May 13, 2024
May 13, 2024

Understanding sleep regressions, according to a sleep specialist

Parenting is full of surprises. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, something changes, and you're back to square one. This is particularly true when it comes to babies and sleep, especially during their first year. They're up and down, tossing and turning, or crying and babbling instead of sleeping. To better understand baby sleep regressions, we're turning to Summer Health’s sleep specialist, Jess Ellsworth, for expert advice that will hopefully help you catch a few more Z's. And if you've got questions, Summer Health is just a text away.
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Written by
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Content Writer
Jess Ellsworth
Medically reviewed by
Jess Ellsworth
Certified Sleep Consultant

What are sleep regressions?

According to Jess, sleep regressions are temporary setbacks in typical sleep patterns. Sleep regressions tend to pop up at certain ages, like when babies hit the 4-month, 6-month, 8-month, 12-month, 18-month, 2-year, and 2.5-year marks.

How do I know if my baby is going through a sleep regression or growth spurt?

Jess explains that if your usually-easy-to-put-down baby suddenly starts resisting sleep, takes forever to doze off, or wakes up multiple times during the night, it’s probably a sleep regression. If your baby turns into a fuss-monster, demands more milk, and seems crankier than usual, it’s likely a growth spurt.

What's the difference between a sleep regression and growth spurt?

“Sleep regressions can often be caused by growth spurts, but may also have other origins as well,” Jess explains. The key difference is that during growth spurts, you’ll likely notice your baby eating more and growing in weight and length too.  

What causes sleep regressions?

Various factors may cause sleep regressions, including:

What are signs of sleep regression?

Being prepared can help you mentally brace for any changes, especially if you're facing sleep disruptions. To help you prepare for a sleep regression, here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Resisting sleep
  • Appetite changes
  • Irritability
  • Frequent night wakings
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Skipping naps
  • Erratic sleep patterns

When do sleep regressions disappear?

Jess mentions that the last sleep regression typically hits around the 2.5-year mark, around the time toddlers get their molars.

How long do sleep regressions last?

It varies, but sleep regressions can stick around for about two to four weeks. Although it might feel frustrating, sticking to a solid sleep routine can often shorten the duration. Jess suggests pinpointing the underlying issue, if possible. For example, if you think your 8 month old is experiencing separation anxiety (which typically happens around this age), addressing it during the day so it can make less of an impact at night.

Sleep regression by age

Here’s a breakdown of the different sleep regressions by age:

4 month sleep regression

Jess explains that at around 4 months, your baby's sleep cycle starts to mimic that of adults. This means they'll start waking between sleep cycles and may struggle to get back to sleep.

6 month sleep regression

“The 6 month sleep regression is typically linked to a huge development, like rolling, sitting up, or preparing to crawl,” explains Jess. At six months, babies are learning a ton and are super interested in exploring the world around them. “Your little one may be more interested in trying out their new skills in the middle of the night than sleeping.”

At this age, babies start teething, which can make them super uncomfortable. That's another reason why they might be tossing and turning in the middle of the night.

8 month sleep regression

At this age kids go through a phase of separation anxiety, and they are pretty unhappy when they’re not with their parents. “Babies are developing object permanence and often need time to build up their confidence,” explains Jess.

12 month sleep regression

Around their first birthday, babies are in full exploration mode, developing new skills like walking and babbling. They might also be transitioning to cow's milk or weaning off breast milk or the bottle, and starting big life transitions, like going to daycare.

18 months sleep regression

“At this age, your baby is developing their independence and it may look like they are testing boundaries like avoiding sleep,” Jess explains. She suggests empowering their independence by giving them choices as part of their bedtime routine.

Strategies for dealing with sleep regression

Here are some expert-approved tips for handling sleep regressions:

  • Give your kids a solid sleep foundation, such as a consistent bedtime routine, as early as possible. Get them comfortable with developing their independent sleep skills by putting them to sleep awake, and implementing healthy sleep habits like a calm bath before bedtime!
  • Address the cause of the regression during the day. If your baby is teething, offer teething toys or fruit pops during the day to soothe their gums. If your baby wants to practice rolling around, offer them plenty of tummy time opportunities during the day.
  • Provide consistent opportunities to practice healthy sleep habits and improve sleep patterns.
  • Pay close attention to wake windows and sleep cues. An overtired baby is not a happy one!
  • Maximize awake time to let them practice their new skills (and tire themselves out!).
  • If your kiddo went through formal sleep training, continue to reinforce sleep habits and bedtime routine.

Sleep regressions are just a phase, and they’re temporary. So even though those weeks of sleep regression can drain every ounce of energy, eventually, everyone will go back to sleeping peacefully again before you know it. We’re in it together, and don’t forget Summer Health’s sleep specialists are only a text away.

Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Content Writer
Explore Summer Health
Ask about 
Our team of pediatricians are ready to answer the everyday questions you have about your child’s health.
Get started
*Requires account with Summer Health at $45/month