Newborns are sleep hijackers. That's the reason everyone tells expecting parents to enjoy their sleep while they can. On top of all the craziness that come with being new parents, constantly interrupted sleep is the most exhausting part of the ride.
While some babies get their nights down packed right away, most new parents wave goodbye to a good night sleep for months (or even years). Whether you’re blessed with a sleeping beauty or not, you’ll likely find that your baby’s sleep schedule will change as they grow (along with everything else).
Babies are unpredictable and as soon as you think you have everything under control, everything changes – it’s the unwritten rule of parenthood. When your bundle of joy finally starts sleeping their nights (aka you start sleeping your nights), be prepared to get hit with sleep regression.
Sleep regression can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and is basically a period of time when a baby’s sleep schedule unexpectedly makes a turn for the worse. In other words, a baby or toddler who was sleeping like an angel suddenly decides to wake up frequently at night. When this happens, the common reaction from parents is: noooooooooooooo [crying face emoji].
Every baby is different and if you hit the jackpot, your baby won't sleep regress at all, but the most common times to expect the unexpected are around 4 months, 8 months, 11 months, 18 months and 2 years old (or any time in between - oh the joys!).
Although sleep regression is something you sign up for when you decide to have children (whether you know it or not), there are things that parents do that cause their baby's sleep pattern to go off course. Knowing what they are can help reduce sleep regression, or at least help you get through them faster so everyone can get back to getting their zzzzz’s.
15 Creating Sleep Associations
When babies are born, they have to leave their dark, warm and cozy homes and enter a scary new world with bright lights and unfamiliar sounds. As parents, we do anything to comfort our fragile newborns (aka we do anything to avoid hearing their high-pitched cries).
Let's be honest, after delivery day, your happy place becomes any place that your baby is sleeping. As the days and months go by, parents quickly learn what puts their baby to sleep and they understandably do whatever works. As a result though, babies come to rely on sleep associations to fall asleep.
A sleep association is anything that a baby associates with falling asleep. Some sleep associations are helpful when they don't change throughout the night (like keeping the room dark), but some sleep associations cause problems (read on to learn more). For newborns, none of this really matters because they spend so much time in deep sleep, but once babies hit the 4-month mark (or somewhere around there), their sleep patterns begin to change.
When your baby relies on a specific sleep association to fall sleep, there’s a good chance your dream world will be interrupted throughout the night. A baby’s sleep cycle is around 45 minutes. That means that every 45, 90 or 180 minutes, they might wake you up because they need the same sleep association to fall back into their deep sleep.
14 Rocking Or Feeding Baby To Sleep
The most common negative sleep association that parents make is rocking or feeding their baby to sleep. While this works for newborns, when sleep patterns change, older babies start to rely on the same method to fall back into their deep sleep throughout the night.
I'm guilty of this one. In the first few months of my baby's life, my milk-filled boobs became the only thing that put my son to sleep. Several times a night, I would nurse my cry-baby to sleep. Sometimes he drank like a tank, but many times comfort was his main goal. My son's pediatrician was the one who gave me the pep talk I needed to break the habit of nursing my son to sleep. He told me that my baby needed to learn the essential skill of self-soothing without the help of my boobs.
Of course you can rock your baby when they need comfort and feed them when they are hungry, but it's important to be aware of the sleep associations you are creating when you continuously rock or feed you baby to sleep.
13 Putting Baby Down Asleep
Now that you know that you shouldn't rock or feed your baby to sleep, the only logical thing left to do is put them down when they're still awake.
If your baby is already hooked on your help to fall sleep, damage control can be less than fun (sadly, I know this firsthand). When I stopped nursing my son to sleep and started putting him down when he was still awake, he would screams bloody murder every time... and my heart would shatter into a million pieces. With his pediatrician's voice in my head telling me to allow him to self-soothe, I persevered through the tears and soon enough, my son learned to put himself to sleep with ease. As a super bonus, he also started sleeping his nights.
Just remember to always put your baby to bed when they are sleepy, but still awake. Weaning them off negative sleep associations which you created might be tough at first, but in the long run, everyone will sleep happier.
12 Rushing To The Rescue
When it comes to sleep training, there are many different recommendations and methods out there, but many experts agree that four to six months old is an appropriate age to help babies learn to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Regardless of how to you sleep train, you shouldn't rush to the rescue every time you hear your baby make a sound.
When your baby goes in and out of light and deep sleep, they often cry a little and then fall back asleep. If you rush in the room before they get the chance to go back to sleep, you're actually disrupting their sleep.
