap during the day if you can, and try to remember the timeless parenting mantra: this too shall pass!

See our top tips for coping with sleep deprivation.

FAQs about sleep regression

Do all babies go through sleep regression?

All babies will experience some changes to their sleep patterns as they grow (NHS 2021); after all, it would be strange if a preschooler still slept like a newborn!

However, each baby is different and all babies will have their own sleep patterns, that can change at different times as they develop (Mindell et al 2016, NHS 2021). Your baby might experience sleep changes at the times listed above, or at seven months, nine months, or any other time.

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How long does a sleep regression last?

Many experts suggest that periods of disturbed sleep can often last for one or two weeks before your baby settles into more regular sleep again (CC 2022, Healthline 2020, MNT 2021), though some say they can occasionally last as long as six weeks (MNT 2021).

If your baby's sleep has been disturbed for longer than a week or two, or you have any concerns, it's a good idea to have a word with your health visitor (NHS 2021).

Should I sleep train during a sleep regression?

It's up to you whether you want to try sleep training with your baby. The NHS says that you should be prepared to change your routine as your baby grows and enters new stages (NHS 2021), and some experts say that sleep training can help to reestablish a routine after sleep regression.

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However, it's worth noting that some experts suggest that the "cry it out" method might not be best during a sleep regression, as your little one might need a bit more support to fall asleep during these tricky periods (Healthline 2020).

The good news is, there are lots of different and gentle ways help your baby’s sleep routine. Find out more about sleep training techniques, including controlled crying and "no-tears" approaches.

Is it possible to prevent sleep regression?

You might think that if you do everything right, your baby will always sleep through the night. Unfortunately, that's almost never the case.

Your baby is growing and developing so much that they’re bound to have times when their sleep needs to adjust to their new skills, routines and developmental stages (NHS 2021). So if your little one does have periods of disturbed sleep, rest assured there's nothing you could have done to prevent it; though our tips above might help it pass more quickly.

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Does sleep regression affect daytime naps?

It certainly can! In fact, one of the possible signs of sleep regression is your baby having fewer or shorter naps (CC 2022, MNT 2021). Never fear though; we're here to help with tips on what to do if your baby won't nap, or you want them to nap for longer.

Will my baby's milestones cause sleep regression?

It's possible. In fact, major milestones – from teething and weaning to rolling over, crawling and walking – are often listed as some of the most common reasons for babies to go through a period of sleep regression (CC 2022, Healthline 2020, MNT 2021),

There's a lot going on in your baby's brain when they learn a new skill, so it's not surprising if it has a knock-on effect in other areas of their life. As the teething pain subsides, or they get used to their newfound skill, their sleep should naturally improve. If not, you can always speak to your health visitor for reassurance.

What is a sleep regression and when does it happen? (2024)

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