Sleep Regressions Are A Good Thing

Don't google about sleep regressions, reach out!

Sleep Regressions- Ugh! I can still remember 7 years ago, holding my hand on my first-born’s chest while he laid in the crib, being exhausted, frustrated, and googling like crazy:

“Is there a 8 month sleep regression?”… “What about a 10 month sleep regression?”… “Ugh, is there also a 12 month sleep regression?”… 

Honestly, it felt like the second I got a handle on my first-born’s sleep, the next night everything would go haywire again and I would run right back to google! 

I would simultaneously congratulate myself for figuring out if it was, in fact, a common time for all babies to struggle with sleep and also curse the dreaded “sleep regression” my son was going through! 

What I didn’t know, at the time, was that I should have been excited that my little one was going through this sleep PROGRESSION. 

I don’t know who first coined the term “sleep regression” and used it for all the different stages babies move through with sleep, but they miss named it. A regression is defined as “the process of going back to an earlier or less advanced form or state.” ( Definition from the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary) That is not what a baby is doing when they have a disruption in their sleep. They are actually doing the opposite, they are moving forward, and maturing. With that, comes different sleep patterns, different sleep needs, or simply sleep disruptions due to the fact their brains are in overdrive trying to accomplish new things! 

Sleep regressions are a good thing!

An actual regression would be something like if you have a fully potty-trained 4 year old and then once you introduced their newborn sibling to them, they started refusing to go on the potty and instead only wanted to wear diapers. They wouldn’t be moving forward, but rather moving backwards and not wanting to do what they already learned. 

Potty Training Regressions are bad.

When it comes to the commonly referred to sleep regressions babies go through, they are learning new skills, not abandoning previously learned skills. It is a GOOD THING! You want your little one to thrive and mature, don’t you?

A sleep regression isn't statistics, they are not bad!

Bear with me for a moment while, I travel back in time to when I was a statistics tutor in college…

The only way I could justify using the word regression, when it comes to your little one’s sleep, is if you were referring to the statistical definition of the word. When it comes to statistics, a regression is “a technique that relates a dependent variable to one or more independent (explanatory) variables.” (Definition from Investopedia)

So in terms of your little one, your baby is waking up at night (y) because it is related to the fact that they are learning a new skill such as rolling over (x).  (But is your brain really doing statistical factoring at 3am??!)

Regardless of the reasoning behind the misnomer, I’m hoping to break the myth that these sleep regressions are a bad thing and instead, celebrate them as one more mile marker in your little one’s development. 

Sure, they require some adjusting on your part, but once you understand what’s going on, you can make the changes you need to and then both you and your little one can move on and hopefully get back to sleeping better! 

So like I had mentioned before- when your little one, who was always a great sleeper, but now, all of a sudden, is waking several times throughout night- it is most likely because they’re:

If they are learning a new skill:

While it should be pretty easy to correlate between when your little one is learning a new skill and when they are suffering from night-wakings, it’s not that easy to rectify the situation. When a baby is trying to master a new skill, such as rolling, crawling, pulling themselves up, or walking, sometimes their little brains are constantly running and thinking they need to practice ALL the time. And of course, that includes at 1am, 2am, and 3am…

Think about your own brain- when you are in the middle of a training or learning something new, it’s common for your mind to keep running while you’re trying to fall asleep.

A common work around for this is to keep a notebook next to your bed. If your brain is running through idea’s or a creating a “to do” list for you, you can quickly jot it down and then get back to sleeping. But your little one can’t do that. 

So instead, when your little one is working on a new skill, make sure they get plenty of practice throughout the day. That way their brains can rest easy knowing that they are “all practiced out.”

In theory anyway. If you have a little over achiever, they might just be struggling with night-wakings, for the time being, until their brain decides otherwise. But as parents and caregivers, there is only so much we can do. We can’t learn to crawl for our little ones, even though we might try to (this is a fact that drove me crazy when my little bears were in this stage!). 

If you’re feeling helpless, even after you’ve implemented extra practice time for your little one during the day, I have a couple more suggestions to help you.

  1. You can offer a temporary, early bedtime, while your little one is having night-wakings. This will help them make up for the sleep they’re losing in the middle of the night.
  2. Make sure to stick to your safe and healthy sleep hygiene routine. Stay the course and don’t introduce any poor sleep associations- like rocking to sleep or bringing your little one into your bed- with the hopes they’ll finally pass back out. This might seem tempting because then you’ll be able to close your eyes again, but in the long run, you’re just making more work and less sleep for yourself and your little one. 

If it’s a developmental leap that’s the issue…

It can be a lot harder to identify at first because this would be something happening internally for your little one. However, there are some great resources out there that can help you figure this out! Here is a useful “Leap Calculator” that could help you decipher what might be going on in your little one’s brain. Of course, even this is a generalized time frame when little one’s most often go through these developments, but if the calculator says your little one just entered a new leap, then chances are their sleep might be thrown off.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic fix for guiding your little one through these leaps. However, understanding what’s happening can offer valuable insight. Learning about their remarkable internal growth may even inspire a more compassionate perspective as they rouse you from slumber at all hours. Once again, I recommend embracing an early bedtime to help navigate these temporary sleep disruptions with greater ease.

Another tricky one to figure out, is if your little one’s sleep needs have shifted.

However, these are the easiest of the ‘sleep progression triggers’ to rectify. So, if you can catch on early that this is the problem, a few simple schedule changes can get everyone back to sleeping ASAP.

For example:

  • The 4-month sleep progression is usually around the time that your little one’s internal clock has matured enough to move away from wake windows, and instead, base sleep times around biologically driven times the body wants sleep.
  • The 8-month sleep progression might be right around the time that your little one is ready to drop from 3 naps a day to two naps a day.
  • For the 12-month progression, although your little one is still too young to drop to only one nap a day, the times of their naps can usually happen a little later in the day. After tweaking nap times a little bit, you should be able to see improvement. 

I have a nap guide that you could download to help you with this!

Whatever the cause, I want to make sure you know that when you hit these “regressions” with your little ones, your baby is not broken. Your baby is not going backwards. Your baby is doing what they need to do to move forward and thrive.

So after you’re done yawning, it’s time to celebrate this! 💜🧸

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