For many moms (including myself), this is really hard to do. Instinctively, we want to be there for our children when something is wrong, but it's key to remember that crying isn't always a bad thing. When you feel bad, remember that by allowing your baby to have the chance to comfort themselves and gain a little independence from you, your doing everyone a favor. No baby has ever gotten hurt from crying and a few tears will always pay off in the long run.
11 Waiting Until Baby Is Exhausted
Pay attention to your baby’s sleepy body language. Many babies rub their eyes when they are sleepy, but get to know your own kid. For example, my little werido nibbles on fabric when he’s tired. While it’s important to know the signs of fatigue, you shouldn’t wait for your baby to be overly-tired before putting them to bed.
It might seem logical that an exhausted baby will sleep for longer, but well-rested babies have an easier time sleeping through the night (which is also why daytime naps are a must).
It's best to put your baby to bed when they are sleepy, but not exhausted. The best way to do this to create a bed time routine and stick to a consistent bedtime.
10 Skipping Out On A Bedtime Routine
Having a bedtime routine is key because it helps your baby know when it’s time for bed. Settling down to bed should be an enjoyable time to bond with your little one. Common routines include bath time, bedtime stories, lullabies and goodnight kisses, but get creative and make your own routine.
If your baby was bouncing off the walls a minute ago, it’s hard to transition them to falling asleep without settling down first. When your baby associates a bedtime routine with sleepy time, falling sleep (and staying asleep) gets a lot easier.
Many parents set up a bedtime routine before bed, but forget to do the same for nap time. You don’t need to go though the whole shebang before every nap, but don’t put your baby to bed when they are overstimulated. Before every nap, I like to bring my baby into his room with the lights dimmed down and give him his bottle.
As your baby gets older, they will get more and more active, so it’s important to establish a bedtime routine as early as possible.
9 Not Sticking To A Bedtime
Baby's need consistency. When you put them to bed at a different time every night, you may be disrupting their sleeping patterns.
Now that you know that babies should be put to bed when they aren’t overly tired, it’s time to choose an appropriate bedtime for your little one. Many parents are confused with what counts as appropriate. Put your baby too early and you risk waking up bright and early with the chirping birds, but put them to bed too late and you enter the overtiredness problem.
During the newborn stage, bedtime is irrelevant because it’s just one big blur of sleeping, crying and eating all jumbled up into an exhausting roller-coaster ride. By 3-4 months though, you can start to introduce a consistent bedtime. Choosing a consistent time is more important that the time itself. Many experts recommend a bedtime between 6-8 pm, but every baby is different and you should pick a time that works best for your family. I put my baby to bed at 7, because it’s a good balance between being able to spend time with his daddy after work and going to bed before he’s overly tired.
8 Putting Nap Time On The Back Burner
Babies need naps to get them through the long hours between sunrise and sunset. Since nap time is the only time many parents and caregivers catch a break, they are a sacred part of the day. Since no one wants to be a slave to their home though, sometimes quality naps get put on the back burner.
Some babies can stay knocked out while being moved around in their car seat with their siblings screaming the background. For most babies though, their environment plays a huge factor in how well day sleeping goes (especially once they pass the newborn stage). For my baby, unless the blinds are shut and he’s in his crib with complete silence, his naps are cut short.
It's okay for your baby to nap on the go from time to time, but when too many naps lack the proper environment for babies to settle into a deep sleep, over-tiredness can be the cause of sleepless night.
Remember that sleeping takes energy, so a well-rested baby will always sleep better at night. Make nap time a priority and as often as possible, settle your baby to sleep in the right environment.
7 Relying On Pacifiers
To use a pacifier or not to use a pacifier – that is the question. For many parents, the thought of having a baby without a pacifier is crazy talk.
Since babies love to suck on things, pacifiers can be a great way to calm a fussy baby down and help them fall asleep. When it comes to pacifiers, there’s a lot of pros and cons and do’s and don’ts.
The downside of putting a baby to sleep with a pacifier is they might start to depend on them. So when the pacifier falls out of their mouth while they are sleeping, they might wake up and cry until it's back in their mouth.
I can't speak much about pacifiers based on personal experience because my baby never took one. While I was jealous at first of my friends who were able to shut their babies up with pacifiers, I’m happy now that my baby never took one, because now I don’t have to deal with weening him off.
Pacifiers can be a great way to offer temporary distraction throughout they day, but when it comes to falling asleep you might want to ditch the soother.
6 Using A Sound Machine... That Turns Off
From the sounds of the ocean to light rain, white noise can be a great way to calm down babies and put them to sleep. Many parents use the relaxing sounds that come from sound machines as part of their baby’s bed time routine. The problem with many sound machines, like the famous sleep sheep, is they aren’t continuous. When the comforting sound of a heart beat suddenly stops, your baby might wake up and wonder – hey, who turned off the music?
