When up at night with my baby, I used to wonder if there was some sort of sleep regression schedule to know when they’d happen, or if there was one to know how to fix them. Are there sleep regression schedules? And if so, how do you avoid or fix them?
Sleep regressions do happen on a fairly reliable schedule, so it is possible to anticipate them. Sleep regression schedules can also be managed with sleep training and parenting techniques. This way, they can be kept as short as possible for the least sleep disruption possible.
So let’s talk about sleep regression schedules – both how to anticipate and how to manage them.
Sleep Regression Schedules: Anticipate When They Happen and Why
First, let’s look at when we can expect or anticipate sleep regressions. If you want to read my full article on when sleep regressions happen, click here. Otherwise, I’ve condensed that information into a table so you can just browse and see when you might expect the next regression.
|Age||Most Probable Sleep Regression Cause||What it Looks Like||How to Manage It|
|Newborn||Baby wants to be held to sleep or doesn’t like sleeping on their back||When you put your baby on their back, they fuss and squirm.||Try swaddling your baby, consider cosleeping, or talk to your doctor.|
|Newborn||Day/Night confusion||Your baby wants to be up all night and sleep all day.||Remember that adjusting to a schedule takes time. Make daytime distinct from night by using light and noise to your advantage.|
|4 Months Old||4 Month Sleep Regression (related to normal brain development that leads to more adult-like sleep pattern development)||Your baby suddenly starts waking up every 1-2 hours during the night and naps become irregular, too.||Your baby is settling into a normal sleep pattern and it’s easier to wake up every hour or two. They need to learn to self-soothe and it will take time to teach them that.|
|4-6 Months Old||Nap routine change and the 3 to 2 nap transition: baby goes from needing 3 daily naps to only needing 2.||Your baby starts fighting naps they used to love taking and are significantly more cranky both during the day, at bedtime, and may even start waking up more at night.||Your baby is outgrowing the early morning nap. Start phasing that out and use an early bedtime to help them settle into a 2-nap schedule.|
|6-8 Months Old||Negative sleep associations.||The baby has difficulty falling asleep on their own and requires more help falling back to sleep during the night when they wake up.||Look at what negative sleep associations your baby may have developed. The most common one is related to nursing or bottle-feeding while falling asleep. Adjust feeding time to be before falling asleep, rather than during.|
|6-8 Months Old||Early Bird wants to play!||Your baby is waking up way too early – often before dawn!||Something is waking up your baby and they want to play. Consider using external sleep associations (like white noise machines and blackout curtains) to help baby sleep longer. Let baby stay in a quiet, sleep-ready environment. They’ll adjust after a few days or weeks.|
|8 Months Old||8 Month Sleep Regression||Your baby starts waking up more frequently at night wanting to nurse. Naps are harder and everyone is cranky again.||Your baby is learning new skills that are causing a major sleep regression. They’ll need time, sleep training, and patience while they adjust to their new developmental tasks.|
|11 Months Old||11 Month Old Sleep Regression (may happen between 10-12 months old).||Your baby is back to waking up far too frequently – as often as every 2 hours or more.||Use sleep training to get your baby back on track. This sleep regression can be particularly bad, so don’t be afraid to ask friends to help babysit when you need a nap.|
|10-15 Months||Nap routine change: From 2 naps to 1 daily||Your child starts fighting that morning nap more every day, leading to later and later morning naps. The afternoon nap may also be more difficult as a result.||Start phasing out the morning nap by pushing it later (use 15-minute increments if possible). Gradually, it will become combined with the afternoon nap and your child will have graduated to a single nap schedule.|
|18 Months Old||Separation Anxiety and Opinions.||Your baby has developed separation anxiety and wants more control over their situation. Both are totally normal but can be frustrating at bedtime and when they wake up extra at night.||Create extra cuddle time each day, especially during bedtime. Also, allow your child to choose between 2-3 choices you set for them. This will help them feel more independent and in control.|
|1.5-3 Years Old||Outgrowing Naps||Your child refuses to take naps but still needs them to not be cranky, especially in the later afternoons.||Start phasing out naps – adjust bedtime forward a bit during the transition to help prevent your child from becoming too overtired and cranky.|
|1.5-5 Years Old||Potty Training: Daytime and Nighttime.||Learning new skills and sensations (and worrying about them) causes sleep regressions.||Separate daytime and nighttime potty training to make the transition easier. Read my full article on sleep regressions and potty training by clicking here.|
|Any Age||Travel or time changes.||Your child may wake up more at night, refuse to nap, have difficulty falling asleep, or any combination thereof.||When you can, prepare for time changes and travel as much as possible. Adjust the clock slowly to prevent big stresses on schedules.|
|Any Age||Illness or Teething.||Your baby is waking up more due to pain, illness, or needing extra comfort.||Treat the symptoms and give pain medicine as directed by your doctor. Know that things will improve once the pain has improved.|
|Any Age||Anxiety or excessive worry.||Worrying about friends, school, or anything else makes sleep a lot harder – and triggers a regression.||Talk to your kids about managing anxiety. Make extra time for cuddling to help ease the symptoms, especially at bedtime.|
So that’s when you can expect most sleep regressions.
