How many times have parents woken up during the first several weeks to the sound of an inconsolable screaming child? That crying and irritability seem to last for days, maybe even weeks, and it seems like it just came out of nowhere!
Unfortunately, in the first few years of a child's life, sleep regression is hard to avoid. The late nights, constant waking periods, and irritable, crying, cranky, fussy babies are dreaded by parents and children alike. But these periods are actually a good thing in the eyes of scientists, doctors, and child development specialists; they mean a child is reaching his or her developmental milestones on time. And no, it is not imaginary– all babies do indeed go through a difficult period around the same age. Research has shown that babies make 10 major, predictable, age-linked changes – or leaps – during their first 20 months of their lives. During this time, they will learn more than in any other time. With each leap comes a drastic change in a baby’s mental development, which brings about some drastic changes in his or her mood, health, intelligence, and of course sleeping habits.
For those sleep-deprived parents desperately looking for some way to help the baby get back to sleep, here are 10 ways to get through the dreaded sleep regression stages and 10 ways parents may actually be making their child's sleep regression worse. Read on.
20 When Mom Is Lax With The Baby's Bedtime
It is normal to believe that if you keep your sweet bundle of joy awake longer during the weeks of sleep regression he or she will sleep more soundly later, for longer, because they will be so tired. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Children who do not have an established bedtime are often more cranky because they are so tired. Once a child gets too tired they are even less likely to fall asleep because they will be so irritable. Moms who keep their child awake are likely to be faced with a child who will be crying, fussy, and constantly rubbing their eyes from fatigue. Save yourself some sleep and put that baby down around the same time, every night. Consistency is key.
19 Would You Sleep Here?
Creating an ideal sleep environment for your little one is key to combatting sleep regression. Believe it or not, your child's sleep environment plays a huge role in how much sleep he or she may get. So, when you're getting ready to put your baby to bed for the night, think to yourself, 'Would I sleep here?' If the answer is no, chances are your baby will not want to either. Ideal sleep environments aren't too busy and don't have lots of distractions which will keep baby from getting soundly to sleep or keep them asleep for more than a few hours. Rid your baby's sleep space of colorful toys and noisemakers, and make sure there are no objects within their line of sight that are associated with playtime.
18 When Mom Overstimulates The Baby Before Bed
As we all know, children can be very easily overstimulated. Overstimulation happens when a child is inundated with more stimulations including sensations, noise, and activity than he or she is used to coping with. A stimulating environment is important for playing, since it helps children keep interested in learning activities but children who are trying to sleep need to be at peace in a stimulation-free environment. Try to progressively cut stimuli two hours before bedtime. If your baby realizes that there is less to do and less to see, he or she will be less engaged and start to get tired. A less active baby is a sleepier baby. Don't over stimulate.
17 Sleep Near The Ocean Or In A Forest
Have you ever noticed how the sound of crashing waves really puts you right to sleep? Or maybe the sound of a loud fan or bamboo flutes with a few birds chirping really does the trick. Chances are, the same will work for your little one. Using a sound machine can really help with sleep regression. Your little one will be able to block out any of the noise that can peak their curiosity and stir them awake during this developmental stage. If all else fails, any form of white noise should have your cranky little one drifting off soundly and staying that way in no time. White noise comforts most babies by mimicking the sound of blood flow in utero—a noise that your baby will surely remember and appreciate.
16 When Mom Brings Distractions In The Room
What is up with all the noise, Mom? Just like overstimulation before bed, a noisy sleep environment is guaranteed to draw your little one's attention, which is distracting, and can get him or her farther removed from sleep mode. And no one wants that, especially since your little one is probably only sleeping a few hours at a time anyway. Wondering what to do instead? Quiet down. Shut off music, televisions, and telephones around bedtime will help to keep your little one in the zone. If you live by noisy neighbors and noise pollution is not actually your fault, try closing windows, but maintain temperature regulation, or getting a noise machine to block out the bad, disturbing sounds.
