“Why do your baby’s sleep patterns sometimes regress, what to do about it, and when to be worried”

Written by: Petro Thamm            


There is nothing more rewarding for a parent when finally, they feel as if they have won the “no sleep” battle with their children. Once a parent get accustomed to getting more shut eye – it is terrible to suddenly have to get up 5 times again at night. Sleep regression is big concern for parents and understandably so. When should you worry? What is the reason behind it and when should you seek professional help?

1. What is sleep regression?

Maybe first and foremost it is important to understand that there are no such thing as a definite sleep regression at a certain age – such as a child’s development, each child’s sleep needs and sleep processes are unique. Just as there are averages for children in terms of development (when they will sit, when they will walk, etc.) they will experience sleep regression – or rather, a chance in their sleep routines – at different stages in their lives.

2. Is it normal?

A sudden change in your child’s sleeping habits is completely normal and can be expected.  I always tell parents, one bad night is no reason to panic, neither is two, in fact, neither is three – only when you get to 4 – 7 days of a similar pattern should you start asking yourself – what is up?

3. Why does sleep regression occur?

The ironic thing about sleep regression is that often it is not the child that regresses but us. For example, the baby has been happily sleeping through without drinking milk (he is 11 months old and a good weight) suddenly he wakes up at night and the parent responds by feeding him/her. In the next 24 hours the baby will drink less milk and then wake up again the following night now wanting the feed (our metabolic rhythms also influence our sleep and awake cycles) and before you know it you have a “sleep regressed” baby when in fact it was you who fed him unnecessarily.

There are a few reasons why sleep regressions occur. Most important one is developmentally. There are so much going on in baby’s brain and development. When a baby starts sitting, crawling, walking etc. the new massive input in terms of stimulation will very often cause a baby to wake up.

Digestive reasons is also a big reason when a baby is young. If baby suddenly starts solids, or are introduced iron rich food for the first time or anything that might cause the digestive system to adapt, may cause baby to be uncomfortable and hence would wake up.

Nap transitioning also causes a baby to regress at night – when a baby suddenly needs 2 naps and not 3, or 1 nap and not one, and the mom does not follow baby’s prompts and understand when this needs to happen, it very well might cause the baby to wake up.

4. Does sleep regression occur at a certain age?

Sleep changes could happen at any change as mentioned earlier.

The regression that I have seen most in my practice is what we call the 18 month sleep regression – which can happen at 17 months, or 19 months as well. But when a baby goes from babyhood to toddlerdom, the big jump developmentally nearly ALWAYS causes them to start testing the boundaries, they become toddlers in full force, and if a parent does not stick to their guns and sleep routines, these little ones will regress massively.

(But see, once again, might not be the baby who regresses too much but the mother who promotes the regression)

Another more common occurrence of sleep regression is when the baby starts getting more mobile – especially the 4 – 6 month mark, when they can turn over but not turn back. This very often causes babies to get themselves in uncomfortable positions at night needing the parent to help them out.

5. Could teething be the reason for the sleep regression?
I have the same philosophy with teething – each child do teeth differently – BUT parents should stick with what they usually would have done. A set out bedtime routine and an early bedtime could very well be the consistency your child needs to get over the disruption in sleep habits.

6. How do I handle regression?

My best advice for dealing with regression is this – stick to your guns, like I said, don’t make assumptions – Just because your toddler is resisting bedtime does not mean you need to make bedtime later.

Also watch for other queues – is my baby really experiencing a sleep regression or was he/she just more stimulated today and didn’t nap properly. A sleep regression will usually also have more daytime crankiness, and increased hunger during the day as well.

Perhaps the best thing to remember about sleep regressions is that they’re temporary, usually lasting about 2-3 weeks. Your toddler or baby may be a bit more snuggly, needy, or sleep resistant during this time, but follow your gut, don’t change the rules, and they will bounce back quickly

And if all else fails; contact a qualifies sleep consultant to assess the situation with you and suggest necessary changes or a step by step game plan.