If you decide to use a sound machine, find out that plays all night long and keep the volume low (a recent study in the journal of Pediatrics pointed out the potential hearing loss risks of sound machines that exceed 85 decibels). Or, you can ditch the white noise all together and get your baby used to the natural, quiet sounds of life – that’s what I did with my baby and he sleeps just fine.
5 Not Blacking Out The Nursery
Some sleep associations like rocking and feeding your baby to sleep can cause babies to sleep regress, but other sleep associations are useful in keeping your little ones asleep for longer…. like keeping their nursery dark.
Everyone’s heard of someone who’s complained that their newborn has their days and nights mixed up. That’s why when you’re trying to teach your newborn the difference between day time and night time, it’s a good idea to keep your baby in a light setting during the day, and shut the drapes at night. Once your baby knows the difference between day and night though, it’s a good idea to keep the room dark every time you want your baby to sleep.
Older babies have a harder time falling asleep in a light room because they associate light with being awake. Rooms that are light also keep busy bees entertained with so many exciting things to look at. So whether it’s nap time or night time, investing in some good black out blinds can help everyone get a lot more sleep.
4 Taking A Family Vacay
Trips are an amazing way to experience new adventures with your family, while getting a much-needed change of scenery. Unfortunately, they come with a price to pay (besides the financial costs). While many sleep regressions happen out of the blue, travelling is one of those times when sleep regressions can be expected (and dreaded).
Any change in scenery or schedule can cause a baby’s sleep routine to crumble into pieces, so whether you’re exploring Europe or lounging at the beach, it’s hard to stay well-rested when your little one decides to sleep regress on vacation.
When you get the opportunity, take the family trip. The memories will out way the temporary disruption in sleep, but there are things you can do to diminish the inevitable. Expect that there will be an adjustment period, but try to get everyone adjusted to the local time zone as soon as possible by waking up with the sunlight. During the day, try your best to keep the same nap schedule as you had at home and tier your little one out with lots of activities. Or….. leave the kids with a sitter and take a vacay on your own.
3 Daddy Is MIA
As we already covered, when you don’t give your baby a chance to self-soothe, (aka you rock your baby to sleep or run to the rescue every time they cry), your baby is more likely to have trouble sleeping through the night.
In 2010, a Tel Aviv University study assessed the involvement of parents in nighttime infant care. The study showed that mothers were much more involved than fathers in caregiving (not shocking at all). What’s interesting though, is that the study reveled that the more involved fathers were in overall care, the fewer times babies woke up at night.
Whether it’s because of lowered stress levels, or extra company, babies sleep better when both parents are involved. Mom’s often take too much control, but whatever your situation is (shout out of respect to single parents), two sets of hands is always better than one. If you can get help throughout the day, your baby will likely sleep better at night.
2 Not Filling Up Baby
If sleep regressions aren’t bad enough, parents also have many growth spurts to look forward to in their baby’s first year. About 10 to be exact (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). A growth spurt usually lasts about a week and during that time, your baby will be extra hungry and wake up more to feed.
Many parents (including myself) are completely confused with the difference between sleep regressions and growth spurts because it’s hard to tell the difference. Sleep regressions have more to do with mental changes, but growth spurts are exactly what the name implies, growing quickly in a short period of time. While you shouldn’t rush to your baby’s rescue for every cry, you should feed your baby more often when they need are extra hungry.
Often, growth spurts and sleep regressions go hand-in-hand. If your baby suddenly starts waking up more frequently, sometimes the best solution is to fill your hungry hippo up more before they go to bed. As your baby grows, be sure to increase the amount of milk (or food for older babies) you give them throughout the day.
1 Absolutely Nothing...
The last thing parents do that cause babies to sleep regress is absolutely nothing. Part of being a parent is doing everything right and getting nowhere (I’m sorry, but it’s true).
The good news is, sleep regressions are temporary. With helpful advice, patience, persistence and trial and error, you’ll get through it every time. Sleep regressions are just a part of mental and physical developments and sometimes the only solution is to ride it out. It’s important to experiment with what works for your baby, but the truth is, what worked yesterday will often stop working today.
Part of parenting is accepting that sometimes you won’t sleep. Sometimes you’ll be so exhausted that you'll want to punch someone in the face for no reason. Sometimes you’ll feel like you just can’t do it anymore, but then you’ll wake up one morning and realize your baby just slept through the night and everyone will sleep happily ever after (or at least until the next sleep regression).