15 Consistency Is Key
Don't wait until the sleep regression stage of weeks 5, 8 and 9, 12, 15-19,23-26, 34-37, 42-46, 51-55, 60-64, or 71-75 to begin establishing a bedtime routine. Child development specialists advise talking your little one through the bedtime routine early so they understand what is happening and over time begin to expect what comes next. 'After Mom put on my pajamas she will feed me and then it will be time for bed.' Things of that nature. Having a sleep routine will help during sleep regression because even though baby's brain is developing and changing, a consistent routine will allow for your baby to realize that normally this is when I should be getting tired, and after the interrupted sleep period is over, your little one should slip back into their old sleep habits effortlessly.
14 Mom, Turn Off The Lights!
Lights on, lights off. Sleep is almost always much easier attained in a room that is dark. The absence of light sends a critical signal to a child's body that it is time to rest. Light exposure at the wrong time can alter the body's internal sleep clock which develops during infancy within the first few months of a child's life, this can drastically interfere with both the quantity and quality of sleep. Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone that influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that it is time to rest. This signal helps initiate a baby's body preparations for sleep—muscles begin to relax, feelings of drowsiness increase, body temperature drops - but melatonin is only produced when it is dark. So turn off the lights, Mom. Your baby may be able to fall asleep eventually, but getting to sleep is more challenging. Nightlights should be fine though.
13 A Clean Baby Is A Happy Baby
If you find that child is suffering from lack of sleep, try placing them in a nice warm bath as part of their bedtime routine. The warm water should calm and relax them, getting them ready for sleep. Some mothers even add essential oils to their child's bathwater to help promote a calming experience. Evening bathtime can also be a fun time for mom and baby since this time can also be used to reflect on the events of the day. Use this time for learning new words and speaking softly to ease your little one into that bedtime transition. You will be glad you did.
12 When Mom Has Guests Over At Baby's Bed Time
Are you inviting friends and family over to ooh and ahh at your new baby? If so, try to lessen the visitors at night. Too many people around your little one's crib can be distracting. Noise and unfamiliar faces can be a stimulus to your baby that they prevent them from drifting off to a sound sleep. Sleep regression in later stages of development, like around 37 weeks, allow your child to experiment with similarities and differences, and he or she will definitely notice the difference between seeing lots of family, and just seeing mom and dad when it's time for bed.
11 When In Doubt, Rub It Down
Performing an infant massage has been proven to help babies and toddlers relax and sleep, according to Infant Massage USA licensed therapists. Get ready to fight sleep regression by rubbing your baby's back one massage at a time and adding this element to your bedtime routine. "Including infant massage in an evening, routine increases melatonin for the child, improving the sleep cycle. It can be especially helpful for children experiencing sleep delays, making nights less stressful for parents and children alike," the Infant Massage USA site declares. Not sure how to perform an infant massage? Ask your child's pediatrician for more information.
10 When Mom Is Really Stressed Out At Baby's Bed Time
You're sleep deprived and your little one does not seem to care. If he or she is waking up every other hour chances are you are so frustrated that you just want to scream. But your little one can sense your anxiety, so don't be tense, Mom. Sleep will come soon. Plus your tension is going to send stress signals to your little one, making it harder and harder for your he or she to get some sleep. Creating a calm and stress-free environment will really make all the difference in a baby who can go to sleep and stay asleep.
9 Keep Cool And Sleep On
The temperature in a baby's room is an important factor for ample sleep. If your baby can sleep in a cool room he or she will have a better quality of sleep. Every day, our body temperature naturally peaks and declines. Since our internal temperature is usually at its lowest around 5:00 am, when we fall asleep, our bodies naturally cool off. As parents to a child in mid-sleep regression, helping your child's body get to that lower temperature faster can encourage deeper sleep that happens sooner. If it’s too hot or too cold, the baby's body will waste energy trying to regulate, making it harder for baby to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try to set your child's room temperature to around 72 degrees. But, if temperature regulation isn't an option, try not to overdress your baby. In the warmer months use lighter blankets and breathable clothing. An overheated baby is also at a higher risk for SIDS. So keep your baby cool and sleep on.
8 When Mom Moves The Baby
Making the decision as to whether or not to remove your little one from his car seat or bouncy chair after they have drifted off to sleep can be a hard one, especially when you are dealing with sleep regression as a parent. But the right choice is to transfer your sleeping child to his or her designated sleep space. Studies from the Journal of Pediatrics show that leaving a sleeping child in a car seat or chair can be dangerous and, at times, restrict air supply. Although you may not want to move your sleeping baby while he or she is finally asleep you will have peace of mind knowing that if you move them ever so gently, they will be safe in their crib.