Now, let’s talk about managing our schedules to minimize their impact on our sleep. But in order to do that, we need to make sure we first understand normal schedules – of both sleep and regressions.
Normal Sleep and Sleep Regression Schedules
A “normal” sleep regression schedule can be defined as “awful.” We often first notice it’s sleep regression because babies are waking up every 1-2 hours. So what causes this crazy, unsustainable schedule?
In order to answer that, let’s first look at what our sleep schedule usually is. It’s broken down into four stages. We start at stage one and progress through each stage sequentially.
On average, it takes us between 90-110 minutes to get through the whole cycle. Then, we start over.
|1 – Light, Non-REM Sleep (Alpha)||Drowsy, falling asleep stage where you can still be easily woken up. Muscles relax but may twitch while drifting off to sleep.|
|2 – Light, Non-REM Sleep (Theta)||The first stage of sleep where, if you were woken up, you’d realize you’d been asleep.|
(the longest stage in the sleep cycle; accounts for 40-60% of our sleep)
|3 – Deep Sleep||Deep, regenerative stage of sleep where healing and growth take place. EEG waves are slow. Memory consolidation and synaptic pruning occur.|
(the first sleep cycles have longer periods of deep sleep and they naturally shorten through the night)
|4 – REM||Rapid Eye Movement while sleeping. Generally, the body doesn’t move much (if at all) during this stage. Vivid dreams happen during this stage and brain wave activity appears awake.|
(REM periods lengthen through the night as deep sleep decreases)
Of course, that’s how the sleep schedule goes once we’re in an adult sleep pattern. Here’s how we get there.
Sleep Cycle and Patterns by Age
|Age||Normal Sleep Pattern||Notes|
|Newborns to 4 months old||Newborns jump between 3 sleep stages: active (REM), quiet (non-REM), and “indeterminate.”||Most newborn sleep is active and easily disrupted – which is necessary for frequent feedings and proper growth.|
|Infants (4-12 months old)||Brains start to settle into adult-like sleep patterns and stages.||Much of their sleep is still very easily disrupted.|
|Toddlers (1-3 years old)||Stages 1-4||Toddlers spend about 50% of sleep in stages 3 and REM.|
|Preschoolers & School Age (3-12 years old)||Stages 1-4||While total hours of sleep may slightly decrease, most sleep is still spent in deep sleep and REM.|
|12+||Stages 1-4||Between now and adulthood, the majority of sleep begins to shift to stage 2|
In other words, it’s pretty easy to wake up during stages 1 and 2 of a sleep cycle. So once someone gets through their usual sleep cycle, it’s really easy for them to wake up. That’s just for adults.
Looking at babies, they spend most of their sleep in REM and deep sleep, so they’re harder to wake during those times. But because they cycle through the stages just like adults do, they can still be woken up super easily during the first couple of stages.
And if they’re overtired baby, they’re even more likely to wake up. It’s a weird paradox but that’s how it works.
With my first two boys, I thought that if I held them until they fell into deep sleep, I’d be better able to put them down to sleep. It turns out relying on sleep cycles to time when putting down your child to bed is a horrible idea. Trust me.
Trying to use sleep cycles to put a child down to sleep backfire for two vital reasons:
- A held baby wants to be rocked. But every little movement keeps the child from being able to advance to deeper sleep – it keeps waking them up.
- When a baby comes out of REM and wakes up in a new location, that change is a stressful surprise that makes them even more likely to wake up.
