Sleep regression, what it is and how to deal with it


  • 1 Do all babies experience sleep regression?
  • 2 Why sleep regression occurs
  • 3 What happens with "sleep regression"
  • 4 When sleep regression occurs
  • 5 What are sleep regressions
  • 6 What to do against sleep regression

What happens is roughly this: your child has always slept like a log, beautiful nightly strokes of up to 8 hours, naps in the morning and in the afternoon, falling asleep effortlessly and without "tragedies", giving you moments of pure relaxation. Suddenly the scenario changes. And you end up in a nightmare: a thousand awakenings, endless tears, forgotten naps, sleepless nights strolling up and down the corridor. And all this without the little one having any discomfort, for example with his teeth or a cold. What is happening? It is the so-called sleep regression or “sleep regression”, a phase that many children go through, throwing their parents into despair.

Do all babies experience sleep regression?

Let's calm down now. Not all children experience sleep regression, which is a phenomenon that can occur at various ages: the most classic are 4, 9, 12, 18 and 24 months. And do not panic: it is not even certain that the children will pass them all, but maybe only one or two. It is also encouraging to know that, exactly as they came about, sleep regressions then go away: often they last just a few days (even if it seems like an eternity to us), other times they go up to a few weeks. So let's arm ourselves with holy patience and see how to deal with them.

Why sleep regression occurs

First of all we explain why sleep regression occurs, which is very frequent among children, especially the youngest ones. The basic reason is that, around 4 months, babies sleep it changes because their brains change. At this age, the sleep of children becomes similar to that of adults, that is, alternating deep phases with others that are lighter, and this is a change that will last forever. While when they are just born they sleep very soundly, from this age onwards things are different.

So even if it sounds paradoxical and you no longer know how to cover the dark circles you have after several sleepless nights, if your baby goes through sleep regression it is a good sign because it means that his brain is working great!

What happens with "sleep regression"

What actually happens when these apparent setbacks occur in the baby's bedtime routine? It happens that, in the transition from deep to light sleep, the baby may wake up and this can happen several times in the space of a night, practically with every transition from deep to light sleep. The result is that the baby cries and despairs because he experiences something new that he had never tried before, he is more agitated, wakes up often and can struggle to fall asleep, even during the day.

When sleep regression occurs

As mentioned, sleep regression can occur at different ages and is typically associated with times when the child is learning something new. For example, at 4 months she discovers his body, little hands and feet, at 8 she could roll and crawl, at 12 she could walk, at 18 to say the first words. The regression of sleep is therefore accompanied by a new ability of the child and that is why it therefore marks the fundamental steps for his physical and mental maturation.

What are sleep regressions

Here are the most typical sleep regressions:

  • 4 months: the regression lasts about 2-3 weeks, caused by the sleep rhythm that becomes similar to that of adults.
  • 9 months: this is the one that puts the most strain on parents because it can last even 4-6 weeks, with many awakenings. It must be considered that at this age there may also be discomfort related to the teeth.
  • 12 months: This sleep regression can range from a few days to several weeks. At this time, rejection of the afternoon nap may begin and there may be difficulty falling asleep.
  • 18 months: time of major changes in language and motor skills. Babies feel safer walking and want to be more independent. And here are the problems with sleep.
  • 24 months: at this age they would never want to sleep! Going to bed in the evening becomes a drama and awakenings at night can be numerous.

What to do against sleep regression

The first good rule is to try as much as possible not to vary the routine of each day, for example by maintaining the habit of bath-dinner-bedtime. For older children, before going to sleep, it is advisable to avoid television, electronic devices of any kind or games that are too busy because they can excite children and do not induce sleep. Much better a good book to read together, at any age. 

Do not already think about remedies such as drugs or supplements (for example based on melatonin): only the pediatrician can prescribe them, but only after a careful analysis of the situation. A temporary problem like sleep regression is hardly a valid indication for prescribing these products. 

After that, it takes a lot of patience, always keeping in mind that, sooner or later, the regression of sleep will disappear and you will go back to sleep like little angels.

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