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The Thing About Sleep Regressions

fussing and crying during sleep regression

Every once in a while your baby’s sleep will mysteriously become a disastrous mess. At the same time your baby will become really fussy which is either the cause or result of the sleep deprivation. The slender thread of normalcy you’ve been clinging to will disappear and you will stumble into the void of parenting despair wondering “Why did we think this baby thing was such a great plan anyway?!?!?”

If you’ve ruled out all the obvious causes of sleep stoppage (teething, colds, ear infections, etc.) then what is probably going on is a “sleep regression”. Lots of people have written about sleep regressions but the best post I’ve found, bar none, is to be found over at Ask Moxie.

Moxie recommends a sleep regression book called “Wonder Weeks” by the Danish researchers Vanderijt and Plooij. I don’t recommend this book for two reasons. One – it’s pretty expensive. Two – the only thing you really need to know (which comes from Wonder Weeks) is this:


According to Vanderijt and Plooij, the spurts happen at weeks 5, 8, 12, 19, 26, 37, 46, and 55.

This seems like a lot of growth spurts and if you’ve just survived one you’re probably looking at that long list and fighting back a wave of nausea. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems. I’ve never known anybody to have more than 2-3 rough sleep regressions. In my experience the most COMMON sleep regressions seem to come at 6 weeks, 4 months, and 6 months.

What Happens During a Sleep Regression

1

Sleep stops.

Naps get short, helping baby fall asleep takes forever, baby wakes up constantly, baby wakes up miserable, baby simply won’t sleep, etc. Unsurprisingly this often leaves parents a bit shell shocked.

2

Fussiness starts.

growth spurts are rough on everybodyPerhaps it’s due to sleep deprivation but your sweet happy baby will morph into a fussy cranky little gremlin. And since they’ll be barely sleeping you’ll have ample opportunity to enjoy it.

3

Nursing/feeding is endless.

Sometimes regressions are also called “growth spurts” and (especially for nursing moms) the idea is that your baby is demanding more from you to amp up your supply because they’re getting bigger and need more food. Thus if you’re nursing you may find your baby is glued to your boobs endlessly. We’ll it’ll feel endless because even a few days with a baby attached to your boob can feel like an eternity. Bottle fed babies also demand more/frequent food.

4

Must. Be. Held.

Babies often become clingy and needy during regressions. No longer content with some playtime on the bouncy seat or play mat, your baby ONLY wants to be held. Generally ONLY by you. Note: in case it’s not clear, sleep regressions are a bad time to try to end co-sleeping.

How to Live Through a Sleep Regression

Regressions generally last anywhere from a few days to a week (although I’ve talked to people who swear that their baby took up to 2 weeks to navigate a regression). And I won’t lie to you, sometimes they can be really rough. Especially if things were already feeling a bit shaky. But…

1

Don’t Panic!

You’re already feeling pretty beat up so when things take a determined turn for the WORSE it’s easy to flip out. But this is temporary. It’s a bad week. It’s shorter than having the flu, right? You can do this!

2

Do What Works (for now)

Your baby may need extra soothing. Crib sleepers may go back into the swing. You may need to break out the swaddle and paci again. Babies who were going down awake may need to be nursed/rocked to sleep. You may find baby sleeps better in your bed. Don’t look at this as a “step back”, look at this as taking steps to help everybody sleep. Right now.

3

Get Back on the Sleep Path

Sleep regressions are temporary. Unless you let it push you off course permanently. It’s OK to do what works (nurse to sleep, rock to sleep, use pacifiers) to navigate a sleep regression. However if a month has gone by and you’re still doing these things then you’ve fallen into the classic sleep regression trap – you let a temporary survival tactic become the new sleep norm. Which is OK until you want your baby to start napping longer and actually sleep through the night.


Don’t let a temporary sleep regression become a permanent sleep problem.

Sadly babies do not come with alarms that ring to signify the end of a sleep regression. Sometimes you’ll know because miraculously your baby will sleep a ton (for a day or two) and everybody will breathe a heady sigh of relief. Sometimes things will just gradually get better (and thus it’s less obvious). But keep an eye towards your fundamental sleep goals – helping baby get enough sleep, not letting baby stay awake too long, and helping baby learn to fall asleep.

