Sleep Regressions by Month and How to Overcome Them

"Waaaaa," - it’s 3:42 am, and baby is awake. Which, as a parent, seems impossible because their naps were short, AGAIN, and at this very moment, you would give your most prized possession away for baby to just sleep through the night. 

I get it; I see sleep regressions, schedule struggles, bedtime battles, and middle-of-the-night wakings every day. There is no one solution, as these regressions occur for many reasons. Today, I am breaking down all things sleep regressions for the baby’s first two years.  Providing an understanding as to why and how to fix these disruptions so you can have a baby that sleeps well, naps consistently on a schedule, maximizes how much milk baby should eat, and banishes any sleep regressions for a long time.

Hi, I’m Courtney Zentz, the Founder of Tiny Transitions. I have been a Baby Sleep Coach, Postpartum Doula, and Lactation Counselor for eight years and love every month of it with my amazing team of Certified Sleep Consultants. Today, we are talking about all things sleep.

The 3-4 Month Sleep Regression 

The age of 3-4 months is an important time for newborns as they grow, learn new skills, and become more aware of their surroundings.  It is also when their sleep cycles begin to change.  For the first 12 weeks of life, a baby spends half of their time asleep equally in REM and Non-REM sleep and is now transitioning to cycle-based sleep. These sleep cycles will stay with them through adulthood and last anywhere, typically between 45 & 60 minutes- so it is important to take action.

It is not uncommon for babies between 3 & 4 months to begin waking again through the night, even after a few weeks of sleeping through the night. Sleep regressions at this age typically happen for two main reasons.

The shift from stage to cycle-based sleep, when a baby's body clock {AKA circadian rhythm is beginning to align} and second, habits we used as new tired parents to get our little ones to settle to sleep become a preference of theirs now each time they wake. This can cause multiple wakings overnight because a baby is now dependent on that ‘thing’ to sleep, vs. independently settling.

Suppose the baby relies on rocking back to sleep, nursing or feeding to sleep, getting the pacifier, bouncing, or anything else “to sleep” - every 45-60 minutes. In that case, your baby now expects it because that's how they learned to go back to sleep in their first weeks of life and now what they expect.

Sleep is a skill, so to manage this 3-4 month sleep regression, the shifting to cycle-based sleep and minimization in habits “to sleep,” it’s important that baby begins to learn the skill of settling independently to sleep for naps, bedtime and in the middle of the night.

With our private sleep coaching clients, we always start with the first nap of the day when they are the least overtired. We ensure that the timing of the nap is consistent, making it easier for the baby to learn the skill of sleep. If they don’t know they have the ability, they will rely on you every time. Lay them down at the right awake window for their age, usually 1:30 - 2:00 hours at this age, and allow them a few minutes to find comfort and settle to sleep. Sometimes, we are so hyper-sensitive that we don’t give them a minute to learn the skill to settle independently.

A Sample Schedule for a 3-4 Month Old

The awake window for this age is 1 hour and 30 minutes to upwards of 2 hours max. You want to ensure the baby is getting naps at this time because they need the right amount of sleep pressure hormone to induce a solid nap. Settling independently at this age also helps to ensure that the next leap in development, around 4-5 months, is the consolidation of naps into a more consistent and predictable schedule. Here is a look at how to layout a day for a three or 4-month-old:

  • 7:00 am - Wake for the day - offer a full feeding
  • 8:45 am - Change your four-month-old, place them in the swaddle, and lay them down for nap #1, settling independently for sleep.
  • 9:45 am - When baby wakes, change and offer a full feeding.
  • 11:45 am - Go for a walk, allowing the baby to sleep in the stroller for a longer nap. This balances between independent & supported, so the skill grows but overtired in the daytime doesn’t become an issue.
  • 1:00 pm - Wake, change and offer a full feeding
  • 3:00 pm - Lay baby in the crib to settle for sleep independently; it’s common that this nap is shorter, between 30 & 45 minutes in length.
  • 4:00 pm - Offer a full feeding and play with the baby.
  • 5:15 - Coming off a short nap, the baby will be ready to sleep, support this nap to ensure it happens and that baby doesn’t get overtired for bedtime, as that can cause overnight wakings. Wake by 5:45 pm.
  • 7:00 pm, offer a full feeding and go through your bedtime routine.
  • 7:45 pm - Lay baby down to sleep for the night, settling independently for bedtime.