While putting a baby down once they’re in deep sleep may work for a night or two, it creates a negative sleep association that almost always ends in ever-worsening sleep regressions. I’ve talked to other parents who all agree with me: it just doesn’t work long-term.
So now let’s talk about the schedule to recovery.
The Sleep Regression Recovery Schedule
Okay, so you know when to expect sleep regressions and more about normal sleep patterns (and why your baby is waking up every hour or two!). So now let’s talk about how long it can take to recover from sleep regression.
Sleep regressions can last anywhere from a few days up to 6 weeks. They’re usually about two weeks long. They’re usually that long because it takes us that long to identify sleep regression as the problem – and then it takes time for us to all catch up on our sleep enough to be back at a normal schedule.
To read my article on how long sleep regressions usually last (along with 10+ examples), click here.
That being said, I’ve put together this sleep regression recovery schedule based on extensive research and experience with too many sleep disturbances.
|Day||Time||Observations||What Usually Happens Next||Ideas to Make Sleep Regression Recovery Happen Faster|
|1||All Day||Your kid is crankier than usual, but it’s nothing too out of the ordinary. It’s very easily explained away. The night is a little bit worse than usual, but it’s also explained away.||Too often, parents nothing and hope it’s a fluke.||Cranky kids need an earlier bedtime, even if it’s just by 15 minutes.|
|2||During the Day||Your child is definitely cranky. They are more tearful and are rubbing their eyes more frequently.||Hope it’s a fluke – while silently wondering if it’s sleep regression. Start looking that up online.||Recognize that a child’s cranky behavior is often a symptom of being overtired. Plan on an earlier bedtime and behavioral sleep training to remedy the situation.|
|Nap Times||Naps seem harder and shorter than usual. The kid doesn’t seem to want to take a nap.||Struggle to get the child to go back to sleep after a nap is far too short and not nearly restful enough.||Get the child up from the nap and try again later.|
|Bedtime||Bedtime is rough. The child is trying to delay with every tactic they possess.||Bedtime becomes an accidental power struggle full of stress – stress that makes sleep harder to achieve.||Have an earlier bedtime – and start it even earlier. That way, there’s time for snuggles, choices, and calming down to a sleep-ready state.|
|During the Night||The child wakes up more frequently and has a harder time going back to sleep.||Get up with the baby and try to soothe them back to sleep, while finally admitting that this is most definitely sleep regression.||Recognize that this is sleep regression and that nighttime isn’t the time to worry or treat it. Focus on keeping things calm, dark, and peaceful so that everyone can get as much rest as possible despite the sleep disruptions.|
|3-5||All Day||A repeat of Day 2, but it might be worse.||Each minute is a struggle as you wonder what you did wrong and what you can do to make things better right this minute.||Recognize that sleep regressions, while awful, are a part of growing up. Try to minimize disruptions to sleep, make extra time for naps, and rely on that early bedtime to get things back on track. Even so, it’ll take a few days for things to normalize.|
|7+||All Day||Things are finally calming down and the baby is happier and better rested with every passing day.||Be grateful that this sleep regression is over and done! Pray none more ever happen.||Enjoy things getting back to a reliable schedule and remember that sleep regressions happen. Bookmark the best guides and schedules so you can anticipate the next sleep disruption.|
Now, this sample sleep regression recovery schedule is just an average – and it’s for a regression that’s noticed early. If it takes you longer to notice and admit that there is regression happening, recovery may also take longer.
But this is what we used to help keep our children’s sleep regressions shorter – and it’s worked for hundreds of other parents, too.
So feel free to use it as a general guide for helping you and your children survive sleep regressions better, faster, and easier.
You’ve got this. Best of luck.
What Causes Sleep Regressions? Sleep regressions are sleep disturbances that are caused by many factors, including developmental milestones, change, stress, illness, teething, and learning new tasks.
How Do You Get Baby to Sleep Longer at Night? The best way to get your baby to sleep longer at night is by implementing behavioral sleep training, practicing good sleep hygiene, letting your baby grow into it, and giving things time to work.
After the first two weeks of sleep training our baby, we were crestfallen to discover that things weren't 100% "fixed." Our baby still had sleep issues, we were still exhausted, and we weren't sure...
Letting a baby cry on purpose can be a highly controversial topic. Especially because it seems like every parent out there has their own very emotional ideas on this subject. Even so, this topic is...