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Which Sleep Regression Is Worse?

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

Now that you are a parent of a child who maybe does or doesn't sleep well, you will come across the term 'SLEEP REGRESSION' a lot!

Will sleep regression end
Sleep Regression

Does this image resonate with you?

For years, I have been trying to educate parents to understand that the 'SLEEP REGRESSIONS' that you hear about, are not really 'REGRESSIONS' per se.

In fact, if you follow me on Instagram, or are a member of my FREE Infant and Toddler Sleep Group, you will know that I prefer to use the term SLEEP PROGRESSION.

Most sleep regressions, 4 months, 5 months, 6 months, 7 months, 8 months, 9 months, 10 months, honestly, I could just keep going with this monthly regression, until the age of 4 years .... it is like they have a regression each month!! So why bother making changes for the best?

Well here's 5 quick facts that I want you to know and think about......

Sleep Regression on Babies
Sleep Regression on Babies
  1. The sleep doesn't really regress, but normal development milestones can impact sleep in what you deem to be a negative way

  2. Parents regress in how they react, which causes confusion, and then the sleep can truly fall apart :(

  3. Having a good solid sleep foundation can GREATLY assist in the sleep progression when it happens

  4. 9-12 months is for sure the trickiest of all the sleep progressions

  5. You will SURVIVE this even though sometimes, it will feel never-ending.

Here the same facts, but broken down in more detail...

The sleep doesn't really regress, but normal development milestones can impact sleep, in what you deem to be a negative way.

Children grow and change over time. This is normal. This is what we want. This is what we expect. But when we see it at midnight or 4 / 5 am or maybe all these times, we often look at it through a different lens (or should I say toothpicks)

It's normal for babies to learn to roll, sit, stand & walk. In the day, these skills do create problems, but we more likely see a funny side to them.

To give you an example of what I mean: when a child learns to crawl, they are lightning fast - usually faster than us! We have to know where they are at all times, where they are going and we have to be preventative of what they might get into. New dangers arise: falling downstairs, sticking fingers into things, grabbing things, rolling off the bed, and so on.

When children go through these phases, they are excited, they want to keep going, they want to get into everything, they want to learn. (I'm sure your Tupperware drawer has never been so messy)

What's this? What's that? Hey, look at me! I am the bee knees! and you also tell them that - look at your clever clogs!

sleep regression at 2 years
Sleep Regression on Toddlers

As they learn new skills, they are excited, they want to practice - and part of that practicing often happens overnight in active sleep (11.30 pm - 5 am). As they do this, whether it be rolling, sitting, crawling, standing, or walking, they often get themselves tangled or stuck between slats, or bunched up in their sleep sack.

They will wake up and struggle to get back to sleep because they are either practicing a new skill or they can't get themselves into a comfortable position.

It's this behavior that often results in them shouting out or crying out to get you to assist them. For children who have been sleeping well, this can feel like your world (or night) has been turned upside down, because you feel like you are back at the beginning and unsure of how long it might last. This is what makes the progression feel like a regression, and takes a negative turn.

Parents regress in how they react, which causes confusion and then the sleep can truly fall apart.

Lots of times, parents of children who are going through a sleep regression, will fall back into old habits in an attempt to help their child go back to sleep fast. This might be, nursing, rocking, offering a soother or a bottle back to sleep.

What you have to remember is that your child has not woken up for any other reason, then it's normal to wake up, what's different is that they can not get back to sleep because their new skill is hindering that ability.

The best way to handle it is to deal with it at the root. If they are standing, lay them down, if they are sitting lay them down, if they are rolling, roll them back, DON'T add in more layers and make it more complicated than it needs to be.

I tell my clients to use a traffic light system.

surviving a sleep regression
Surviving a Sleep Regression

STOP. Think about what's really going on. ( think about what's been happening in the day with development - for the sake of this example, let's pretend that they have learned to roll )

GET READY TO ASSIST. Assist your child in what they are really asking you for help with. ( They are stuck on their front and not happy about it, reposition them on their back so that they can go back to sleep more easily X 10 )

GO. Leave the room and don't do anything else outside of assisting with the root cause!

If you end up treating the sleep in a different way: for example your child is stuck on their front and all they need is for you to roll them, but you rock them back to sleep instead, you will actually change the overall expectations.

Having a good solid sleep foundation can GREATLY assist in sleep progression.

toddlers and sleep regression
Good Solid Sleep Foundation

Infants who had poor sleep habits, to begin with, will of course still wake up overnight, sometimes more, looking for help to go back to sleep via the way that they first fell to sleep: rocking, bounding, walking, nursing, bottle, soother, etc.

Those children how have been slept trained or have learned how to self-soothe can sail through different progressions much easier.

9-12 months is for sure the trickiest of all the sleep progressions

sleep regression 9 months
The trickiest of all the sleep progressions

I have been tracking infant sleep habits for years. Looking at how they adapt and how these children cope through these new skills.

I also monitor my Facebook group for the types of questions that come up frequently.

I would say that the age group of 9-12 months is trickiest due to the motor skills developed and how fast they happen from each other. One minute they are crawling and next they bypass walking but are running around and jumping off the furniture.

Not only is this age difficult because of the fastness of the new skills, but there is also the onset of object permanence which triggers some separation anxiety and this can then trigger terrified children who cry when you leave the room, don't want to be put down at bedtime or naptime and start to scream overnight.

It is also an age, where children are often teething quite heavily, so it adds another big variable for you to think about.

Once children have learned to walk things calm down and the sleep actually starts to resettled provided you haven't changed the expectations around sleep too much.

You will SURVIVE this even though sometimes, it will feel never-ending and........ one day, you will be able to get your own back!

sleep regression and potty training expert
Dawn Whittaker | Consultant

As Gloria Gaynor once sang " I will survive" and yes you will, I promise.

One day, you will get your own back... tee hee

So the other morning, I got up around 5:30 am, everyone else was sleeping. I unloaded the dishwasher - pots and pans, clanging about, went out for a run ( triggered the dog howling), came back, and made a smoothie. (blend on high 2 minutes).

My 14year old daughter, stumbled out of her room, "Mama" (loud whiney voice ), you woke me up with your blender.... that was after you woke me up unloading the dishwasher... followed by the dog howling the house down, and now I can't get back to sleep!

As your children get older, you will find yourself in a position where you have ALL the opposite problems from what you have now.

Baby wakes up early - Teens sleep in too late

Baby won't let you put them down - Can't get your teen to give you a kiss

Can't get your toddler into bed - Can't get your teen out of bed

One day, you will have new troubles, you will get through this, it won't last forever, after all, parenting is like whack a mole.


Want more info on how to maintain good sleep post sleep training - click here.

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