The 8 Month Sleep Regression 

The eight-month sleep regression comes on the coattails of a new leap, typically that of your baby starting to crawl or even pulling themselves up to standing, which can be an exciting new transition for your little one. However, it can also cause sleep regression in babies, especially if, as parents, we begin to “help” baby lay back down each time, quickly turning it into a fun game where we again become what they need “to sleep.”


Suppose your baby is 7 or 8 months old and has started standing, throwing their pacifier for you to come into the room and retrieve, or holding those arms up when you enter to be picked up. In that case, you have to reset sleep expectations, and you can start with a gentle introduction to boundaries and skill development.


If they throw the pacifier, expecting it to be retrieved, don’t. Instead, pick it up and leave the room for a minute. Then, only offer it back if they don’t throw it. Babies are watching closely the world around them as they learn. If they learn that each time they stand, you lay them back down, or each time they throw up their arms, you pick them up, then that behavior becomes expected. If they stand and can’t get back down on their own without your help, then practice for a few minutes with them, a few times a day, to master that skill.


This will help them fly through this physical leap and cruise back into sleeping through the night, which by this age, they 100% should be; as a baby at this age also should have stopped eating overnight. {If they are still waking to eat, you have a habit on your hands of using milk to “go to sleep” that needs to be broken.

A Sample Schedule for an 8 Month Old

  • 7:00 am - Wake for the day - offer a full feeding
  • 9:45 am - Change and offer a full feeding, then down to sleep for 10:00 am; at this age, they need a 3-hour awake window to optimize their nap.
  • 11:30 am - Wake, play, and enjoy the day.
  • 1:00 pm - Offer a full feeding
  • 2:30 pm - Lay baby in the crib to settle for sleep independently; this nap should also be 90 minutes to ensure they get the 3 hours of total nap time in the day for their age at the right awake window.
  • 4:00 pm - Wake, offer a full feeding, and play with the baby.
  • 6:45 pm - Offer a full feeding, and go through your bedtime routine.
  • 7:00 pm - Baby should settle to sleep and sleep through the night for 11-12 hours.

The 12 Month Sleep Regression 

With many cognitive, emotional, and physical development happening, it’s an exciting time to be a one-year-old. However, sleep regression at this age can make another appearance with teething on the horizon, a busy and mobile baby, and separation anxiety rearing its ugly head. All of a sudden, their naps go shorter, or they flat out just want to skip their nap; they cry at bedtime and, overnight is, back to a dumpster fire.

When your baby takes a step backward in their sleep at this age, this sleep regression could be that adjustment in their schedule is needed or that they now need less total sleep in 24 hours. Between the ages of 1 and 2, children need 11-14 hours of total daytime sleep and can have a longer period of being awake between sleep.

There are also developmental leaps, as mentioned above, that can cause this disruption.   While there isn’t one quick cure-all for this sleep regression, you can do a few things with your baby to minimize how long the 12-month sleep regression lasts and help you get through it more rapidly.

  • If the baby is now protesting one of their two naps, or the naps are getting shorter, it might be time to switch to one nap a day. This ensures the right levels of hormones that help prepare the body to sleep, avoid overtired and balance the total sleep needs for a one-year-old.
  • Ensure a consistent bedtime; the body clock is regulating, which helps the baby learn the routine, and the body gets into a good sleep /wake rhythm. I recommend a bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 pm for a 12-month-old. This helps maximize overnight sleep and aligns with waking between 6:00 am & 8:00 am in the morning, which times nicely with the rising of the sun and the natural wakings that occur with it.