Anybody have any experiences with sleep regressions to share? How long they lasted? Did anything help?
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Photo credit: {Tosdatophoto & Lisa Schaffer}

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217 Comments


  1. Sleep Regression

    I was so proud of myself achieving the put baby down awake and he would fall asleep…until he started waking up every 2 hours at night after 2 weeks of CIO working.

    By reading the regression post, I realized I have a sleep association problem. I need to cut the bottle/feed out right before I put him in the crib.

    So I fed him 20mins before I put him in the crib, and he cried like crazy….CIO take 2!

    Will I have to go through 2 weeks for CIO sleep training again???

    Is there anything else that I can do to keep him sleeping longer at night?
    What is a good stretch of sleep at night for a 5 month old?

    Any advice to a sleep deprived zombie mom of four would be much appreciated!

    Thanks

  2. 6 months regression… O..M..G.
    my baby used to be able to sleep on her own… now she wakes x 2 per night, wants more milk and need to be rocked to sleep and short naps constant wakings… sigh.. im just soooo relieved to see alexis’s post.. thank you!!!

    • My LO finally decided to only wake up two times at night at 5 1/2 months. Prior to that she was up every two hours. Enter 6 month sleep regression. We are back to up every two hours, no naps, incredibly fussy.

      I would love for twice a night :(

  3. Thank you for the great info. I’ve read and re-read your posts and some comments but can’t remember if I’ve seen anything about how to reverse getting trapped into a sleep regression pattern. I’m too exhausted to remember…

    Do you have info on how to break the nasty sleep regression patterns that have become my three month old’s new pattern? She’s waking up every 45 minutes to an hour starting at 2 or 3 am, until 6 or 7 am. Goodness, help me!

    She sleeps for 3ish hour stretches starting at 7pm and then it falls apart in the middle of the night. She loves her paci and her swing.

    Thank you, thank you!

    • Hello Beth,

      I was wondering how did things progressed with your baby since that sleep regression?
      I have 8 week old baby boy and I am noticing that after 3a.m. He wakes up every hour until 6

    • And nurses every hour. I wanted to know if things did change for you?

      Really would appreciate your help!
      Thank u in advance

      • Hi Yulia! Wow my baby has come a long way since then–she’s almost 8 months old now! She wakes up usually two times a night these days. But what broke her pattern of waking every hour is that I moved out of her room. I slept next to her while
        She slept in her cosleeper. The night I moved out she slept for 7 hours straight!!!!! I think that I was hearing every whimper and squeak and picked her up unnecessarily and fed her when she didn’t really need to eat! She definitely wasn’t hungry every hour! I don’t know if that’s helpful. I guess it depends on your sleeping arrangements :)

  4. Help! My lo is 4 months today. She hates nap time and fights me all the way to sleep for naps. I try to get her to fall asleep and after a crying fit she passed out but when I lay her down she wakes. If I lay her down awake she either cries forever or lays there laughing and giggling! Then bc no nap she’s super fussy by the evening!

  5. I’m currently undergoing the good ole four month sleep regression with my second baby. My first baby woke up every two hours until he was… Wait for it… 19 months old. For 19 long months I was up with him 4-5 times a night and I’m terrified of this happening again. My baby cries almost instantly when I put him in his crib, I’ve tried dousy yet awake and he cries and wakes himself back up. Any tips or advise for this, I myself am not a mom who can let my kiddo cry it out (no offense to anyone who does, I just simply can’t). I can’t figure out how to get him down without crying.

  6. Please help! My little one slept between 6-8 hours from about 7 weeks to 3.5 months. She’s almost 4.5 months and initially it started with her waking up once a night for a feed when she was about 3.5 months. She had started teething at 3 months. I would put her to sleep either with a soother or breastfeeding. It worked great for us. For two weeks now she refuses the soother, naps an average of 1 to 2 hours the whole day! (She used to have 3-4 naps that were between 1.5-3 hours long) and wakes up every hour and a half at night to feed. By 3 am she refuses to let go off my breast and just sucks all night :( if I move she wakes up and starts to cry. I don’t know if she’s hungry or teething or regressing but its causing her to not sleep and she’s become a very fussy baby. Cries if she’s not held or if I leave the room. She refuses the soother now, teething aids have not helped and will only doze off if latched on my breast. what do I do??

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