7 Here Swaddle, Swaddle, Swaddle...
Keeping your baby snug will remind him or her of being in the womb. Is there a more comfortable place in the world? Well, your baby's sleep environment should come pretty close. Keeping your baby in a breathable swaddle is a great start. Depending on the age of your little one, swaddling is a sure fire way to make sure they do not stir from their sleep. Child sleep therapists interviewed on the Baby Sleep Site say that, for children 6 months or older who typically break the swaddle, try to swaddle them with their arms free or use a weighted blanket. Both of these options will provide a similar experience.
6 To Sleep Or Not To Sleep
Many parents will have the instinct to spend hours trying to rock their baby to sleep before placing them in their bassinet or crib. This is not only exhausting for parents, but it establishes poor sleeping habits for little ones. With all the developmental milestones your baby will go through, that can be a lot of rocking. Clinical child therapists in The Wonder Weeks, suggest putting a baby down when they are groggy, instead of fully asleep, this will help them develop enough independence to fall asleep on their own and begin associating their own sleep space with sleep, instead of your arms.
5 When Mom Feeds The Baby Before Bed
Parents sometimes get too comfortable sticking their children to a strict feeding schedule and believe that same schedule will remain the same throughout infancy into life as a toddler. Especially for mothers who breastfeed. The only thing is children grow and as they grow so do their appetites. Growth spurts are a likely component of sleep regressions, so don’t worry about offering extra feedings to your little one here and there. All that brain development is bound to make anyone hungry. And remember sleep regression, growth spurts, and sleepless nights are temporary! You will eventually return to your normal schedule.
4 Did Someone Say Slumber Party?!?
Ah, the ever-controversial subject of co-sleeping. Choosing to co-sleep with your little one can be a lifesaver for parents of children who have not already been acclimated to sleeping in their own room for at least 3 months. Co-sleeping just means having your child sleep in the same room as his or her parents. Co-sleeping can be taken a step further to mean bed sharing by which a child shares a sleep space with one or both of his or her parents. The natural bond between parent and child will help ease a baby to sleep more soundly during the sleep regression stages. The natural bond will help the baby feel safe and comforted, allowing him or her to sleep more steadily for longer.
3 When Mom Constantly Checks On The Baby
If you are one of those parents who have their child sleeping in another room, you may find yourself running back and forth from your room to theirs every time that the baby monitor makes a crackle. Going to your child whenever they make a peep can actually keep them awake longer and disturb their natural sleep cycles during sleep regression as well as periods of normal sleep. This is not the same as "crying it out." Babies stir from their sleep just like adults, but chances are they need a few seconds to drift back to sleep. Yes, even if they open their eyes or fuss for a second. If your baby does start to cry or scream of course feel free to console them but try to wait and see what kind of cry it is before running to their aid.
2 Burp Now, Sleep Later
Help your baby let out all of the gas they may have by burping them directly before bed. If you notice that your newborn often awakens shortly after a night feeding crying or screaming as if they are in pain, chances are they just need to be burped. Burping your baby before sleep can help promote a more sound and relaxed sleep which is essential during sleep regression stages. As your little one gets older, you should not worry if your child does not seem as if they need to burp during or directly after every feeding. Usually, that just means that they have learned to eat without swallowing excess air. But for younger children, burping them now can mean extra sleep for you, later.
1 When Mom Is Not Keeping It Consistent
Please please do not choose a developmental week to begin trying to sleep train your little one. Sleep regression is no time to try to get your child acclimated to seeping in his or her own room alone. Too much change during sleep regression stages is bound to make long extended periods of little to no sleep, even worse. Instead, comfort your little one by letting them be close to you as their brain develops and their awareness changes. It's a big world out there. So when should you sleep train? Choose a safe week. Try weeks 10, 13 or 14 to establish a solitary sleep habit. As your baby grows you'll be glad you did.
References: The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van de Rijt, The Baby Sleep Site, infantmassageusa.org, The Journal of Pediatrics