A Sample Schedule for a 12 Month Old

  • 7:00 am - Wake for the day - offer a full feeding & play
  • 12:00 pm - Lunch, then change.
  • 12:30 pm - Lay down in the crib to settle by 12:45 pm to sleep
  • 3:00 pm - Wake from a nap, change, and play.
  • 4:00 pm - Offer a full feeding
  • 6:45 pm - Offer a full feeding, and go through your bedtime routine.
  • 7:00 pm - Baby should settle to sleep and sleep through the night for 11-12 hours.

The 18-24 Month Sleep Regression 

Have you noticed there is a bigger resistance with the baby going to bed or crying and becoming fussy? Are they now struggling to relax or stalling? Do they stand up and throw up their arms as soon as you go to walk out? Is the separation anxiety intense, with more frequent wakings overnight?


Sleep regressions and when they happen in your new budding toddler can happen between 18 & 24 months, but that can vary based on the cognitive and emotional stage your baby is in at this moment. Toddlers are getting more communicative at this age, learning boundaries and often running toward their desire to be independent, but also balancing the overall fact that they still very much need us to help them.


To manage the sleep regression at this age, it’s important to avoid being overtired, as kids are much more active and mobile at this age. Ensure you have a consistent bedtime and routine to go to sleep. This helps minimize anxiety and help your child know what’s coming next. Also, their total sleep needs to dial back a bit, so sleeping too much can disrupt patterns if the day / overnight is out of alignment.


When children wake overnight, avoid you becoming the “way” kids go back to sleep, like bringing them into your bed or picking them up and then rocking them to sleep in your arms, as that will cause a new habit to form quickly.
Set boundaries; as the word “no” is something kids at this age now understand, we need to help them learn the limits of what they can expect and what’s not tolerable.

A Sample Schedule for an 18-24 Month Old

  • 6:00 – 7:00 am - Wake for the day
  • 12:00 pm - Lunch, then change.
  • 12:45 pm - Lay down in the crib to settle by 1:00 pm to sleep
  • 2:30 pm - Wake from a nap, change, and play.
  • 6:30 pm – Kick off your bedtime routine with a bath, book, and cuddle.
  • 7:00 pm - Your toddler should settle to sleep and sleep through the night for 11-12 hours.

Sleep regressions happen but should never derail sleep long-term. Suppose you have been experiencing an issue with a sleep regression lasting more than a month. In that case, it might be time to seek the help of your pediatrician or the Tiny Transitions Team to better understand your sleep struggles, goals, and what might be causing the broken and interrupted sleep for them and you.

At Tiny Transitions, we have a team of baby & child sleep coaches who are experts in sleep consulting and support you on your own unique journey with gentle, effective, and customized sleep solutions. Using our proprietary Sleep Steps® methodology, without the need to “cry it out,” we work with clients to set achievable goals and coach you every day through your child’s sleep transformation with an unmatched level of coaching and support, plus a risk-free results guarantee. That’s how confident we are in sleep, and we welcome the opportunity to set up a free preliminary sleep evaluation in English or Spanish, so we can help make your home a rested home.

 

About the Author:

Courtney Zentz
Courtney Zentz
Over the last eight years, Courtney has grown her team to 12, has a new app coming to market, and has helped over 50,000 families with sleep. The future is bright for Tiny Transitions. With a new app launching in Q1, the continued growth of our core team of Certified Sleep Consultants, and the growth of the Sleep Coach Success Lab Business Coaching—the sky is the limit. Courtney is always asking what can we do new/differently that will set us apart. It is this mindset that will continue to fuel the growth of Tiny Transitions,
Courtney is an award-winning speaker, author, and Pediatric Sleep Expert. She is a frequent contributor to Newsweek, MindBodyGreen, Purple, NBC, Fatherly, Yahoo, Thrive Global, Romper, Parentology, Create & Cultivate, and Bustle, among other media outlets.
Courtney resides just outside Philadelphia, PA, with her husband, Adam, and two children, Max and Sovella. She has always felt passionate about making sleep and healthy living a priority in her family's life.
For more information on Courtney and Tiny Transitions, view her website 
https://tinytransitions.com
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