You may not want to hear this, but your little one will go through many phases and regressions with their sleep in their first two years. It can be a bit like riding a very loopy rollercoaster; the regression rollercoaster! The main reason behind all the changes to your little one’s sleep is that they are constantly growing, developing and changing in their first two years. This constantly requires their routine, needs and you to keep up and go with them.
We can never get to the end of the day, relax and think, “Phew, haven’t we have got this sleep lark nailed?!” For, the next day, it all can change again as they like to keep us on our toes!
Whilst these loops with their sleep are understandably frustrating, disheartening and completely exhausting; they ARE perfectly normal and to be expected from life with a little one. It also means, developmental-wise, your little one is bang on track, and they are learning as they process their world around them.
Understandably, it can be easy to panic when these regressions do happen, and you may think their sleep will be like this forever and they or you will never sleep again. HOWEVER, they usually do pass on their own; and if they don’t, I can help you gently get your little one’s sleep back on track. My role as a sleep consultant is not to promise you that your baby is never going to wake again (that is very unrealistic!), but I can give you the confidence and tools to get them back on track when it does.
Here is all you need to know, to help you and your little one ride out the rollercoaster of regression:
What is a sleep regression?
A sleep regression is a change (which, let’s be honest, is usually for the worse!) to your little one's sleeping patterns and habits, when they previously were sleeping reasonably well. It may be that your nap champion has started to refuse their nap, or your baby who was sleeping well at night starts to wake more frequently throughout the night. Typically, they occur when they are going through huge physical and emotional changes or developments.
They usually last around one to four weeks but, of course, every baby is different, and some may take a little longer to get back on track.
The most well-known sleep regressions are at:
  • 4 months
  • 8-10 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years
The 4-month regression
The 4-month regression is such a huge loop-the-loop that it has an article all of its own. You can find my useful article all about the 4-month regression, here:
The 8-10 month regression
Why does their sleep regress now?
This regression is all about development, and there sure is a lot of it going on for your baby right now:
  • They are beginning to eat more food both in volume and variety.
  • Teething is usually in full swing by now.
  • They are learning, practising and fine-honing their exciting new gross motor skills such as: rolling, crawling, cruising.
  • The last cat-nap of the day may get dropped.
  • They may move out of your room into a room of their own.
How you can help your baby:
  • Give them lots and lots of time during the day to practice and fine-tune their new found physical skills.
  • Try to limit buggy, sling or 'strapped-in' time where you can. At this age, they just love to be free to roll around on the floor!
  • Sticking to your usual bedtime and bedtime routine will help them to feel settled with the changes that are going on around them.
  • Having skin-on-skin contact still - plus lots of hugs, cuddles and kisses - will help calm and reassure your baby whilst boosting your bond.
  • Introducing a comforter, if you haven’t already, can help comfort and reassure them. Place this in your bed for a couple of nights or down your top before giving it to them, so that it picks up your scent.
  • Have some daily quality time with your baby without any distractions, so you can totally focus and hang out with them. Just five minutes can make a big difference!
  • If they start to drop that last nap of the day, you may need to bring bedtime forward so that they don’t get overtired. An overtired baby can be hard to settle and wake more frequently during the night.
The 12-month regression
Why does their sleep regress now?
The good news is that not all babies will go through this regression. Hooray! If your little one does go through this regression, it's all down to their naps. Around this age, they may start pushing their morning nap to later, refuse a nap, or skip them all together. This can knock their naps a little off kilter for a while, causing what I like to call the tricky transition phase!
How you can help your baby:
The key to riding out this phase is having a flexible nap schedule and going with your baby on a day-to-day basis. Some days they will need two naps, whilst on other days they may only need one nap! This phase can be frustrating but, once they have transitioned to one nap a day, it usually settles down.
I would also recommend:
Not pushing your baby to transition to one nap a day. Once again, all babies are unique and they all do this in their own time. There is absolutely no rule that, by one year old, they SHOULD be having just one nap a day. Do what works for you and your little one. Bedtime may need to move slightly earlier or later, depending on the nap situation that day.
The 18-month regression:
Why does their sleep regress now?
  • Their molars are now coming through with a vengeance.
  • They are getting more and more independent, which they love, but it can also unsettle them slightly and they need more reassurance than normal.
  • Separation anxiety can kick in big time!
How you can help your toddler:
  1. Keep to your usual nap, bedtime and bedtime routines as much as you can.
  2. Make sure your toddler’s room is a calm and unstimulating place to sleep.
  3. Have lots of extra hugs, touches and kisses during the day, and try to initiate the contact so they aren’t the one always seeking out the reassurance that they need.
  4. Have some special one-on-one time each day with them where you are completely present and not distracted. Allow them to choose exactly what they want to do, and go with them. I would recommend you start off with a small chunk of time and it build from there - five minutes of this a day can have such a positive effect on them.
To help them with the separation anxiety during the day:
  • Always tell them you are about to leave and that you will be back. Sneaking away can make them even more anxious.
  • If they are really suffering, start off with very small amounts of time and build up from there.
  • Introduce a three-sentence cue and use it consistently: "Just going to get the door/get my lunch/heading out"; shout “Be right back!” as you are heading out; from outside the room, shout “Still here!”; when back in the room, “I came right back!” This will help them feel settled, and they will learn that when they hear you shout “still here!” the next step is you coming back.
  • Games like peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek with yourself or toys can help them process that an object can still be there even though you can’t always see it!
The 2-year regression
Why does their sleep regress now?
At around two years of age there are usually huge changes for your little one:
  • They may get a brand new sibling.
  • Potty learning may commence.
  • They may transition to a toddler bed.
  • They start going to nursery or pre-school.
  • They may drop their nap (gasp!)
  • There is a lot of pressure for them to “grow up”, but they are very little still and going through big changes.
How you can help your little one:
  • Keep to your usual daily schedule and bedtime routine as much as you can.
  • If they do drop their nap then you may need to bring their bedtime earlier, so that they don’t become overtired.
  • Once again, nap transitions are tricky! Go with your little one on a day-to-day basis; for example, they may need a nap every other day or even every few days, to catch up.
  • Giving them gentle bedtime boundaries by sticking to the way you usually settle them at bedtime can make them feel safe and secure in their new bed. However, some children need more reassurance at bedtime for a bit, and this totally normal!
  • Have some special one-on-one time each day with them where you are completely present and not distracted. Allow them to choose exactly what they want to do, and go with them. I would recommend you start off with a small chunk of time and it build from there - five minutes of this a day can have such a positive effect on them.
Parent Coach